An IgNobel History

When Alfred Nobel endowed a committee for the purpose of awarding prizes, he specified that one such prize be annually awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

There’s no particular reason to suppose that, by “fraternity of nations,” Nobel mean “fraternity of nation-states.” Indeed, the first two Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded to peace and human rights activists, not politicians. The first politician to receive the prize, in 1903, was a pacifist English parliamentarian … and things pretty much went downhill from there.

US President Theodore Roosevelt — already a renowned jingoist, who had declared prior to the Spanish-American War “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one” — received the 1906 prize in the same year that US troops viciously massacred more than 600 Moro villagers at Bud Dajo as part of what ultimately became a 13-year war to “pacify” the Philippines. He went on to create a proto-fascist “progressive” agenda for American politics and pushed the Wilson administration toward intervention in the first World War.

The Nobel Wall of Shame also includes US President Woodrow Wilson, who took the United States into World War I; US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who worked tirelessly to prevent the emigration of German Jews to the United States as the Holocaust cranked up; US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who oversaw US bombing campaigns in Cambodia and a US-backed military coup in Chile; WWII Nazi collaborator Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Irgun terrorist Menachem Begin of Israel; and PLO terrorist Yasser Arafat.

Nearly every time the Nobel Committee hands its “Peace Prize” to a politician, the hand which accepts it is a hand literally dripping innocent blood.

Barack Obama isn’t an exception to that rule — he embodies it. Elected to the US Senate in 2004 on a platform which included opposition to the US war on Iraq, he proceeded to routinely vote in favor of continuing and funding that war as a sitting Senator. As a presidential candidate, he advocated expanding the war in Afghanistan to encompass Pakistan as well, and appears to be following through on that advocacy with increased use of “drone” operations. Of all available policy options in Afghanistan, the first and only one he has explicitly “taken off the table” is US withdrawal.

Where did the Nobel Committee go wrong? At least partially, its errors subsists in assuming that politics and peace have, or can have, anything to do with each other.

Far from encouraging a “fraternity of nations,” it is in the nature of government to actively set groups of people apart from and against one another. While “nations” tend to coalesce on the basis of common language, culture and ancestry, and to further re-form themselves through trade and commerce, “nation-states” are artificial agglomerations created for the purpose of asserting, and enforcing street-gang-style turf claims writ large.

The state demands that people make common cause not on the basis of natural amity or shared values, but in pursuit of “national greatness” as measured by how much power their political “leaders” dispose of. And it demands that people choose their enemies on the basis of that same criterion.

The existence of the state is incompatible with the aims of “fraternity” — or of peace. Any reasonable interpretation of Alfred Nobel’s mandate would therefore exclude agents of the state from nomination for, or receipt of, the Peace Prize.

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