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News > World

From War Criminals to Despots, 5 of the Most Undeserving Nobel Prize Winners

  • Nobel Prize recipients and controversial figures in global history.

    Nobel Prize recipients and controversial figures in global history. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 5 October 2016

Considering past winners of the iconic peace prize, voters' rejection Sunday of a peace treaty should not exclude Colombia's nomination. 

Following voters' unexpected rejection Sunday of a peace deal that would've ended Colombia's epic civil war, the five Norwegian judges who will announce the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize have made it plain that the winner will certainly not be anyone who negotiated the failed treaty.

But any assessment of the award’s past recipients underscores a litany of failure, embodied in the rogue's gallery of miscreants, megalomaniacs, and warlords. Since its inception in 1901, no Nobel Prize has never been rescinded, and Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad strongly affirmed that no peace prize would ever be revoked, no matter the offense.

Just in case the Nobel Committee should reconsider, the following is our list of the first five to be thrown under the bus.

... Metaphorically speaking, of course.

1. Henry Kissinger, Former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor

Donald Trump met with Kissinger earlier this year. | Photo: AFP

"The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer."

These, WikiLeaks revealed, were the words Kissinger once uttered to Turkey’s foreign minister, and they could almost serve as a mission statement for Kissinger in his role as the principal architect of U.S. foreign policy from 1969 to 1977.

Awarded the prize in 1973 jointly with Le Duc Tho of the Communist Party of Vietnam (who refused the prize), the Nobel committee was swayed by the duo's efforts to end the brutal and bloody Vietnam war. Of course, the war would not end for another two years, and it was Kissinger who fundamentally supervised the slaughter, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Kissinger was also behind Operation Condor, the U.S.-orchestrated campaign of murder, torture, and disappearances in Latin America, including, most notably, his pivotal his support of the military coup that ousted the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende. In the years that followed, Kissinger and Chile's brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet would become thick-as-thieves, so-to-speak.

Elsewhere on the continent, Kissinger extended massive U.S. support to Argentina’s right-wing military, who in March of 1976 launched the “Dirty War”, a massacre against leftists that left as many as 30,000 dead and disappeared.

In Cambodia, Kissinger's carpet-bombing led directly to the takeover of Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Also, documents released in 2014 revealed that in 1976, Kissinger planned to launch airstrikes against Havana, strike ports and military installations in Cuba and send Marine battalions to the U.S. Naval Base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay.

2. U.S. President Barack Obama

Awarded the prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," Obama's peace credentials, like Kissinger, are wildly overrated. As the Atlantic wrote in 2011, 3 years after Obama entered the White House, “nuclear-weapons policy (became) yet another area where the heady optimism of the administration's early days has largely evaporated.”

Just two months after being awarded the Nobel Prize, Obama sent 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

It’s also perhaps the unprecedented scale of Obama’s drone wars that will be his most impactful legacy, with strikes conducted from Pakistan to Somalia, the most to occur under any U.S. president. Likewise, Obama has deported more people from the United States than any previous president, earning the apt title of “Deporter-in-Chief.”

Additionally, Obama was the chief architect of NATO’s bombing of Libya and continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, despite his 2008 campaign pledge to close the facility. Meanwhile, he has shown his unparalleled support for the Israeli state with the largest military aid deal in history while failing to sufficiently address the issue of police brutality against the U.S.’s Black populace.

The 44th U.S. president’s bestowment of the Nobel Peace Prize is almost bizarre – as if the committee, almost as an inside joke, secretly had an "opposite day" when it named Obama the winner.

3. Shimon Peres, Co-founder of Israel and Former Israeli Prime Minister

One of the founders of the state of Israel, Peres was prime minister when he presided over the bombing of refugees at a U.N. compound in Lebanon, in what was known as Operation Grapes of Wrath.

In April 1996, Peres faced a significant right-wing backlash at home over his peace deal with the Palestinians, for which he was awarded the prize two years earlier alongside Israel's late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In the midst of this pressure, he unleashed the operation, forcing 400,000 Lebanese to flee their homes.

Peres did not stop there and ordered the army to strike the shelter where they were housed, killing 102 civilians – mainly women, children and the elderly.

“In my opinion," Peres said at the time, "everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way. I am at peace.” However, the United Nations and human rights organizations debunked his government’s claim that the strike against the camp was not intentional.

Additionally, he was part of the militia that was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages during the Nakba. He also offered to sell nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa and was a key proponent of ongoing brutality against the besieged Gaza Strip.

4. The 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When the Nobel Committee chose the Tibetan leader as the recipient of the award in 1989, they emphasized his “Buddhist peace philosophy on reverence for all living things.”

But his record is far from noble.

Speaking to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper, he said with a laugh, “Europe, for example, Germany, cannot become an Arab country,” echoing the sentiments of far-right groups such as Europe’s anti-Islam PEGIDA movement and France’s Front National.

Many regarded his holiness' perspectives on Syrian refugees in Europe as a bastion of hypocrisy since the Dalai Lama is a refugee himself, residing in India since the CIA-backed operation that trained and funded Tibetan fighters against the People's Republic of China.

Despite self-identifying as a "Marxist," he was on the CIA’s payroll for decades.

Unopposed to the U.S.-led War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a friend of hawks such as George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Pinochet, the Dalai Lama considered it morally suitable to grant refugees only temporary asylum.

5. Former U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The “father of liberalism” – hailed as being instrumental in the foundation of a global basis for “humanitarianism” – was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1919 for his role as the lead architect of the League of Nations following World War 1. That same League of Nations would go on to become the United Nations, the very same body that shut out anti-colonial leaders from the global South from participating in the Paris peace negotiations following the war.

Wilson preached the values of self-determination, saying that people had the right “to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live.” As president, though, he sent U.S. troops to intervene in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Russia.

The same year he was awarded the prize, Wilson drafted a speech to Congress declaring, “It shall not lie with the American people to dictate to another people what their government shall be.” When he sent it to his secretary of state for review, it came back with this terse notation in the margin: “Haiti, S. Domingo, Nicaragua, Panama.”

On the domestic front, he was a devoted racist, saying, “there are no government positions for Negroes in the South. A Negro’s place is in the corn field.” He institutionalized these views by segregating the civil service in 1913. He also personally fired 15 out of 17 Black supervisors that were appointed to federal jobs, while both his postmaster general and treasury secretary also segregated their departments.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, while governor of New Jersey, also signed a bill making sterilization of criminals and the mentally ill compulsory.

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