President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

This weekend, I can’t help thinking about how many people will probably be up in arms about President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Mom told me about it on Friday morning and at first I said what everyone probably said when they first heard: Why?

But then, whether because I am more thoughtful than some and enjoy researching, or because I didn’t have to go into work until late and had a few hours to myself, I started asking more relevant questions: What are the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize? I knew it was a great honor and I knew that people have won it for great achievement toward peace, but could the prize be awarded for other, less tangible reasons? I was certain that the Nobel Peace Prize would not be awarded lightly, so I turned to the internet to try to get at least a cursory idea of what was going on.


First I read and watched the statement of the representative of the council that decides the prize. You can watch the representative’s statement here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8298600.stm
and you can read the official statement here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8298689.stm

But I wanted to read about the prize’s official criteria used to choose every winner throughout the prize’s 100 year history. So I went to http://nobelprize.org where you can read about all of the Nobel Prizes. There I saw that in 2007, Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007/index.html

I also found an article by Irwin Abrams, a professor emeritus at Antioch University “regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Nobel Peace Prize and the history of the international peace movement”  http://www.irwinabrams.com/bio/index.html. In his article, Abrams details the criteria that the American Friends Service Committee uses to make nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. They are the organization that nominated Ghandi for the award. (Ghandi actually didn’t win, but only because he died before the award was announced. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to make no award that year on the grounds that ‘there was no suitable living candidate’.” http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/shortfacts.html)

The criteria that the AFSC uses to nominate candidates are as follows:

1) commitment to nonviolent methods.
2) quality as a person and sustained contributions to peace in such areas as justice, human dignity, and the integrity of the environment.

3) possession of a world view rather than a parochial concern, with potential for a global rather than a limited impact.

The article also states the broadness of the Norwegian committee’s criteria for awarding the prize:

The Norwegian committee itself uses the broadest criteria in making its decisions. Alfred Nobel wrote in his will that the peace prize was to be given “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Nobel planned his prizes only for persons, but the statutes adopted permitted the prizeawarding bodies also to make an award to “an institution or an association.”

The article can be read here. http://www.irwinabrams.com/articles/afsc_nominations.pdf

After considering all of this information, I realized that my gut reaction was unfounded. As we currently do not live in a peaceful world, none of the individuals who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize have actually achieved peace at all. Rather they have distiguished themselves by helping to selflessly lay the foundations and framework that lead us in the right direction.

Today I received an email from Barack Obama himself. I have been impressed by the caliber and consistency of President Obama’s email campaign to which I subscribe. This is the 21st century version of the “Fireside Chat” championed by FDR and though I do not always tune in, I’m happy to have the information at my fingertips. President wrote a reaction email today and since I am sure his emails do not reach everyone in the nation, I will share it with you here in hopes that President Obama’s thoughts go a little farther:


From: President Barack Obama <info@barackobama.com.
To: Ruth Quiles

Date: Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 5:39 PM
Subject: A call to action


Ruth —

This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won’t all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award — and the call to action that comes with it — does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

So today we humbly recommit to the important work that we’ve begun together. I’m grateful that you’ve stood with me thus far, and I’m honored to continue our vital work in the years to come.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

It’s nice to be on the same page as the president. 🙂

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