On March 23, 2015, the day before the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, CubaDebate published an essay about Romero. The author is Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, who started out as a painter, sculptor and architect and later became a prominent human rights advocate. In 1980 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for human rights and peace. Below are extensive excerpts from that essay. 
“Martyrs are sowing seeds of life expectancy and strengthen the ways of faith. They have enriched the continent of Fertile Earth . . . by force of the prophetic word and the testimony of the lives of those who had the courage and faith to walk beside the Village Church of God. Their voices were raised across the continent and the world. So it was in the neighboring country of El Salvador, subjected to violence with more than 70,000 dead, exiled and persecuted. That pain was a voice of guidance, and hope emerged, denouncing violence and calling for respect for life and dignity of people under the civil war and military dictatorship.”
“It was the voice of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who experiences the conversion of his heart and embraces the way of the Cross. As St. Paul says: “It is madness for some; for others it is life and redemption.” (Emphasis in original.)
“Romero endured many misunderstandings in the same church; his voice, his claims and complaints would not be heard in the Vatican; there were ideological currents and misinformation about what happened in El Salvador. The conceptual and political simplification reduced everything to the East-West polarization between capitalism and communism, based on the Doctrine of the ruling National Security. They forgot the thousands of brothers and sisters who were victims of violence. Romero tried to get the Vatican to listen and help, but left distraught and returned home with pain in the soul.”
“Some peasants who knew him remember following the homilies of Monsignor Romero, with no need to hear his word directly and instead hearing them on the radios of all their neighbors who had them turned on.”
“The Archbishop knew of the [death] threats he was receiving, but the power of the Gospel and its commitment to the people were part of his own life. He sought God in prayer and silence listening to the silence of God, who taught his heart, his mind and spirit.”
“Journalists in March 1980 said that the Archbishop was on the line, targeted by the military. Romero replied, ‘Yes, I have frequently been threatened with death, but I must say that as a Christian I do not think in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people. I say it without boasting, with the greatest humility. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, shall not perish.’” That March 23 at the Cathedral, Monsignor Romero in his homily said:
‘I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the ranks of the Guardia Nacional, of the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No solider is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!’”
“Monsignor Romero’s voice was heard clearly despite all odds and radio interference and equipment: “The church preaches liberation” … “The cathedral burst into applause, excited people felt the cry of their hearts.”
Andrew Carnegie (November 25, 1835 – August 11, 1919) was a Scottish-American industrialist who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century. He also was one of the highest profile philanthropist of his era who had given away almost 90 percent of his large fortune to charities and foundations by the time of his death.
Carnegie also was a pacifist at heart, and starting in 1903 devoted significant time and money to promoting peaceful resolution of international disputes, especially by arbitration pursuant to treaties.
In 1910 he funded the establishment of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose trustees were charged to use the fund to “hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.” The Endowment is still operating today with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Now it describes itself as “a unique global network of policy research centers in Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, and the [U.S.]. Our mission . . . is to advance the cause of peace through analysis and development of fresh policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decision makers in government, business, and civil society. Working together, our centers bring the inestimable benefit of multiple national viewpoints to bilateral, regional, and global issues.”
Another activity Carnegie organized to promote peace was the April 1907 National Arbitration and Peace Congress at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Hall, as its name suggests, was another Carnegie-financed project that opened in 1891 in Midtown Manhattan.
The Congress with over 1,200 registered delegates was described as the “greatest gathering ever held in advocacy for the abolition of war as a means of settling national disputes.”
Carnegie himself, of course, gave a major speech at the Congress that in retrospect can be seen as an outline of the United Nations created after World War II. Carnegie said, “[W]e are met to urge the speedy removal of the foulest stain that remains to disgrace humanity, since slavery was abolished—the killing of man by man in battle as a mode of settling international disputes.” He also expressed his support for “the League of Peace idea—the formation of an International Police, never for aggression, always for protection to the peace of the civilized world. . . . “ States should agree “that no nation shall be permitted to disturb the peace.” Before use of the international police, there should be a proclamation of “non-intercourse [“sanctions” in our parlance] with the offending nation.”
