On Brexit and the European Union

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With so much debate roiling around the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, I’ve found myself wondering, “If Brexit succeeds, should UK citizens be asked to forfeit their Nobel Peace Prize?”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the entire European Union in 2012, noting that “the work of the EU represents ‘fraternity between nations’ and amounts to a form of the ‘peace congresses’ to which Alfred Nobel refers as criteria for the Peace Prize in his 1895 will.”

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The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma, which honors the EU motto “United in Diversity.”

 

Nigel Farage, then leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), disagreed and called the decision “baffling.” He further claimed that the committe had dragged the award “into total disrepute.” Since then, Farage has continued to campaign vociferously against the idea of a united Europe, earning him the moniker “Mr. Brexit” from Donald Trump.

It’s worth noting that Farage began his career as a trader on the London Metal Exchange and that the UK was not one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which many consider to be the precursor to the European Union itself. Former Atlantic editor Robert Wright noted, “It’s possible that, had far-seeing leaders not in 1951 created the European Coal and Steel Community, and had this not led to a series of free trade agreements among European nations, economic nationalism would have started trade wars that led to real wars.”

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An engraving of Bertha von Suttner appeared on Austria’s 1,000 schilling note prior to the adoption of the Euro.

The ECSC formed after World War II as a result of the Paris Treaty, which intended to foster a new era of economic cooperation and supranationalism. (Please be careful not to read that last word as “supernationalism.” Supranationalism refers to an aggregate political entity above the level of state or country, not a claim that any one nation or empire is superior to others or has comic-book-style superpowers.) In his favorable response to the question “Did the European Union deserve a Nobel Peace Prize?” author Steven Pinker wrote, “The EU grew out of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was designed in 1950 to reduce the chances of a recrudescence of war between Germany and its neighbors. The rationale came right out of Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay ‘Perpetual Peace’: democracy, free trade and an international community should discourage leaders from dragging their countries into war. More than half a century of Western European peace later, we can see that the architects of European economic unification had a point.”

In his essay, Kant argued that scientific reason and respect for the rule of law were prerequisites for the formation of a Völkerbund, or “union of nations.” While allowing that such a political entity might result in enhanced economic prosperity, his prime objective was to eliminate war as a means of settling disputes between nations. Though Darwin hadn’t yet been born, Kant saw a European confederation in evolutionary terms, part of a natural progression of human society and civilization.

 

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This sort of idealism sat well with Alfred Nobel and his fellow Enlightenment thinkers. It also inspired Bertha von Suttner and her fellow pacifists E.T. Moneta and S.J. Capper (himself a Brit) to propose “A Confederation of European States” back in 1892 at the International Peace Congress in Bern, Switzerland. “At the time the idea had not yet begun to be understood at all,” Bertha wrote in her memoirs. “It was generally confounded with the idea of the United States, that the North American pattern was being proscribed for Europe.”

Here, in full, is the Suttner/Capper/Moneta proposal:

“Whereas both the injury caused by armed peace and the danger that is ever threatening the whole of Europe from a possible great war have their basis in the condition of lawlessness in which the different states of Europe stand toward one another;

Whereas a confederation of European states, which would be desirable also in the interest of commercial relations of all countries, would do away with this condition of lawlessness and create permanent legal relations in Europe;

And finally, whereas such a confederation would in no wise impair the independence of the individual nations as regards their internal affairs, and therefore as regards their forms of governance;

The Congress invites the European peace societies and their adherents to exert themselves, as the highest aim or their propaganda, for the formation of a confederation of states on the basis of the solidarity of their interests. It moreover invites all the societies in the world, especially at the time of political elections, to draw attention to the necessity of a permanent congress of nations, to which every international question should be submitted, so that every conflict may be settled by law and not by force.”

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The 1892 International Peace Congress convened in Bern, Switzerland.

 

At the time, Europe had yet to endure the sort of “great war” that Suttner and her colleagues envisioned in 1892. Nations might have agreed with their proposed “European Confederation” in theory, but in practice, world leaders continued to promote military tradition and to finance standing armies, favoring costly force over the rule of moral law in settling international conflicts. Peace remained the pipe dream of philosophers such as Kant, and, as the first of two world wars soon demonstrated, the world paid dearly for the oversight.

Today, some world leaders are once again stoking the furnaces of misguided patriotism and despotism, insisting on separatism and isolationism in place of cooperation and unification. Stubborn partisanship has replaced rational political discourse in both the public square and the chambers of government.

