Sully Prudhomme – yes, Sully who? — won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901. The runner-up? A certain Leo Tolstoy who never won the prize although he only died in 1910. This is one of the most obvious cock-ups in the award of the well-known prize – the Nobel Committee seems as capable as any other body of making an ass of itself.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize is usually the most controversial. It is clearly a political statement, and so, for instance, giving it to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ang San Suu Kyi, and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, have perhaps helped highlight the causes of the oppressed of the world.
But it was certainly comical to award it to Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger over the Vietnam war. Henry Kissinger was a borderline war criminal for his decision to bomb non-combatant Cambodia. It caused that country to be taken over by the Khmer Rouge, at the cost of the deaths of 15% of its population. So in fact Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese politician who refused the award, was the one with the greater dignity and ethics.
Similarly, the award to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin over the troubles in West Asia was also, to put it mildly, awkward, as there has been no sign of any peace in those parts then or even later.
It is widely believed that the biggest omission was Mahatma Gandhi, who was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and 1948, but never moved the Committee enough to give him the award.
But what really makes the award risible is what they did in 2009, and then again in 2012. In 2009, they gave it to Barack Obama, within weeks of his being sworn in as the US President. In 2012, they gave it to the European Union.
Why on earth did they give it to Barack Obama, who had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it? The excuse was that they gave it to him for his potential – which of course he demonstrated amply by escalating the war (not peace, note) in Afghanistan, approving many more drone strikes, and generally showing himself to be about as peaceful as a raging bull. The real reason, though, was white European guilt trip about racism — they are so racist that they wanted to prove they are not by giving it to the first black fellow that showed up.
And now, the masterpiece — the European Union, a squabbling bunch of bureaucrats who couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. An economics professor I talked to gravely intoned that their continent had been at war for a thousand years, but the EU brought peace. Not quite, learned professor — the EU was formed because they found a way not to kill each other at least for fifty years. And the EU is primarily an economic union, which if of course in great danger of unraveling, as the poorly-performing PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) are pulling down the more frugal economies such as Germany.
I am betting that the prize for the EU will, over time, be seen as the worst-ever Peace Prize award. To be charitable though, maybe they did it as an epitaph – if the euro falls apart, the EU may soon follow.