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Billy King

Number 206: February 2013

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

The Adolf Awards

Ladies and laddies, gentle-men and gentle-women, peaceniks and warmongers, people of this globe and extraterrestrials, we are, as always, extremely proud to present our annual Adolf Awards. As you might surmise, these supreme awards for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace, Human Rights and the Environment, are named after the best known man of the 20th century with the first name of ‘Adolf’, yes, indeed, Adolf Tinkelmayer. So, without further ado, in fact with no ado about nothing, we go straight to the red carpet (that’s mainly blood) and the results.

Warmonger of the Year: Not Assad in Syria, not groups in the Congo or elsewhere, our warmonger of the Year is, again and regrettably, President Barack Obama of the USA, for the USA’s cynical and brutal use of drones for external murder. With no risk to the attackers at point of delivery, technological superiority allows the USA to flaunt international law and encourage the very violent acts by armed militants that they proclaim they are attacking. We also wonder how many drones have passed through Shannon?

Mercenary of the Year: Speaking of Shannon Airport, Leo Varadkar as Minister for Transport in the Re:Public gets this prize for supporting US military use of Shannon, and looking for more military flights through there. So, selling your soul and neutrality for a few bob is all right. He is the runway winner of this prize. Oh, but the runner up is the chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority, Rose Hynes who revealed in January 2013 that Shannon Airport was not just willing to accommodate US military flights but that it was actively going after what she called ‘important’ and 'lucrative' US military traffic. War – it’s just a business opportunity, isn’t that so?

Rabid Gun Mania Award: The National Rifle Association (NRA) in the USA where its response to the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut was......to call for armed security guards in every school. Now that would be another first for the US of A, a fitting monument to the Second Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the right to shoot people, we mean to bear arms.

War Newcomer Award: President François Hollande of France – now fighting in Mali in a war which was unlikely to have happened if the West hadn’t decided – after becoming best mates with Gadaffi – to overthrow the regime in Libya. The ripples of war continue, the jihadists have melted away to fight another day.

Northern Ireland – Sectarian Stirrers of the Year Award: The Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party for their cynical exploitation of the flags issues in Belfast, stirring up anti-Alliance Party hatred among loyalists. Leafleting which vehemently attacked Alliance in emotional and overdramatic terms led to an emotional and overdramatic reaction – and violence. Letting sectarian genies out of bottles is not a good idea in Northern Ireland.

Screw the Poor Award: First place goes to David Cameron and the British Tories for their attempt to dismantle the UK’s social security system and exploit the mythical contrast between ‘shirkers and strivers’ – two thirds of the poor are actually working, they are just paid rubbish wages. Second place goes to the Irish government coalition for cuts to services for disabled children and adults.

The Stick Your Head in a Fracking Hole Environmental Award: The companies such as Tamboran who want to frack Ireland completely and have made promises which amount to hot air. And the amount of gas coming from fracking in Poland is a fraction of what expected so Ireland could ruin its environment and its image and get little in return – though there is some hope yet with respective ministers North and South mainly sitting on the fence.

The Royal Award for Interference in Democratic Processes: Queen Elizabeth II, who, it emerges, has more powers than people think and vetoed the’ private member’ Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, which sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament. Not only did the monarch say no – absolutely amazing in this day and age – but we are only learning about it years later.

The Rainbow Nation Award for Greed: Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, whose lavish lifestyle is underpinned by generous dig outs from his ‘friends’, including arms companies.

The Golf Curse Award: The developers who are even thinking of having a major golf course, hotel and apartment complex almost on top of Norn Iron’s world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway, or, as they might prefer to label it, the Giant’s Fairway.

Posthumous Autocratic Profit* Award: Right-wing Korean religious sect leader, Rev Sun Myung Moon who died in September 2012. * Oh, should that have been spelt ‘prophet’?