Shortly after the Nobel committee’s announcement in 2012, Wall Street Journal writer Simon Nixon remarked that the EU was “on the brink of failure.” With so much at stake, he considered the awarding of the Peace Prize to be an “inspired decision.” Like the Nobel Committee, citizens of the world today should continue to feel inspired and work to support and strengthen the European Union’s stated commitment to “the ideals of international unity, solidarity, and harmony“—with or without the United Kingdom.

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Notes on the Nobel Nomination Process

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The Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway

Despite what you may have read in the news, the nomination and decision-making process for the Nobel Peace Prize is designed to be private, not public. In fact, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation insist that “neither the names of nominators nor of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize may be divulged until fifty years have elapsed.” 

In other words, the very act of talking about nominating someone or claiming to be nominated for the prize may disqualify a candidate. Those who engage in such behavior are expressing an overt disregard for the established guidelines.  

This year (2019), the committee received 301 nominations for the prize. The record was 376 individuals and organizations in 2016. You can learn more details about the nomination and decision-making processes here: https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/peace/ 

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (as well as the related committees in Stockholm, which administer all awards other than the peace prize) follows strict guidelines in determining who is worthy of the annual honor. These derive from Alfred Nobel’s intentions, as outlined in his last will and testament. Contrary to what some may believe, the prize was not developed with long-standing institutions or powerful politicians in mind. Nobel wrote that the peace prize should go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Over the years, committee members have argued for broader interpretations of Nobel’s mandate. Some have noted that today’s peacemakers are hardly carbon copies of the award’s first intended recipient, Bertha von Suttner, whose primary focus was ending war via global disarmament. (You can read more about the disputes that erupted when Suttner was overlooked for the first few prizes in my previous post, “The Red Cross Controversy.”) Even so, any world leader who is currently expanding military budgets and promoting new weapons programs is likely to be quickly and easily dismissed as the committee prepares its short list and discusses the finalists.

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Kaci Five, former chairperson of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee prefers the word “laureate,” not “winner,” to describe the recipients. The award, after all, is an honor, not part of a competition, despite what many would-be medalists may believe. When asked about other contenders for the prize in 2016, Kaci Five, then chairperson of the Peace Prize Committee (and, sadly, deceased now), kindly refused to name or discuss them. “The award is intended to focus attention solely on this year’s laureate,” she replied before once again citing the statutes: “Investigations and opinions concerning the award of a prize may not be divulged until at least fifty years have elapsed.” 

So, while we can all debate who should or should not be considered for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, don’t pay much attention to whatever claims you may read in the press. This year’s committee will convene behind closed doors and make its decision with the same three questions firmly in mind: Who has done the most to promote friendship and cooperation among nations? Who has done the most to eliminate or reduce armies and/or weapons stockpiles in the world? Who has done the most to bring people together to promote and work effectively toward global peace and unity? 

No matter what the committee’s final decision may be, we might all benefit from asking ourselves this related question: What have I done recently to promote the cause of peace in my part of the world?

A Response to Anti-Semitic Violence

Like many U.S. citizens, I’ve been watching the daily news with shock and horror as the country endures yet another wave of hatred and violence, with the most recent deadly attack taking place at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the same time, I’ve been revising scenes in my historical novel Peace at Last that address the spread of anti-Semitism throughout Europe in the 1890s.

As you might imagine, the parallels are frightening, both in terms of the actions themselves and the responses from across the political spectrum. 

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Artur Gundaccar von Suttner established the first anti-anti-Semitism group in Vienna.

The roots of contemporary anti-Semitism extend beyond 20th-century Nazi Germany to the late 1800s. Just months before Bertha von Suttner founded her first peace society in 1891, her husband Artur convened the Union for Resistance to Anti-Semitism in Vienna in response to spikes in violence against Jewish people. Both of them strongly and publicly condemned such prejudice, despite repeated warnings from allies and adversaries to avoid the subject altogether. Editors often rejected their articles on the grounds that the issue was “unpleasant” and that such hostilities would simply “fade away like influenza.” Bertha described hateful anonymous letters sent by readers as “usually permeated with anti-Semitic spirit…and, along with that, always the friendly advice to return to the cooking pot and knitting needle.”

