Who Should Have Won the Past 123 Nobel Peace Prizes

By David Swanson, November 30, 2023

The Nobel Peace Prize is often criticized when the committee that awards it gives the prize to vicious warmongers and to people who’ve done great things that had nothing to do with abolishing war or armaments. But who would ideally have won the prize each year since 1901?

Fredrik S. Heffermehl has been the expert on the failings of the Nobel Peace Prize since he noticed something was wrong way back when Al Gore was the awardee. Heffermehl maintains this website http://nobelwill.org and has written books and articles on the topic, which I’ve often written about. Now he has a new book called The Real Nobel Peace Prize: https://realnobelpeace.org.

If you’ve managed to remain ignorant of Heffermehl’s basic argument for the legal and moral responsibility to comply with Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, he lays it out here, better than ever. But that is not the point of the new book. Instead the new book is a mind-blowing introduction to a wide-ranging universe of people and organizations who should have won the prize. This is an amazing body of historical research that will lead the reader on to reading elsewhere about hundreds of previously unknown or insufficiently known groups and individuals.

Of course, one may have questions about any of Heffermehl’s candidates, who are even more heavily from the United States and the United Kingdom than the actual winners, and who include people in positions of power who did something right momentarily but would never have said they supported the goals of Nobel’s will (Congresswoman Barbara Lee, for example). But there is virtually no doubt that Heffermehl is right that had his list of people been given the prize, not only would the Nobel Peace Prize be more laudable, but the world would be a dramatically better place with less killing and suffering.

Heffermehl thinks some prizes have been merited, including 73% of them in the first 10 years of the prize’s existence, but never again above 33% of them in any decade since, absolutely none of them in the 1970s, and only 1 out of 10 between 2011 and 2020. He also thinks the committee was in error in years when it chose to give out no prize, because there have always been worthy potential recipients.

The prize that Heffermehl thinks Nobel’s words most clearly name as the Disarmament Prize rather than the Peace Prize was created in an age in which disarmament was not opposed by as powerful controllers of governments and communications systems. But he argues that the prize cannot and should not be made to suit the current zeitgeist, because a will is a legally binding document and because war is an enormous evil.

From the very first prize in 1901, given to two recipients, an opponent of war and an advocate for making war more humane, Heffermehl sees errors and documents the illegal and irresponsible disregarding of Alfred Nobel’s will, as well as documenting a clearly superior potential recipient who was passed by. Already by 1906 an enthusiastic warmonger, Teddy Roosevelt, was given the prize. Of course, well-known names like Tolstoy and Gandhi were never deemed worthy of the Peace Prize. But the chief value of this book is the summaries of numerous names far less familiar.

If you’ve long taken an interest in peace, then more of these names will be familiar, but you will still learn from this account. If you have long been active for peace, then some of them in more recent years will be your colleagues and friends, people you’ve worked with or interviewed. As a matter of full-disclosure I have to include here that I am one of the many people Heffermehl writes should have received a prize. I can only explain this and many of the others named by Heffermehl by understanding the prize as Heffermehl does and as he is persuasive that Nobel understood it, as a prize meant largely to lift-up those who should be better known and to fund their under-funded work for war abolition. Of course, you could throw a dart at a phonebook, if those still exit, and find a more worthy recipient than Henry Kissinger.

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