The Corner

Arguing Nobel

Yesterday was December 10, meaning it was Nobel Prize Day — this is the day on which the Nobel prizes are conferred in Scandinavia (Stockholm and Oslo). (The prizes are announced in October.) December 10 is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. He lived from 1833 to 1896. The way I remember it is, he was born the same year as Brahms, but died the year before. What I mean is, Brahms died in 1897. I know you remember it the same way.

By sheer coincidence, December 10 is also Human Rights Day, in the eyes of the U.N. This is the date in 1948 on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted.

A friend sent me this article, which tells an interesting story. Desmond Tutu, Máiread Maguire, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel wrote an open letter, protesting this year’s peace prize to the European Union. All three are peace laureates themselves. Tutu, you know. Maguire is from Northern Ireland, and she won her prize, jointly with Betty Williams, in 1977 (for 1976). Pérez Esquivel is an Argentinean, who won in 1980.

In their letter, the three did what laureates occasionally do: accuse the Norwegian Nobel Committee of violating the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will. Accuse the committee of betraying a sacred trust, blah, blah, blah. The three write, “[The] EU is clearly not ‘the champion of peace’ that Alfred Nobel had in mind when he wrote his will.” And, “The Norwegian Nobel committee has redefined and remodelled the prize in a manner that is not consistent with the law.”

Well. The three have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m not a fan of the prize to the EU, believe me — but it is perfectly consistent with Nobel’s will and intent. In fact, it is a quite “traditional” prize, virtually a throwback. Not perfectly consistent with the will, interestingly enough, were the prizes to Tutu, Maguire, and Esquivel.

The leading term of the will is “fraternity between nations.” The three letter-writers won basically for struggles taking place within their own countries. Not until 1961 was a prize of this nature given. (It was given for the year before, 1960.) The Nobel Peace Prize, like the other Nobel prizes, began in 1901. But 1961 marked a real departure. The prize went to a South African, as it happens — a great and now largely forgotten man named Albert John Lutuli.

Anyway, I get into all this in my book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. For a copy — signed, if you like — go here. I can’t say that it’s a stocking stuffer. But, now that I think about it, if the stocking is on the roomy side, you can stuff that baby in there.

Tell you something else I say in my book. Since winning their prizes, Tutu, Maguire, and Pérez Esquivel have been pretty bad, in my view. Tutu is a typically obnoxious defamer of the United States and Israel. (He is willing to criticize the Chinese government, and even Robert Mugabe.) Maguire is an anti-American, anti-Israel nut. Pérez Esquivel is a friend and toady of Castro. I mean, just a nightmare.

But all three of them deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, for what they did. All three of them deserved it, at the time they won. Maguire and Pérez Esquivel were particularly brave. Tutu did his part too. (And he was especially good after apartheid, on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.) I could say more, but this post is already getting book-length.

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