Earlier today, TMV’s Jack Grant chose Dr. Steven Taylor’s commentary on the value to Americans of being admired by the rest of the world rather than disliked.
As a context reminder, here again is the portion of Dr. Taylor’s post that Jack quoted:
Look, I have already stated my incredulity at Obama winning the prize after so short a period of time on the world stage, but the fact of the matter is, it is actually in the national interest of the United States for its president to be liked and respected within the international system. I am not talking ponies and sunshine here, but simple facts-one of which is that diplomacy does matter and it is actually better to have one’s president receive accolades rather than being insulted on international television.
Some folks seem to have the bizarre opinion that it is actually better for the US if other countries dislike it. Even theorists who look solely at questions of power understand the importance of diplomacy and communication with other states. So even if the Nobel was awarded oddly, it makes all the sense in the world for the US government, especially the State Department, to try and use the situation to the US’ international advantage. That’s their job.
Now, contrast that sentiment with those expressed by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. Her op-ed is titled “A Wicked and Ignorant Award.”
It is absurd and it is embarrassing. It would even be infuriating if it were not such a declaration of emptiness.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself and cheapened a great award that had real meaning.
It was a good thing, the Nobel Peace Prize. Every year the giving of it was a matter of note throughout the world, almost a matter of state. It was serious. It mattered that it was given to a woman like Mother Teresa in 1979. … Her life was heroic, epic, and when she was given the Nobel Peace Prize, it was as if the world were saying, “You are the best we have. You are living a life that should be emulated.”
Nelson Mandela was unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, and he came out without bitterness. There’s a hero for you. …
Some Peace Prizes have been more roughly political, or had a political edge, and were of course debatable. Woodrow Wilson, self-infatuated after World War I, had little patience with those who foresaw that the Peace of Versailles would lead to more war, and did not understand or know the political realities and deeper nature of his own countrymen. And so his League of Nations flopped in America, the one place where it absolutely had to succeed. But–well, he helped end “the war to end all wars,” issued his Fourteen Points, did try to make the world better. Ferocious Teddy Roosevelt, that progressive and bloody-minded man, worked hard to forge a truce and a peace between the czar’s Russia and Japan.
… [T]here were Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, and their Peace Prizes were what they were. But each man had a body of work; each had devoted considerable time and effort to a great issue. It was always absurd that Ronald Reagan, whose political project led to the end of the gulag and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and who gambled his personal standing in the world for a system that would protect the common man from annihilation in a nuclear missile attack, could not win it. But nobody wept over it, and for one reason: because everyone, every sentient adult who cared to know about such things, knew that the Nobel Peace Prize is, when awarded to a political figure, a great and prestigious award given by liberals to liberals. NCNA–no conservatives need apply. This is the way of the world, and so what? Life isn’t for prizes.
Yet even within that context, the giving of the peace prize to President Obama is absurd. He doesn’t have a body of work; he’s a young man; he’s been president less than nine months. He hopes to accomplish much, and so far–nine months!–has accomplished little. Is this a life of heroic self-denial, of the sacrifice of self for something greater, of huge and historic consequence, of sustained vision? No it’s not. Is this a life marked by a vivid and calculable contribution to the peace of the world? No, it’s not.
This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.
Noonan continues on in this self-pitying vein, and then plunges into several paragraphs of weird maudlin ranting about America’s involvement in World Wars I and II and how the U.S. fought in those wars to “foster peace” and then selflessly gave of its own treasure to rebuild Europe for no purpose more self-interested than just to do the right thing and to be generous and kind and loving. “They should give us a prize,” she exclaims.
And even more — what about all the inventions we invented? Why, Europeans would scarcely still be alive if not for us!
America hasn’t just helped the world, it literally lit the world with its inventions, which are the product of its freedoms. The lights under which the Peace Prize judges read, and rejected, the worthy nominations? Why, those lights were invented by an American. The emails the committee members sent to each other, sharing their banal insights on leadership? They came through the Internet. Who invented the Internet? It was a Norwegian bureaucrat with a long face and hair on his nose and little plastic geometric eyeglasses? Oh wait, it was Americans. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are healthy because they have been inoculated against diseases such as polio. Who invented the polio vaccine, an enfeebled old leftist academic in Oslo? Nah, it was a man named Jonas Salk. He was an American.
Needless to say, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, Louis Braille, René-Théophile-Hyacinthe-Laennec (those French and their names!), Tim Berners-Lee (who invented the World Wide Web, which some people — maybe even Noonan — think is a synonym for the Internet, but isn’t), Karl Landsteiner (his pioneering work on blood grouping and blood types made blood transfusions possible), Anton van Leeuwenhoek (invented the microscope, discovered blood cells, and microscopic life, including bacteria), Galileo Galilei (invented the telescope, among much else), and Leonardo daVinci (far too many world-changing discoveries and inventions to list) go unmentioned in Noonan’s recitation of transformational discoveries and inventions.
Several of the above names I either did not know about or didn’t remember initially — I googled “European scientists inventors” and then chose some of the ones I found that were most relevant to helping humanity (i.e., the espresso machine was invented by an Italian, but that probably is not one of the world’s greatest services to humanity — although it certainly helps).
The point here is that human beings could not have survived and thrived on this planet without the collective brilliance of countless individuals throughout history whose imaginations, intelligence, and curiosity led them to do life-saving and life-enhancing work. Americans — in the relatively brief time we have existed as a people — certainly have contributed in very significant ways, and in some areas of human endeavor we have contributed uniquely and disproportionately (musical forms such as jazz, blues, and rock; as well as film and literature come to mind). Nevertheless, in the continuous roll call of contributions to the betterment of human existence, the United States is only one piece of the whole — and in the context of the entirety of human history, by far the least significant.
It’s really long past the time for Americans to start wising up to this, and to get the point: that alienating the rest of the world is not the path to peace.