New Internationalist

Madeleine Albright to receive America’s highest honour


There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women
.
(Madeleine Albright, 1937 - )

As the anniversary of probably one of the most infamous responses in broadcasting history approaches, the woman who uttered it is shortly to be awarded ‘the highest honour’ America can bestow upon a civilian: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Madeleine Albright of course confirmed on US television news programme 60 Minutes on 12 May, 1996 that the deaths of half a million children as a result of the absolute, all-embracing deprivations of the UN embargo were ‘a hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.’

Her comment also further endorsed the extent to which the United Nations had soiled its own founding affirmation to ‘save succeeding generations  from the scourge of war’ by declaring a new method of warfare– the withdrawal and denial of all life-sustaining necessities. Albright was US Ambassador to the UN at the time of her astonishing statement.

Ironically, as a child she and her Czechoslovakian family, her father a diplomat, lived in London during the Second World War and while there she appeared in a film on the plight of children in war.

In her autobiography she describes how her experience and knowledge of the horrors and repercussions of war were also shaped by the terrible consequences for a small state when it collides with the interests of a big one. Iraq’s 25 million and America’s 350 million populations come to mind.

She joined in further heaping misery on Iraq’s most vulnerable as US Secretary of State (1997-2001). Perhaps even here she was shaped by her childhood experiences. When her family returned to Prague after the war, controversy was caused by their being given a home owned by a wealthy German family. Germans were expelled from the country by prime ministerial decree after the war.

At least it was only a house. The government she served went on to take over – and comprehensively ruin, plunder and further impoverish – two countries and their peoples.

Ms Albright’s current positions include being co-chair of the United Nations Development Programme’s Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor which ‘works to make real improvements in people’s lives (fostering) economic growth, poverty reduction, human development’ and making the ‘law work for everyone.’ 

In Sept 2006 she received a Menschen in Europe Award for furthering the cause of international understanding. You could not make it up.

On 26 April, announcing the 13 recipients of the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, President Obama commended Albright for her efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, as well as for her role as a long-time champion of democracy and human rights all over the world.

‘These extraordinary honourees (have) challenged us … inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place,’ said the President.

Reading this ‘adventures of a heroine’ fantasy story, the memories of the Iraqi mothers I have held as they watched helplessly as their children faded away in front of us, for want of medications, denied by Albright’s country and the UN she served, flood back.

The funerals, with the litany of coffins, so small, the impossibly little grave sites beyond counting, throughout Iraq, are a testimony to a unique wickedness.

One cynical blogger was so incensed that the header read: ‘Genocidal war criminal wins Presidential Medal whilst invoking Holocaust memories.’

But Madam Albright is right on one thing. There is indeed ‘a special place in hell, for women who don’t help other women.’ Her Award may yet haunt her to become the ultimate poisoned chalice. Here’s hoping.

Photo by the US Government under a Public Domain Licence.

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