#105 – Dick Bernard: The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Institute website: #mce_temp_url#
Twenty-four hours ago, President Barack Obama was awakened to hear an announcement that caught him by surprise: he had just been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
It did not surprise me to learn that Obama’s enemies on the radical right were up in arms about his receiving the honor.  It did surprise me that many leaders in the far left were similarly critical, though for a very different reason.  (Their general mantra: he hasn’t done enough, he better do more, or else….).
Are we all going crazy, when such a huge honor is made into a political liability, almost an albatross, by both ideological “wings”?
Only the Committee knows why Mr. Obama made the cut.  My candidate for “ground zero” in the Nobel Committee’s profound respect for the President’s accomplishments, and the radical right wings revulsion towards his award, goes back to a phrase in a speech he gave in Berlin, Germany, in July, 2008.
In that speech, Obama began with this: “…I come to speak not as a candidate but as a citizen; a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”  In a single phrase, he tore down the wall of American exceptionalism; and by his subsequent actions, he has begun to “walk the talk”, and it shows in the profound change in how the United States is viewed by other citizens in other countries.
He spoke this risk-laden phrase during his run for the U.S. presidency, before he was officially nominated as the Democrats candidate, before the U.S. economy officially collapsed (September, 2008), and at what turned out to be the bitter end of the dangerous dreams of the right wings Project for a New American Century, whose belief was, effectively, that the U.S. ran the world, and was not part of it.  It was politically risky for him to utter that phrase at that time in his campaign.
So, long before nominations were closed in February, 2009, Barack Obama had, thankfully, dramatically changed the national and international conversation.  Whatever comes after is simply an addition to a huge accomplishment made even before he was elected in November, 2008.
Does the President deserve the Award?  Absolutely.  Today’s first “Letter of the Day” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune said it as well as any will say it: “The Nobel Peace Prize committee recognized that President Obama is changing America from world hegemonist to world citizen.”  Jim Stattmiller
I am particularly aware of then-candidate Obama’s speech in Berlin because I am on the Board of two organizations, one founded in 1982 by my friend Lynn Elling; and the second co-founded by Lynn in 1995.  The first organization is and has always been called “World Citizen”; the second is the Nobel Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
World Citizen’s focus is on peace sites, peace poles and peace education.  One would think that such a focus would be non-controversial, but not in the “America first, and only” of the neo-con years of George W. Bush, and the earlier ascendancy of the radical right-wing in this country.
World Citizen became a suspected and (in some people’s minds) almost subversive organization, to the extent that last summer we had to write a specific faq for our website to counter the right-wingers who railed against what we were and are trying to accomplish for teachers and school children.  We have no secrets.  Look first at faq #13, the last one, and then wander anywhere at the website for more information about what we do #mce_temp_url#
At the World Citizen site is a section about the aforementioned Nobel Peace Prize Festival, which has from the beginning been a sanctioned activity of the Nobel Institute in Oslo.
The Nobel Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg is specifically for school children.  Each year, the Laureate for the previous year is invited to attend.  Often they do.  President Obama is now on the queue for invitation for the 2011 Festival.
This past March our guest was Prof. Richard Alley of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) #mce_temp_url#, which co-won, with Al Gore, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  Three videos of the last March event are at #mce_temp_url#.  One is of Alley’s entrancing talk to a gymnasium full of school kids.  The Director of the Nobel Institute attended and spoke at this event.
This coming March, our guest will be Martti Ahtissari, the 2008 Laureate.  He has apparently already confirmed his attendance at the March 5, 2010, Festival.  (Commercial announcement: please let school personnel and parents know about this event.)
March of 2008, the 2006 Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, joined us.  In 2006, the 2004 Laureate Wangari Maathai came, but ended up marooned in a Minneapolis hotel room because the event was cancelled due to a snow storm.  And in 2004, the 2002 Laureate, Jimmy Carter, spent several hours with school children here.
Next week, our committee meets to begin planning for the March 5, 2010 event.  I’m pretty sure the topic of President Obama will come up.  As stated, he’ll be the invitee to the 2011 Peace Prize Forum and Festival.
Congratulations, President Obama.
Postnote:  In posts #35 and 36, June 5 and 6, 2009, I comment about President Obama’s speech in Cairo, and its implications.  Simply go to the calendar at right, back to June, and click on the dates.