The Preceding Year

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Like the rest of the nation, I have followed and participated in heated discussions about our President and his “worthiness” as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  Even though President Obama has accepted the honor, he appears to be affected by the snarl as well.  Imagine. Our President wonders out loud if he deserved to be honored in the company of other “transformative figures.”

In the late 1800’s, Alfred Nobel had a problem that puts President Obama’s current challenge into perspective.  The author of hundreds of patents, including artificial silk and synthetic rubber, Nobel was a wildly wealthy man. There was only one hitch.  His nickname had become the “merchant of death.”  As the inventor of dynamite and the owner of several explosive companies, Nobel believed his innovations in blasting would prevent future war.  He was a pacifist who was primarily known as the purveyor of death.

In his remaining years, Nobel set out to change his reputation. This blaster of rock, this man who apparently suffered from constant migraines and depression, left his wealth to the creation of the Nobel Prize Foundation in hopes of a redeemed legacy.

In his will, Nobel articulated criteria for future Nobel laureates. They would be people “who during the preceding year .. conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”  What is tragic about this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is that we have forgotten the parameters or original criteria of this award. How can a President who has only served for nine months rival such Nobel peacemakers as Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, people say? Even Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa weighed in with “Who? What? So fast?”

What most people, even President Obama, have failed to mention is Nobel’s desire to honor the endeavors of the previous year, not a lifetime or the right time.  We don’t know if or when President Obama will send more troops to Afghanistan or change his mind about meeting with the Dalai Lama. Now that he is a Nobel Laureate, I have no doubt he will be influenced by his top peacemaker status.

If the creator of dynamite can transform his legacy, I’m willing to put my faith in a rookie peacemaker.

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One response to “The Preceding Year

  1. peter lynch

    why is this conversation necessary? and yet it seems, absurdly, that it is. nobody would’ve argued if greg mortenson had won the nobel, as he probably will one day soon. who, though–including mortenson–could seriously assert that he has made the same impact, working in the wakhan corridor and western badahkshan in far ne afghanistan, baltistan, and the charpurson valley in the pakistani nw territories–fantastically important as that work is now and will become over time as his students become mothers who refuse to send their sons to madrassas–that obama has made by uplifting hopes and aspirations around the world? what irks me most, and i may let a little venom spill here, is that the same clowns who admired reagan as “the great communicator”–he never reached me–
    now scoff at obama’s “mere” rhetoric, which has had me more than once profoundly impressed and in tears. that rhetoric has done more to change the international equation more quickly than the efforts of any other president in our memory, and that includes bonzo, er… the gipper… i mean that monosyllabic moron who never won a nobel prize in a two-term presidency marked by duplicity, hypocrisy, and self-promotion. anyone who chooses to prefer such a paper doll to obama has the right to do so. i prefer the guy with the nobel prize.

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