Nobel Prize: Controversies

Nobel Prize: Controversies

US President Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is not the first unusual nomination in the history of the prize, with several controversial figures being honoured with one of the most notable awards in the world.

Crux of the Matter

Controversial Winners – Barack Obama

  • Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
  • Critics declared the award premature as Obama won the Prize only 9 months into his tenure as the US President.
  • Geir Lundestad, former director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, later revealed that “even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake”.
  • Obama’s award drew more criticism with his tenure as 7 countries including Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, etc were bombed under his regime. The US Armed Forces dropped 26,171 bombs in foreign countries in 2016 alone.
  • Obama ordered 10 times more “airstrikes” than the previous President George Bush.

Yasser Arafat

  • Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, sharing it with the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
  • Arafat was the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), winning the award as Israel and the PLO signed the ‘Oslo Peace Accords’ in 1993.
  • The move to award him was criticized as the Oslo Accord failed, with the Israel-Palestine conflict continuing even today.
  • Arafat was also the founder of ‘Fatah’ or the group for “armed struggle” against Israel. His close aide Ali Hassan Salameh founded the Black September Organization (BSO) which killed 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Henry Kissinger

  • Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
  • He shared the award with the Vietnam revolutionary Le Duc Tho who declined the award.
  • Kissinger served as the US Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor under Presidents Nixon and Ford. His Nobel Prize came due to his efforts for engineering an end to the Vietnam war.
  • Kissinger has been described by US Senator Bernie Sanders as “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country”.
  • Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam war by 5 years – more than 2 million civilian casualties alone were reported in the war.
  • He also ordered the bombing of Hanoi with 20,000 tonnes of explosives while Vietnam peace talks were being negotiated.
  • To target hiding Vietnam soldiers, he ordered air raids on Cambodia which caused more than 500,000 casualties. The destabilization caused by the attacks led to the regime of dictator Pol Pot, under whom more than 2 million people or ~25% of the population died due to torture, murder, or starvation and diseases.
  • Kissinger supported Pakistan in war against India and allowed the genocide of Bangladeshis to happen – more than 3 million Bangladeshi people were killed by Pakistan.

António Egas Moniz

  • Moniz shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1949 with Walter Hess.
  • Moniz was awarded for his work on prefrontal leucotomy (lobotomy), which was used to treat severe mental diseases. In the treatment, the connections in the prefrontal lobe of the brain were severed.
  • Though the experiment proved successful initially, later it was found that the process disabled the capacity to experience emotions and caused “mental dullness”.
  • Consequently, it was banned in the Soviet Union in 1950, while Japan, Germany and several nations banned it soon. Today, lobotomy is used only in extremely rare cases, and is banned in most countries.

Notable Exclusions

  • Mahatma Gandhi: One of the iconic symbols of non-violence and peaceful protests, Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize despite being nominated 5 times.
  • Dmitri Mendeleev: Famous chemist known for the ‘Mendeleev Periodic Table’ which arranged the elements in a table, Mendeleev never won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
  • George Orwell: Famous for having written books like the dystopian 1984, or the satirical Animal Farm and so on, Orwell never won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Also Read: Nobel Prize: What Is It & Trump Nomination

  • In a submission not intended to be taken seriously, an antifascist member of the Swedish parliament nominated Adolf Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize 1939. But the nomination was cancelled and no prize was awarded in that year to anyone for peace. 
  • Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, [but] whether the Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”. In 1948 (the year of Gandhi’s death) the Nobel Committee made no award, stating “there was no suitable living candidate”. 
  • Rabindranath Tagore became in 1913 the first non-European as well as the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.