SENDING A MESSAGE WITH THE PEACE PRIZE
By Donald McNeil Jr.
Excerpted from the New York Times, October 13, 2002
Guess who never won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mahatma Gandhi. Yes, that Mahatma Gandhi, the symbol of nonviolent pacifism. He was a serious candidate for only one year, and didn't win.
Jimmy Carter was luckier. To take the prize last week, he was re-nominated virtually every year since 1978, when he brokered the Camp David accord between Egypt's Anwar el-Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin. [...]
In itself, the award to Mr. Carter, who has spent his long non-retirement doing everything from building houses for the poor to overseeing elections in Liberia and a ceasefire in Bosnia, was for lifetime achievement.
The jolt was that his award came with a surprisingly naked bit of tooth-baring by the peace prize committee. The five-member panel, which in accordance with Alfred Nobel's will is the only one not seated in Sweden but picked by Norway's Parliament, is usually secretive. But its citation of Mr. Carter had a barely veiled reference to President Bush's aggressive diplomacy toward Iraq, adding a clause: "In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Mr. Carter. . ." [...]
"This is quite amazing," said Irwin Abrams, a professor emeritus of history at Antioch College who just published a history of the Nobel Prizes and has interviewed members of many Nobel committees. "I can't remember anything like this happening in Oslo."
Professor Abrams, who is privy to behind-the-scenes gossip, had an explanation for the speed with which the committee member from Norway's right-wing Progress Party disavowed Mr. Berge's words: the committee reflects the divisions in Norway's Parliament and, in a bizarre take on the intent of Nobel's will, members of it had nominated George Bush and Tony Blair for the war on terrorism.
The peace prize has often been used to send messages but they are usually directed at totalitarian states, and are most often sent through internal dissidents.
As the historian Burton Feldman noted in his book "The Nobel Prize," Nobel's will intended to reward those who made peace between nations. Many of the early winners have now-forgotten names, though Henri Dunant of 1901 was the founder of the International Red Cross. Theodore Roosevelt was the first controversial choice in 1906. He did lead negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War, but his belligerent, big-stick policy hardly qualified him as a pacifist.
By 1960, the committee was regularly broadening its mandate to reward peace efforts within a nation, aiming an unsubtle barb at its rulers. The awards to Chief Albert John Lithuli in 1960 and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 discomfited white-ruled South Africa; Poland was unhappy about the 1983 award to Lech Walesa, Burma about the 1991 award to Aung San Suu Kyi. And Martin Luther King Jr.'s award in 1964, the same year as the debate and passage of the Civil Rights Act, was aimed at discomfiting white-ruled America.
The harbinger of these cases, Professor Abrams said, was the 1935 prize given to Carl von Ossietzky, the only winner nominated while in a concentration camp. Mr. von Ossietzky, a Berlin journalist who exposed Germany's rearmament, was imprisoned as soon as Hitler came to power. Albert Einstein helped talk Jane Addams, the American settlement house reformer and 1931 winner, into making the nomination. Germany, hoping nothing would sully its 1936 Berlin Olympics, launched a smear campaign, run by Goebbels, that labeled von Ossietzky a traitor and pressured Norway.
"The committee, very courageously, went ahead," Professor Abrams said. But its citation didn't even mention his imprisonment. "They didn't say `This is awarded to an opponent of totalitarianism,' " Professor Abrams said. "They said `This is for a journalist who opposed militarism.' "
Mr. von Ossietzky was released into a Berlin hospital just before he won, but was not allowed to go to Oslo.
This year's award was "amazing" for another reason, Professor Abrams said. Public disputes between committee members are rare.
But not unheard of. In 1994, he said, a "very devout, very pro-Israel" member quit rather than be a party to letting Yasir Arafat share the prize with the Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
And in 1973, the year the prize went to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho, two members resigned. However, Professor Abrams said, it was less out of pique at the choice as at the chairwoman. The members, who favored a Brazilian archbishop, felt she had run roughshod over them.
Still, their sullen anger was mirrored in the winners. Le Duc Tho refused the award. Mr. Kissinger, vilified for bombing Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, had the American ambassador accept his.
And Gandhi? In his case, the bitter ironies pile up. He was a victim of both global and committee politics.
First, his candidacy was far briefer than, say, Mr. Carter's. No awards were given from 1939 through 1943 because the world was at war and the Nazi invasion of Norway had scattered the committee members.
With the war's end and the founding of the United Nations, a glut of candidates emerged. Then, just as the committee took up his name in 1947, newspapers reported he was backing the Indian army in an ugly regional conflict. So the panel put his name off for a year. That conflict was in a remote region called Kashmir a war that, in a slap at all peace prizes, has not faded, and still threatens to provoke a confrontation between Hindus and Muslims. The rumor was proved false.
But in 1948 Gandhi was assassinated and the Nobel rules forbid posthumous prizes.
There was no 1948 prize.