Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

“Peace, They Say – A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World” by Jay Nordlinger, in honor of Veteran’s Day

Initially, this book seemed weak, as the author cited other people’s writings so extensively. Gradually, I realized the book was more about peace that about “the Peace Prize”.

What is peace? What is a “good” or “necessary” war? How is peace related to pacifism, and militarism, which Alfred Nobel disliked? What did Nobel mean by “militarism”? Why are pacifists so skeptical about defensive weapons? Is all peace good? Is there such a thing as a “bad peace”?

Nordlinger quotes (whom?): “There is no dispute so small it can’t be used as an excuse to go to war. There is no dispute so large it cannot be mediated if that is what the parties want.” Nordlinger doesn’t explicitly discuss the situation when one party wants war and the other doesn’t.

Consider the end of apartheid. It could have been a bloodbath… Privilege is never surrendered without struggle, but South Africa made the transition to majority rule without warfare. See my review of Playing the Enemy (October 16, 2013) for one view of this amazing transition and the role played by 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. Did FW de Klerk, co-winner in 1993, also deserve the prize? Mandela did not think so.

What is the role of the nation/state? Nordlinger criticizes the United Nations, which Nobel considered the world’s greatest hope for peace.

What is the role of the NGO (nongovernmental organization)? (Should Haiti, the “republic of NGOs” be considered a nation at war, or something else? Some call it a “failed state”, not a clearly defined category.)

Published in 2012, this book missed the most appealing Peace Prize winner of all, seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in 2012 by Islamic extremists. She is the only citizen of Pakistan to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book is so good that I feel I should read it right through again, and take time to investigate and ponder the history that runs through it. It would serve as the backbone for an excellent college course.

(I originally read this book in 2012, just after its publication, and offer my comments here in honor of Veteran’s Day.)

Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) – Rest in Peace

On October 16, I wrote about Nelson Mandela as described in the book Playing the Enemy. 

Mandela was one of the greatest leaders of our times. 

Each year, the college where I work chooses a “common reading” for the incoming Freshman class. I plan to nominate John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy. (Anyone can make a nomination. I’m not entitled to a vote…) It’s well written and gripping, and the sports angle might have fairly wide appeal. One criterion is that the author must be available to speak at the college. Carlin is alive and (according to Wikipedia) resides in Spain. So it’s not out of the question! 

I hope, over the next few days, that Mandela’s life and work will receive wide attention. Maybe it will lead to some creative thinking about the many places now plagued by war and injustice.

“Playing the enemy – Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation” by John Carlin, another book about political transformation

Nelson Mandela was only a name to me… After reading this book (which was the basis for the movie Invictus) I’m staggered by the magnitude of what he accomplished. South Africa’s Blacks (80% of the population) suffered some the worst oppression the world has ever known. Apartheid lasted until the early 1990s, then ended without the bloodbath that seemed almost inevitable. Mandela use the force of his personal charm over and over, and it worked. He stuck to his efforts despite grim setbacks, and he had ideas that were creative and surprising.

Where does a leader come from? Why did South Africa fare better than other parts of the continent? Why do other countries suffer so severely and so long?

The “game” in question was a world rugby championship. Rugby was the “white” sport in South Africa, passionately followed by the Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch settlers who speak a form of Dutch as their first language. Blacks were indifferent to it. The mostly white national team (the one Black player was not a South African citizen), the Springboks (I think that translates as gazelles) were competing for the world championship while South Africa was trying to function as a newly united country. Nelson Mandela had been elected President.

Mandela decided to try to bring Black South Africa into the excitement, to get them to support “their” national regby team. It seemed improbably crazy. But he did it. And the Springboks won! South Africa experienced a moment of delirious unity. The problems of integrated South Africa didn’t disappear overnight, but attitudes shifted seismically.

On the way to telling about the big game, Carlin covers a great deal of important history. Tucked in there is an anecdote (credibly documented) that touches me even more than the big game. (I don’t have the book in front of me, only my notes from 2009. See p 151.) An Afrikaner named Eddie was arming and training a militia for the expected race war. He was angry and very, very dangerous. Mandela agreed to participate (I think remotely) in a radio talk show alongside this declared enemy of black South Africans. Eddie spoke first, and he poured forth hatred and fear and anger. Mandela waited. Finally, he spoke. He spoke about Eddie’s concern for the future of South Africa, about his own love for their country, about the things they had in common. He expressed nothing but a positive attitude. He ended by saying “Let’s talk, Eddie”. The outcome isn’t given in detail, but evidently Eddie took at least a few steps back from his furious position. What was this – diplomacy? charm? tact? a miracle? Is there a way we can learn from this?

So read this book! Nelson Mandela is 95 years old now. He’s left a good documentary record, and we can all be inspired by it.