In her book The Machine Age, Bertha asked, “How is this possible in our humanitarian and enlightened century? It’s a disgrace, a remnant of barbarism, of religious mania.” Later, she reflected on her response to anti-Semitism in her memoirs, writing, “One must always resist injustice. There is no alternative. Silence, even though it intends to express disdain, is itself disdainful. It’s not enough for those affected to react; those who are unaffected must also revolt against injustice wherever they see it. Their silence is complicity, motivated by the same emotion as the victims’ silence—namely, fear.”

I’ve been rereading the correspondence between Bertha and her friend Bartholomaus Carneri, an Austrian statesman who lost his 1891 re-election bid to one of the newly emboldened anti-Semitic candidates. As a philosopher, Carneri was one of the first to apply Darwin’s theories of evolution to moral and ethical thinking. Though both he and Bertha firmly believed in evolution, he warned her that evolution in a positive direction—toward “the ideal,” as Alfred Nobel would have put it—could not be taken for granted. 

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The Austrian parliamentarian and philosopher Bartholomaus Carneri applied Darwin’s theories of evolution to moral and ethical thinking.

In dramatizing their conversations, I paraphrase Carneri’s elaboration on the English biologist Herbert Spencer’s notion of the “survival of the fittest,” often mistakenly credited to Darwin and over-simplified as “only the strongest survive.” In fact, a creature’s ability to adapt to—or fit—its environment, not its strength or stubborn adherence to old ways, provides a far better indicator of its chances at survival. Carneri tells Bertha, “Toxic environments may favor toxic creatures, not necessarily the most decent and just. With that in mind, we must not merely be messengers of peace; we must create and preserve a culture of peace to ensure its survival.”

These days, I fear the resurgence of toxic sociopolitical environments around the world. I also worry that the peace movement has not been proactive enough in establishing and maintaining a healthy culture capable of countering that regression. In short, it needs help, yours and mine alike.

When I tell people that I’m writing about the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most influential and popular writers of her time, many people ask, “Why haven’t I ever heard about her?” Anti-Semitism forms a large part of the answer. In book after book, Bertha advocated a noble and idealistic society in which science and the arts flourished alongside rational political discourse and diplomacy. She railed against the prevailing militarism and nationalism of her day, both of which fostered conflict and contempt for “the other.” After taking on the related issue of anti-Semitism in all its permutations, critics labeled her “JudenBertha,” a Jew-lover, and she was eventually considered an enemy of the state.

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Austrian writer Hertha Pauli, who met Bertha von Suttner as a child, wrote one of the first biographies of the Peace Prize recipient.

Bertha’s books were among the first targeted for burning by the Nazis, and few original copies exist. Luckily, two first editions of her landmark novel Lay Down Your Arms! in Alfred Nobel’s possession have survived the purges. In 1940, the writer Hertha Pauli, who had written some of the earliest biographies of both Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner, was forced to flee her Vienna home in advance of the Nazi occupation. She and her family later emigrated to the United States from France to escape further persecution. Upon her return to Austria, she wrote, “I found that the Suttner memoirs, diaries, and letters I had drawn upon had been destroyed by the Nazis. Then I knew that her life must not be forgotten.” Slowly, researchers and writers such as the late Brigitte Hamann, who wrote a biography of Hitler as well as the definitive book on Suttner, have been rediscovering and preserving the previously lost and scattered remnants of Bertha’s life.

It took decades for European anti-Semitism to reach its most horrific levels during the Holocaust. Sadly, like racism and other barbaric forms of prejudice, it has survived into the present, with various political figures adapting its message of intolerance to suit their own needs and desires. The ability of today’s social media platforms to amplify and escalate such hateful messaging shortens the time frame in which more rational and reasonable responses might triumph. Despite the increased challenge, the “most decent and just” among us have an even greater responsibility to act. 

As Bertha firmly believed, silence is not an option.

Confronting Sexual Violence

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Nadia Murad shares her stories of violence and her demand for justice at the Global Citizen festival.

Yesterday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored Nadia Murad of Iraq and Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” As both a victim and witness of rape, and female enslavement, Ms. Murad has spoken out around the world and raised awareness of this heinous aspect of the war against her community, the Yazidi people of northern Iraq. Dr. Mukwege has become famous throughout Africa for his role as “The Man Who Mends Women,” helping victims to overcome the physical and emotional trauma associated with sexual violence and genital mutilation.

Because men are the major perpetrators of sex crimes and their victims are mostly women, the world remains largely unaware of the scope and nature of this violence. Too often, media reports shy away from the gruesome details and sickening images. We ask how human beings can act in such depraved and amoral ways as if that negates their very occurrence. 

