Stupid Norwegians?

John W. Pinkerton

Growing up I had things to believe in.  There were certain recognitions of greatness which rang true each time they were awarded.  You won the Nobel Peace Prize? Wowee! You were awarded the Pulitzer?  Go to the head of the line!  You’re Time’s Man of the year?  What a guy!

The Nobels Fredspris, as they say in Sweden and Norway, is bestowed in Oslo, Norway, by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in recognition of that year’s “greatest contributor” to world peace.  The Norwegians take care of the Peace Prize; whereas, the Swedes take care of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature.  Each laureate receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum totaling about 1.4 million US dollars.  The Swedes must be  a clever people; somehow, they talked the Norwegians into being the arbiters of the award of the Peace Prize and for almost a century they did an admirable job. 

The Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901.  The first Peace Prize winner was Henry Dunant  for his role in founding the International Committee of the Red Cross, not a bad start.  The first prize awarded after my birth in 1942 was the International Committee of the Red Cross for the service to humanity during WWII.  Again, not bad.  The next few years went pretty well for the Committee with awards going to Cordell Hull for his work with the United Nations, Emily Greene Balch for her work with the International Committee of the Red Cross, John Raleigh Mott for his work with the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Association.  In ‘48 no award was given.  The recipient must be alive; Ghandi had been assassinated; however, he was honored sans prize.  For years it went well with names such as Ralph Bunche, Albert Schweitzer, George Marshall, Dag Hammarskjold, Martin Luther King, Jr., Willy Brandt, Henry Kissinger, Andrei Sakharov, Anwar Al-Sadat, Menachem Begin, Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela

Then it all went wrong for the Norwegians: Yasser Arafat (1994),  for opening up “opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East,”--translation: he was a murderous thug; Al Gore (2007) for his “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change,”--translation:  global-warming alarmism is a recipe for global-economic disaster;  and Barack Obama (2009) “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people,”--translation: gives nice speeches but has done absolutely nothing to deserve the award.  There have been a few other questionable calls by the committee including Jimmy Carter (2002) for “his decades of untiring efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development”--translation: his meddling in the international arena made diplomacy harder for his White House successors.

You know, it has always seemed a little ironic that most prestigious of all world prizes for peace was founded by the inventor of dynamite; however, this has never bothered me.  What does bother me is that, apparently, the Norwegians are  becoming progressively more stupid?

The Pulitzer Prize is another prestigious award; it is given for achievements in newspaper, online journalism, literature and musical composition.  Journalism has fourteen separate awards (no surprise since Joseph Pulitzer, the founder, was a newspaper publisher), music one award, and letters and drama have six categories.  The only one which I paid attention to over the years was the letters and drama awards, in particular the fiction award.

From 1918 until 1947 it was the Novel Award and included such works and authors as the following: The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington (1919), The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1921), Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1926), The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1932), Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1937), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1940), and All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1947).  In 1948 it became the Fiction Award and still continued rewarding some pretty impressive names; James A. Michener, Herman Wouk, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Agee, Harper Lee,  Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Norman Mailer, John Kennedy Toole, John Updike, and Larry McMurtry.  In 2011 the award went to Jennifer Egan for A Visit from the Goon Squad.  In 2012, we apparently ran out of authors; no award was given for fiction.  Five years ago there were approximately 62,000 English language “novels” published in the US that year.  Surely that number has not diminished noticeably.  Yet, the Pulitzer committee could not find one work of fiction worthy of the award.  Come on guys, you’re really not trying. 

