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(Originally posted October 14, 2002)Posted by Alan at 10:50 PM |
Now that Jimmy Carter has received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 (see here for a list of all Nobel laureates), a lot of people think the prize is losing its respectability - especially after Fidel Castro offered his congratulations. I have news for those people - the prize was a joke from the beginning.
The first prize was shared by Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross (which itself won the prize several times over the years), and Frédéric Passy, founder of the Société francaise pour l'arbitrage entre nations. Passy had founded an earlier "peace society," the Ligue internationale et permanente de la paix, a vain attempt to avert war between France and Prussia. In France's Chamber of Deputies he opposed colonialism and pushed for disarmament and international arbitration of disputes. The French peace evangelist died in 1912, two years before World War I proved that the European peace efforts of that time, his included, were on the wrong track.
Passy is representative of one of the chief failings of the Nobel committee: it often gives the Peace Prize to people or agencies for offering peace plans that have yet to be tested. Many of the early prizes were given to people involved with peace organizations. After WWI, the committee demonstrated that it had not learned its lesson. In 1919 it gave the prize to President Woodrow Wilson for founding the ill-fated League of Nations. Five others received the award for their work with the League, at least one of whom fought for disarmament. Two Nobel Laureates of that time were Aristide Briand (1926) and Frank Billings Kellogg (1929), whose drafted the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty that outlawed war.
After outlaw nations Germany, Japan, and Italy were defeated by the Allies, the Nobel Committee continued to dole out Peace Prizes to people who talk about peace more than they implement it. Cordell Hull (1945) was one of the first of several to win the prize for work with the United Nations, an agency which over the years has waged a sort of diplomatic cold war against the United States and Israel. Ralphe Bunche was the first to receive the prize for negotiating nonexistent peace in the Middle East. [Update: He brokered the end of the 1948 war, but no long-term peace came out of it. Indeed, this was just the beginning of the Arab-Israeli cold war, punctuated several times by brief episodes of hot war, and lasting to this day.] Disarmament - a concept which should have been discredited in 1914 and 1939 - would continue to attract the wooing of the Nobel committee, in 1962, 1982, 1985, 1995, and 1997. And untested peace processes would still be honored, as illustrated by the honoring of Nelson Mandela and F. W. DeKlerk (1993) and John Hume and David Trimble (1998).
So who was the first mouthpiece for murderous regimes to become a Nobel laureate? That would appear to be the only person in history to decline the prize: Le Duc Tho (no biography available). He and Henry Kissinger were awarded the prize for the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War. Kissinger wrote an acceptance speech that was read by US ambassador to Norway Thomas R. Byrne, who represented him at the award ceremony. The message contained this remark: "Certain war has yielded to an uncertain peace in Vietnam. Where there was once only despair and dislocation, today there is hope, however frail." If Kissinger could get an award for peace that might come in the future, can I get an Academy Award for a movie I might direct in the future? (I'd like to thank the Academy for hypothetically granting me this honor, and Cameron Diaz and Edward Norton for their possibly outstanding performances.) Ironically, Le was the honest one of the pair. He knew that North Vietnam wasn't giving up on its plans to conquer the South. His job was to get the US out of the way so the NVA could march into Saigon as it did two years later. If Kissinger didn't understand that, he was utterly naive.
At least two other such thugocrats would receive the prize. Yasser Arafat (1994) is the most obvious, a man who talks peace with the West but organizes terrorism with his comrades. The other is Rigoberta Menchú. In 1992, coincidentally (?) 500 years after Columbus'
"Yeah, but what about Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa, and Lech Walesa? And don't forget about the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)." Okay, so there's a few good apples. But the roster of Nobel Laureates is dominated by ineffectual stabs toward promoting peace, and a handful of stabs against it. To judge the award by the worthy few who won it is like judging a factory that produces 90% scrap by the ten percent products it manufactures correctly. The award is meaningless.