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Jimmy Carter and the Nobel Peace Prize

10/25/02 12:00AM By Olin Robison
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When former President Jimmy Carter travels to Oslo, Norway, in December to receive the Nobel Peace Prize he will be only the third American president to receive that honor. The other two were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Of course he deserves it. The question is why has it taken them so long?

In a world almost intoxicated with titles, prizes, and honors, the Nobel Prize stands out. Six are awarded each year, one each in chemistry, economics, literature, medicine and physics and then, the grandest of them all, the Nobel Peace Prize. These honors carry the name of the late Alfred Nobel, the 19th century Swedish entrepreneur who invented dynamite. It made him rich and some of that money was used to establish an endowment, which created the prize money. Each recipient these days receives about a million dollars.

Now, back to the question of what took them so long. The selection process is quite deliberately secretive and mysterious but even so, there has been gossip for years about why the Peace Prize had not yet been conferred on Jimmy Carter. It should have happened way back in 1978 after then-President Carter had brokered the Camp David Accords which was a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel something that, until then, had been thought to be impossible.

Since then, President Carter's image as a peacemaker has gone up and up. There was concern in Norway lest they wait too long, which was what happened regarding the late Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was repeatedly considered and passed over for the prize, and then, in 1948, he was assassinated and it was too late.

And so, the Nobel Committee finally did the right thing. The Peace Prize is to be bestowed on Jimmy Carter, said the committee, for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts.

It isn't surprising to learn that the politics of Norway are imbedded in the selection committee and that, all too frequently, there are multiple agendas being served. If one were to review the list of Peace Prize recipients of the last hundred years, even well informed people would have great difficulty identifying all the names.

But that will not be the case this year. It isn't that President Carter's selection isn't controversial. It is. What is not in dispute is his presence on the world stage as a man devoted to causes of peace. Most often the Peace Prize is given to an individual because of that person's role in a specific event, or cause, or peace process. This year it is more of what, in Hollywood, would be called a lifetime achievement award.

A great many Americans, especially those of quite conservative political persuasion, have long found President Carter not to their liking. They have belittled him, saying that his was a failed presidency and that his constant do-gooding, as it is often called, gets in the way of more realistic and more tough-minded political leadership. The holders of those views tend to be Republicans but their numbers include some Democrats.

I am not among their number. I believe that Jimmy Carter very much deserves the Peace Prize. I also believe that, over the long run, historians will be rather kind in their assessment of him and even of his presidency. I also believe that, whichever camp you are in, all Americans should be able to take some pleasure and great satisfaction in this. It would be small-minded and churlish to do otherwise.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.
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