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Thinking about Nobel

by Fred Cederholm

Was Obama's Peace Prize a bribe for future actions?

I’ve been thinking about prizes. Actually I’ve been thinking about Alfred Nobel, the Scandinavian connection, Barack Obama, Afghanistan, Iraq, and rules of selection. A “prize” is an award to be given to a person or a group of people to recognize and to reward actions or achievements. When it comes as bolt from the blue and is totally unexpected, it becomes a “surprise.” Prizes are frequently associated with the name of their founder. Pulitzer and Nobel particularly come to mind. The Oscar’s were so dubbed by actress Bette Davis because the backside of the nude statuette reminded her of her husband Oscar. But... enough of the glib and errata in the world of major prizes and on to the events of last Friday when the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 was announced.

You see of all the prizes and awards that are made around the world, the Nobel Peace prize is perhaps THE most famous. It certainly carries the greatest financial award. Each prize consists of a medal, a diploma, and a cash award. In 2009, the monetary honoraria for the Peace award is $1,400,000. The original five Nobel Prizes were established in the last will and testament of Swedish inventor/ scientist/ industrialist Alfred Bernard Nobel in 1895. The 6th Nobel award for economics was added to physiology/medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and Peace in 1968. These awards were effectively an apology to planet earth for Nobel’s most famous and profitable invention --- dynamite! Nobel discovered that the highly volatile nitroglycerine could be stabilized by mixing it with an absorbent inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) or sawdust.

Nobel had become fascinated by the destructive power of explosives after an explosion had killed workers at his father’s torpedo factory and devoted his studies to them. His original intent was to make explosives safe for use by almost anyone. He did NOT foresee the warlike uses of dynamite and gelignite (an explosive gelatin). Hence... the prizes were meant to be an apology for man’s innate ability to use every invention for warlike purposes.

Five of the recipients of the awards are made by Swedes and the awards are presented in Stockholm. The Peace Award is selected by a committee of five (chosen by the Norwegian Parliament) and the award is made in Olso. It has been said the Nobel felt the Norwegians were more Peace-like in comparison to the more warlike Swedes. My Norwegian friend in Chicago, Harald, said Nobel just didn’t trust the Swedes enough to select and present the award for Peace.

Last Friday it was announced the US President Barack Obama would be the 2009 recipient. There were gasps in the room. Since that time the world has been polarized by the decision. Those who like Obama are pleased by the foresight of the decision to make the award based upon “intensions” instead of “actions.” Those who do not like Obama consider the choice an abomination! It is a logical extension of the political correctness which has been the policy of Scandinavian policy for decades. As long as one cares and says the politically correct, it is NOT important whether anything important is done.

Obama was nominated for consideration for the Peace Prize – a scant two weeks into his term of office. Given that the President is the Commander in Chief of US Armed Forces, and seems intent on contracting the War in Iraq while expanding the conflict in Afghanistan; his selection was regarded as a travesty --- much like the joint selection of Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973. They had escalated the wars in South East Asia only to change their minds and negotiate a “Peaceful” end to the conflicts in Paris in 1973. Kissinger accepted the Prize, Tho did not.

Any prize carries with it a certain amount of jealousy. This was summarized so well by former perennial Oscar host Bob Hope who surveyed the crowd and said: “ I know what you are thinking, if it can’t be me, don’t let it be...” No truer words were ever spoken. We have seen the global outpourings of opinion on the 2009 selection of a sitting American President. Was the Award a bribe for future actions -- even though President Obama has stated his $1,400,000 would be given to charities?

Alfred Nobel's last will and testament was quite specific as to the criteria for selection for the Peace Prize recipient: “During the preceding year [...] 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.” Will President Barack Obama meet THAT criteria in the years to come and rightfully join the ranks of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt (1906), Woodrow Wilson (1919), and Jimmy Carter (2002)? OnlyTime will tell...

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2009 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at

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This story was published on October 12, 2009.