This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, now at work in Syria to monitor the destruction of chemical weapons. It’s a worthy organization that certainly deserves some international recognition and support.
But eradicating chemical weapons, while necessary and essential, is still just a small part of the vast machinery of war. Even with the threat of Syria’s chemical weapons removed, the civil war will continue to kill many people, and many of these will be innocent non-combatants, including children and women.
In Alfred Nobel’s will creating the Nobel Prizes, he made clear that the peace prize should go to a person working for “fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” (Italics are my emphasis.) This language implies the award should go to a broad-based anti-war effort, to individuals and groups opposed to the very notion of war, to those espousing nonviolent conflict resolution, to pacifists of all stripes.
The instructions of Nobel have not, it’s now clear, been followed to the letter, and many controversial recipients have been chosen over the years, including our own President Barack Obama, whose administration continues the use of killing drones, supported the bombing of Libya and has threatened war on both Syria and Iran.
The first time a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to what could be called an anti-war peace group was way back in 1910, not long after the Peace Prize was created. The 1910 Nobel Peace Prize went to the Permanent International Peace Bureau which was founded in 1891 in Berne, Switzerland. The founder, in fact, was a woman, Bertha von Suttner, a good friend of Alfred Nobel, and she herself won the Peace Prize in 1905. She had written an anti-war novel called Lay Down Your Arms and served as an early peace activist in Europe. Some credit her influence for inspiring Nobel to fund the Peace Prize. The International Peace Bureau still exists, these days in Geneva.
In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Quakers in Britain, the last anti-war/pacifist organization to win the prize.
So it seems long past time for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to recognize, in the true spirit of Alfred Nobel’s wishes, a genuine peace group or the leader of such a group. There are many peace groups, both religious and secular, that come to mind, including the IPB. Medea Benjamin and Code Pink, for example, have here in the United States done much in recent years to revive the peace movement as a visible form of protest in our halls of political power. Or how about a general award to be shared by all the peace groups, the individual pacifists and practitioners of nonviolence around the world?
UPDATE— (10/14) Amitabh Pal of The Progressive points out that the American Friends Service Committee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947. AFSC was a co-winner that year with British Quakers of the British Friends Service Council. This post was edited to reflect this information.
- Nobel Peace Prize glory also has a darker side (nation.com.pk)
- Malala congratulates watchdog on Nobel Peace Prize (itv.com)