The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, October 18, 2002  

The Forward Speaks Up and Speaks Out

As expected, the news that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to former President Jimmy Carter drew reflexive howls of protest and derision from all of the usual quarters, most of the criticism ornery and spiteful, virtually none of it reasoned nor respectful. The “War Now on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Anyone Else We’re Forgetting at This Moment” crowd was particularly and predictably nasty, though it appears the gang’s paroxysms of rage and vituperation finally have abated.

Before this moment passes, no doubt to be repeated when President Carter accepts his award, it’s an appropriate time to consider the remarks of more level-headed observers. To wit, below is an excerpt from an editorial published in The Forward (Oct. 18), “Nobel Values,” offered without comment as it more than speaks for itself:

By giving the esteemed award to former president Jimmy Carter, the [Nobel] foundation was asserting the urgency of the Middle East conflict and the continuing value of seeking peace through reconciliation. The award committee’s statement noted Carter’s ‘decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts,’ but it focused especially on his mediating role in the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace accords at Camp David, “in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.” . . .

What the committee didn’t say was that Carter should have shared the 1978 peace prize with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, but was left out over a technicality. This year’s prize was meant to correct the error before it’s too late. The Nobel rules don’t allow posthumous awards. It was time to do right by Carter.

Sadly, Carter’s achievement has been beclouded by an ugly little squabble over Iraq and President Bush. The chairman of the prize committee gracelessly told reporters that picking Carter was intended as a swipe at Bush. Another committee member promptly insisted it was no such thing. The award statement itself was ambiguous. “In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power,” it said, “Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible [our emphasis] be resolved through mediation and international co-operation.” That’s a position Bush himself can and does endorse. Carter and Bush disagree on whether the conflict with Iraq can be resolved without war. There are people of good will on both sides of that argument. It does not diminish Carter’s achievements at Camp David or since.

Some of the grumbling, we suspect, comes from a larger argument over Carter’s philosophy of conflict resolution. There’s a school of thought, traditionally identified with the far right but lately more widespread, that says the proper way to end conflicts is not to resolve them but to win them. It’s a line of thinking that’s become popular in some segments of the Jewish community, partly because of the Holocaust, partly because of Israel’s troubles. To those folks, splitting the difference with your enemies means compromising with evil. They see every foe as Hitler and every confrontation as Munich. They’d like to see the Nobel committee adopt their way of thinking and use the peace prize to reward toughness.

But that’s precisely not the point of the peace prize. The Nobel has stood for a century as a symbol of hope, of faith in the value of peacemaking. It excites the world’s imagination because, even after the Holocaust, most of us still believe in those ideals.

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