President Theodore Roosevelt did not attend the Congress, but sent a letter that embraced its purpose. It said, “[I]t is our bounden duty to work for peace, yet it is even more our duty to work for righteousness and justice.” Moreover, the President stated,“[T]here can be at this time a very large increase in the classes of cases which [could ] . . .be arbitrated, and . . .provision can be made for greater facility and certainty of arbitration. I hope to see adopted a general arbitration treaty.” Roosevelt added that the Hague court [of Arbitration] should be greatly increased in power and permanency.”
On the other hand, Roosevelt cautioned the delegates to not insist “upon the impossible [and thereby] put off the day when the possible can be accomplished.” “[G]eneral disarmament would do harm and not good if it left the civilized and peace-loving peoples . . . unable to check the other peoples who have no such standards.” Indeed, according to the President, “[T]here are few more mischievous things than the custom of uttering or applauding sentiments which represent mere oratory, and which are not, and cannot be, and have not been, translated from words into deeds.”
The Congress adopted resolutions endorsing international peace and international law; calling for permanency for the Hague Court of Arbitration open to all nations; the adoption of a general international arbitration treaty; the creation of a committee to investigate international disputes and attempt to mediate them before the parties resort to war; the establishment of the neutrality of personal property at sea; and limitations on armaments. 
At the end of the Congress Carnegie was presented with the French Cross of the Legion of Honor by France’s Baron de Constant de Rebecque (nee Paul Henri Benjamin Balluet), a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the 1909 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Baron praised Carnegie for “his interest and energy in behalf of the peace movement” and for being “a good citizen of the whole world.”
According to the New York Times, Europeans were not interested in, or impressed by, this Congress. First, they did not have “a large number of peace propagandists.” Instead their prevailing view was that “universal, permanent peace is a long way off” and that the major issue was the practical one of adopting an agreement on the manner in which wars should be conducted. Second, many Europeans believe that U.S. policies regarding the Western Hemisphere threaten world peace, especially with respect to Germany’s interests in that part of the world. Indeed, The Times of London called Carnegie “an ardent but ill-informed amateur” and had “rushed in where sagacious statesmen fear to tread.” Another European critic said Carnegie should “endow a chair of contemporary history for his own instruction.”
Preceding the Congress, Carnegie hosted a large dinner at his beautiful mansion at Fifth Avenue and 91st Street in New York City to celebrate industrial peace in the U.S. and the upcoming Congress. In attendance were 100 “sons of toil” or workers’ representatives; prominent merchants; manufacturers’ executives; bankers; leaders of universities and other educational institutions; church leaders; publishers and editors; lawyers; and railroad executives, including William C. Brown, then Senior Vice President of the New York Central Railroad (and my maternal great-great uncle).
 This post is based in substantial part on Chapter XXIII (“The Quest for Peace, 1901-1910”) in Joseph F. Wall’s Andrew Carnegie (Oxford Univ. Press 1970), which won the 1971 Bancroft Prize for best book about history of the Americas (or diplomacy). Professor Wall was a revered History Professor at my alma mater, Grinnell College, and I was fortunate to have known him and learned from him.
 One of Carnegie’s philanthropic endeavors was funding the establishment of public libraries throughout the U.S. and other countries. My mother was the Librarian at the Carnegie Library in Perry, Iowa, and I studied at Grinnell College’s Carnegie Library during my first two student years.
 I have had two “contacts” with the Permanent Court of Arbitration. First, a Minnesota company had suggested arbitration of its claim against my client, an Asian manufacturer, under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. Because my client and I did not believe that there was a valid arbitration clause and the claimant had not appointed the first arbitrator, we did not appoint a second arbitrator and then were surprised to receive a letter from the Permanent Court designating an appointing authority to appoint a second arbitrator. There eventually was a three-person arbitration panel that issued an award in favor of my client. Second, I have researched the life and career of Edward Burnham Burling, a fellow Grinnell alumnus (Class of 1890), whose gift funded the College’s library (the Burling Library) that replaced its Carnegie Library. Burling was the co-founder of the eminent Washington, D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling and represented the Kingdom of Norway against the U.S. over expropriation of shipping contracts during World War I with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1922 issuing an award in favor of Norway. Writing blog posts about Burling and the Norway case are on my list of future posts.
