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Peace takes time – and isn’t necessarily nice

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit takes a swipe at the awarders of the Nobel Peace Prize (May 7, 10:21:39 am), but I suspect him of misunderstanding the problem.

The basic problem of the Nobel Peace Prize is that it is awarded for effort rather than for achievement, and often not even for effort, merely for general niceness, and not infrequently for the kind of niceness that might well stir up a war.

My guess is that Glenn Reynolds disagrees with the Nobel Peace Prize awarders about the mere meaning of niceness, and that this is the basis of his disdain for them. I probably share his view of what niceness is, more than I do that of the Nobel awarders. But niceness is one thing; peace is quite another.

With the much more widely respected Nobel Prizes for various sorts of science, the awarders do the vital thing they don’t do with their Peace Prizes. They wait, to see if something of lasting value has actually been achieved. With science they often don’t have to wait that long, because with science the fact of significant progress is often clear for all to see.

But peace, by definition, has to go on for a decent length of time before it can reasonably be called peace. It is idiotic to award Peace Prizes to the signatories of a “peace treaty” before the ink is even dry. What if peace breaks down? Only time will tell if the lasting peace supposedly being attempted was in fact lasting.

Giving the Peace Prize to Shimon Peres for doing some “peace” deal or other in the Middle East a few months previously is idiotic, not because Perez is a bad man hell-bent on war (I don’t know what sort of man he is), but because he was so plainly still in the thick of the struggle and it wasn’t at all plain that peace would result. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that it hasn’t.

A decent Nobel Peace Prize ceremony would drag obscure old diplomats and forgotten statesmen out of retirement for well deserved pats on the back, for things they did thirty years ago, which, we can now see, caused a prolonged outbreak of peace in some hitherto intractable and now – because so peaceful for the last thirty years – utterly forgotten circumstance.

Examples? Can’t think of any off hand, what with peace being so unmemorable. Maybe readers of this can suggest some genuinely worthy Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

But I foresee further problems. One is that diplomats in their active phase tend to be older than star scientists. By the time you realise that a diplomat did a good job he’s liable to be dead. (Perhaps Nobel Peace Prizes should be awardable posthumously.)

And another even deeper problem is that the means of achieving peace can often be so not nice. Victory can be hideous in the manner of its achievement yet impeccably peaceful in its consequences, and hence in the total amounts of war and of peace that it gives rise to. Abject surrender can likewise do wonders for peace.

I recall witnessing a “peace” demonstration during the Falklands War, in Trafalgar Square. Said a plaintive placard: “PEACE IN THE FALKLANDS” (i.e. “Britain stop fighting”). Also saying “PEACE IN THE FALKLANDS” was a nearby news placard advertising the Evening Standard. For once, the instant prophecy proved correct. The British army, ignoring the “peace” protesters, had carried right on fighting and had on that very day won (as it turned out) the Falklands War, thereby establishing (as it also turned out) a period of peace which has lasted to this day.

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