Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize

Some weeks nothing goes as expected.

For example: President Barack Obama flew from Washington to Copenhagen last week to push Chicago’s chance to be the host for the 2016 Olympics. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the 2016 host. Detractors of the U.S. President called the Rio choice by the IOC “a stinging repudiation” of the president and an ill-advised interference in a non-national security issue.

And then there is the week when, even though still stress-filled, contains a completely unanticipated event that bestows a sense of achievement or success that usually happens only in fairy tales – complete with fairy godmother wielding a magic wand and throwing fairy dust at your opponents.

Yesterday was one of those rare weeks. On Friday the U.S. awoke to the news from Oslo, Norway that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 had been awarded to Barack Obama. Many observers were taken aback, especially since the president had been in office a mere 10 months and his familiarity with the intricacies of national policy on global issues did not emerge before his run for the U.S. elections in 2008.

The process for selecting the prize winner is a closely-held activity. Five eminent Norwegians are elected by the Norwegian parliament to constitute the committee charged with reviewing the accomplishments of the individuals nominated for the award and to choose the person, persons, or institutions to be honored.

The winner receives a monetary award – this year amounting to $1.4 million. (The money will be given to charity.) The honoree chosen by the Nobel Committee may have devoted extraordinary effort over decades promoting human dignity, civil rights, and human rights. Some winners had endured frequent and severe detention or long periods in prison. Others had spent months and years working to overcome sectarian and ethnic hatred even in the times when much of the world had accepted that the status quo could not be changed.

Similarly, those selected for this recognition come from a wide spectrum of “occupations.” Some are ordinary housewives who refuse to cower before the bullies in society. Others start as leaders of nonviolent opposition movements seeking to gain (or regain) the liberties that have been denied them by “the authorities” – normally the petty dictators who say they are serving the people’s interest. Still others have spent a lifetime in their own country or in foreign lands working to provide humanitarian aid to the most needy – caring for the poor, the ill, the hungry. The prize has even been awarded to United Nations peacekeepers, to the International Red Cross, and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) because of their efforts to promote peace, not war.

In all, since 1901, 21 Americans have been honored. (Conversely, no award was made for 20 years, with most omissions occurring during World War I (four), World War II (four), and the U.S.-Vietnam War (two).

Politicians sometimes are honored. In the case of the U.S., the frequency of such selections can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Two men honored while occupying the Oval Office were Theodore Roosevelt (1906) for mediating the end of the 1905 Russian-Japanese war, and Woodrow Wilson for his leadership in creating the League of Nations and his introduction into international discourse his famous “Fourteen Points” as part of the treaty ending World War I. In 2002, 21 years after his tenure as president, Jimmy Carter was honored in recognition of his global effort to improve the quality of life and the rule of law for people everywhere. Vice-President Al Gore shared the 2007 prize for his work on dealing with climate change and global warming. Many secretaries of state were selected for their peace initiatives. Few U.S. private persons have been chosen. One was Dr. Martin Luther King, selected in 1964 for his nonviolent campaign to end racial discrimination in the United States. Another was Jody Williams (1997) who was instrumental in the global treaty banning the use of landmines in war.

Looking at these achievements and the multitude of problems created by armed conflict today, the challenge facing President Obama is one of “walking the walk” for freedom and the end of warfare throughout the globe.


Blogger Kathlyn said...

a VERY NICE mini-history of prizes over the years. A calming effect after the ranting about "deserving" the prize. Thank you Dan Smith.

7:16 PM  

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