Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Nobel "not managing to keep my mouth shut" Me

I know I promised lovely stories about our gingerbread bridge (I still intend to write it), and I know I have missed a couple of days. Sorry. I will try to make up for it sometime. But sometimes life gets in the way, you know? There is something about working 14 hour days that gets to me in the long run... First at school - trying to finish a draft for my silly chapter three (thesis, not a novel. Don't get your hopes up, writer's group...) before Christmas - then in the bookstore, wrapping books for strangers who doesn't deserve it. In addition I somehow manage to get myself involved in social activities on top of this - my two last free days in December have now been booked. Thus, blogging inevitably falls into the "low priority" pile.

These last few days I must admit I haven't actually been working so diligently, though. Oslo has been Obamafied. We've had nothing else in the news for weeks. On Thursday when I woke up, there were police cars outside my house, blocking the road where he was to pass. Being something of a Nobel Peace Prize geek, I've been following the broadcasts from his hectic 26 hours in Norway. I actually did not go downtown to join the 10 000 others standing outside his hotel awaiting the 1,5 minutes he spent on the balchony waiving to the crowd (I was stuck at work, wrapping books for - you guessed it - strangers who doesn't deserve it).

In between all of this I have barely been reading blogs. But today there was one that caught my eye. Why? Because it was about the Nobel Prize. It is a funny and clever comment on this year's prize. I disagree with the main view, but I will still highly encourage anyone to read it. I wanted to comment (and eventually will), but as my comment turned out to be so long, I instead decided to post it here, and only post a small excerpt on the blog in question. My reply might not make terribly lot of sense unless you've read Annabelle Robertson's post first, so I suggest you first click on the link and then come back here to see what I have to say in the matter.

Finally (that is, "finally" before pasting in the lenghty comment), I know that this has been the NobelPrizability of Digressions lately. I will try to giraffe it up again later. It's just that the subject of the Nobel Peace Prize lies close to my heart, and I can't seem to shut up about it (hence today's cheesy title).


Let me first congratulate you on winning the Pulitzer and the Oscar.
 While I happen to disagree with you on many of the points you are raising, I think you are doing it in an intelligent and amusing way – which is refreshing seeing as much of the debate has been very polarized. Either people seemed to hate or love this year’s award, while few seemed willing to actually take a look at the reasoning behind the prize. I’m happy to see that you did not fall for this temptation.


There are, however, a few points where I believe you are mistaken. First of all, you interpret the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel literally. This is not necessarily a mistake in itself – a literal interpretation of a will is fine (and usually quite common) – but it is a mistake in the sense that it does not follow the precedence that has been set the last 108 years since the Prize was awarded for the first time in 1901. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has gradually moved away from a literal interpretation of the will and towards an interpretation of the intentions behind it. The disadvantage of this is, of course, that they could be wrong. Perhaps they don’t understand Alfred Nobel’s intention, and perhaps the Peace Prize has been awarded on a faulty foundation all these years. The advantage, however, is that it enables the committee to develop the Nobel Peace Prize into a continuously relevant prize. The Nobel Peace Prize has actually contributed to transforming the very concept of peace. When Alfred Nobel wrote his will, he could not foresee that someone would be awarded the prize he constituted for their work for human rights or environmental awareness. There was no such thing as nuclear weapons. In Nobel’s time, peace simply meant “the absence of war”. Today we know that it is much, much more.


That being said, awarding the prize to President Obama actually isn’t all that controversial in terms of following the will. Obama may not have organized any “peace congresses”, but it is universally accepted today that while peace congresses was a common tool for creating peace a hundred years ago, it somehow lost its glamour after the First World War. No one has taken this part literally for a long, long time.


It’s no doubt that this prize was controversial, however. The fact that he is new in his position is one thing, and I’ve noticed that the fact that a nomination would have had to have come merely days after his inauguration has been mentioned as another. This is the second point where I believe you were mistaken.


There is a difference between being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and being considered for it. Obama may have been nominated before he had much time to fulfill any of the reasons the committee gave for awarding him the price, but he has been able to make up for this between February and October when the final decision was made. In these months, in the committee’s opinion, Obama was the man who did most for international diplomacy or “fraternity among the peoples” (keynote speech in Egypt to the Moslem world in June; improved relations with Russia; reaffirmation of U.S. support to the United Nations); and for his work towards a world free of nuclear weapons (most importantly through his cooperation with Russia). Any potential, future achievements or failures in these or other issues are not considered when deciding who wins the prize – no matter what Jens Stoltenberg, Desmond Tutu or Michael Binyon (there you’ve got three names you never thought you’d hear in the same sentence) says. The Nobel Peace Prize does not work as a sanction, so the fact that Obama after the announcement decided to send more troops to Afghanistan does not affect the prize. It is unfortunate, perhaps, but it is also unrelated (unfortunately. Perhaps).


There is nothing in Alfred Nobel’s will or the precedence created by the Committee indicating that the laureate has to be a saint. Naturally it is likely that the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes Obama will prove to be a worthy laureate (also) in the future. They probably hope that he during his presidency will create more peace than war. But at the same time, the members of the committee – regardless of what has been claimed in the aforementioned polarized debate – are not stupid. They understand that President Obama is a man of action. He is a politician. He is the Commander in Chief of a country fighting two wars. And he has no intention of giving up on these wars. The members of the committee knew this when their decision was made. And yet they weighed his work for international diplomacy and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and found it a sufficient reason for awarding him the prize, despite his role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

4 comments:

Joris said...

Strangers don't deserve to have their presents wrapped...? -- I think I still have a DIY-store brochure you wrapped for me somewhere ;)) (With a very pretty bow, I must add :) )

Marjorie said...

Well, gift bags might be easier in that case.

On this other subject I will remain silent. I believe everyone already knows how I feel. No need to restate things. :)

Cruella Collett said...

Joris - no, strangers really ought to wrap their own presents... Especially when their insisting of having the gifts they are buying wrapped by me causes crazy-long lines in the store.

Marjorie - gift bags would be preferable! On "the other subject" - I agree that there is no need to mull over the same old points in a discussion, which is exactly why I feel that I should keep my mouth shut about it. But it just bugs me when people ignore certain relevant aspects of this discussion, which is why I couldn't. But I will try to leave it until next year's Nobel now ;)

Watery Tart said...

Mari-I think this was a really nice response and I think it needed to be said. I read the blog yesterday (the other one) because it happened to fall inline next to Elizabeth's. I had high hopes and was amused initially, but it ended up a little to snarky for me, probably because I am so educated on the topic from reading YOU!

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