 This account of the Congress is based upon Andrew Carnegie’s Plea for Peace, N. Y. Times (April 7, 1907); Stead Recommends a Peace Pilgrimage, N. Y. Times (April 8, 1907); Frenchmen Arrive for Peace Congress, N. Y. Times (April 9, 1907); Prelude to Peace Congress To-Night, N. Y. Times (April 14, 1907); Women’s Part in Peace, N. Y. Times (April 14, 1907); War Talk Opens Peace Congress, N. Y. Times (April 15, 1907); The Afternoon Session, N. Y. times (April 16, 1907); Editorial, Peace on Earth, N. Y. Times (April 16, 1907); Peace Conference Not All Harmony, N. Y. Times (April 17, 1907); Honor Carnegie Friend of Peace, N. Y. Times (April 17, 1907); Editorial, Peace Congress Resolutions, N. Y. Times (April 18, 1907); Editorial, Peace Congress Sequels, N. Y. Times (April 21, 1907); Europe Is Amused at Peace Congress, N. Y. Times (April 21, 1907); Proceedings of the National Arbitration and Peace Congress, New York, April 14th to 17th, 1907 (1907).
 Roosevelt became a hero for Carnegie, but Roosevelt never liked Carnegie.
Unique Party Carnegie Host, N. Y. Times (April 6, 1907). About one week before this special dinner, Carnegie, after a luncheon meeting with President Roosevelt at the White House, made a statement supporting the President’s policies regarding the railroads. The Carnegie Mansion now is the home for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Our last stop on the issues of railroad regulation during President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term focused on the June 29, 1906, adoption of the Hepburn Act regarding limits on railroad freight rates and the subsequent reactions that year to this statute. Before we look at the continued controversy over these issues in 1907, we need to review what was happening in 1906 and 1907 in the economy and securities markets and their increasing intertwining with the railroad issues.
In 1906 the economy and securities markets were adversely affected by April’s major San Francisco earthquake destroying two-thirds of the city and leaving over 200,000 residents homeless and by the subsequent increase of interest rates by the Bank of England responding to the outflow of English funds paying earthquake insurance claims. From a peak in January stock market prices had fallen by 18% by July of that year, and after the adoption of the Hepburn Act railroad securities were especially hard hit. By late September stocks generally had recovered about one-half of their losses.
At the start of 1907, however, the U.S. appeared to be prosperous. Railroads had difficulty finding enough freight cars to meet demand. Banks had a lot of cash. Wages and prices were rising. This redounded to the credit of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Japanese-Russian war.
The U.S. stock market, however, was sending contrary signals. Between September 1906 and March 8, 1907, the stock market slid, losing 7.7% of its capitalization. Indeed, in January John D. Rockefeller predicted that Roosevelt’s policies would result in a depression.
On March 12th, reacting to the troubled securities markets and to rumors that President Theodore Roosevelt was planning some new measures against the railroads, J.P. Morgan, the major Wall Street financier and New York Central Railroad Director, met with the President to discuss “the present business situation, particularly as affecting railroads.” According to Morgan, he urged Roosevelt to take some action “to allay the public anxiety now threatening to obstruct railroad investments and construction” and advised the President that “the financial interests of the country are greatly alarmed at the attitude of the Administration towards corporations, and particularly the railroads.” Afterwards Morgan told the press that Roosevelt would soon meet with the heads of four leading railroads to see what might be done to “allay public anxiety.”
This news did not calm the securities markets. The next day (March 13th) New York Stock Exchange prices collapsed. And on March 14th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by another 25%. These two days were sometimes referred to as “the Rich Man’s Panic” since most ordinary people were not stock market investors.
