Beyond a joke, tears for dictators, and pacifist percussion

IssueDecember 2006 - January 2007
Comment by The Mole

Tom Lehrer, the US scientist turned satirical singer-songwriter, gets “rediscovered” from time to time, delighting a new generation of admirers. But they have to discover his old material, rather than anything new, since he famously gave up writing satire in despair the day that Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Historical note: Kissinger was a warmongering US Secretary of State responsible for much of US policy in the Vietnam War era, winning the prize after the war stopped.)

Some years later, Israeli and Palestinian leaders also won the prize, during a lull in the fighting in the Middle East.

The idea that you can win a peace prize if you're a warmonger who takes a break from waging war, has been widely - and correctly - seen as discrediting the Nobel Prize. It's as appropriate as an international music award being given to someone simply because they've stopped scraping their fingernails down a blackboard.

But what has reminded The Mole of the unpeaceful nature of many of the Nobel Peace Prize winners? It's the recent statement by a phalanx of former recipients of the prize, backing calls for an arms trade treaty. The idea that a treaty to regularise that evil trade could ever be effective - given the record of previous and existing national and international controls - is laughable. And, more to the point, why would anyone want a treaty to keep an eye on the trade, rather than being rid of it?

The main result of an arms trade treaty would be to legitimise and sanctify a trade which shouldn't exist at all.

Most sad is that some of the Nobel laureates - individuals and institutions - signing the appeal are ones who genuinely are part of the peace movement, and so who ought to know better.

Wriggling over the rope

People sometimes ask what the difference is between the peace movement and the anti-war movement. One possible difference is suggested by a recent newsletter from the Stop the War Coalition (that most anti-war of organisations, or at least anti-a-particular-war ... or at least anti one-side-in-a-particular-war organisations).

A recent newsletter of theirs says, in connection with the conviction of the former Iraqi dictator, “No-one in the anti-war movement will shed a tear for Saddam Hussein, whatever his fate.” Surely, any organisation in the actually existing peace movement wouldn't have missed the opportunity to make clear their opposition to capital punishment as a matter of course - after all, even many mainstream politicians aren't afraid to do so. So why did the STWC wriggle out of saying anything?

Gong man gone

Amongst the people who died in 2006 was Ken Richmond, a former British Olympic athlete in the 1952 Melbourne games. You might not recognise the name, but if you saw a Rank film - one of the major film brands for much of the 20th century - any time in the last fifty years, you'll have seen his gleaming, oiled torso as he banged the vast gong which was the trademark opening of all Rank films.

He wasn't the first or only Rank gong-banger, but he was the longest-serving. Little-known is the fact that the man whose macho image set the scene for so many films - often classic war films - was actually totally averse to violence himself. So much so that he was a conscientious objector in the Second World War, and was imprisoned for refusing to be trained to kill.

Topics: Culture
See more of: The Molehill