Al Capone Award for Political Corruption: All those politicians in the Re:Public who saw planning and public office as a way to increase their personal wealth, as revealed by the planning tribunal report of March 2012. Bertie (Ahern) was ‘untruthful’, Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, Albert Reynolds abused his power, and some outside Fianna Fáil got in on the act too. Let’s see if the report’s recommendations to avoid corruption in the future are adhered to.

The Nobel Peace Prize

No, we are not awarding that here today as well. In fact it is mainly coincidental that I should be writing about the Nobel Peace Prize just after we have presented our Adolf Awards, but perhaps there is a certain serendipitydodah about it. My piece here is based on having just read Fredrik Heffermehl’s “The Nobel Peace Prize – What Nobel Really wanted” (Praeger, 2010). Sometimes when you have a piece interpreting what someone ‘really wanted’ there is much more supposition than hard fact but in this book I think Heffermehl establishes an extremely strong case for what Nobel was after in creating his peace prize – but it is a position totally removed from the current position of the Nobel establishment. As a Norwegian peace activist of long standing, Heffermehl is well placed to analyse the Nobel Peace Prize emanating from Oslo.

To do justice to the book requires a bit of detail. Heffermehl establishes – to my mind beyond any reasonable doubt – that current Nobel Foundation practice is woefully at odds with what Alfred Nobel intended. Nobel’s will – he died in 1896 - stipulated that all five Nobel prizes should be for work during the expired year and be for who has conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. Regarding the Peace Prize he stated it should be for champions of peace, the confraternization of nations (‘confraternization’ is a difficult term and Heffermehl’s interpretation of putting ‘brotherhood among nations’, written in Swedish, into modern language), the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. Mmmmmm, somehow I don’t think Barack Obama quite qualified.

Heffermehl concludes (p.75) that “since 1948, the world has not been given the Nobel Peace prize it deserves – and was entitled to. Not only have the Nobel committees betrayed Nobel and violated the law, but also the Norwegian lawmakers have broken the law.” Originally members of the Nobel Committee included a strong representation of peace movement people; now it is elected according to the strength of parties in the Norwegian parliament and, Heffermehl argues, is used as a tool of pro-NATO Norwegian foreign policy. He goes into considerable detail of one particular low point, the 2009 award to Barack Obama, where he used his Nobel Peace Prize speech to justify war and US warmaking; “Obama dealt with war and armaments as an unavoidable part of the relations between states, now and forever.” (p. 158)

Alfred Nobel fancied Bertha von Suttner and although she married someone else they continued as friends and to be in close contact. Bertha von Suttner is probably the most important European peace activist of the period from the late 19th century into the early 20th century (dying a month before the First World war started) covering a period when there was a vibrant and innovative peace movement.

Going back to the will, Heffermehl argues persuasively that Nobel was actually close to the radical pacifist views of Suttner and, indeed, the peace prize was in response to overtures which Suttner had made to support peace. The Nobel establishment, however, try to distance themselves from Bertha von Suttner’s radical ideas. Heffermehl says “Nobel confirms through his letters and statements...how dedicated he was to the peace ideas of the period, and his strong hopes that they would prevail. He is uncertain as to practical solutions, sceptical about strategy, and he warns that the peace movement most not be too absolute and impatient. All that is true, but far too many have overlooked the pivotal point: Nobel shared the goals of the peace movement of a world without military or war.” (p.79)

Heffermehl analyses all the Nobel Peace Prize winners to date of publication and considers whether they fit the criteria set up by Nobel, given above. His judgement is (p.54) that up to 1940, 85% of awards met Nobel’s criteria whereas in the period 1944 – 2011 only 44% would do so. He analyses the role of the Nobel peace committee and its secretaries. The chapter title headed “From 1990: the prize under political and corporate control” speaks for itself. There are, however, no shortage of people who do meet Nobel’s criteria for the peace prize, and Heffermehl names some of them (e.g. p.113).

