Nobel Nuggets, Part II

Theodore Roosevelt in 1912


We’re talking — or I’m talking — about the Nobel Peace Prize, a very rich subject. For Part I of this series, go here. Just wade back in?

The first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901. It was split — “divided,” the Nobel people say — between two men: Frédéric Passy and Henry Dunant. The former was a grand old man of the European peace movement, a Frenchman who was not only a pacifist, but a great free-marketeer — a disciple of Bastiat and Cobden.

Those two things went hand in hand, in those days: pacifism and classical liberalism. “Nations that trade with one another don’t make war on one another. People engaged in commerce have neither the time nor the inclination for war.” Etc.

Henry Dunant was the father of the Red Cross — and a hugely controversial winner. Why? Who could object to the Red Cross?

Well, the Red Cross is humanitarian, and so was Dunant, and much of the peace movement thought it was scandalous to give a peace prize to a humanitarian — someone who wanted to make war a little better, to put a bandage over it. You were supposed to prevent or abolish war, not improve its laws.

“Do you congratulate a man for turning down the temperature as he’s boiling someone else in oil?”

In 1903, the laureate was Randal Cremer, a British labor leader and parliamentarian. He once served as secretary of the International Workingmen’s Association. But he resigned when Karl Marx and his gang took over. These were men, Cremer later observed, who “cared more for their isms than for the cause of real progress.”

Do you want a taste of Cremer in oratorical flight? Here is the conclusion of his Nobel lecture (given two years after his prize, in 1905):

The world has passed through a long night of tribulation and suffering, millions of our fellow creatures have been sacrificed to the demon of war; their blood has saturated every plain and dyed every ocean. But courage, friends, courage! The darkness is ending, a new day is dawning, and the future is ours. Hurrah! Hurrah!

In this lecture, Cremer used two terms that may catch our attention. He spoke of the Boer War, which saw “the untimely deaths of 15,378 children in the concentration camps.” And he spoke of the Russo-Japanese War, calling it an “unparalleled holocaust.”

It is in 1906 that Theodore Roosevelt wins the peace prize. He was the first statesman and the first American to win. Oh, were people upset! I give you the New York Times: “. . . a broad smile illuminated the face of the globe when the prize was awarded . . . to the most warlike citizen of these United States.”

TR won chiefly for his mediation in the aforementioned Russo-Japanese War. And I will give you a taste of his Nobel lecture, one of the best treatments of war and peace I know: “Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy.”

Have one more taste, for the laureate’s words are irresistible: “The leaders of the Red Terror prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence.”

Oh, yes. (That is one of the running themes of my book.)

Today, the word “pacifist” is offensive to most people — certainly in the United States. If you call someone a pacifist, you will likely be met with indignant denial.

But it was not always so. Before World War II, and certainly before World War I, if you had said to someone, “Hey, you’re a pacifist,” he may well have answered, “Yes, of course I am. And what are you, a militarist?”

“Pacifism” was posed against “militarism.”