I read and re-read several blogs and op-ed pieces before writing this post today. Once such post by NYTimes columnist Thomas L. Friedman entitled, "Peace (Keepers) Prize." He makes the argument that "The Nobel committee did President Obama no favors by prematurely awarding him its peace prize." He goes on to say "...and it dismays me that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way." Devalued? I was floored at that assertion. Very harsh words to say the least. The rest of his column is a speech that Friedman feels Obama should give, where he thanks all of the soldiers who have been "keeping the world safe." Thus, the thought is, there is no peace without peace keepers. However "peacekeepers" don't have to be the military. I thought the article was more than arrogant and extremely dismissive, but I wanted again to see what was being said.
Another NYTimes contributor Marueen Dowd, wrote a fictional and deeply satirical phone conversation between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Here I was given a bit more insight to another take on the issue that was creatively written but still I found troubling in some ways. The best line is from Bill Clinton where he says, "Any peace prize that goes to Henry Kissinger but not Gandhi ain’t worth a can of Alpo." That got me thinking as well. However it was a conversation with my father, Vernon Mitchell, Sr., that really made me reflect.
"Pop what do you think about Obama and the Peace Prize?" I inquired. "Well, I think it is a great honor no matter what folks are saying. We have to look at President Obama's global impact, not just his impact on American soil." That made me think. "Look back to the election," my father proclaimed. "Folks all over the world were rejoicing at what the election of Obama meant for them. We cannot underestimate that." I couldn't agree more.
So the question still remains, "Was it too soon?" Maybe. However, I am not inclined to give such arguments that much weight. The decision was made by the Nobel committee was one that I am certain they mulled over again and again, knowing full well the possible political implications for Mr. Obama. All we can do now it accept what is, in the hope that the award will continue the push toward progress and holistic freedom for those who lie on the fringes of economic opportunity and peace.
As a historian, I also began to think about context, which is what I believe my father was doing in his own way. When I think back to last November I distinctly remember the news coverage that showed people, and children in particular, all over the world cheering and crying tears of joy. I remember thinking what does this mean to them?
I knew what it meant to me as an African American, but what were the global implications? For one Obama's election signaled the first time that anyone of African descent (or non-white) was elected the leader of a Western Nation. That is huge when you think about the legacy of colonialism and imperialism has ransacked the globe from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to Europe's carving up of the African continent. Think too about Asia, Austrilia, and the lands in the Pacific. All have been adversely effected by encrouchment from the West and many deivstating ways. Even now.
Ironically today is Columbus Day. The day that has been set aside to honor the "discovery" of a new world that just happened to already have people living in it. I think not of discovery, but of destruction of culture and a celebration of human tragedy via the so called free market. Within the field of history we speak constantly of the "Columbian Exchange" which is a term used to discuss the "exchange of culture" between the Spaniards and native indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere. While we think pleasantly of corn(maize), horses, and potatoes, no one wants to discuss the impact of diseases like small pox or syphilis. So, Obama being in the White House is transformative in ways we, as Americans, can only begin to imagine. He is the personification of hope, of dreams deferred for the global community.
Those who view the 2009 Peace Prize as a mockery I'm sure had nothing to say when Al Gore recieved for his efforts to inform the world about the climate change. Then again maybe they likely did. I take heart in the fact that President Obama is keenly aware of his position in time and takes everything in stride. Obama accepted the award as a "call to action" to confront the global challenges of the . Furthermore he stated, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."
Obama's remarks about his prize sound very similar to another American who won the same prize. On December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King remarked during his acceptance speech, "I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history."
Premature or not, this is just another chance for this nation to show itself to be what it says on paper.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Those coveted words were penned on July 4, 1776 and have been the bedrock of our so called democracy. More Americans need to wash off the dirt of pessimism and the filth of ignorance and arrogance and cleanse themselves in the waters of justice and peace that we affirm in the words of our Declaration of Independence.
I've said this before and I'll say it again, President Obama cannot do this alone. It will take the work of each of us in our own way to see the transformation we want in this troubled republic. For now, let us each accept the Peace Prize with our president and roll up our sleeves to do the real work nation building at home and abroad. Violent action can only secure peace for a limited time--if you want to call that "peace" at all. Respect, tolerance, and education can do much more than any weapon ever could to establish a true communion of global brotherhood.