Making peace with the prize

But wait a minute, now. Before I go into my rant, and believe me I will, let’s get a couple of things straight:

First of all, don’t blame Obama: We don’t know who did the nominating. In fact, I thought he handled the news pretty well. Could he have simply refused the award? It’s the friggin’ Nobel Peace Prize, and there was a time when that meant a lot. Nobody would have said no. (Except for Le Duc Tho of Viet Nam, who turned it down in 1973 on the grounds that his country was not at peace.)

Second, this is hardly the first time the Nobel Committee screwed up. Al Gore won for his questionable mixture of politics and shaky science. Jimmy Carter won for his brokerage of sustained and long lasting peace in the Middle East. Yasser Arafat won because cold-blooded killer terrorists are people, too. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan won for – I don’t know – something. Maybe he got it for saving UN diplomats from all those unpaid parking tickets.

You know who never won a Nobel Peace prize, despite five nominations? Mahatma Gandhi.

So the Nobel Committee is a bunch of left wing cheaters, right?

Well – left wing, yeah. You’ll never see a Republican President win the Peace Prize, although liberals will immediately counter that Republicans wouldn’t do anything to earn it. (Wait, wasn’t Theodore Roosevelt a Republican? And isn’t he the guy who said “Speak softly and carry a big stick?” Well, even the Noble people can make mistakes.)

As for the rest, you need to know this:

The Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded on the basis of successful results. On the contrary, just like Obama, the Peace Prize is based on hope rather than accomplishments. At least, that’s what some of the Committee members say. Other statements indicate they voted on him based on his actions after the nominations were closed, which is not against the rules as far as I know. There are rules, aren’t there?

But Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize should go to whoever “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.”

“Shall have done the most or the best work.”

Hm.

The award includes a medal, a diploma, a whole wad of cash, and a special prize inside a cardboard box of Cracker Jack.

Personally, I’m all for fraternity between nations: the more international friends we have, the less people want to kill us. I’m not quite so thrilled about the idea of promoting congresses, considering the one Congress we have here in America is quite capable of screwing things up all by themselves.

As for the rest, reducing a standing army only promotes peace if both sides are committed to the peace process. If Israel did away with their standing army they’d be wiped out in a week, and not in a peaceful way. America’s standing army prevented all sorts of mischief by the Soviet military, for decades. There’s a good argument that the existence of nuclear weapons actually prevented World War Three through the high-stress and oh-so fun game of Mutually Assured Destruction.

So we’re left with yet another divide on the question of how to preserve peace. Conservatives tend to believe in peace through strength, with the more moderate saying speak quietly, but carry a big stick. Liberals tend to believe that if we just reduce our arms and show our enemies that we mean them no harm, they’ll respond in kind.

My opinion is that it depends on which enemy you’re dealing with. If your enemy is a zealot who believes killing non-believers will earn him a place in Heaven, he’ll be more than happy to see you drop your guard – but not so he can go home and design a startup website.

So the question is this: Is the Nobel Peace Prize better served by the letter of its intent, or by what people think it should be about?

The reason I was so stunned is because I feel the Peace Prize should go to someone who’s actually accomplished something. My problem is that Obama received what used to be the world’s foremost peace award on the basis of looking good and making nice speeches in front of a teleprompter.

I can do that. Well, I may not look as good, but I can make nice speeches. You think I don’t know about peacemaking?  I raised two daughters.

A total of 205 people were nominated for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Was there nobody in that group who’d actually done anything? In 2008 the award went to former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, after he mediated several international conflicts.

Records will be sealed for the next fifty years on who the other 204 nominees were, but here’s one who is believed to be on the list:

Dr. Sima Samar has been running around Afghanistan, treating women and girls for the last decade. The chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, she had to flee Afghanistan twice but kept returning, taking care of the rural sick and living under constant death threats. She’s founded clinics and schools, and fought against the forced wearing of the burka, which she says causes a high instance of bone diseases in Afghan women who never see the sun. The Taliban – you know, those guys we should just leave alone because we’re horrible people? – wants her dead, and wants women put back into slavery.

Then there are some more questionable Noble Peace Prize nominees – such as Benito Mussolini and his good bud, Adolf Hitler.

Which just goes to show, sometimes the only way to know how a choice will pan out is to see it from the distance of history. Maybe, half a century from now, people will still be stunned that Obama got the Prize for having a catchy campaign slogan. Then again, maybe it will seem like a stroke of brilliance.

For the sake of our children, I hope it’s the latter. But for now, no, I don’t think Obama deserved this award. On the other hand, since the Noble Peace Prize has become increasingly partisan and meaningless, maybe we should let it go and come up with something new for the truly deserving.

 

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