05 October 2006

It's that time of the year again

Some of our readers might have noticed that it is that time of the year again – Nobel Prize time. The science prizes are being announced even as we write with economics, literature and the much-coveted peace prize to come.

I would not dare to discuss the science prizes, understanding next to nothing of the achievements for which they are being given out. Undoubtedly, ferocious debates go on in the various scientific communities about their respective prizes. But, whichever way one looks at it, there are definite achievements of varying importance under discussion.

Then we come to economics. It is not technically a Nobel Prize at all, but a Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, instituted in 1969 by Sveriges Riksbank but awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences at the same time as the “real” prizes.

This one is a little trickier, economics not being a science and its achievements not being disconnected from politics. The awards, therefore, go to people according to what happens to be the accepted economic theory of the day. On the other hand, it does from time go to highly reputable economists.

The two really contentious ones are the literature and peace prizes. The first of these, as we recall, was awarded to Harold Pinter CH (that’s Companion of Honour, for our non-British readers) last year. Whether his writings do fall easily under the citation for the prize that is to be awarded to
“the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency”
is questionable.

Then again, people with long memories may recall the row occasioned by the Nobel Prize for Literature being given to Boris Pasternak in 1958 and the man being forced to decline it. By 1965 the Swedish Academy had been bullied into giving that year’s prize to Mikhail Sholokhov, a writer of dubious ability or even honesty, let alone idealistic tendency but an excellent Soviet hack and political apparatchik.

When this year’s prize will be awarded has not been announced but one assumes that it will be given either to a little known author from a country, whose literature is rarely honoured internationally or some other anti-American hack.

And so we come to the one and only Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded, as it was pointed out to me last year, by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to
“the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
One rather wonders about that citation. After all, there is no mention of actual peace being achieved, which is just as well, bearing in mind the state of the world since 1901, merely the promotion of peace congresses. I guess, most of the laureates did promote peace congresses, paid for by the unfortunate Western taxpayer.

If it is reduction of standing armies we want then surely, the prize should be divided between the various governments of Europe who have reduced their standing armies (and navies and air force) to the point of barely existing.

I don’t think I really want to say much about “fraternity of nations”. It is, however, interesting to cast one’s eye down the list of the laureates. Apart from the interesting fact that there were certain years when the prize was not awarded – was there really les peace congressing in 1955 – 56 than in the years before or after? – one is struck by the number of politicians, many of them seriously unsuccessful who have been given the prize at various times.

I note that in 1957 the prize was given to Lester Pearson for introducing peacekeeping forces into the Suez canal area to resolve the crisis. Those would be the forces that meekly left the area in ten years later because President Nasser demanded that they do, thus opening the way to the Six-Day War. Success all round, really.

Even the first prize was shared between the entirely deserving Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross and initiator of the Geneva Convention and Frédéric Passy, founder of a completely unknown international talking-shop.

So it goes. Among the laureates have been Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (the developments in Vietnam after the ending of the American involvement there being conveniently ignored), the late unlamented Chairman Arafat, President Gorbachev (was that before or after he sent the tanks in against demonstrators in Vilnius and the Spetznaz thugs in Georgia?), SecGen Kofi Annan together with the UN, the IAEA for not achieving anything at all, one assumes, and so on and so on.

Perhaps, this year we can have the prize shared between the leaders of Hamas and Fatah – well, those of them that will still be alive after the continuing bloodletting.

Just to show that hope always wins over experience, this blog repeats last year’s suggestion for the 2006 laureate - that fine body of men and women who have contributed more to world peace than almost anyone else we can think of: the United States Marine Corps. Is it too late to apply?