And if they gave a prize for ill-considered prizes…
While reading the obituary today of former Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, his Nobel Peace Prize win struck a chord. Even with today’s news of an ever so slight diplomatic opening with North Korea, the “sunshine policy” and the hope that surrounded it seems so long ago. We can still hope for the best of course ...
While reading the obituary today of former Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, his Nobel Peace Prize win struck a chord. Even with today's news of an ever so slight diplomatic opening with North Korea, the "sunshine policy" and the hope that surrounded it seems so long ago. We can still hope for the best of course but one can't help but wonder if this is one example of the peace prize that may have come too prematurely or was too fueled by momentary optimism.
While reading the obituary today of former Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, his Nobel Peace Prize win struck a chord. Even with today’s news of an ever so slight diplomatic opening with North Korea, the “sunshine policy” and the hope that surrounded it seems so long ago. We can still hope for the best of course but one can’t help but wonder if this is one example of the peace prize that may have come too prematurely or was too fueled by momentary optimism.
Which got me to thinking about other Peace Prize winners. The list, stretching back to International Red Cross Founder Jean Henry Dunant and French pacifist Frederic Passy in 1901, includes many extraordinary figures who worked tirelessly for regional or world peace. But some names do stand out who raise the question “just what were they thinking?” Or they speak to great PR more than great achievements. Or they once again invoke the triumph of hope over experience.
Who are the most dubious recipients of the prize in its 108 year history? I thought you’d never ask. Some of these choices are pretty controversial. Some I am of two minds about myself. But I thought I would toss them out and see what you thought.
Here are the ten most questionable laureates in reverse chronological order (which also is almost precisely the ascending order of dubiousness):
- Muhammad Yunus: “For efforts to create economic and social development from below.” Frankly, I’ve always thought pretty highly of Yunus and his micro-lending work. But read the piece on him currently on this site. You’ll wonder if this is an example of good but not terribly inquisitive press producing what might be considered a premature award. Or not. Of all these, this is the one I am most inclined to leave intact because of the benefits associated with his efforts (but it did give an opportunity to tout another FP article).
- Jimmy Carter: “For untiring efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.” OK, readers of this blog will know I am not the world’s biggest Jimmy-fan. Nonetheless, I give him credit for his efforts, particularly Camp David. That said, I wonder if he hasn’t undone some of that good by becoming too blind and unbalanced in his support of a Palestinian leadership that is a disservice to the Palestinian people and hardly the champions of peace or victims of one-sided abuse that Carter has recently seemed inclined to make them out to be.
- Kofi Annan and UN: “For their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” Everybody I know who knows Kofi Annan says he is a terrific guy. And I believe strongly in the ideas underlying the founding of the UN and no one can help but hail the work of some of their agencies, like UNICEF or the High Commission on Refugees to name but two. But to give them an award for “a better organized” world? If intent alone warranted prizes I would be on this list (and would also have an Oscar and maybe a Nobel Prize for Literature too).
- Kim Dae-jung — “for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” Point made above.
- Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin: “For their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.” Ok, I get the idea behind this too. But to give Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize almost invalidates the entire concept. Few people have done more to foster or prolong conflict or the suffering of innocents (among his own people and his neighbors.) And clearly, given that this award was handed out in 1994 and 15 years later the problems are more intractable than ever, you have got to ask that question about the gap between intentions and results again.
- Rigoberta Menchu Tum: “In recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.” She is the exception when it comes to the “ascending scale” point earlier. Menchu probably does deserve the prize for her work promoting indigenous rights in Guatemala. Still, controversy swirled around her as it was demonstrated and she later admitted that parts of her autobiography were altered in ways that would make her a more sympathetic figure to the movement she led.
- Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho: “For negotiating the US-Vietnam ceasefire.” Even at the time this award was questioned. I don’t believe Kissinger has ever gone to actually pick up the award. And the reason? Well, that ceasefire didn’t turn out so well. That these two diplomats worked hard at the negotiating table is uncontestable. But what the underlying intentions of their governments were and what the outcomes were make this perhaps the most questionable of all of the Peace Prizes awarded over the last century.
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