Obama’s peace prize and its anti-war critics: Which is more Orwellian?

An “Open Letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee,” online across the anti-war blogosphere (e.g. Antiwar.com):

On December 10, you will award the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, citing “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” We the undersigned are distressed that President Obama, so close upon his receipt of this honor, has opted to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan with the deployment of 30,000 additional troops. We regret that he could not be guided by the example of a previous Nobel Peace Laureate, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who identified his peace prize as “profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

Declaring his opposition to the Vietnam War, Dr. King insisted that “no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war… We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways… We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”

We pledge ourselves to mobilize our constituencies in the spirit of Dr. King’s nonviolent and committed example. His prophetic words will guide us as we assemble in the halls of Congress, in local offices of elected representatives, and in the streets of our cities and towns, protesting every proposal that will continue funding war. We will actively and publicly oppose the war funding which President Obama will soon seek from Congress and re-commit ourselves to the protracted struggle against U.S. war-making in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We assume that the Nobel Committee chose to award President Obama the peace prize in full awareness of the vision offered by Dr. King’s acceptance speech. We also understand that the Nobel Committee may now regret that decision in light of recent developments, as we believe that the committee should be reluctant to present an Orwellian message equating peace with war. When introducing the President, the Committee should, at the very least, exhibit a level of compassion and humility by drawing attention to this distressing ambiguity.

We will do all we can to ensure that popular pressure will soon bring President Obama to an acceptance of the duties which this prize, and even more his electoral mandate to be a figure of change, impose upon him. He must end the catastrophic policies of occupation and war that have caused so much destruction, so many deaths and displacements, and so much injury to our own democratic traditions.

This prize is not a meaningless honor. We pledge, ourselves obeying its call to nonviolent action, to make our President worthy of it.

There is nothing in this text that we can disagree with—but that makes it all the more insidious that the signatories loan the imprimatur of legitimacy to deniers of genocide and cheerleaders for war criminals. They include such otherwise admirable and committed activists as Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, Matt Daloisio of War Resisters League, Frida Berrigan of Witness Against Torture, Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence, Jack Amoureux of Military Families Speak Out—but also Sara Flounders of the International Action Center (IAC) and Elaine Brower of World Can’t Wait.

We have documented before that the International Action Center is a front group for a more or less openly Stalinist outfit known as the Workers World Party—and both of them are vigorous supporters and apologists for some of the worst war criminals and dictators the world has seen since the fascist era, including Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Sung/Jong-Il and Deng Xiaoping. Workers World openly supported the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and IAC made vigorous support for the Bosnian Serbs their special cause in the ’90s. The IAC’s uncritical defense of Saddam Hussein has at times led legitimate activists to avoid coalescing with them in opposition to the Iraq war. But, repeatedly, the anti-war leadership has thrown principle to the wind and blocked with the fascistic IAC/WWP. We are now witnessing this shameful spectacle once again.

The word “fascistic” is used advisedly here. Despite their leftist rhetoric, WWP represents the politics of the Hitler-Stalin pact—an alliance of the hard left with the extremist right against the West. The ethno-supremacist ideology of Milosevic clearly lies within the fascist tradition. Saddam Hussein openly declared his emulation of Mussolini. IAC/WWP do not represent the left, but a fascistic pseudo-left.

How can we protest our government’s killing and torture of Muslims with people who support Milosevic, one of our time’s greatest mass murderers of Muslims? No progressive alliance would admit cheerleaders for Ariel Sharon or Augusto Pinochet. Why do cheerleaders for Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic get a pass? This fundamental betrayal of their Muslim victims undercuts the signatories’ anti-war message.

World Can’t Wait is similarly an organ of a cultish Maoist organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party—which similarly cheerleads from afar for bloodthirsty war criminals. At the top of their list are Sendero Luminoso—which has massacred and enslaved indigenous peoples in Peru.

In this light, the letter’s invocation of the word “Orwellian” is nothing short of Orwellian.

This issue cuts to the very legitimacy of the anti-war message. Obama’s acceptance speech actually anticipated some of the very points made in the letter:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations—acting individually or in concert—will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak—nothing passive—nothing nave—in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism—it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

There are powerful counter-arguments to be made here—such as those being raised by Afghanistan’s secular opposition. But the notion that the Taliban or Saddam or Milosevic really aren’t that bad after all is assuredly not among them. On the contrary, it is a cowardly denial of reality that exposes the anti-war forces as unserious.

If this is our leadership, consider me a conscientious objector from the anti-war movement.

See our last post on the politics of the anti-war movement.

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    1. Absurd
      Believing at face value what the “interior ministry” said about the people’s war in Peru is as ridiculous as believing at face value what the US government said about the people’s war in Vietnam. We all have to exercise a little epistemological discipline.

      1. Sendero slavery is a fact
        Sorry, but these are not just the claims of the Interior Ministry. Sendero’s massacres and enslavement of indigenous peoples in lands they seized in the Peruvian Amazon in the ’90s are well documented. A 2006 report by Peru’s independent National Human Rights Coordinating Committee found:

        Between 1989 and 1993, 15,000 Ashaninka and Nomatsiguenga Indians were forced to flee their land in the south-central region of JunĂ­n, while 5,000 were captured by Sendero and held in conditions of slavery to provide forced labour. In addition, many children from these two indigenous groups were forcibly recruited into the ranks of the insurgents. [IPS, Oct. 10, 2006]

        The National Human Rights Coordinating Committee (Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos) is a coalition of several rights groups formed in 1985 in response to Peru’s “dirty war,” and has been relentless in calling out abuses by successive Peruvian governments.

  1. Anti-war movement gets Orwellian again
    Here we go again. Another bogus call for “unity” in the anti-war movement—unity with the sinister WWP and IAC. This time it’s called the United National Antiwar Committee, and it is calling for rallies in New York and San Francisco on April 9. UFPJ, to their credit, is sticking by their stated commitment to not work with ANSWER (WWP’s last vehicle), and do not appear on the endorser’s list. We wish we could say the same of our esteemed comrades in the War Resisters League and the Socialist Party USA.