At the markets close that day, the 25 most active stocks on the New York Stock Exchange had a total shrinkage in value since the first of the year of $ 970 million. This was especially true for the following railroad stocks:
A.T. & S.F.
Baltimore & Ohio
Chesapeake & Ohio
M. & St. Paul
Great. Northern. (Pfd.)
Norfolk & Western
After the close of the markets on the 14th, the U.S. Treasury injected $25 million of cash into New York City banks by buying some of their holdings of U.S. bonds, which calmed the markets for the moment.
Reacting to the market developments of the 14th, William C. Brown, Senior Vice President of the New York Central Railroad (and my maternal great-great uncle) issued a public statement that said, “The diminishing net earnings of railroads, while alarming, are overshadowed by the apparent hostility as evinced by recently enacted or introduced Federal and state legislation. The growth and development of the country will soon be at a standstill unless transportation facilities can be tremendously increased. Hundreds of millions of dollars should be expended in this direction as rapidly as material can be assembled and men employed. On account of the above conditions confidence has been so shaken that investments of this character are regarded as so hazardous and unattractive as to make it impossible to sell any kind of railroad security except at such discount and rate of interest as to make it prohibitive; and these improvements, so vital to the prosperity of the country, are being greatly curtailed or entirely dropped.”
Brown concluded this statement with a plea for the railroads and the President to cooperate in stopping evils and abuse. In addition, “the President and the press should co-operate with the railroads and with all food citizens in working for a restoration of public confidence, based upon the widest publicity of corporation affairs and absolute fairness, equality, and stability of rates.”
Troubles, however, were not over. In June the stock of the Union Pacific Railroad—among the most common stocks used as collateral for bank loans—fell 50 points. That same month an offering of New York City bonds failed. In July the copper market collapsed. In August the Standard Oil Company was fined $29 million for antitrust violations. That same month commodity prices declined, Another negative factor that summer was the Bank of England’s imposing a prohibition of English banks buying U.S. finance bills, thereby closing a major source of refinancing for U.S. debtors. In September industrial production also went down. In the first nine months of 1907, stocks were lower by 24.4%.
October-November 1907 (Financial Panic)
The Financial Panic of 1907 started on October 9th with the failure of two speculators to take over the United Copper Company and the resulting bankruptcies of two brokerage houses, another mining company and a bank. On October 15th stocks started to tumble, and on October 21st and 22nd a run started on New York City’s third largest and supposedly solid trust, the Knickerbocker Trust Company, causing its bankruptcy.This in turn created fear throughout the U.S. and numerous bankruptcies of state and local banks and other businesses. On October 23rd money was almost unobtainable on Wall Street, call-loan rates had spiked to 125% and the entire U.S. financial system was nearing collapse. To the left is a photo of a crowd of people in front of Manhattan’s Federal Hall, at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets; the New York Stock Exchange is outside the photo to the left.
In response to this crisis, Roosevelt had the U.S. Treasury deposit $25 million in national banks.
The “savior” of the financial system from the Panic, however, was J. P. Morgan, the wealthy Wall Street financier and a New York Central Director. He and other plutocrats (E.H. Harriman, Henry Clay Frick and John D. Rockefeller, Sr.) pledged large sums of their own money, to shore up the U.S. financial system. These efforts had apparently succeeded by October 24th when the New York Stock Exchange did not have to shut down and stock prices started to rebound.
The next week, however, the panic returned when a major brokerage house threatened to cease operations and the City of New York was on the verge of defaulting on its obligations. J.P. Morgan and his colleagues again came to the rescue with a plan for U.S. Steel to buy the shares of Tennessee Coal and Iron Company then held as collateral by the failing brokerage firm. This plan, however, would go forward only if it had President Roosevelt’s approval. That approval was obtained on November 4th at a White House breakfast meeting with U.S. Steel’s Chairman (Elbert H. Gary) and one of its founders (Henry Clay Frick). News of this approval immediately was released, and stock prices began to rally.