Critics of Bertha von Suttner’s novel Lay Down Your Arms! expressed concerns about the similarly graphic descriptions of war in its pages. Having conducted numerous interviews with soldiers and other witnesses of battlefield horrors, she chastised the “gentle reader” that we might otherwise associate with 19th-century literature. “Oh, away with your prudery! Away with your affected decorum!” she wrote in the book. “That is cruel ethics, I would have you know—cruel and cowardly. … This looking aside, with the physical and the spiritual eye, allows so much misery and injustice to persist. If only we had the courage to look steadily upon our fellow humans who are pining in pain and misery, along with the courage to reflect upon what we saw!”

Both Ms. Murad and Dr. Mukwege have witnessed such pain and misery first-hand. They have spoken out forcefully, sharing their stories while seeking reparations. For Ms. Murad, this means demanding justice for the Yazidis at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. For Dr. Mukwege, it means constructing hospitals, clinics, and legal centers in his homeland to help repair, both surgically and psychologically, the many victims of sexual violence.

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Dr. Denis Mukwege has provided critical medical services to victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

“This is the only way Yazidis will possibly be able to move on with our lives, mourn our dead, and try to rebuild what we lost,” Ms. Murad said of her efforts. “A trial tells the militants that the world in the twenty-first century is built in a way that values life and humanity above mere power and fear, and that not only are we capable of protecting the most vulnerable, but that we will, no matter what.”

Dr. Mukwege acknowledges the difficulties of empowering witnesses to testify against their victimizers, especially since sexual violence remains a taboo subject in many cultures. “The women we treat are only the tip of the iceberg because many of them are afraid to say they have been raped for fear of being rejected by their husbands,” he said. “We’ve found that when they are doing well physically, when they feel strong enough psychologically and when they are economically independent, that’s when women start seeking justice,” he added.

colin-np-5.jpgIt has been ten years since the UN Security Council adopted a resolution classifying sexual violence as both a war crime and a threat to international peace and security. The decision of this year’s Norwegian Nobel Committee serves to highlight that important and long-overdue decree and reminds us that, in times of both war and peace, Bertha’s calls for disarmament—and Alfred Nobel’s echo of her demand in creating the Peace Prize—can mean lowering one’s hands and fists along with laying down one’s guns and rifles.
You can read the full announcement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2018/press-release/

To read an interview with Nadia Murad:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/555106/the-last-girl-by-nadia-murad/

To read an interview with Denis Mukwege:

https://news.un.org/en/story/2016/03/524722-interview-fate-shaped-injustice-one-mans-mission-help-women-dr-congo

91Qwxx4XVyL._RI_To see “The Man Who Mends Women,” a documentary about Dr. Mukwege’s work:

http://mukwege-themovie.com

Bertha’s 175th Birthday Party!

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A surprise gift from Graz: A replica of a new bust was delivered to the Bertha von Suttner Peace-Institute in The Hague

On June 8th and 9th, dozens of peace-lovers from around the world gathered in The Hague to celebrate Bertha von Suttner’s 175th birthday and her enduring legacy. Following a day of presentations at the Bertha von Suttner Peace-Institute and an evening recalling Korea’s controversial presence at the 1907 Hague peace conference, the group gathered at the nearby Peace Palace for more formal tributes.

During the morning, historian Peter van den Dungen invoked the spirit of Bertha’s many friends and fellow pacifists in a tour of the Peace Palace and a subsequent lecture in the historic reading room. In the afternoon, Dr. Heinz Fischer, former president of Austria, and Marzhan Nurzhan of the International Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN, the recipients of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize), addressed the attendees and emphasized connections between the peace movements of the past and the present. During a reception, Bertha herself (as portrayed by actress Anita Zieher of Austria) joined the group for cake and champagne as well as an informative and entertaining interview with Dr. Susanne Jalka of Austria.

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IMG_7020For Bertha and her colleagues, the 1899 and 1907 conferences in The Hague laid the foundation for the impressive Peace Palace, both figuratively and literally. With major funding for its construction from the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the building provided a permanent home for the newly formed Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Criminal Court. Carnegie had become one of Bertha von Suttner’s most prominent supporters following the death of Alfred Nobel. For many activists today, the Peace Palace embodies both the strength of her convictions and the beauty of her idealistic vision.

