Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Alfred Nobel could never have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not, at least, in his lifetime.

Nobel, a Swedish chemist, developed nitroglycerin—not for angina, but for explosives. Having succeeded with an effective blasting oil, he resourcefully developed and patented a blasting cap—a detonator—for triggering the explosion of nitroglycerin.

After losing a brother and a factory from two separate nitroglycerin explosions, Nobel managed to stabilize his mighty explosive and give it a name that stuck—dynamite. A chemist with a head for business, he patented it. An innovator with a taste for explosion, he subsequently invented a blasting gelatin—gelignite—and a blasting powder—ballistite—to go with his blasting oil. For Nobel, who accomplished all of this and became wealthy from it in the quarter-century between 1862-1887, life was a blast.

Nobel said, “If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.” One turned out to be so good it is his undisputed legacy—the creation of a prize for “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.” The Nobel Peace Prize.

Gandhi didn’t win it, but Arafat did. Sartre asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration, and not only did the Nobel committee award him the prize, but also ignored his refusal of it. Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho declined it because peace had yet to come to his country, but that didn’t deter his co-awardee Henry Kissinger from accepting it.

It’s fair to say that President Obama won it for being an advocate for both “fraternity between nations” and“the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” For little more because he’s had time and opportunity to do little more. What he will do regarding “the abolition or reduction of standing armies” remains to be seen. If the committee for the Nobel Peace Prize intended to encourage him; to support his honorable endeavors; to put the best light on the worst of human conditions, war; doesn’t that only serve the public good?

Alfred Nobel envisioned a future that is yet to come. “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.” If only.


  1. "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." - The Nobel Peace Prize

    I never thought that I would experience in my lifetime a sitting president winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What an honor!

  2. How odd that Nobel, who profited so handsomely from his destructive inventions, assumed that future capitalists might somehow choose "golden peace" over the profits they could achieve by building armaments to a level of so-called "mutually assured destruction" among the superpower nations. It's a classic case of "Do as I say, not as I do."

  3. I agree. Obama has been that beacon of hope for the world, not just America.

    To put out the blazing fires in the oil fields set by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, the most effective way was to use dynamite. A dynamite explosion set next to a fire would suck up the oxygen necessary for the fire to burn. Boom. The fire is gone.

    Maybe Obama embodies Nobel's boom?

  4. Let's see if the award provides incentive for Obama's efforts to become productive.