Give War a Chance

Up To A Point: What We Really Need Is a Nobel War Prize

Sure, Malala is totally worthy. But most of them haven’t been, because peace is elusive. War, however, is clarifying.

10.11.14 10:50 AM ET

At least this year’s Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t a howler like the 1973 award to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for making love, not war in Vietnam. Or the 1919 award to Woodrow Wilson for chopping Central Europe into an angry hash, helping put the “vs.” in theVersailles,Treaty and screwing the pooch on U.S. membership in the League of Nations.

Then there was the 1978 Prize given to Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat and Menachem Begin for making sure everything was okey-dokey between the Arabs and the Jews. And the 1994 Prize to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres for making double sure.

In 2001 the United Nations and Kofi Annan got the NPP “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” And what a quiet, tidy planet it’s been since then.

In 2002 it went to Jimmy Carter, presumably for his effort to end the Cold War by losing it. In 1990 the winner was Mikhail Gorbachev, who actually did what Carter had merely tried to do.

The 2005 Prize was bestowed upon the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohamed ElBaradei, doubtless for their providing proof positive that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and thereby preventing the 2003 Iraq War.

The European Union was the 2012 recipient thanks to its “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” just in time for the coup in Kiev, Russian annexation of Crimea, and Ukrainian civil war.

Medaling in 2007 were the International Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. Al Gore? Yep, Al Gore. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Al Gore, however, sold his Current TV channel to Al Jazeera, which is funded by the royal family of famously carbon neutral Qatar.

And what, exactly, do the International Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore have to do with peace? About as much as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize presented to Barack Obama for showing up.

Not that there is anything to be said against the 2014 Nobel Prize committee honoring Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi.

Ms. Yousafazi is a stalwart Pakistani 17-year-old who, two years ago, was shot in the head by a Taliban villain for the offence of being a girl attending school. She recovered and put herself further in harm’s way by publicly campaigning for the education of Muslim women.

Mr. Satyarthi is a brave-hearted 60-year-old Indian who gave up his career as a college professor to battle the scourge of indentured child labor in the rat hole factories of Southeast Asia.

But if the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize is to celebrate and assist courageous and resilient victims of brutality and valiant advocates of righteous but unpopular causes, then the 1946 prize should have gone to survivors of Nazi concentration camps instead of to Emily Greene Balch and John Raleigh Mott—presidents, respectively, of The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the YMCA World Alliance. Free swim! And the 1905 prize should have gone to Susan B. Anthony, not Bertha von Suttner, Austro-Hungarian author of the war-is-naughty screed Lay Down Your Arms.

Sometimes the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded as if encouraging courage were its purpose. Elie Wiesel, who was involved with the Irgun Zionist underground, is a 1986 Peace Laureate. Lech Walesa won in 1983. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964. More power to them.

But the stated purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize, per Alfred Nobel’s will, is that it be awarded to the person who in the preceding year “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

I’m afraid Wiesel, Walesa, and King would have to say, as Jesus did, presumably with a deep and resigned sigh, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.”

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Of the 128 gold medals for peace that have been handed out since 1901, maybe six or seven have gone to people who actually made peace.

President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated an end to the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War in 1906 after Japan won. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas did the same in the 1932-1935 Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay after Paraguay won.

President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias laid a calming hand on 1980s El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. There isn’t much armed conflict in Central America any more, if you don’t count constant massive narco gang slaughter.

Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk ended apartheid in South Africa nonviolently when de Klerk bent over and the nation kicked him in the butt.

Northern Irish pols, papist John Hume and prod David Trimble, did in fact get Ulster’s Micks to quit shooting and bombing each other any more than absolutely necessary, but it took them 500 years.

At least 65 Peace Prizes have been awarded for wishful thinking. Sometimes the wishful thinking was done by institutions—Permanent International Peace Bureau (1910), International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985), Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (really, 1995). The United Nations and its leadership have received ten gold medals, more than Mark Spitz or Carl Lewis, and won with considerably less speed and effort.

Sometimes the wishful thinking was done by well-known individuals—the Dalai Lama and Ralph Bunche. More often it was done by individuals who have been well-forgotten—Charles Albert Gobat, Tobias Asser, Ludwig Quidde, Lord Boyd-Orr.

Then there are the Prizes given for patching up people during the absence of peace—the American Friends Service Committee, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross four times. All highly deserved, but none would have been awarded if it hadn’t been for war.

I propose a Nobel Prize for just that. The Nobel War Prize. There are, after all, worthy and decent wars. What was America supposed to do after Pearl Harbor, put the keys to the Golden Gate in an airmail envelope and send them to Tojo?

Peace creeps to the contrary, you can usually tell who’s right and who’s wrong in a war. Which is more than can be said during peace, witness peacetime politics.

There are always lots of wars going on so the Nobel Committee would never have to skip a year the way it did with its Peace Prize in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1948, 1955, 1956, 1966, 1967, and 1972.

Wars produce heroes widely recognized by the public. Nobel War Prizes could have been given to Marshal Foch for the Battle of the Marne, Spanish Civil War combatant George Orwell, Winston Churchill, the French Resistance, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen, Charles de Gaulle, FDR, Ike. This is an improvement on the Permanent International Peace Bureau, Charles Albert Gobat, and Ludwig Quidde. The Nobel Foundation’s P.R. profile would be considerably raised.

Then there’s what often comes after a war, which is usually less silly than what comes after a Nobel Peace Prize. Look at the U.S. and Great Britain. Once we got past that 1776 thing we’ve been—with a brief time-out for the War of 1812—road dawgs.

The Southern States and the Northern States after the Civil War? We’re so close that we date-swapped the political parties that had been screwing us.

The Europeans were at daggers drawn for more than 30 years. But look at them after 1945, brothers from other mothers, living in each other’s pockets, Germany lending to France to pay Greece to repay Germany, friends with benefits.

And ever since we started passing notes on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, America and Japan have been Batman and Robin.

If you want peace, have a war. Just make sure to have a good, prize-winning one.