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This Year's Nobel Prize in Peace

A map of Tunisia class=

The Peace Prize this year went to four Tunisian groups collectively called the National Dialogue Quartet.

I'll link you to Reuters' discussion of the particulars here.

What is enduringly fascinating about the Peace Prize as an institution is that there is this tug-of-war (please excuse the term if it seems like an inapt pun, but it is the name of a game!) between two very different conceptions of what the search for peace means, and how one advances it.

On the one hand, there is Peace From Above. Peace, on this view (which one would expect would be the intuitive view of a man who became wealthy from dynamite) is something gifted to us by heads of state, or their immediate appointees, who confer and converse and otherwise hobnob with one another. They recognize in their own more sober moments that war is a bloody and expensive business and they come together to resolve it.

In this mode the committee gives us awards for Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (1973), Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978), Mikhail Gorbachev (1990), and Barack Obama (2009). Obama got the award before he had had a chance to get the Oval Office seats warm from his butt, so one gathers it expressed a hope he would work the Peace-from-Above magic.

The other model I would call, as you might expect, Peace From Below. Grass-roots groups sometimes give the world hope by showing that there are other ways of thinking about and acting on conflicts, ways that don't involve being or toadying up to a head of state or chief executive. The committee sometimes does give awards recognizing this, especially if the heads of state and their cronies have been living down to their nastier selves of late and there isn't anything conspicuous to reward there.  Thus we have recently seen an award for Mohammud Yunus, which in essence celebrated the idea of micro-credit, and one for Malala Yousafzai, who quite nearly lost her life due to her desire for an education, and who has become an unelected and appointed symbol of that  desire.

This year's award is to an intermediate sort of recipient. It is to a political and not-especially grassroots collection of groups, but a mega-group working as I understand it well below the heads-of-state level. Which model of peace making one might take this to imply remains a matter of interpretation.

It may just mean that the committee members want to celebrate the fact that there was at least one country that participated in the "Arab spring" without disastrous results.


  1. I would hesitate to say that Kissinger "resolved" the Vietnam war, because the U.S. was the aggressor. The U.S. could have "resolved" the war by ceasing its aggression. Kissinger's role was to delay that cessation until the U.S.'s victims met U.S. demands. Giving him the peace prize was comparable to rewarding a kidnapper for releasing his victim after the kidnapper received the ransom he demanded.

    Of course, the U.S. lost the war, so it did not receive all the "ransom" it had initially sought; perhaps the only ransom it sought through the negotiations was to create the false appearance of achieving "peace with honor," to use Nixon's phrase. Le Duc Tho, incidentally, declined the prize.


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