You can learn more about the Peace Palace here: https://www.vredespaleis.nl/?lang=en

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Bertha von Suttner arrives at the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913.

A few other images from the weekend’s events:

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Morning reception at the Peace Palace

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Former president of Austria Dr. Heinz Fischer offers some remarks before unveiling the new bust of Bertha von Suttner.

 

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The new bust of Bertha von Suttner, created by Lia Krol of The Netherlands

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Verdiana Grossi of Switzerland, Behnaz Manfared of Iran, Maynard Yost and Hugh Coyle of the United States of America, and Dr. Ali Ahmad of Austria display one of Behnaz’s posters to promote peace in Iran.

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Thoughts on the 2017 Peace Prize

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Congratulations to this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)! This organization, which successfully led fifty nations to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in September, fulfills many of the ideas and obligations expressed in Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament. These include disarmament and greater cooperation between nations, both having been strongly advocated by Bertha von Suttner as she created and promoted pacifist societies throughout Europe in the 19th century. Today, ICAN continues to work toward a more peaceful world free of the specter of nuclear armageddon. Beatrice Finn, ICAN’s executive director, said of the recent UN treaty, “This is what a real step looks like. And for our shared human society, this is a step for the better.”

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Supporters of the UN treaty gather together on the day of its passage. (Photo courtesy of ICAN)

At a meeting in Zurich with Suttner in 1891, Nobel predicted, “On the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops.” As we are now painfully aware, the development and deployment of nuclear weaponry did not result in a world liberated from the constant threat of war. Instead, the idea of nuclear deterrence has become a cornerstone of foreign policy for many weapons-rich nations, leaving the world’s citizens fearful of irrational leaders with itchy trigger fingers.

The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas also reminds us that man’s hunger for more and more powerful weapons continues unabated on the individual as well as the international level. (I’ve used the gendered word intentionally, as the majority of most mass murderers and terrorists are, by far, male.) In the United States, the proliferation of automatic and semi-automatic guns, along with the devices that can transform one into the other, have led to a citizenry that lives in constant dread of the next attack. News reporters exacerbate our anxieties by documenting how global terrorists have “weaponized” everything from automobiles to social media posts.

In the 1890s, anarchist bombings throughout Europe created a similar sense of panic in many cities, especially Paris, where Nobel maintained one of several homes. An explosion at the Café Terminus near the opera house targeted civilians for the first time in a symbolic attack on the bourgeoisie. (For more on this, check out John Merriman’s deeply researched and suspenseful book, The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror.)

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New York Times artist’s rendition of Turpin’s machine, described as “a wonderful invention” by the newspaper.

Several years later, French residents received a shock of a different kind when the explosives manufacturer Eugene Turpin announced his invention of a doomsday machine that could destroy all of Paris within the course of an hour. Turpin envisioned mounting his “engine of destruction” on a locomotive with ammunition-filled railroad cars trailing behind. With its rotating rapid-fire cannons, this so-called “Angel of Death” could discharge 25,000 poison-filled projectiles and obliterate everything within 22,000 square meters.

We might imagine that peace-seeking idealists of the day would have been horrified by this proposed weapon of mass destruction. On the contrary, Suttner wrote to Nobel, “What is your opinion of Turpin’s machine? This invention fills me with joy, for if it delivers what its inventor promises, it would make war almost impossible. Yet…I would have preferred that you had invented it.” Nobel dismissed Turpin’s plans as impractical “balls of soap” but went on to praise its inventor’s imagination. Somewhat annoyed, Suttner wrote back to clarify her position. “If you had invented such a machine,” she told Nobel, “it would have been for the sole purpose of rendering war impossible. But Turpin and his friends weren’t thinking of peace; they wanted to act like treacherous parasites and use their infernal machinery to profit from the fears and prejudices of the day. What a blessing that they have not succeeded!”

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Protesters in New York City’s Central Park prior to the UN treaty adoption in September. (Photo courtesy of ICAN)

Today we celebrate ICAN’s success toward rendering nuclear war impossible. In announcing this year’s Peace Prize, the Nobel committee noted, “We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth. Through binding international agreements, the international community has previously adopted prohibitions against land mines, cluster munitions, and biological and chemical weapons. Nuclear weapons are even more destructive, but have not yet been made the object of a similar international legal prohibition.” We can hope that the symbolic support of the Nobel Peace Prize will help ICAN and all of the UN treaty’s signatories achieve that prohibition.

Click here for more information about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.