‘When you receive the Nobel Peace Prize, you are crowned a ‘champion of peace,’” Jay Nordlinger writes in his new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. What exactly does that mean? Jay has a chat about the winners, the prize, and its implications with Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why write a book on the Nobel Peace Prize?
JAY NORDLINGER: It’s a hugely interesting subject. It gives you a neat history of the 20th century and a big cast of characters. It also forces you to think about some of the biggest issues: war and peace, freedom and tyranny, etc.
: Why read one?
NORDLINGER: Same reason!
LOPEZ: Who are “they”?
NORDLINGER: As in “Peace, They Say”? Well, everybody(ish): the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the laureates, European political elites, the New York Times, NPR, Brown University . . . You know: “they.” The world. Opinionmakers.
LOPEZ: To quote one Jay Nordlinger, “What is peace, anyway?”
NORDLINGER: Well, it’s not merely the absence of war. But it’s not war either. Thatcher had a slogan: “Peace — with freedom and justice.” I like that. Isaiah says, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”
LOPEZ: Is it a realistic goal as Nobel understands it?
NORDLINGER: Peace? Oh, yes. In fact, most of the world is probably at peace right now, by most definitions of “peace.”
LOPEZ: “The cause of peace is not to be confused with the cause of pacifism.” Is that widely recognized?
NORDLINGER: Not widely enough. “Peace through Strength,” baby. (Old Reagan slogan.)
LOPEZ: How can the prize be a weapon? Do you endorse that use?
NORDLINGER: The prize can be a weapon because of its prestige, and the respect it commands. Let’s look at a couple of cases.
In 1987, the Nobel Committee told Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica, that they were giving him the prize to use as a weapon against Reagan. (Arias and Reagan were at odds over Central American policy, particularly where Nicaragua was concerned.)
Four years before, the committee had given the prize to Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader in Poland. Walesa told me that, without the Nobel prize, Solidarity could never have succeeded.
On balance, I endorse the use of the Nobel as a weapon. The prize probably helped to keep Andrei Sakharov (the 1975 laureate) alive. How do you like the award to Al Gore (2007)? That was designed to give his global-warming campaign a huge boost.
In the prize business, as in other spheres, you take the good with the bad. And you argue about what is good and what is bad.