The awarding today of the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Obama raises a simple question: What has he done to deserve it? This question has a very straightforward answer: He has changed the course of a nation, and, in a real sense, the world, for the better.
Within less than nine months as President, Obama has taken America out of the role of loose cannon, rolling about wildly on the deck of the global ship of state, and into the role of a leader among cooperating nations. He has advanced the cause of nuclear disarmament, which has languished for years, even as the threat of nuclear war has hung like the sword of Damocles over the world for nearly two-thirds of a century. (Read an earlier post about nuclear disarmament here.) He has reversed U.S. policy on the use of torture, a policy that had actually promoted terrorism. He has reversed the direction of the United States on global warming, which has the potential to incite war in the long term through its effect on population centers and agriculture.
The function of the Nobel Prize is not merely to reward someone, but to hold that someone up as an example for others to follow. Although some of Obama’s efforts have yet to bear fruit, the mere fact of his undertaking these efforts, and the very real results that have been obtained so far, are a much-needed inspiration for everyone from schoolchildren to statespersons. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama makes his message of hope, and the value of working hard in the cause of peace, that much stronger.
There are those who criticize the Nobel Peace Prize Committee because they have not, in this case, followed the example of the committees regarding awards in the sciences, where Nobel Prizes are awarded years after some achievement. This is a foolish comparison. We are living in a crucial moment of world history, when the potential for catastrophe—nuclear, environmental, biological—is very great. The time to act is now. Consequently, the time for inspiration is now.
It is written that a very small rudder can move a very large ship. The efforts of President Obama, although in some cases still in their early stages, are what the world needs to achieve peace now, on multiple fronts. It is not only that those efforts deserve this award, although they do. However, in addition to that, the people of America and the world need the inspiration to follow the President’s example. Faced with an unprecedented level of challenge and risk, the entire world needs to think, “Yes—we can!” And the world needs to think this now, not twenty years from now.
In the matter of this award, the Nobel Committee, and especially President Barack Obama himself, are On The Mark.
(This post expands on a comment of mine on a news item in The Huffington Post. The original news article is available here. An archive of all my comments on The Huffington Post is available here. Readers are welcome to become what The Huffington Post calls “fans” of mine on HuffPost.)
[The photo of the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to Norman Angell, on exhibit to the public at the Imperial War Museum in London, was taken on August 26, 2005 by Anubis3. The image was obtained through Wikipedia, and is in the public domain in the United States.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)