Peace, they say: Nordlinger vs. Lundestad

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum was held in Minneapolis on the campus of the University of Minnesota over the weekend. Yesterday was Global Day. I’m not sure what made it Global Day, but it was. However, I am sure what the highlight of the day was. It was previewed in the Star Tribune here.

At noon Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, debated National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger on the merits of the prize. Jay is the author of Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. The debate was moderated by my old friend Steve Young and streamed live around the world. The video is below.

This was a debate between two formidably knowledgeable speakers. Despite its 90-minute length, I recommend it highly if you have any interest in the subject (which really is modern history and politics).

Lundestad must have been responsible for Nordlinger’s inclusion on the platform with him for the debate. The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is the only such Nobel-authorized program in the world. It is officially affiliated with the Norwegian Nobel Institute, sponsoring annual programs each March in Minneapolis. This was the program’s twenty-sixth time around. Jay wouldn’t have been on the stage with Lundestad if Lundestad hadn’t suggested or approved him.

Yet Lundestad treated Nordlinger like a feared opponent known (by him) to have the better argument. Lundestad spoke first. Obviously having a heads-up about Nordlinger’s critique (such as it is, mixed with praise) of the award, he sought to preempt it. Lundestad itemized the four or five most praiseworthy recipients of the award. He denied that it fostered an equivalence between East and West during the Cold War. He implied that it shared Americans’ high regard of Ronald Reagan’s conduct in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

As I listened to him in the first few minutes of his presentation, I wondered whether herring was a Norwegian product. Lundestad specialized in the red variety, with a high volume of straw men thrown in for good measure. He played dirty. His comments were shot through with dishonest points that will be evident to the intelligent auditor with no help needed from me.

Lundestad seemed to me to hit bottom at two points. First, Lundestad implied that Jay criticizes the award to Nelson Mandela because of Mandela’s criticism of the United States (as though Jay is a jingo who cannot abide a critic of the United States). In fact, Jay criticized Mandela for his support for the tyrannical regimes of Khadaffy and Castro. What Lundestad did here, before a friendly audience treating him as an authoritative source, was foul.

Second, Lundestad defended the award to Arafat (along with Rabin and Peres). Jay noted that the award to Arafat was one of only three in the history of the prize that had prompted the resignation of a committee member. In this case it prompted the resignation of Kåre Kristiansen, a veteran of the Christian Democratic Party. Manifesting the characteristic European hatred of Israel, Lundestad dismissed Kristiansen as “a Likudnik.”

For the record, as Jay writes in his book, Kristiansen was a devout Christian and friend to Israel. He founded a Friends of Israel group in the the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament). He founded the group in 1973. The Likud Party itself wasn’t founded until late 1973. The Friends of Israel group probably predated the founding of the Likud Party. So much for Kristiansen the supposed Likudnik.

“I have great respect for the Jewish people,” Kristiansen said at the time of the award in 1994. “My father was a pastor, so I learned much about the Jews from the Bible in my young days.” When the committee made the award to Arafat, he resigned on the ground that it should not have been conferred on the “world’s most prominent terrorist.”

Kristiansen died in 2005. In response to Lundestad’s claim that Kristiansen was “a Likudnik,” Jay drily commented (I’m writing from memory): “I wonder what Kristiansen would say if he were here to defend himself. He’s dead…” At which point, Lundestad slightly relented. Dirty, dirty, dirty.

In his own genial and understated style, Jay was devastating. I thought he had the edge in the debate, though it was difficult to score given the lack of a specific proposition. Perhaps more importantly, I thought that Lundestad felt Jay had bested him, and he should know. I doubt Lundestad will ever again contest the issues with Jay on a level playing field.

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