Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting what you deserve

A number of people are scratching their heads today over the announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama has been given the Nobel Peace Prize, nominations for which closed just two weeks after he was sworn in as the American President.

Much too much is made of this award. It is not that important in the great scheme of things. It is not given out every year in case there are no obvious candidates.

It is worth keeping in mind that, aside from some embarrassing mistakes in awarding the prize, to Yasser Arafat, for example, the people who have been overlooked for this award speaks volumes about the subjectivity of the process and the debasement of the concept of awarding a prize for the advancement of peace.

The most memorable omission was Mahatma Ghandi, who was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and 1948. Another lifelong, influential, and tireless advocate for peace was British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell. He never won the Peace Prize either.

Some credit Obama’s attempts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons for his favourable ratings with the Nobel Committee.

Other than stating what he would like to see happen, and making some overtures to other interested parties, it is difficult to attribute any measure of success to his wishes. In fact, he has been sitting on his thumb with respect to Iran and sending that country love letters and happy-face videos that appear not to have moved it one jot in the direction of giving up on a bomb.

Consider his efforts and achievements compared with that of the 1962 winner, Dr. Linus Pauling, considered to be one of the two greatest scientists of the 20th century (the other being Albert Einstein), as outlined in Wikipedia.

In 1958, Pauling began a petition drive in cooperation with biologist Barry Commoner, who had studied radioactive strontium-90 in the baby teeth of children across North America and concluded that above-ground nuclear testing posed public health risks in the form of radioactive fallout. He also participated in a public debate with the atomic physicist Edward Teller about the actual probability of fallout causing mutations. In 1958, Pauling and his wife presented the United Nations with a petition signed by more than 11,000 scientists calling for an end to nuclear-weapon testing. Public pressure subsequently led to a moratorium on above-ground nuclear weapons testing, followed by the Partial Test Ban Treaty, signed in 1963 by John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. On the day that the treaty went into force, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Pauling the Nobel Peace Prize, describing him as "Linus Carl Pauling, who ever since 1946 has campaigned ceaselessly, not only against nuclear weapons tests, not only against the spread of these armaments, not only against their very use, but against all warfare as a means of solving international conflicts."

I not only have no objection to Obama pursuing the limitations on nuclear weapons I hope he succeeds. But Pauling worked for 16 years on the anti-war file before being recognized by the Committee and after he was successful in bringing public pressure to bear on ending nuclear weapon testing.

Let’s see what the young fellow can do before handing him an award that Alfred Nobel intended to be for success, not just for hopes and dreams.

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