Heffermehl is an activist of long standing as well as an analyst and has repeatedly challenged the Nobel peace committee on these matters. As the latter acts in secrecy, he has done well to draw out of the limited information about its workings over the years various pieces of information which would support his arguments. The Nobel peace committee remains unmoved.

There are problems, I would argue, with all honours and awards systems since they frequently tend to give awards to the people who don’t need them (or have other awards already) and ignore those who could do with recognition and support. The Nobel Peace Prize is arguably the foremost of the world’s awards but has become corrupted by pro-state and pro-military interests. Although I was always critical of some Nobel choices (mass murderer Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973), I will never look at the Nobel Peace Prize in the same way again having read this book and I will continually come back to Nobel’s original criteria as given in the second paragraph of this item. Fredrik Heffermehl has demystified the whole business.

Graphic descriptions

It’s depressing that if you go looking for what are now known as ‘graphic novels’ (i.e.non-comic cartoon stories aimed at adults) you are likely to come across reams of violent fantasies with ‘super’heroes and the like. But I like the genre and occasionally one peeps its head far enough above the parapet to get widespread attention (e.g. currently 'Dotter of Her Father's Eyes' by Mary and Bryan Talbot on the story of James Joyce's daughter, Lucia). While words can give you more detail and let your mind do the imagination and work, graphic pictures can bring you in with an immediacy that is hard to beat. And for non-fiction topics it can draw you in to a topic that might otherwise be hard or too heavy to approach for most people. I am informed that cartoons stimulate the same part of the brain as cocaine; I don’t know whether this is just for humorous cartoons or whether it applies to factual, non-humorous visual depictions as well.

RTE2 had an unusual and brave scheduling choice in showing Waltz with Bashir (2008) as its first film of 2013. We’d been out for New Year so missed the first half hour or so, but basically it is the story of a former Israeli soldier trying to understand the role he played in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The film is in ‘cartoon’ form - the English language does not yet have adequate words to describe the genre since the understood term of ‘graphic novel’ does not apply very well to non-fiction material. His memory has closed down on this time – for easily understandable reasons – what did he do, where did he go? The film is part detective story as he follows up leads from friends and former military comrades leading, in the climax, to Shatila and Sabra Palestinian camps and the massacres which took place there, perpetrated by Christian Phalangist Lebanese but with Israeli backup and, initially, permission or certainly lack of veto from the Israeli military.

Waltz with Bashir is a remarkable film and I will watch it in full sometime soon. It does not demonise opponents or ‘the enemy’. It depicts the cameraderie, the foolhardiness, the violence, the brutality and cruelty of war in a way which is very direct and immediate. It communicates in a different way to a re-enactment would of what is shown. And the film as a whole challenges the nature of war though Red Pepper in its review criticises Ari Folman (writer and director, as well as ‘star’) for not condemning Israeli military action on Gaza. I don’t know how true this is but one wrong doesn’t make another right wrong. It is well worth catching if you can.

Some commentators depict a bright future for graphic novels and depictions. You may know the film Persepolis (a girl coming of age during the Iranian revolution). My limited graphic book collection includes Barefoot Gen, the story of a Hiroshima survivor told in graphic form; Keiji Nakazawa, the creator of this died recently. As a genre it deserves to step out of the superhero shadows and cul de sac which it has found itself in, and into more general adult discourse and educational use for children, young people and adults. Picture that.

- - - -

Well, it’s strange times we live in. Who would believe that it could become dangerous in Norn Iron to be a member of the Alliance Party? But that’s the way the sectarian cookie crumbled (and boy did it crumble) in December and January. But January is now out of the way, I wouldn’t like to be January and people saying after I had gone “good it’s out of the way.” The promise of spring has not yet manifested itself and the cold winds of February and ongoing economic cuts have still to slice into us but we’re still here, so that has something to say for it. Anyway, stay warm, stay active, stay peaceful and I hope to see you here again very soon, yours, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2014