Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize has the potential to be the lit torch to brighten and forge a path forward and not another political stick for partisan “Punch and Judy” theatre.
Most debates around the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama will be the same recycled arguments from all sides about his policies since his election. Considering one of the past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize includes the military veteran Alexander Haig and never the world peace icon Gandhi, we might as well argue about whether Obama deserved to win the Grammy. Also, do we really need a politicized and grander version of the recent MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West denounced the awarding of Best Female Video to Taylor Swift?
Let’s walk past the predictable responses of the majority of US pundits, the same comments mirroring every major political issue since inauguration, and pause to listen to the words of other Nobel Peace Prize winners. Their responses range from outright praise like 2002 recipient former US President Jimmy Carter who saw it as a “bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment” to 1983 awardee former Polish President Lech Walesa who thought the award given too soon but saw it as an encouragement for Obama to act. Considering the wide global support for Obama, it may be closer to the sentiments expressed by 1984 winner Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu, “It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.”
Archbishop Tutu hits it on the head–Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize could serve as a beacon of hope or organizing tool for the US to exercise global responsibility and inspirational leadership once more. Keith Kamisugi shared on his Facebook page the following quote from Mike Taylor of the Baltimore Sun, “Peace is not made by one person. The Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded just to President Obama but to the American people as a whole and should therefore be welcomed by the American people.”
Obama was elected to the Presidency with a wide margin by the US electorate with significant participation by the future of our nation—the 18-25 year olds (Almost all the most vocal mainstream critics never voted for Obama in the first place and do not represent the majority of the electorate who voted this change in national leadership). His award is a recognition of our ability as a nation to move forward.
The case of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the US highlights the necessity of using the Nobel Peace Prize for a more responsible global purpose, than the coffee table topic of internal bitter partisanship. Historically, the treatment of specific ethnic AAPIs in the US has links with global politics. During WWII, the US government suspended due process of law and interned Japanese Americans. In the 1950s when relations with China grew tense, the INS and FBI employed “confession programs” for Chinese immigrants to come forward to expose communists in exchange for citizenship. When Japan beat the US in the market of the auto industry, two laid-off autoworkers killed Chinese American Vincent Chin for the loss of their jobs.
Similar to the thinking that guided internment of Japanese Americans, the Cold War mentality found enemies based on ethnic identity as specific Asian American professionals were accused of working for China against US interests. Despite lack of evidence, Republican congressmen in 1996 alleged that campaign donors John Huang and Charles Yah-Lin Trie were spies for China and the media trumpeted the “Asian Connection” or “Chinagate.” In another situation, in 1999, the US government unfairly charged Wen Ho Lee of espionage of which he was later cleared of those specific accusations.
In both cases, their Chinese ethnicity was highlighted and held at suspicion. Neither party had a past record of questionable conduct. After the Persian Gulf War and the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2006, suspicion was thrown onto South Asians and Arab Americans with a list of 314,000 people targeted for deportation in January 2002, despite having no evidence that any were tied to terrorist activity.
The debate around Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize can be another boxing match between left and right or a tool to bring us together with a newfound global credibility and promise to recognize the integral role we play in the world. This is crucial not only for AAPIs but all of us.