Board to investigate Nobel Peace Prize

*cough* blowjob!

Fredrik Heffermehl, a Norwegian activist who has long criticized laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize, has finally convinced someone to investigate how the committee determines its awards. Props to Pete for the link. In an awesome instance of how location still matters in geopolitics, it turns out that the Nobel is supervised by the Stockholm County Administrative Board. Should the SCAB decide that the Peace Prize committee has not carried out the will of Alfred J. Nobel, it will have the legal power to invalidate awards going back three years. Probably that isn’t going to happen. But remember when they gave it to the commander-in-chief of two wars who subsequently used robot planes to incinerate various foreign nationals? It’s possible the Peace Prize has seen some mission creep.

Analyzing the Nobel Peace Prize means making some hard decisions between reason and sentiment. Obviously, an international award for peace is good. You don’t want to take after those bastards on the peace committee with guns blazing, yet you also want to maintain some scrupulous attention to what the Nobel Peace Prize is actually for. Otherwise, you wind up with laureates like Henry Kissinger. From his Wikipedia page:

In 1973, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Paris Peace Accords of 1973… American singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer famously quipped that the award “…makes political satire obsolete,” in ironic reference to Kissinger’s human-rights record, established or otherwise.┬áIn 1976, Henry Kissinger was officially named to be the first honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

So thank you Globetrotters for proving that political satire is absolutely not obsolete. Also, if investigating the awards jury sounds like a way to maybe hurt the Nobel Peace Prize, giving it to just anyone is a certain way to kill it entirely. You don’t give the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, and you don’t give the Peace Prize to a dude whose plan for ending the Vietnam War was to bomb Cambodia. You give it to a dude like Martin Luther King.

Except maybe Dr. King was not such an appropriate recipient, either. As stipulated in the will of Alfred “Kind of Guilty About Inventing Dynamite” Nobel, the Peace Prize is for those who diminish the role of military power in international relations. King was a goddamn world hero, but his work to desegregate the South did not do much to, say, prevent the Vietnam war. Did he deserve every prize human beings could heap upon him? Probably. Did he discourage the use of war as instrument of diplomacy? Not measurably more than Cat Stevens.

So we face a dilemma: we do not want to attack the recognition of good people, but we also want the Peace Prize to be for what it is. Otherwise we risk just giving it to exciting new Presidents. Balancing those two concerns will be an ugly process, and chances are Fredrik Heffermehl will garner notoriety proportional to his fame. In the news, he will be the guy who is against the Nobel Peace Prize committee. I submit that, like the problem he hopes to address, this likelihood captures what is wrong with contemporary discourse.

In 2012, the Nobel Prize is for being a good person. In 1962, it went to Linus Pauling; in 1994, they gave it to Yasser Arafat. The argument over Arafat centered on whether he was good, while ignoring the question of whether a Peace Prize laureate could preside over an organization that regularly constructed and detonated bombs. A more mature discourse could separate the question of whether an individual deserves a prize from whether he deserves a prize for peace. I suspect that what we have going now cannot.

Maybe SCAB will surprise me and decide that the Peace Prize should only be awarded for peace, or at least withheld from commanders in wars. I bet that it won’t, though, and the Nobel Peace Prize will continue to go the way of the Prize for Literature: an award for what you are, not for what you did. It is not so damning that our society has made the Peace Prize an award for general goodness. But it does not speak well of our attention to detail.

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2 Comments

  1. The distinction between a Nobel Prize for peace and one for “being good” is important.

    People remember Martin Luther King Jr for civil rights, but he also was anti war (and highly criticized for it) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.#Opposition_to_the_Vietnam_War

    His stand cost him the support of many white elites. It was courageous…and consistent with his condemnation of poverty.

    His speech “Beyond Vietnam”:
    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

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