Nobel Nuggets, Part IV

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


The committee gave the 1975 prize to Andrei Sakharov, the eminent Russian physicist who became a heroic dissident. His immediate response was, “I hope this will help political prisoners.” The Kremlin’s response was fury. They called Sakharov an “anti-patriot,” an “enemy of détente,” a “Judas for whom the Nobel prize was 30 pieces of silver from the West.”

Interesting that Soviet authorities should have reached for a Gospel reference.

How about this charming touch? They forged a telegram of congratulations to Sakharov from Pinochet, the right-wing dictator of Chile.

The Soviets would not allow Sakharov out to go to Oslo. His wife, a fellow dissident, Elena Bonner, was already out when the prize for Sakharov was announced. She was in Italy, receiving medical treatment. She stayed in Europe, to represent Sakharov at the ceremony.

It was she who read Sakharov’s Nobel lecture. Toward the end, he did something stunning: He named names — names of political prisoners in his country. What is most encouraging to such prisoners is to be remembered, talked about; what is most discouraging is to be forgotten, to suffer in oblivion.

Sakharov, through his wife, said, “Here are some of the names that are known to me.” Then he began, “Plyush, Bukovsky, Glusman, Moros, Maria Semyonova, Nadeshda Svetlishnaya . . .” He named about a hundred names, concluding with, “and many, many others.”

Bonner told me that “the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat protected them from the camp administration. Besides, listing specific people, and caring about a particular person, as opposed to general arguments about human rights, fulfilled a most important inner need for Sakharov.”

Betty Williams and Máiread Corrigan won the Nobel prize for 1976. They were Northern Irishwomen, urging peace. Later on, they became global left-wing activists — extreme and flamboyant.

Speaking to schoolchildren in Brisbane, Australia, in 2006, Williams said, “I have a very hard time with this word ‘nonviolence,’ because I don’t believe that I am nonviolent. Right now, I would love to kill George Bush.” She said the same thing the next year, not to schoolchildren this time, but to the International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas: “Right now, I could kill George Bush, no problem. No, I don’t mean that. I mean, how could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.”

Her co-laureate is even worse. But they were very, very brave in the mid-1970s, telling the IRA to put down their arms. Recklessly brave, actually.

The three Nobel lectures most unlike traditional Nobel lectures are Theodore Roosevelt’s, George C. Marshall’s, and Mother Teresa’s. Mother Teresa said, “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing — direct murder by the mother herself.”

That must have tightened some sphincters in Oslo.

In Part I of these “nuggets,” I mentioned what Lech Walesa said about the peace prize: It enabled his Solidarity cause in Poland to succeed. “There was no wind blowing into Poland’s sail. It’s hard to say what would have happened if I had not won the prize. The Nobel prize blew a strong wind into our sail. Without that prize, it would have been very difficult to continue struggling.”

He added something, in that interview of ours (2010). From a personal point of view, he said, the prize “has made me immortal.” He said this with his customary big smile and twinkling eyes. “The world could have forgotten a trade-union member,” a mere “organizer of strikes.” But “a Nobel-prize winner? That is something else.”

One more installment to go, y’all — we’ll conclude with Part V tomorrow. Thanks and see you.

You may order Jay Nordlinger’s new book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World direct from National Review. Go here. Ask for a signature and an inscription, if you like. If you are interested in having the author speak before your group, contact him at [email protected]