Ed Quillen: Writers on the Range
October 15, 2009
The Nobel Peace Prize goes to someone chosen by a five-person committee selected by the Norwegian Parliament. The winner is the person or organization who, in the committee’s view, “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”With wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama does seem an odd choice. Of course, so did the two previous sitting presidents who won the Nobel Peace Prize.In 1919, it went to Woodrow Wilson, who sent Gen. John Pershing into Mexico in 1916. That was the same year that Wilson campaigned for re-election because he “kept us out of war.” The next year, he led America into a brutal European war. Wilson also re-segregated the District of Columbia, opposed women’s suffrage and launched a harsh suppression of civil liberties during and after World War I.In 1906, the peace prize went to Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most bellicose president in American history. His first federal office was assistant secretary of the Navy. He became a national figure for leading the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, and firmly supported the savage U.S. war against the Filipinos who wanted to run their own country. He seized Panama from Colombia. But in 1905, Roosevelt did negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and thus the peace prize.In other words, the peace prize has at best a tenuous connection with peace and the American presidency.But it did inspire some thought. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish engineer, invented dynamite, as well as other explosives. It made him a wealthy man. He died in 1896 and left his fortune to a foundation that would award annual prizes for literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and peace. (The economics prize, though it carries the Nobel name, was not in his will; it was created in 1968.)We already have the “Ig Nobel” Prizes, awarded every year for scientific achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” That is, research into the trivial; one recent winner resulted from research to determine whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full beer bottle or an empty.With that useful name already taken, we’d have to come up with another, perhaps the Non-Nobel Prizes.The Non-Nobels would be awarded for significant achievements in non-literature, pseudo-science, creative medicine, and war.The non-literature award could go to a forgery, like Clifford Irving’s 1972 Howard Hughes biography. Or to some sports figure who never read his own ghost-written “autobiography.” Or the relentless production of words about the obvious, as with the acres of analysis about Michael Jackson’s death earlier this year.Pseudo-science covers a lot of territory, from your daily horoscope to the Creation Museum near Petersburg, Ky. One worthy current nominee might be the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, which has argued that we don’t need stronger regulations, even when Coloradans in drilling zones find benzene and toluene in their spring water.As for creative medicine, there are scores of candidates. Just watch the pharmaceutical ads on TV, and remember that the way to wealth in America is to invent a disease, then sell the cure.Now to the Non-Nobel War Prize – that is, what person or organization did the most to advance war? For previous years, names leap to mind – i.e., Dick Cheney, Osama bin Laden, the government of Sudan. But currently, it’s hard to tell whose efforts will best promote more war, although it does seem a certainty that someone will succeed.
Ed Quillen is a writer in Salida, Colo., where he produces regular op-ed columns for The Denver Post and publishes Colorado Central, a small regional monthly magazine.