The Pulitzer has had its share of scandals: In 1981, Janet Leslie Cooke was awarded the Prize for Feature Writing for the story “Jimmy’s World,” which was a gripping profile of the life of an eight year old heroin addict which appeared in the Washington Post.  As it turns out, it should have been submitted as a work of fiction.  Shame on you Janet; shame on you Washington Post; shame on you Pulitzer.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom begun in 1963 began life as simply the Medal of Freedom in 1945 by President Harry Truman to honor civilian service during WWII.  The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States.  It recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”  It is not limited to US citizens and may be awarded to military personnel.  240 Medals of Freedom have been awarded per one Presidential Medal of Freedom.  You might think of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be the equivalent of knighthood.  Recipients are selected by the president, either on his own initiative or based on recommendations.   Going back to ‘63, there are some pretty distinguished recipients of the award: architecture: Buckminster Fuller, I. M. Pei; art: Andrew Wyeth, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Japer Johns; film: Lucille Ball, James Cagney, Walt Disney, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, John Wayne; literature: Maya Angelou, T. S. Eliot, Louis L’Amour, Harper Lee, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams; music: Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Irving Berlin, Aretha Franklin, B. B. King, Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Frank Sinatra; photography: Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams; business and economics: Henry Ford II, John Kenneth Galbraith, Alan Greenspan, David Rockefeller, Sam Walton; a few folks from the computing world, education, history, humanitarians, and a bunch from media: among them William F. Buckley, Jr., Walter Cronkite, Walter Lippmann, Edward R. Murrow, William Safire, Paul Harvey, David Brinkley, Andy Griffith, Fred Rogers.

Wow, even the short list I’ve presented is pretty darn impressive.  Maybe I still have something to automatically accept as deserved and appropriate.  Naw.  Of course not.

This year among the recipients were several names you may recognize: Sidney Poitier, Billy Jean King, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Senator Edward Kenney, Jack Kemp, and Stephen Hawking.  But there were a couple of names you might not know.  Mary Robinson, who was the first female president of Ireland, has done many good things in her lifetime; however, she has also done some horrible things: as the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights as she presided over the 2001 “World Conference Against Racism” she targeted Israel squarely and so disproportionally that the United States delegation walked out in protest.  She labeled Zionism as outright racist which led to protesters at the conference carrying signs which read “Hitler should have finished the job” turning the convention into an antisemite hate fest.  When asked about her performance, she responded that it was “remarkably good, including on the issues of the Middle East.”  The history of another recipient also makes one blink: John Sweeney, president emeritus of the AFL-CIO.  Sweeney is a socialist activist and card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America.  He has opened the AFL-CIO to participation by delegates openly linked to the Communist Party. 

Beginning in 1927, Time magazine each year selects a “Man of the Year” which features and profiles a person that for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year.  “For better or worse” pretty well inoculates them from criticism; however, I do have one criticism.  In 1950 they moved away from “person” to give the award to “The American Fighting-Man,” and in 1956 gave the award to “The Hungarian Freedom Fighter.”  It is hard to criticize either of these choices, but in 1966 they gave the award to “Baby Boomers” and in ‘69 to “The Middle Americans.”  I thought they had gone too far with these choices, but in 1982 they gave the award to “The Computer.”  Holy crap, “The Computer,” and then in 1988 they gave the award to “The Endangered Earth.”  In 1993 they moved back toward the humans with “The Peacemakers” which included de Klerk, Mandela, Rabin, and Yasser Arafat.  Yasser Arafat?  In 2001 it went to “The Whistleblowers,” Cynthia Cooper (WorldCom), Coleen Rowley (FBI), and Sherron Watkins (Enron).  In 2005 it went to “The Good Samaritans” represented by Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates.  In 2006 they totally lost their balance when the award went to “You.”  In 2011 the award was given to  “The Protesters” representing the Arab Spring, the Indignants Movement, the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement as well as protests in Greece, India, and Russia.  All of these choices I’ve mentioned I question to some extent, but “The Computer,” “The Endangered Earth,” and “You.”  I don’t know what to make of these choices.  What’s next?  The “Ipod,” “The Endangered Moon,” or “Me”?

Through my years, the Nobel Peace Prize, The Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Time’s “Man of the Year”  have all lowered themselves in my eyes as unassailable achievements by my fellow man.

I’ll get over it.      


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