President Obama didn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. We get it. A big thanks to Erasmus K. zu Ermgassen for regurgitating once more the week-long pat-on-the-back the media has been giving itself. “Look at us,” they seem to be saying. “We’re controversial. We can say bad things about Obama.” Fox News is, of course, in the corner wondering what all the fuss is about, slightly jealous that others are stealing his gig.
“He didn’t deserve it.” It’s obvious. It’s easy. And, best of all, it kind of smells like controversy. Unfortunately, when Obama himself admits that he doesn’t deserve it, it takes all the fun out of it — like when your mom starts playing Guitar Hero.
As usual, the easiest observation is overplayed and over-repeated until you can rehearse it to your barber (or in your school newspaper) and feel like a cocktail intellectual. And, as usual, it masks what is perhaps the real truth of the matter, which is less dramatic but more, well, true. This year’s peace prize has been neither the dramatic fall-from-grace nor the shocking debauchery of the prestigious award everyone is pantomiming. The Nobel Peace Prize has always been a joke.
Let’s take a look at the who’s who list of Nobel laureates. We have Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State who played a central role in bombing Cambodia and overthrowing two Latin American regimes. There’s Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, who, despite Oslo, didn’t have many qualms killing each others’ civilian populations for decades.
And let’s not forget Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who in the last week have been on a pedestal as examples of U.S. presidents who actually deserved the Nobel Prize. Wilson, a white supremacist, founded the rhetorical justification for America’s imperialism for the next century and never actually joined the League of Nations he helped create. And Roosevelt not only coined the phrase “Speak softly, and carry a big stick,” he acted on it by leading one of the most imperialistic administrations in U.S. history, getting his hands dirty in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Phillipines, Panama, and China.
In fact, in all these cases, the Nobel Peace Prize hasn’t served to recognize anyone with any discernible commitment to peace — to the contrary, it was awarded to individuals who seemed to have found time to broker a politically convenient or necessary peace agreement during a lifetime of advocating violence as a quick and practical solution.
So, to argue whether or not Obama is worthy of the peace prize is missing the entire point. The prize has always been a politically-motivated hunk of metal. Who cares if Obama is worthy? The award itself is not worthy of its reputation.
To be fair, though, the prize has been awarded to plenty of people who have made great contributions and sacrifices to the cause of peace. Take Gandhi, certainly one of the most dedicated followers of pacifism in history. He promoted cooperation between Hindus and Muslims and renounced violence against India’s colonial invaders. Here is a man who chose to starve himself rather than calling his millions of followers to arms. Wait… what’s that? The Nobel Committee never awarded Ghandi the prize?
Justin Cannon is a member of the Class of 2008.