Nobel Prize controversies

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Nobel Prize controversies

“The merchant of death is dead,” was the headline of an obituary for Alfred Nobel carried by a European paper in 1888. Actually, it was an erroneous report. The one who passed away was not the dynamite magnate Alfred, but his elder brother Ludvig Nobel. That premature obituary, however, gave birth to the Nobel Prizes. Alfred Nobel, who was shocked at the description of himself as “a merchant of death,” left a will that demanded the establishment of prizes to be awarded to people who made contributions to the development of the human race, an effort to recover from the disgrace on his name.

As is the case in other matters, there were often controversies over the selection of the winners of the Nobel Prizes. Critics accused some of them of not deserving the prize. One representative example is Johannes Fibiger, who was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1926. He published a thesis in which he announced that the cause of cancer was parasites. If his research was correct, the human race would have overcome cancer already. It was apparently contrary to the will of Alfred Nobel that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Fritz Haber, who developed poison gas during World War I. Heinrich Chankel, a German writer, enumerated 50 controversial cases related to the Nobel Prizes in his book “Nobel Prize Scandals.”

Compared to the prizes in science fields, the Nobel Peace Prize had many more cases of controversies. “The Nobel Peace Prize, 1901 - 2000,” written by Geir Lundestad, who worked as the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for a long time, raised the question of whether awarding the prize to former Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1974 was right. His contribution was making the “Three Non-nuclear Principles” as the basic national policy of Japan. According to documents declassified recently, however, he allowed United States Navy vessels loaded with nuclear arms to call at Japanese ports and considered a plan to arm Japan with nuclear weapons. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 while still in office, was selected in recognition of his contribution to ending the Russo-Japanese War through mediation.

However, people pointed out that Roosevelt pursued foreign policy based on power and not pacifism, and therefore he did not deserve the prize. For example, the Taft-Katsura Agreement, which was signed between the United States and Japan when Roosevelt was in office, gave Japan permission to invade the Korean Peninsula.

There are controversies over the awarding of the peace prize to President Barack Obama of the United States, who advocates a “nuclear-free world.” Since people have said that the peace prize committee stakes its prestige on “vision” for peace rather than “accomplishments,” President Obama must be feeling a lot of pressure after receiving the prize. Like Alfred Nobel, who learned a lesson from his premature obituary, Obama will have to work hard for the implementation of his vision for peace.

I sincerely hope that future writers will not list Obama as the 51st scandalous Nobel Prize awardee.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yeh Young-june
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