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Mona Charen
Mona Charen
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Why Not Junk the Nobel Peace Prizes?

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When the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama, many, myself included, felt that the Norwegian committee had so embarrassed itself as to devalue the prize permanently. A Dallas service station sign, at the time, captured the sentiment precisely: "Free Nobel Peace Prize with Oil Change."

Jay Nordlinger's masterful new book "Peace, They Say" has changed my mind.

Not that Nordlinger dissents from the skeptical view of the 2009 prize or many others. But in his careful review of every prize and every recipient since 1901, he builds a case that the capacity of the prize to do good outweighs its mischief.

The mischief, without doubt, is infuriating. Nordlinger is pungent about the politicized prizes. The Norwegian Nobel committee, he notes, has used the prize repeatedly over the past decade to signal its contempt for one man — George W. Bush. In fact, as Nordlinger writes, the award to Obama "could be construed as the fifth anti-Bush Nobel."

The first, in 2001, while New York was still smoldering after the al-Qaida attacks, had gone to the United Nations and Kofi Annan. (The peace prize has been granted to the U.N. repeatedly.) The message seemed to be: "the U.N. must have supremacy in any fight against Islamic terrorism."

The second anti-Bush prize went to Jimmy Carter in 2002. Leaving no doubt, the chairman of the committee explained that the Carter award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line the current administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States." Nordlinger's review of Jimmy Carter's post-presidential antics is only for those with strong stomachs. I had forgotten, for example, Carter's gushings about North Korea and the "reverence with which they look upon their leader."

In 2005, the Nobel laureate was Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Why ElBaradei? He was known for whitewashing Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, for condemning Israel and the United States every day before his morning coffee, and for denying and excusing Iran's push for nuclear weapons.

Fear of Iranian nukes, he said, had been "hyped."

Next, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Al Gore and the U.N. (there it is again) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And finally, to President Obama, who had only been in office a matter of weeks before being so honored. The prize seemed to say: "Thank you for not being Bush."

So how can you resist the urge to dismiss the whole enterprise as the squawks of leftist harpies? A few names suggest the answer: Andrei Sakharov, Liu Xiaobo, Lech Walesa, Norman Borlaug, Aung San Suu Kyi. And there were others. The Nobel Peace Prize has the capacity to make an instant worldwide celebrity. No other recognition carries so much prestige — and that prestige can make a material difference. Lech Walesa said the prize changed everything for him, for Poland, and for the defeat of communism. "The Nobel prize blew a strong wind into our sail. Without that prize, it would have been very difficult to continue struggling."

The Nobel Committee honored a German prisoner of conscience in 1936, Carl von Ossietsky, when making such an award was not without risk. The Swedes were vexed with the Norwegians for an act they regarded as needlessly provocative towards Nazi Germany. The Germans were so angry that they forbade Germans from accepting any future Nobel prizes, including those for science and literature. It was a response that would be copied by other totalitarian states. The Soviets created the Lenin Prize to compete with the Nobel, and the Chinese initiated the Confucius Prize after Liu Xiaobo was honored.

"Peace, They Say" introduces a fascinating gallery of heroes, fools and dreamers. Every prize includes a story. Some are uplifting, some are galling, and others are poignant. Henry Kissinger, whose shared prize with Le Duc Tho was among the most controversial in the history of the honor, told Elie Wiesel on the occasion of the latter's 1986 prize: "I was not proud of my Nobel, but I am of yours."

Nordlinger is an engaging and wise tour guide, offering reflections along the way on the nature of peace and its maintenance, the folly of moral equivalence, and the pitfalls of disarmament. No one is better versed in the zeitgeist that produced so many groan-inducing prizes — and yet Nordlinger makes a persuasive case that, on balance, the Nobel Peace Prize is a worthwhile institution.

To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM

 



Comments

4 Comments | Post Comment
Tom, I read both last minute messages directed to me from Ms. Charen's previous column "If Obama Had A Son". , which you wrote at the last minute. Unfortunately, it's a new column and though I did answer, I'll post it here also, so you know your words didn't fall on deaf ears.

Tom, writing one's views on this forum requires checking ego at the door and opening oneself up for lively debate or outright attack. It would be far more gratifying to my ego to keep my opinions to myself but then all learning would have stopped. One hopes their words cause others to think about things in another way and most on this forum provide thoughtful commentary. We read the views of others, think about it, sometimes we learn something new. Your response is scorn. If one hopes their words cause another to think, how is that egotistical? Isn't thinking a quality to be encouraged?

You say my thoughts were used by Johnson, that we arrived at the same conclusion and you call Johnson a very good man. As a human being capable of thought which apparently coincides with the thoughts of President Johnson, am I no less worthy of the same esteem?

"What if all of your high-toned but essentially mean and incorrect assumptions are old, really old, and more experienced people have been hearing them for 50 years and don't find them true or convincing at all?

...."high toned" "mean" incorrect assumptions" ...all very subjective based only on your perceptions. No thinking there.

"more experienced people have been hearing them for 50 yrs".... you presume to know my level of experience when in truth you only know your own.

"and don't find them true or convincing at all" ....

That's ok Tom, because there are questioning minds throughout this and other public forums most all of us looking for answers or validation of our stance. We all find our own truth through a process of listening and talking to each other. Finally, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. More experienced people have been doing so for more than 60 years.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Steve
Thu Apr 5, 2012 1:27 PM
Steve

R A S C I S M you wrote. Better believe I'm thinking as I type this. R A S C I S M is a conversation ender. It is an incorrect assumption. R A S C I S M is very subjective on your part. R A S C I S M required no thinking on your part.
R A S C I S M is a word a "questioning mind" might avoid out of respect for other's opinion. R A S C I S M is a rather disagreeable term to use upon another person. Maybe if I type that word you used one more time it may cause just one other person to think before they respond in hurtful ways to blunt conversation that makes them uncomfortable.

Don't hurl the R A S C I S M bomb and then behave as if O T H E R S are being disagreeable. You might have considered that in over 60 years of questioning.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Fri Apr 6, 2012 4:51 AM
Tom, out of respect for this new column and it's topic, you'll find my response posted on the "If Obama Had A Son" page.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Steve
Fri Apr 6, 2012 9:12 AM
Forget it. I've seen how much "respect" you and bloom hilda have for anybody who disagrees with you. Namecalling is your first defense. Not interested in your brand of "civil discourse". Too late to show "respect", an empty word to you I suspect.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Tom
Fri Apr 6, 2012 1:05 PM
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