The Nobel Peace Prize: Totally irrelevant?

It is worth going through some of the dodgiest choices made by the Nobel committee in the time they've awarded the Peace Prize first in 1901.

Ellen Sirleaf Johnson in 2011 (Wiki Commons).

Today, at 11am Norwegian local time, we’ll know who’s won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize–an award known for its growing irrelevance. Everyone predicts the winner will be Malala Yousafzai. It’s worth going through some of the dodgiest choices made by the Nobel committee in the time they’ve awarded the prize first in 1901.

Theodore Roosevelt, then-President of the United States, was awarded the prize in 1906, for negotiating a peace in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-5–a war that he contributed to by encouraging Japan’s colonial ambitions in Korea. That and expanding American colonialism in the Philippines (yes, the US was a colonial power). Peace-loving soul that he was he then put on his pith helmet and celebrated his prize by going round East Africa on a killing spree with a ridiculously large entourage and butchering over 10,000 wild animals. Of course, he is also a renowned “conservationist.”

Elihu Root, a US diplomat and winner in 1912. He won for promoting the idea that “conflicts between states must be resolved by arbitration.” This while as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Root played colonizer as he “helped to bring Pacific and Latin American territories under US control. The Philippines, Cuba and Panama were occupied. Both Roosevelt and Root believed that the US was entitled to lead and govern people whom they believed to be uncivilized.”

In 1919 Woodrow Wilson won for his role in founding the League of Nations (the United Nations’s colonial forerunner), while being an out and out white supremacist at the same time. He segregated the federal civil service and opposed anti-lynching laws.

After they had not awarded the prize from 1939 to 1943 and gave it to the Red Cross in 1944, they decided in 1945, for some inexplicable reason, in favor of Cordell Hull, who as President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State had rejected reports of the Holocaust, sending Jewish refugees back to Europe and in most cases certain death.

Yes, Henry Kissinger was awarded the Peace Prize in 1973 while he was supposedly negotiating the end of the US’s colonial war in Vietnam but secretly ordering the bombing of Laos. Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese general, who was to be the co-recipient, declined the award. Kissinger never impressed Christopher Hitchens, who called for the Nobel laureate to be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and claimed Kissinger had written early in his career that the problem with nuclear weapons was that they were so hard to use.

In 1979 to Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Theresa. No comment.

In general, the Nobel committee are always very late to the moral party. For example, they should have awarded it to Mandela when he was still considered a terrorist by South Africa’s regime, Britain and the USA and much else of the “Western” world. When they finally awarded it to Mandela, in 1993, they forced him to share it with FW de Klerk, who is accused of ordering a death squad hit–5 innocent children were murdered–while on his way to the ceremony in Norway. As we know, as recent as 2012 de Klerk was still defending Apartheid.

In 2009 Barack Obama won it “… for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” Huh? Like Theodore Roosevelt before him, he celebrated his award by going on a killing spree. Unlike Theodore Roosevelt his victims have been people rather than animals.

Finally, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson won in 2011 (she was joint winner with  more deserving countrywomen Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni Tawakkol Karman).

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.

And do not hinder them

We hardly think of children as agents of change. At the height of 1980s apartheid repression in South Africa, a group of activists did and gave them the tool of print.

The new antisemitism?

Stripped of its veneer of nuance, Noah Feldman’s essay in ‘Time’ is another attempt to silence opponents of the Israeli state by smearing them as anti-Jewish racists.