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Volume 68, Issue 59, Friday, November 15, 2002


Nobel Laureate urges for activism

By Ray Hafner
Senior Staff Writer

Americans need to come to terms with "the myth of American values and the reality of American foreign policy," a Nobel Peace Prize winner said Wednesday.

Jody Williams delivered the message that Americans should stop being timid and stand up for their rights during the UH Graduate School of Social Work Second Annual Jenkins Distinguished Lecture.

Williams won her Nobel in 1997 for her work on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Today, 145 governments have signed the treaty the ICBL created, and 129 have ratified it, the Human Rights Watch Web site reports.

Nobel Laureate for Peace Jody Williams spoke about American foreign policy and urged audience members to stand up for their rights during a lecture at the Cullen Performance Hall on Thursday.
Melissa Zlatow/The Daily Cougar

"Americans, I believe, are wonderful, but unless we begin taking responsibility for what is done in our name, we will be vulnerable," she said of terrorism.

When asked by an audience member about foreign policy, Williams rattled off more than a dozen examples of where the United States had instituted harmful programs or policy.

The fact that Americans gave Saddam Hussein weapons and technology during the Iraq-Iran war and today calls him an evil dictator is a prime example of Americans "conveniently" forgetting their history.

Americans donit think of themselves as part of the international community and have no idea of the real way people in other countries view America, she said.

"What we do here is not what we do in other countries," she said.

Williams cited a study titled "Why They Hate Us" by the Pew Research Center in which it found that, unless U.S. foreign policy changed, people in Arab nations would continue to hate Americans.

"Unfortunately, I think over the past 10, 15 years, the trend has been to become Stepford citizens," she said, referencing the 1975 film The Stepford Wives in which women are robots, simply doing as theyire husbands tell them.

Williams said she stopped being a Stepford citizen in 1981 when a man handed her a leaflet calling El Salvador another Vietnam. Intrigued, she went to a church basement filled with excitement, hoping someone as revolutionary as Fidel Castro or Che Guevarra would be speaking.

"Che was cute," she said.

Instead it was a University of Southern California-educated man in a three-piece suit. From that one leaflet and that one meeting, she became a full-time activist, she said.

"Iim not a customer of the government; the government is a representation of me," she said. 

Her work in El Salvador and Nicaragua led the Vietnam Veterans of America and a medical organization in Germany to ask her to begin a campaign to eliminate antipersonnel landmines from use in war.

Because a rifle requires a soldier to fire it, it is not indiscriminate, Williams said; when the war is over and the soldiers go home, so do the guns and their ability to cause harm. A landmine is different because it lies dormant, waiting for anything to step on it before it detonates and kills, she said.

Landmines havenit been deployed in France since World War II, but in 1996, 36 French farmers died from antipersonnel landmines while tilling their fields, she said. 

Because those weapons do not discriminate, the ICBL focused on educating military leaders of their responsibility outside battle. The efforts paid off at the September 1997 diplomatic conference in Oslo, Norway, with the creation of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines.

To this day, the United States has not signed the treaty. The only two NATO nations that havenit signed it are the United States and Turkey. In North America, only the United States and Cuba have not signed, she said.

The official explanation in the Clinton years Williams said, was because landmines were necessary in protecting South Korea from North Korea.

Williams works as the spokeswoman and chief strategist for the ICBL. She is also working to strengthen and ratify the International Criminal Courts, a body she said the Bush administration is working to undermine.

Williams hates the bumper sticker "Visualize Peace" because that is not how peace is created.

"Thereis nothing magical about working for peace. Itis just hard work every single day."

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