As we receive word that Tennessean Al Gore has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we should keep in mind the rather inauspicious pedigree that the prize has. Here are just a few of the nearly 80 individual winners of the Peace Prize since WWI:
1920: Woodrow Wilson, for founding the League of Nations, which the United States wouldn’t ratify, and which ultimately, and spectacularly failed in 1939.
1925 Sir Austen Chamberlain, for his part in negotiating the Locarno Treaty a “trust without verification” treaty which protected Belgium and France from German invasion–well, at least until Germany decided to actually mount an invasion.
1925 Charles Dawes, for his part on the Allied Reparations Commission which levied a penalty of 132 million marks on Germany for its role in WWI. The payment, which amounts to over $10 trillion in today’s dollars, contributed to Germany’s anti-Allied animosity which Hitler was able to stoke in his rise to power.
1926 Aristide Briand, for negotiating the Briand-Kellogg Treaty which made war illegal.
1926 Gustav Stresemann, for his role in the Locarno Treaty.
1929 Frank Kellogg, the American half of the team that brought the world the Briand-Kellogg Treaty. He should have stuck to cereal.
1931 Nicholas Butler, the President of Columbia University, for his role in promoting the Briand-Kellogg Treaty, proving for the first time that when academia and peace movements are marching hand-in-hand, it’s time to increase military spending.
1935 Carl von Ossietzky, a leader of the German peace movement during the years of the Weimar Republic. By the time of his death in a nazi concentration camp in 1938, it was apparent that peace wasn’t catching on in Germany.
1953 General George C. Marshall, for formulating the Marshall Plan–which, since it paid a war’s aggressors instead of punishing them, was the exact opposite approach as the failed Dawes Plan. Interestingly, this is the only instance of a Peace Prize being awarded to a victorious war time leader who negotiated from a position of strength. Also, interestingly, it’s one of the few Peace Prizes awarded to someone for efforts that brought actual generations-long peace.
1962 Linus Pauling, for his efforts to end nuclear weapons testing. Not including the five countries which already had nuclear weapons at the time, no less than four new nations have developed (and at least two more have tested) their own nuclear arsenal.
1964 Martin Luther King, campaigner for civil rights.
1973 Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, for their negotiation of the treaty ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam. North Vietnam violated their end of the treaty and rolled up American ally South Vietnam two years later. The Communist victory in Southeast Asia, coupled with the lack of any American response emboldened Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia to murder a million of his countrymen.
1975 Andrei Sakharov, Soviet dissident.
1978 Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin for negotiating a treaty between Egypt and Israel, only the second-longest surviving peace treaty commemorated by the Nobel Prize.
1979 Mother Teresa, for her work in the poorest sections of Calcutta.
1983 Lech Walesa, who organized a Polish shipbuilders union that stood up to the Eastern Bloc. Along with Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II, Walesa is probably the man most responsible for the breakup of Soviet control over Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
1990 Mikhail Gorbachev, for his role in the breakup of the Soviet Union. Curiously, neither Lady Thatcher, President Reagan, nor Pope John Paul II have received their Nobel Award for also contributing significantly to this accomplishment.
1994 Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for creating peace between Israel and Palestine. Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization–a terrorist group responsible for, among other atrocities, the bombing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics–stomped on that peace when he initiated the second intifada less than a decade after being recognized as a peacemaker.
1997 Jody Williams for her “International Campaign to Ban Landmines”
2001 Kofi Annan, for . . . hell, I don’t know what for.
2002 Jimmy Carter, not for the one thing he actually accomplished while President–negotiating a treaty between Egypt and Israel–and not for the one thing for which we truly should be thankful–his advancement of Habitat for Humanity–but for being a royal pain in America’s butt during the time just before the Iraq War.
2005 Mohamed ElBaradei and his International Atomic Energy Agency. North Korea celebrated the Nobel Prize announcement with its own announcement–that it had joined the nuclear club.
The irony that the Nobel Peace Prize is named for dynamite’s inventor, continues to this day. It can be truthfully said, that with just a few notable exceptions, Al Gore joins very mediocre company. In fact, the history of the Nobel Prize is to award attempts at peace rather than actual peace itself. While striving for peace is a noble goal, too many of the awarded attempts have led to even greater bloodshed than that which they were intended to prevent.
Given that history, Al Gore deserves the award.
Some have taken me to task for the “mediocre” moniker. No, Mother Teresa and Rev. Martin Luther King, along with Gen. Marshall, Dr. Schweizer, and Lech Walesa are not themselves mediocre. They are instead the exceptional standouts.
Their excellence raises a very lackluster stew of remaining recipients to the level of mediocrity.
MSNBC notes that for politicians the NPP has often served as a “jump the shark” moment.
“The list of previous American winners is dominated by politicians and statesmen whose careers in public office had ended or were soon to end: Jimmy Carter in 2002, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973, former Secretary of State George Marshall in 1953, and Vice President Charles G. Dawes in 1925.”