Nobel Nuggets, Part IV

Linus Pauling in his lab at the California Institute of Technology, December 1947 (Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers)


Welcome to the fourth installment of these “Nobel Nuggets” — gleanings from the history of the Nobel Peace Prize (about which I have written a book). For Parts I to III, go here, here, and here.

Just get back into it? Okay . . .

Listen to Linus Pauling, giving his Nobel lecture in 1963: “War has been made impossible forever.” Oh? How so? Because the A-bomb and its even more destructive companions took war off the table: It would be too horrible, and final. “The world has now begun its metamorphosis from its primitive period of history, when disputes between nations were settled by war, to its period of maturity, in which war will be abolished and world law will take its place.”

Oops. By the way, Pauling won, not just the Nobel Peace Prize, but the Lenin Peace Prize, from the Soviet government. He said that the Soviet prize meant more to him than the Norwegian prize.

Here’s something I learned from David Garrow’s famous biography of Martin Luther King, Bearing the Cross. I cite it in my Nobel book. King won the prize in 1964. And Mrs. King wanted some of the prize money — $54,000 — to be spent on transport to Scandinavia for family and friends. She also thought that some of the money should be set aside for the King children’s college education.

MLK thought otherwise, believing that the funds in their entirety should be poured into the cause, the civil-rights movement — which they were.

Willy Brandt won in 1971, for his Ostpolitik. In his lecture, he said he himself did not care much for the label — but it had entered “international terminology,” like Gemütlichkeit. What could you do, then?

Brandt’s great theme in life, along with socialism, was “co-existence” — co-existence between the Free World and the Communist world, the democratic West and the Communist East. “Co-existence has become a question of the very existence of man,” he said in his Nobel lecture. Co-existence was not merely “one of several acceptable possibilities, but the only chance of survival.”

Reagan & Co. thought that mankind could have it both ways: could both survive and be free. For many years, this view was considered not only dangerous, but criminally so. Brandt deeply hated Reagan. The ex-chancellor lived to see both the Fall of the Wall and the collapse of the USSR. (He died in 1992.)

I wonder how he took it — I mean, really and truly.

By far the most hated and condemned Nobel prize, in any category, is the peace prize to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973. They won for the Paris Agreement, which was supposed to be a truce in the Vietnam War — but the North had other ideas.

Note this: The 1973 prize is hated, condemned, and mocked because of the half going to Kissinger, the American secretary of state — not the half going to Le Duc Tho, the representative of a totalitarian and mass-murdering dictatorship. Funny, huh?

Tom Lehrer famously said that “political satire became obsolete” when Kissinger won. Le Duc Tho wins — perfectly unremarkable.

Incidentally, Le Duc Tho was known as a hard-liner even in a brutal, ghastly, and near-genocidal dictatorship.

When Saigon fell in 1975, Kissinger tried to return the prize. The committee told him, essentially, “You win for what you have already done. Not for how things turn out. And the Nobel Peace Prize is not returnable.”


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