The Nobel Peace Prize: A Complete Farce?
President Barack Obama’s recent receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize is another gift to the media – the list of controversies dogging the new president continues to grow. The Peace Prize award has set certain people’s hair on fire: Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, to name two. Take a Prosac, fellas. And the award’s clearly helped widen the growing polarization between the Left and the Right in America.
North of the border, the Toronto Globe and Mail on Saturday provided yea and nay arguments on Obama’s award by two of the paper’s main columnists. Meanwhile Rome burns – people continue killing one another in the Middle East, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan…and the very long list goes on.
So is there any substance – validity – to the Nobel Peace Prize?
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was born in Stockholm, and one of his interests after graduating with a degree in chemistry was explosives. One area of focus for him was how to produce nitroglycerine safely, which had been discovered in 1847. Years later in 1895, one year before his death, Nobel wrote his will which contained the basis for the subsequent Nobel Prize. While the scientific elements of the Prize were clear, the reasoning behind the Peace Prize was never articulated in detail by Nobel.
Nobel stated in his will that the Peace Prize should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Moreover, the Peace Prize was to be awarded by a five person committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament.
Between 1901 and 2008, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 96 times to people and 23 times to organizations. Here’s a sample of recipients:
• Red Cross (three times)
• Henry Dunant, Frederic Passy (1901)
• Theodore Roosevelt (1906)
• Woodrow Wilson (1919)
• Frank B. Kellog (1929)
• Nansen International Office for Refugees (1938)
• Lester B. Pearson (1957)
• Linus Pauling (1962)
• Martin Luther King (1964)
• Henry Kissinger (1973)
• Mother Teresa (1979)
• Desmond Tutu (1984)
• Elie Wiesel (1986)
• The 14th Dalai Lama (1989)
• Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk (1993)
• Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin (1994)
• Jimmy Carter (2002)
• Al Gore (2007)
Granted, some of the Peace Prize recipients have been seen as questionable in terms of the weak or non-existent results they produced, one example being Henry Kissenger. And now Barack Obama is the recipient for 2009.
To say that the world was caught off guard by Obama’s award is an understatement. Reaction has ranged from jubilation to apoplexy by the Conservative Right. It’s been stated by many, quite appropriately, that Obama’s greatest achievement in his nine months as President is being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But I would add that we shouldn’t forget his infamous Beer Summit, an exemplary display of mediation skills…well, sort of.
It’s been said that the Nobel Peace Prize has evolved from actual achievement to the espousing of vision about solving world problems. Well, President Obama scores big time on that type of scale. Just recall his statements and promises during his long pre-election campaign and in the early days of his presidency. If that’s what the Nobel Peace Prize is now about, then I have the solutions for world hunger, conflict in the Middle East, AIDS and bad breath. Someone, please nominate me – quick!
Bishop Desmond Tutu perhaps said it best last Friday: that anticipation of an even greater contribution will be expected from President Obama. Indeed, the bar has just been raised. And the problem this may pose to Obama is that it will prove to be an anchor to his presidency.
Finally, what is also rather odd – perhaps suspicious – is that Barack Obama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize only 11 days after taking office as President of the United States. This has prompted a number of commentators to claim that awarding the Peace Prize to Barack Obama was a defacto poke in the eye to George W. Bush’s presidency. Sure, G.W. proved to be a disaster for America, but naïve jubilation over a new charismatic president and a loss of judgement in selecting a recipient for a once-esteemed award reflects a society that is losing its way.