The Atrocity of Hope, Part 7: Our Ignoble Laureate

So our President Incarnate, his hands dripping (metaphorically – I’m sure he washes them regularly) with the blood of Pakistani and Afghan children, along with shredded bits of the principles of Nuremberg, jets off to Norway to accept a prize that is supposed to be awarded only to those who have worked for “the abolition or reduction of standing armies.”


There, having given Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King a patronisingly dismissive pat on the head, he adds: “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation [Note: clearly he must have taken some secret version of the oath of office, because that’s not what the public one says], I cannot be guided by their examples alone.” And then he has the effrontery to propound a bizarro version of history in which, “for more than six decades,” the united states has “brought stability,” “helped underwrite global security,” “enabled democracy to take hold,” and “promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea.” (I suppose this would be an example of the u.s. promoting peace and prosperity in Korea.)

And as if all that weren’t audacity enough, he has the nerve to tell an audience of Scandinavians that “a non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.”

That’s right: the president of the country that turned away Jews who were attempting to escape the Holocaust belittles the accomplishments of the people who actually saved their Jews from Hitler’s goons through the use of nonviolent resistance. As Bryan Caplan reminds us:

Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch resistance to Nazism from 1940 to 1945 was pronounced and fairly successful. In Norway, for example, teachers refused to promote fascism in the schools. For this, the Nazis imprisoned a thousand teachers. But, the remaining teachers stood firm, giving anti-fascist instruction to children and teaching in their homes. This policy made the pro-fascist Quisling government so unpopular that it eventually released all of the imprisoned teachers and dropped its attempt to dominate the schools. … In Copenhagen, Danes used a general strike to liberalize martial law. …

But, surely the most amazing but widely neglected case of nonviolent resistance against Nazi Germany was the protection of Jews and other persecuted minorities from deportation, imprisonment, and murder. … Gene Sharp shows how the nations which nonviolently resisted National Socialist racial persecutions saved almost all of their Jews, while Jews in other Nazi-controlled nations were vastly more likely to be placed in concentration camps and killed. The effort to arrest Norway’s seventeen hundred Jews sparked internal resistance and protest resignations; most of the Norwegian Jews fled to Sweden. … When Himmler tried to crack down on Danish Jews, the Danes thwarted his efforts. Not only did the Danish government and people resist – through bureaucratic slowdowns and noncooperation – but, surprisingly, the German commander in Denmark also refused to help organize Jewish deportations. This prompted Himmler to import special troops to arrest Jews. But, in the end almost all Danish Jews escaped unharmed. …

The omnipresent pattern … is that totalitarian governments are not omnipotent. They need the cooperation of the ruled to exert their will. If a people denies cooperation, even a government as vicious as Hitler’s, bound by few moral constraints, might be unable to get what it wants.
(The Literature of Nonviolent Resistance and Civilian-Based Defense)

Then after collecting his prize and insulting the givers, Obama jets away again, snubbing the traditional ceremonies. Note to Scandinavia: don’t give our president any more prizes. Really. You don’t need to stay in this abusive relationship.

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15 Responses to The Atrocity of Hope, Part 7: Our Ignoble Laureate

  1. Tim December 12, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Am I imaging things? But didn’t Obama look guilty, as if he knew he was lying, during his speech. And didn’t the audience seem uncomfortable and embarassed, as if they realised they gave the award to the wrong man?

    His sanctions-rattling (sabre rattling) threats to Iran over the nuclear weapons program the IAEA says doesn’t exist hints that sabre-rattling will likely follow. What a place to make such a speech!

  2. Anon73 December 12, 2009 at 2:16 am #

    You could argue that protecting the US is implied by the duty of being President of the United States. Interestingly, the wiki article on the presidential oath you linked to says Obama corrected Roberts on the exact wording of the oath, so obviously Obama must know the oath’s exact wording.

  3. Aster December 12, 2009 at 3:46 am #

    Caplan’s essay is a fantastic skeleton key. I’ve generally agreed with the social anarchists that anarcho-capitalists aren’t legitimate heirs to an anarchist narrative, but this essay inclines me differently in Caplan’ case. But then I’m not an anarchist, so it’s likely not my fight.


    The pieces by Tolstoy are personally very interesting. I’ve never read Tolstoy beyond a few essays and short stories, but his precise kind of emphasis on the doctrine of love rivets me.

    Roderick, may I ask where you would go in literature for the clearest, most original, and/or most influential statement and/or poetic presentation of this idea? I’m referring to a certain meme of unmediated love as a pure source of artistic, moral, or social value prevalent among a variety of 19th century writers. Tolstoy makes ample use of it politically in his Letter to a Hindu and Notes for Officers – Notes for Soldiers referenced here. It’s very homologous to his idea of genuine emotional experience in What is Art? I was taught that Tolstoy’s theories in question derived from Rousseau’s critique of refinement and artifice. which makes sense.

    The broad idea is Christian, but the 19th century form is fused with Enlightenment optimism, Romantic affirmation of passion, and bourgeois social norms (I use the term neutrally- companionate marriage as a social norm is certainly an advance over pure patriarchy). It’s arguably constitutive of the messy artifact called ‘Western’ culture. Joan Baez and John Lennon believe in it (and in a much nicer way than Tolstoy). So does J.K. Rowling. Vichy Fournier is determined to whack it to death with a mallet.

    The reason I ask is because I’ve hit some contradictions, and I’m trying to tease out a bad premise. This issue strikes the precise pitch I’ve been trying to capture and identify.

    I’ve been listening to Ken Hill’s version of Phantom of the Opera (I want to adapt the story for an RPG module). Just about everything gothic seems to be powered by aestheticising everything the premise in question dualises as evil.

    Please forgive me if I’m reaching for references at random, but blanking on the concept is precisely the problem, which is why I’d be grateful for any advice.

    • John December 12, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

      This is why I say anarcho-“capitalist” not “anarcho”-capitalist.

    • Roderick December 13, 2009 at 7:39 pm #

      Roderick, may I ask where you would go in literature for the clearest, most original, and/or most influential statement and/or poetic presentation of this idea?

      That’s a good question, but I don’t have a good answer. So you win! 🙂

  4. Sheldon Richman December 12, 2009 at 10:59 am #


  5. Ralph Raico December 12, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    Roderick, an excellent piece!

  6. Brandon December 12, 2009 at 11:36 am #

    Roderick, this is one of your greatest blogging achievements. Bravo.

  7. G.Ben-Diks December 13, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Ye prize is for those who do much “the abolition or reduction of standing armies.” From what I see, the prize went to the right person. The armies of the USA aren’t standing around much these days; they’re sitting around like ducks in places all over the world, places like like Ft.Hood, Mannheim, and Okinawa. And when they’re not sitting around they’re running around like Visigoths at a day-after-Thanksgiving sale. And when the USA armies aren’t doing any running around or sitting around they’re flying off the handle.

    The current President has continued the practically 100-year USA tradition of not letting the armies just stand around. Therefore, Obama gets the prize.

    The other lesser-known prize, the Peas Prize, is definitely a toss-up twixt the Jolly Green Giant or the Hulk.

  8. Arthur Edelstein December 31, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    This is a great essay. Another important example of nonviolent resistance during the Holocaust (documented at length in Nathan Stolzfus’s book, “Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany”) is of the Gentile women in Berlin whose public protest succeeded in preventing their Jewish husbands from being deported to death camps in the East. See


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