The beautiful thing about the internet is that whenever you write an essay on a topic you imagine is new, some wonderful person contacts you within about an hour who’s written a whole book about it. This is different from writing a book about something new (or old) like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (everybody still thinks it must be a breakfast cereal).
Fredrik Heffermehl’s book “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted,” is a wonderful thing to discover. I understand if you just can’t stomach discovering that Norway and the committee that hands out the peace prizes have become as corrupted as a Congressman. But if awardees like George Marshall, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Barack Obama already had you scratching your head a little bit, you may appreciate learning the details of where the prize bestowers ran off the rails and how they might manage to climb back aboard the peace train.
Alfred Nobel left behind a legally binding will that required giving a prize to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Like the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Nobel Committee has largely abandoned its original mission. Carnegie and Nobel are dead and none the wiser, but those of us who like the idea of a well-funded peace movement are painfully aware.
The Nobel prize for peace was not designed as merely an honor, but as a significant source of funding for “work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Yet, with each annual prize, as with each year’s operation of the Carnegie Endowment, the peace movement is none the better funded. Warmongers take the funding, or admirable and heroic humanitarians take the funding, but these are not people working toward, or even believing in, the desirability of the aims for which the prize was created and legally established in Nobel’s will.
Heffermehl examines the language of the will in the original Swedish, the thinking and influences that went into it, the reasons why Nobel chose the Norwegian parliament to appoint the committee for the administration of the prize, and the activities and the worldviews of what Nobel termed in the will “champions of peace.” Legally, Heffermehl argues, it is the will that counts, not each and every opinion Nobel might have held at some point in his life. While peace congresses are still held, work is still done to abolish standing armies, and many working on these projects also work for what Heffermehl translates as confraternity among nations, much of this work is little known in the media and unknown to the prize committee, which has lost touch with its mission.
Heffermehl argues persuasively that no Nobel prize for peace has been awarded with appropriate justification since 2001. In fact, in his analysis, 50 of the 120 prizes given between 1901 and 2009 were not justified. Heffermehl bases that judgment primarily on the case made for each laureate by the committee awarding the prize. Were he to examine the laureates and those passed over, the number of unjustified prizes might increase.
Heffermehl also looks at the justification for the prizes awarded under each of the 12 committee chairs and six committee secretaries that have ever held those posts. The two chairs who have served since 2003 receive far and away the worst scores, while the two who served up through 1941 score dramatically better than the others. Similarly, the two secretaries who held that position up through 1945 receive high marks, while the one, Geir Lundestad, who has been Secretary since 1990 has, in Heffermehl’s scoring, performed miserably.
World War II shifted thinking in Norway and elsewhere toward militarism and the notion of the inevitability of war. While France and Germany have ceased attacking each other, there hasn’t been a war between wealthy powers in 70 years, and the only wars we have now are against poor countries, somehow common wisdom holds that the abolition of war is a silly idea. But is legally complying with a dead man’s will a silly idea too?
After World War II it wasn’t just thinking that changed, but procedure as well. No longer does the Norwegian parliament choose the most qualified peace leaders to serve on the committee. Instead, each political party picks committee members in proportion to the party’s strength in the parliament, even if the party is pro-war.
Yet it was not until 1990 that the real corruption began to eat away at Nobel’s legacy. Lundestad has created more pompous ceremonies, an annual concert, and a permanent Nobel Peace Center in Oslo filled with cutting edge technology. While the five-member committee in Norway used to have no need for funding, the prizes simply being awarded directly to the laureates, now funding became critical, and much of that funding became corporate. Are images of the fancy new DC building belonging to the “United States Institute of Peace (unless there’s a war)” flashing through your mind? Lundestad is a professional fundraiser now who finds time for Bilderberg conferences but not peace congresses.
Heffermehl made his case in Norwegian pre-Obama, and was oh-so-predictably-and-depressingly hopeful when the committee absurdly bestowed its prize on the new U.S. President in 2009. It was Obama’s pro-war acceptance speech that led Heffermehl to unhesitatingly add him to the list of undeserving laureates. But there were other reasons. Heffermehl claims to have a source who knows that promotion of Oslo as a tourist destination weighed in the selection of Obama. Alfred Nobel had, of course, not mentioned that motivation in his will at all.
Heffermehl proposes that Nobel’s will be followed, that the commercial activities of the Nobel Foundation be dropped, and that the combination of the roles of committee secretary and commercial director be ended. I think he has a point.
Here’s a video of Lundestad disingenuously defending the selection of Barack Obama.
Lundestad is scheduled to speak on Saturday, March 3rd, in Minnesota, where Coleen Rowley will be asking him pertinent questions about faithfulness to Nobel’s will. If you can’t make it to Minnesota, you can sign this petition Rowley has set up.
If this thing gets turned around and Nobel peace prizes are awarded for a number of years to real champions of peace, then it should almost go without saying that Fredrik Heffermehl, who has created a formal investigation of the matter in Sweden, will have earned himself the prize as well.