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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, October 07, 2017 1:00 am

Starting a conversation on peace

Some winners of the Nobel Peace Prize had distinctly un-peaceful pasts. Other winners later did things that weren't in keeping with the spirit of the award. But the prize continues to be a force for good in the world. And no – it's not likely that any winners whose subsequent leadership has been questioned, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, would ever be asked to give their prize back.

Those were some of the conclusions a panel of IPFW experts offered during a session Friday scheduled to provide near-real-time reaction to the announcement of this year's winner.

A tweet from Sweden announced the Norwegian Nobel Committee had selected the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  just five hours before the 10 a.m. panel discussion. Associate Professor of Political Science James Toole said the group had been selected for its campaign to draw attention to the horrors of thermonuclear war and its efforts to promote a treaty to ban nuclear bombs.

Toole said he felt this year's winner was in the mainstream. “It really is about trying to prevent armed conflict among countries.” But the award also conveyed some political nuances, Toole said, noting that the United States and the other eight nuclear powers have declined to sign the treaty ICAN presented at the United Nations. “Very clearly, it was designed to sort of criticize Donald Trump, criticize the North Korean regime, remind people of how awful nuclear war would be ...

“I really don't think it is inappropriate,” he said. “After all, this is a peace prize.”

There have been times, Toole said, when the political message has been less defensible, as when the committee gave Barack Obama the award very early in his first presidential term.

An audience member asked the panel whether Suu Kyi should be stripped of her peace prize for countenancing repressive measures against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“I think it would be a greater blow to the prize if they did take it away from her,”  said Craig Ortsey, coordinator of the university's Peace and Conflict Studies program. “There have been plenty of laureates, we know, who have done pretty awful or objectionable things after they received it.”

Toole agreed. “Her current actions have been very, very disappointing. ... But when she won the award, she deserved the award,” he said.

Indeed, panelists argued, the point is not always to agree with the Nobel committee's choices, but to use them as a starting point for worldwide discussion. “What those five people have done is, they've started a conversation that has ripples everywhere,” said Douglas Kline, a continuing lecturer in anthropology.