One only needs to think about it for a moment to realize that the existence of a Nobel Peace Prize, in the absence of a Nobel War Prize, is a lasting anomaly – a state of affairs that is not only irrational and illogical but, frankly, unfair.
It is common knowledge that, more often than not, the jurors who award the Nobel Peace Prize make gross casting errors and shoot each other in the foot with bullets as big as shells. One would waste breath trying to enumerate their blunders or draw up an exhaustive list of what, beyond bad taste, often borders on misconduct. A recent example was brought back to public attention by the Burmese military’s arrest of the 1991 Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. It turns out that the courageous democrat had a sinister double – the iron-fisted woman who stubbornly refused to keep her distance from the genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas.
But this is just the tree which hides the forest: one is generally embarrassed by the gallery of prize-winners overwhelmingly populated by white men, heads of State and other notables – a fine cohort of United States presidents distinguished by the committee while their country was busy plundering and conquering; the indestructible Henry Kissinger, mastermind of the Pinochet coup; Sir Austen Chamberlain, who won a medal – it is true – for signing the Locarno agreements and not the Munich agreements; the sinister duettists Sadat and Begin, who sealed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt on the backs of the Palestinians; Rabin and Peres, who won an award for having tricked Arafat into rolling in flour in Oslo. Not to forget George Marshall, inventor of the eponymous Plan, without which the Cold War would not have achieved its lustre. In 2019, the jurors, still just as wise, crowned the Ethiopian statesman Abiy Ahmed, shortly before armed hostilities resumed between his country and its neighbours. Yet in this landscape of disaster and abjection there is occasionally a fine gesture: in 1973, the Vietnamese leader Lê Đức Thọ refused the Prize which had been awarded to him jointly with Kissinger, reminding the ladies and gentlemen of distant Scandinavia of a few rules of decency.
Today we see the name of Jared Kushner, the one-man-orchestra who has helped to normalize relations between Israel and various Middle Eastern petro-monarchies, circulating among the Nobelists of the Gulf, eager to stir up a war that could overthrow the Iranian regime. That his brilliant success is a complement to the planned annexation of the so-called useful part of the West Bank by Israel – a coup endorsed by Trump, set to music by Kushner and perpetuated by Biden – is a detail that should not stop the wise men who award the coveted accolade…
Consequently, the need to create a Nobel War Prize to match the Nobel Peace Prize is quite pressing: if the jurors who award the latter have messed up, it is often because they were unable to discern what the sheepskin of the declared man-of-peace was covering. As communication does not work well between Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature, they have not taken the time to meditate on Elias Canetti’s relevant maxim: ‘There is peace in each of his pores; but his mouth swarms with war.’
The immense advantage that the creation of a War Nobel would have, in addition to restoring the somewhat faded image of the institution, is obvious: as we have seen, the hallowed creators of peace usually have at least one war or genocide in their cupboard. By contrast, the recipients of the War Prize would ensure that the jurors are never contradicted by the facts: you pass it to Mrs Thatcher the day after the operation in the Falklands, to Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini in the midst of the Gulf conflict, then, successively to the two Bushes after their Iraqi crusades – right on target, no danger of being wrong!
Another advantage of this initiative would be to diminish the confusion surrounding other prize-giving decisions. Take the Prize for Literature, awarded to Peter Handke in 2019. Wouldn’t the War Prize have been more logical to honour his unwavering commitment to the post-Yugoslav purifiers, Milošević, Mladić and Karadžić? And good old Theodore Roosevelt, father of American interventionism in Latin America and the Caribbean, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 – wouldn’t a War Prize have been infinitely better suited to his distinctive merits?
The ball is in the court of the discerning Swedes. Yet there are other contentious points which remain to be resolved. For instance, could it be envisaged that, just as the Peace Prize can be awarded jointly to several people, the same person might, in view of his exceptional achievements, be simultaneously awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and War? Such outstanding queries deserve serious reflection. But if their track record is anything to go by, there is no doubt that those who preside over the noble Nordic institution will steer us in the right direction.
Read on Jennifer Quist on the language of the Swedish Academy.