Additional support for the financial system and stock market was supplied in November when Roosevelt authorized the U.S. Treasury to increase its injection of funds into the banks to $69 million and to sell $150 million of U.S. and Panama bonds.
All of this occurred in the midst of an economic contraction that had started in May 1907 and that did not end until June 1908. The interrelated contraction, falling stock market and financial panic resulted in significant economic disruption. Industrial production dropped more than after any previous bank run, while 1907 saw the second-highest volume of bankruptcies to that date. Production fell by 11%, imports by 26%, while unemployment rose to 8% from under 3%.
Analysis of the Financial Panic of 1907
100 years later (September 2007) two distinguished professors at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr) concluded that the Panic of 1907 “resulted from a powerful convergence of [the following] seven overlapping and interrelated forces—a ‘perfect storm’ in the financial markets:”
The financial system’s architecture was “highly fractionalized, localized, and complex” with networks that allowed quick spread of news and rumors while it also was difficult for all actors to be equally well informed.
Strong economic growth in the U.S. had created a massive demand for external finance, which was met with a significant amount of capital borrowed from European sources.
There were inadequate safety buffers for a system with many small and undiversified banks plus new and lightly regulated trust companies holding riskier assets.
Roosevelt was “on the warpath against anticompetitive business practices” as were many state governments.
Real economic shock from the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 and the summer 1907 curtailment of acceptance of U.S. finance paper by the Bank of England.
Undue fear, greed and other behavioral aberrations causing a sharp and self-reinforcing shift from optimism to pessimism.
Failure of collective action. Yes, J.P. Morgan led a collective effort that helped dampen the worst of the Panic, but it was insufficient in the overall economy and financial system.
Below is a graph comparing the Dow-Jones Industrial Average for January 1906-October 1907 with the same Average for the Financial Panic of 2008:
 As we will see in a subsequent post, the proposed meeting between the President and the four leading railroad executives never happened, and instead the President held meetings individually with quite few such executives in March through May 1907.
Since 2001 this small Choir has explored the vast landscape of sacred music from all over the world. It generally sings once a month at the 8:30 a.m. service in the Chapel and is directed by Barbara Prince, who serves in many capacities in the church. It includes members of the church’s regular choir and others regardless of age or experience. (I recently joined this Choir even though the last time I sang in a choir was nearly 60 years ago when I was a member of the Youth Choir at the First Methodist Church in Perry, Iowa.)
The Global Choir is one way that Westminster seeks to be in solidarity with her sisters and brothers around the world and to remind us in Minnesota that our Christian faith perspective is not the only one in the world. Another way is congregational and individual participation in our ongoing partnerships with churches and other organizations in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.
To illustrate this choral mission, here are the anthems from the Choir’s most recent appearance and from the forthcoming early worship service on February 16th.
On January 19th, the Global Choir sang Palestinian and Israeli anthems.
The Palestinian anthem, Truth Is Our Call, has the following lyrics:
“Truth is our call and justice our claim. The will of our God is our vanguard and aim; the God of us all, of mercy and love, of freedom and peace for all of humankind.
Refrain: We’ll strive and we’ll strive and we will not be still to lift all oppression with God’s help and will. We’ll raise high the banner of righteousness and truth, we’ll strive and we’ll strive and we will not be still.
We shall not give in to fear or to hate; we will speak the truth and we’ll strive to be just. With love we will stir the conscience of the world; with patience and faith we’ll save our home and land.”
Truth Is Our Call was composed by Rima Nasir Tarazi, a musician, an activist, a community leader and, above all, a humanist and a loving grandmother. After 1967, she started writing the lyrics for her compositions. Through those songs she documents the inhumane daily events taking place under the Israeli military occupation. She expresses the voice of Palestinian mothers, prisoners and children who all yearn for freedom, dignity and peace. Although Rima’s songs are about a dispossessed and suffering people, yet they are full of hope as they communicate the dreams and aspirations of the Palestinian people.
