NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
What it is: An international award (a gold medal and a sum of money) awarded every year to people or organisations for outstanding work for peace. The prize-winners are selected by a committee from Norway's parliament. Money for this prize (and 4 others of the 6 Nobel prizes) was left in his will by the Swedish chemist and industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-96).
What it means: Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and other high explosives, and also of smokeless gunpowder (which meant that the firer of a gun wouldn't give his position away). Despite this contribution to warmaking, Nobel believed his work would lead to peace: war would now be so horrific that people would give it up. (This argument is still used by people who promote the manufacture of weapons.) The first Peace Prize (1901) was awarded to Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross - which itself would win 3 Peace Prizes. For the Nobel Peace Prize committee 'peace' is a broad term. Prizewinners have included human rights and anti-poverty campaigners, social reformers, helpers of refugees, promoters of arbitration, an armed peacekeeping organisation, political negotiators, and people not at all committed to the abolition of war. In 1973 the Peace Prize was awarded jointly to US statesman Henry Kissinger and the North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho, for achieving a peace agreement and the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. Yet Kissinger had been responsible for intensifying the Vietnam war and covertly extending US bombing into neutral Cambodia in pursuit of North Vietnamese forces, causing many thousands of deaths. Le Duc Tho refused the Prize because peace had not been established. The Vietnamese remained at war until 1975 and the fall of South Vietnam - when Kissinger tried to give his Prize back because the peace agreement had failed. But the Prize has also been given to many notable workers for peace. These include Albert Luthuli of South Africa (1960), the American campaigner for civil rights Martin Luther King (1964) and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (1991), all committed to achieving social and political justice through unarmed non-violent protest. Others include: Jane Addams (1931), founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams (1976), founders of the Peace People in Northern Ireland; and Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences (1995) which he founded to promote abolition of nuclear weapons and, ultimately, war itself.
Think about it:
(1) Alfred Nobel, whose military inventions earned him a fortune, said that war was 'the horror of horrors and the greatest of all crimes'. Many people - including some military scientists and technologists - agree that war is a terrible thing, yet continue to work directly and indirectly to support it. Why might that be? What arguments might be used to persuade them to disentangle themselves from war work?
(2) The Norwegian committee members who chose Kissinger and Le Duc Tho said they'd hoped it would help people to see that 'nations with different systems of government must be able to live together in peace and solve their controversies by negotiation'. Powerful nations like the USA and the Soviet Union did not set a peaceful example in this part of Asia (or elsewhere). Find out more about Vietnam's history, up to the present day, and think about the damage done to the country by war.
(3) Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, was awarded the Peace Prize in 1986. In his acceptance speech he said that just 'one person, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death'. One of the people he was thinking about was Martin Luther King, whose non-violent protest campaign helped to win civil rights for Black Americans. Are there people you know, or know about, who have 'made a difference', even a small one, to their community? How might you become one of those people yourself?
(4) What's your idea of what someone should do to deserve a peace prize?