Nobel Nuggets, Part III

Mahatma Gandhi


This week, I have been doling out nuggets about the Nobel Peace Prize — subject of a book I now have on the market. For Parts I and II, go here and here.

Thought I’d begin today by telling you a little something about Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University for almost the entire first half of the 20th century: 1901 to 1945. His friend Theodore Roosevelt dubbed him “Nicholas Miraculous.” Butler won the peace prize in 1931 (sharing it with Jane Addams).

An incredibly well traveled man, Butler: He went to Europe more than a hundred times. Think about that. More than a hundred trips, in an age of sailing, not flying.

Think of John R. Mott, too. He was a leader of the YMCA, and a co-laureate in 1946 (with Emily Greene Balch, a pacifist intellectual in the Addams mold). Mott, too, crossed the Atlantic more than a hundred times. He also crossed the Pacific 14 times. For 50 years, he averaged 34 days a year on the ocean.

Nineteen thirty-four’s laureate was Arthur Henderson, a British Labour politician and a former foreign secretary. He was a disarmament champion, and a warm friend of the Soviet Union. Lenin knew he was useful.

During the Genoa Conference of 1922, which had to do with economic relations between West and East, Lenin wrote to his foreign-affairs commissar, Chicherin. He said, “Henderson is as stupid as Kerensky, and for this reason he is helping us.” Lenin was looking for a way to wreck Genoa without being blamed for it. As Richard Pipes writes in The Unknown Lenin, the Soviet boss wanted to prevent a rapprochement between the Allies and Germany at all costs, the better for Communism to penetrate Europe.

Lenin said to Chicherin, “The fool Henderson and Co. will help us a lot if we cleverly prod them.”

Nineteen thirty-five’s laureate was an incredibly brave man: Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist and journalist. He was thrown into prison and concentration camps by the Nazis. They repeatedly asked him to sign a statement renouncing his principles. He refused. They tortured him. He still refused.

A Red Cross official found him in a pulverized state — the state of a person who had “reached the uttermost limits of what can be borne.”

When the prize for Ossietzky was announced, Goering tried to get his prisoner to reject it. The prisoner would not. Ossietzky died in a sanatorium in 1938. The effects of tuberculosis, torture, and hard labor did him in. He was 48.

Winning in 1938 was an agency of the League of Nations: the Nansen International Office for Refugees. Representing the agency was its president, Michael Hansson (a Norwegian, despite his Swedish name).

In his Nobel lecture, Hansson said, “Animosity toward the Jews is spreading like a plague over many countries, especially in southern and eastern Europe.” Jews would eventually need a homeland of their own, he said. Where it might be “does not really matter as long as they can be together on their own.” Hansson continued,

How the Jews have suffered! What persecution and humiliation they have been forced to endure for so many centuries, as the result of the most sinister religious fanaticism! If they have acquired some faults and if they often seem uncongenial, it is not surprising. But it is nothing less than revolting nowadays to hear people, and especially those whose own records would not bear close examination, assert that the Jews are now paying for their wrongdoings of the past. One is tempted to ask: When will the Christians have to pay for theirs?

There was no Nobel Peace Prize for 1939, because the prize is announced in October, and Germany invaded Poland on September 1. The prize went into suspension for the duration of the war.

But if there had been a prize for 1939, it probably would have gone to Neville Chamberlain, who was very heavily nominated — nominated for the Munich Agreement. The German signatory to that agreement was nominated too, by a Swedish parliamentarian. In due course, that nomination was withdrawn.


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