The Israeli anthem was Sim Shalom—Prayer for Peace. Here are its lyrics:
“Grant us peace Thy most precious gift, O Thou eternal source of peace. Bless our country, that it may be a stronghold of peace. May contentment reign within its borders, bonds of friendship throughout the world. Plant virtue in every soul and love for Thy name in every heart. Give us peace.”
Sim Shalom (Song of Peace) was composed by Max Janowski (1912–1991), a composer of Jewish liturgical music, a conductor, choir director, and voice teacher. Born in Berlin, in his early 20’s he became head of the piano department at a music academy in Tokyo, Japan, but emigrated to the U.S. in 1937 and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war he was the longtime music director at a synagogue in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago.
Sim Shalom is dedicated to the U.S. African-American diplomat Ralph Bunche, who was awarded the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as the United Nations’ chief mediator in assisting Israel and its neighbors (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria) in negotiating the 1949 Armistice Agreements that ended the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and established Armistice Demarcation Lines.
February 16, 2014
On February 16th in honor of U.S. black history month the Choir will sing an African-American spiritual and an anthem from Uganda.
The spiritual is “Who Will Be a Witness” with new words and music by Donald Moore, an Ohio-based composer, arranger, lyricist and author of over 800 sacred, secular, educational and pop choral works. Its words are the following:
“Who will be a witness, O my Lord? Who will be a witness, O my Lord? Who’ll be there beside me? Who’ll be there to guide me? Who will be a witness, O my Lord? I’m goin’ to heaven, want to do it right. I’m goin’ to heaven, I’ll be dressed in white.
Who’ll be there to meet me? Who’ll be there to greet me? Who will be a witness, O my Lord? Don’t want to stumble, don’t want to fall. I’m goin’ to heaven when the roll is called. Heaven bells are ringin’. Saints are all a singin’. Who will be a witness, O my Lord? A witness, a witness, O my Lord. Who’ll be there beside me? Who’ll be there to guide me? Who’ll be there to meet me? Who’ll be there to greet me? Who will be a witness, O my Lord?”
The Ugandan anthem is “Come and Let Us Worship God,” which was composed by Cranmer Mugisha, a Bishop of the Church of Uganda, a “Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Anglican Church engaged in the mission of Jesus Christ in today’s world.” The anthem’s words are as follow:
“Come and let us worship God, turn to serve the living Lord, move from where we are misled, do as ancient prophets said.
Oh our living God, We, the creatures of your word, come to make our home in you, knowing that your word is true.
Let us hear our Maker’s voice, and let Christ inform each choice.
Sister women, brother men, let us turn to God again.
Oh our living God, We, the creatures of your word, come to make our home in you, knowing that your word is true.
 Moore also is the President and CEO of Moore Racing Enterprises LLC, which maintains a competitive midget race-car team, and a smooth-jazz/greatest-hits solo performer.
On June 16, 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi gave her lecture in Oslo, Norway accepting the Nobel Peace Prize awarded her 21 years ago. She was unable to be present on that prior occasion because she was under house arrest in her native Myanmar (Burma) for protesting the abuses of its military regime.
The 1991 Peace Prize Presentation
When the Prize was presentedin absentia in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, “In the good fight for peace and reconciliation, we are dependent on persons who set examples, persons who can symbolise [sic]what we are seeking and mobilise [sic] the best in us. Aung San Suu Kyi is just such a person. She unites deep commitment and tenacity with a vision in which the end and the means form a single unit. Its most important elements are: democracy, respect for human rights, reconciliation between groups, non-violence, and personal and collective discipline.”
The presentation continued, “The central position given to human rights in her thinking appears to reflect a real sense of the need to protect human dignity. Man is not only entitled to live in a free society; he also has a right to respect. On this platform, she has built a policy marked by an extraordinary combination of sober realism and visionary idealism. And in her case this is more than just a theory: she has gone a long way towards showing how such a doctrine can be translated into practical politics.”
