Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alternatives to the Nobel Prizes?

Rush Limbaugh, predictably, had a meltdown at the news that U.S. President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, by the same committee that had ignored such great peacemakers and liberators as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Now, I will admit that - like the recipient himself - I was initially somewhat bewildered by the Nobel Committee's decision. Here is the full text of the official press release regarding the award:

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Oslo, October 9, 2009
Anyone asking "What did Obama do to deserve this award?" is directed to this announcement. Anyone seeking further information should direct those inquiries to the Norwegian Nobel Committee itself.

Ever since Alfred Nobel established his awards as a way to atone for having developed a better and more efficient means for people to blow each other up, these awards have been granted at the discretion of the Nobel Committee. More than a few of the decisions to honor or omit honoring have been controversial. To my knowledge, no honoree has chosen to refuse the honor.*

The reaction to the decision to honor Obama is as predictable and as political as the reaction to Obama's address to the students of the United States. Many members of the far-"Right" take this even further, saying that the Nobel Peace Prize has become meaningless after being awarded to "liberal sellouts" (to use Limbaugh's term) Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama.

OK. Fine.

Rush Limbaugh is one of the wealthiest members of the media elite. It seems to me that he and a few other stratospherically wealthy fellow travellers could pool their resources and endow an alternate set of prizes to recognize and reward those whose actions and positions deem them worthy of such an award. I realize hookers and oxycontin are expensive, and there's only so much money left over after you've hidden the bulk of your earnings in secret offshore accounts, but why don't these people put their money where their mouths are?

One already has. In 2004 the owner and publisher of the right-wing Washington Times actually did present a peace award - to himself. I suppose Limbaugh and company could follow suit, presenting themselves with awards and then, as award laureates, deciding who might be worthy to join such august company.

And anyone questioning the reasoning behind such awards would at least know who to ask.

*"To my knowledge" means "off the top of my head without bothering to look this up." My cousin did bother to look this up, and supplied this information via Facebook:

I remember hearing that the award has be refused in the past, so I looked it up. I won't make any politcal commetary - nor will I make any statements, just answering your query on refusal of Nobel awards

Q. Has anyone ever refused a Nobel Prize?

People who refused the prize:...Read More

Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords. Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature. His explanation: "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."

Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he'd earned for Doctor Zhivago. The Academy refused his refusal. "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the German pacifist journalist Carl von Ossietzky in 1936, who was at that point imprisoned in a concentration camp, Hitler ordered that no German could receive a Nobel Prize. Consequently, the German prize-winners Richard Kuhn (Chemistry, 1938); Adolf Butenandt (Chemistry 1939) and Gerhard Domagk (Medicine, 1939) were all prevented from accepting the Nobel Prize.

Adolf Hitler himself was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swedish parliament in 1939. The nomination was withdrawn shortly after.

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