Alfred Nobel’s will has been interpreted in various ways year after year that the will had lost its original purpose
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery.”
George Orwell, 1984
Today, as the Nobel Prize has celebrated its 113-year-old tradition, it is noteworthy to look at the peace prize from Alfred Nobel’s angle, as he has created this prize for a reason and as a result of a deadly invention.
Alfred Nobel, who garnered 355 patents during his life, grew fantastically wealthy after patenting the “dynamite” invention, which was first used as a stable paste that could be shaped into short sticks that mining companies might use to blast through rock. A noble usage… no doubt.
However, without going through the number of deaths resulted from the dangerous mixing of components during the experiment phase, the dynamite was used by military authorities in warfare. By creating probably the first great monopolistic trust and holding company, Nobel “sold to both sides in a war.” (1)
He never discovered what people thought about his invention of dynamite until the death of his brother Ludvig in 1888, when some journalistic error resulted in Alfred’s obituary being printed instead.
“The merchant of death is dead.” This was one of the obituaries, while another one went on to describe Nobel as a man “who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
Not being a politician, these descriptions left an impact on Alfred. They were these obituaries that encouraged him to set aside the majority of his vast estate to establish the five Nobel Prizes, including one awarded for the pursuit of peace.
“One part to the person who 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.” Nobel was clear in his last will, as he had a vision on how to have peace, but this will has been interpreted in various ways year after year that the will had lost its original purpose.
In a quick view on the history of the Prize’s winners, the recent decades show a shift and inconsistency in awarding the prize. One of the most controversial Peace Prize winners was the US President, Barack Obama, who received the Prize only after few months in office, while in earlier decades, the Nobel Committee was reluctant to give awards to politicians as it was impossible to tell what these politicians might later do. Well, let’s not harshly judge Obama’s nomination, he could have been awarded the Prize in 2009 solely for not being his predecessor George W. Bush!
The creation of the Prize wasn’t less controversial than its interpretation, considering that the Prize itself came into existence after a fatal result of a dangerous invention, and ending with the controversy of broadening the Peace Prize. It seems that George Orwell’s 1984 is more timely than ever, with that false utopia that crossed Nobel’s mind when he first created the Prize, and the hypocrisy of the process followed in awarding the Peace Prize.
(1) Burton Feldman, The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy, and Prestige