An “absolute condition [for such a translation] is fearlessness,” the Nobel Chairman stated. He added that Aung San Suu Kyi had said “it is not power that corrupts, but fear. The comment was aimed at the totalitarian regime in her own country. They have allowed themselves to be corrupted because they fear the people they are supposed to lead. This has led them into a vicious circle. In her thinking, however, the demand for fearlessness is first and foremost a general demand, a demand on all of us. She has herself shown fearlessness in practice.”
The Nobel Committee concluded its 1991 statement with the words: “In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize … to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour [sic] this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”
Recognizing her inability to be present for the award in 1991, the Nobel Committee Chairman said, “The great work we are acknowledging has yet to be concluded. She is still fighting the good fight. Her courage and commitment find her a prisoner of conscience in her own country, Burma. Her absence fills us with fear and anxiety . . . .”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Acceptance Speech
Twenty-one years later, Aung San Suu Kyi formally accepted the 1991 Peace Prize in the City Hall of Oslo, Norway. The text and video of the speech are available online.
She talked about the impact in 1991 of learning of the award while she was under house arrest. “Often . . . it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an in different universe. What the Nobel Peace Prize did [in 1991] was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. . . . And what was more important, the Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten.”
She continued, “To be forgotten . . . is to die a little. It is to lose some of the links that anchor us to the rest of humanity. . . . When the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to me they were recognizing that the oppressed and the isolated in Burma were also a part of the world, they were recognizing the oneness of humanity. So for me receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders. The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart.”
“The Burmese concept of peace,” she explained, is “the happiness arising from the cessation of factors that militate against the harmonious and the wholesome. . . . Everywhere there are negative forces eating away at the foundations of peace. Everywhere can be found thoughtless dissipation of material and human resources that are necessary for the conservation of harmony and happiness in our world.”
“Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.”
While living in isolation she said she ruminated over the meaning of the Buddhist concept of the six great “dukha” or suffering: “to be conceived, to age, to sicken, to die, to be parted from those one loves, to be forced to live in propinquity with those one does not love. . . . I thought of prisoners and refugees, of migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, of that great mass of the uprooted of the earth who have been torn away from their homes, parted from families and friends, forced to live out their lives among strangers who are not always welcoming.”
“How often during my years under house arrest have I drawn strength from my favourite [sic] passages in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
……. disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people,
…… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law . . .”
“The peace of our world is indivisible,” Aung San Suu Kyi continued.” As long as negative forces are getting the better of positive forces anywhere, we are all at risk. It may be questioned whether all negative forces could ever be removed. The simple answer is: ‘No!’ It is in human nature to contain both the positive and the negative. However, it is also within human capability to work to reinforce the positive and to minimize or neutralize the negative. Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveller in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. Even if we do not achieve perfect peace on earth, because perfect peace is not of this earth, common endeavours [sic] to gain peace will unite individuals and nations in trust and friendship and help to make our human community safer and kinder.”
She then emphasized kindness. [The] most precious . . . [lesson from her isolation] I learnt . . . [was] the value of kindness. Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in our world. To be kind is to respond with sensitivity and human warmth to the hopes and needs of others. Even the briefest touch of kindness can lighten a heavy heart. Kindness can change the lives of people. ”
Aung san Suu Kyi concluded with these words. “Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace. Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace. Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution. Let us join hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake in happiness.”
I have never been to Myanmar (Burma), and I do not know the history of that country in any great detail. But in 2001 as a pro bonoattorney I helped a Burmese man obtain asylum in the U.S. because of his well-founded fear of persecution if he returned to his homeland due to his political opposition to its military regime. He had been arrested in his home country for distributing video tapes of the movie “Beyond Rangoon [now Yangon],” which was critical of the military regime.
Aung San Suu Kyi also suffered persecution because of her political opinions and thereby demonstrated the importance of human rights for her and for all of us. I share this belief in human rights although I never have had to pay the personal cost she did. I also share with her the experience of having “read” Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s life and her acceptance speech are especially moving for me.