The wave of popular unrest that has spread across the Arab world in recent weeks, toppling the regime in Tunisia, creating the mass protests in Egypt, and leading other governments in the region to scramble to choke off similar eruptions, has evoked images of 1989, when Communist governments fell like dominoes in Eastern Europe. Like today, those earlier events unfolded with surprising speed, catching the West (as well as the oppressive regimes) off guard. But President George H.W.
I’m not a big fan of political speeches in general, but I thought President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech today was unusually good. (If I were a speech-y kind of writer, like Rick Hertzberg, I’d have used a better adjective in the last sentence than “good.”) After again acknowledging that he doesn’t really deserve the award--“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.
Madame Chancellor, Mr. President, Nearly 20 years ago, we enthusiastically witnessed the most extraordinary event of the end of the 20th century: the fall of the Berlin Wall. A reunified Germany opened the way to the resurrection of the European continent. Then a wave of "velvet revolutions" brought down the communist dictatorships, one by one. We who have been unrelenting opponents of these iniquitous regimes since the long-ago days of the "New Philosophy," were thrilled by this magnificent celebration of freedom.
Two types of people win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first are the more obvious: People who resolve international conflicts. In 1926, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann won for the Locarno Pact, which supposedly guaranteed the borders of Germany, Belgium, and France. In 1929, America's Frank Kellogg won for the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in which the great powers renounced war. In 1973, Henry Kissinger and Vietnam's Le Duc Tho won for ending the Vietnam War.
"I was of course very stunned and grateful, and melancholy," Elie Wiesel told the The New York Times about his initial reaction to winning the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. "I fell back into the mood of Yom Kippur, serious reflection about my parents and grandparents. It me half an hour to get out of it." But when Wiesel finally came to, he told a press conference in New York, "There are no coincidences. If it [winning the prize] happens after Yom Kippur here, then some of my friends and myself have prayed well." Actually, they did a little more than pray.
During the last week in August in 1980 a new kind of light appeared in Poland, illuminating the world scene in an unexpected way. An eerie sentence swam into my mind, the one that Winston Churchill wrote about 1914 when the pall of the parochial Irish crisis hung over the warm summer evening of the British Empire; and when the parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded into the mists and squalls of Ireland, "and a strange light began immediately, but by perceptible gradations, to fall and grow upon the map of Europe." That strange light, in 1914, was the glimmering advent of World War I.