Leaders must earn accolades

By Fr Des Wilson

An American university is giving a peace prize to two very deserving citizens, one English, the other Irish. ``In recognition of their work for peace in Ireland''.

The English recipient brought his country into an unnecessary war without the approval of the United Nations or even of his own parliament.

The Irish recipient is head of a government which lent one of its main airports for the transport of armed troops towards that unnecessary war.

The English recipient made an international agreement with Irish people and then helped to create conditions which made sure it could not be fulfilled. The Irish recipient helped him in this by approving almost everything the other demanded, even to the point of agreeing to the removal of one of the most fundamental of political rights, the right of his own fellow citizens to vote.

The American university of Connecticut, which is awarding the peace prizes to the two politicians for their work for peace in Ireland, is following the lead of the Jesuit University - Boston College - which some years ago when Britain was engaged in a war in Ireland presented the British prime minister Mrs Thatcher with a peace prize in appreciation of her work.

One of the few organisations in America to protest against the award of a peace prize to Mr Ahern and Mr Blair is the Irish American Unity Conference, one of whose officers, Mr Cummings, writes: ``The track record [of the two men] for leadership in human rights and justice only gets thinner... their tactics of delay, obstruction, and avoiding issues by appointing commissions are not those of someone seeking to advance the cause of justice or peace but to sustain the status quo... Honours such as the Dodd Prize are often an accommodation of academic, business and political interests. This award is no exception.

``Perhaps in accepting this prize Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair will actually begin to exhibit the type of leadership required to justly earn it.'' We have realised for a long time that peace prizes have been devalued and on occasions have been given not as a reward for actual achievements in making peace but as gifts to induce people not already noted for peace making either to start making peace now or to strengthen what small resolve they have so far shown towards doing so. But it can be argued from experience that while rewards for actually making peace are very useful and right, gifts given in advance to encourage good behaviour seldom do anything but harm. Peace prizes should be given to those who have a clear record of real peacemaking, and one test to make sure they deserve it is if the peace has actually occurred. By no test and by no set of values could Mrs Thatcher or Mr Blair or Mr Ahern be declared worthy of peace prizes for their work in Ireland. Any more than Mr Kissinger could be declared worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize when he had behaved so disgracefully in helping to make war.

In other words, peace prizes are for successful peacemakers or for honourably failing ones, not for those who lead their people into war or who provide state facilities for those who do.

Perhaps the time has come for people who feel deeply about real peace to demand what the definition of peace is for those who have the money and the organisation to award peace prizes.

For many years public speakers were able to condemn those who commited violence without even once defining what violence is - often they could not define it, either because they did not know or because the definition of violence would have shown that state governments and respectable people commit violence as well as poor people. And now much the same people are awarding peace prizes without even once defining what peacemaking really is.

And we can be sure that their definition of peace, if ever they made it, would be vastly different from that of many of us. And especially of those whose lives have been spent either in opposing unjust governments or in creating real peace among real people rather than political/ economic re-arrangements among the powerful.

In times of great official selfishness - like now - almost everything becomes devalued as religion, idealism, politics, work, leisure, music are sacrificed to the prevailing god, the god of those of whom St Paul said: ``Their god is their belly.''

Hard words, but we want the things we value to be preserved safe from such a god. Our families and lives and dignity for instance. And our peace. And our peace prizes also.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News