Alfred Nobel, Nobel Prize and Irony

As most of the readers must know, Alfred Nobel invented Dynamite. What you might not know is he also owned “Bofors,” a major armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its previous role as an iron and steel mill.

According to Wikipedia, “The erroneous publication in 1888 of a premature obituary of Nobel by a French newspaper, condemning him for his invention of dynamite, is said to have brought about his decision to leave a better legacy after his death.The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”[

Dr. Nobel didn’t, clearly, change his entrepreneurial activities before he died in 1896, eight years after the publication of the erroneous obituary. Instead, in his last will he decides to bequeath much of his enormous fortune to the five Nobel Prizes. One each in Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Medical Sciences, Literature and Peace (a new one has been added in Economics). The Peace Prize “is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.”

Bofors is still, to this date, one of the largest arms manufacturer in the world.

I am surprised that not too many of the talking heads or the pundits point-out the base irony fundamentally present in the Nobel Peace prize. Nobel, the merchant of death, and Peace is an oxymoron. And to me, it does little but expose the hypocrisy of human kind that money collected by creating and selling Dynamite is used to award the most prestigious “Peace Prize.” Not sure how Dr. Nobel could write “…suppression or reduction of standing armies” and not see the naked irony of it all. I forget the author’s name but she hit the nail on the head when she said, in a matter of fact manner, “the beauty of childhood is that it is not afflicted with hypocrisy yet, the very cornerstone of adulthood is hypocrisy especially the hypocrisies that the self doesn’t even see.” A very important goal of mine is thus to stay a child in this context.

It is good that President Obama has pledged to donate the prize money to charity.

My opinion, and I know President Obama did not apply for the Prize, President Obama doesn’t deserve it and it is going to be nothing but an impossible standard to meet when he ends up making tough decisions on Afghanistan, Iraq and may be Iran. Oh, and I don’t think he will make the easy decision on the domestic front — Gun Control — that 540 Mayors just petitioned him for. Isn’t that ironic: acting on gun control can taken away some “business” from Bofors reducing the Nobel families fortunes and may be their ability to dish out the Peace Prize (hey! I can dream, can’t I?).

8 Responses

  1. Nice post. It’s hard to understand how the entire world goes along with this hypocrisy and there’s nobody to scream, “The king is naked.”

    • What an mockery this “prize” has become. The Scandinavians have diluted any respect and recognition the prize should represent and has minimized the value for its past and future winners.

      One has to wonder why this happened. I am not a supporter of Obama’s philosphy, what ever it really is, but I find it unfortunate that a President of the United States was made a fool of by a country that is around today due to the sacrifices of many Americans.

  2. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I think all you disappointed people are looking at it wrong. President Obama has not “done” anything with his very own hands, like so many of the other names that have risen as “more deserving.” But he has become a catalyst that seems to be moving people globally in the right direction after years of stagnation. In this way he is doing much more than planting trees, building schools – regardless of the dangerous territory they are in – or any number of other choices, that are indeed heroic, but nevertheless singular. He is working toward peace, but pressed to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons entrenched in Pakistan – that should not even exist. A quick exit could spell disaster.

    Your comment on gun control points out a problem; we have an elected president, not a king. A king could issue a decree to end gun ownership, and lay to rest all problems brought about by it. Our president is required to support the Constitution, a paper written when guns were so misaligned the “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.” They also had to be loaded, one shot at a time – a time consuming job. If the authors of the Constitution had been omnicient to today’s weapons, and some of the minds behind them, they’d have fallen over themselves erasing this blunder from their tome. Alas, we are stuck with it – UNTIL- the public has had enough and DEMANDS it be struck, or at least modified, to fit today’s standards.

    Our president knows the Constitution, and how it works – how it has to be changed, and why, and the amount of time it takes to do it. The ball is in our court, not the NRA’s. We need to take the ball and score our own point.

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your comments.
      While no one is disputing the power of President Obama’s word or the general change in climate it has brought about, the issue at hand is even that has not accomplished anything tangible. As often happens, the people who have been transformed were rarely the ones causing trouble.

      It is the Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani wars that needs to be brought under the umbrella of peace. It is Iran, North Korea and the Israel-Palestine issue that needs to be solved.

      So making Europeans, Indians, Africans and South Americans happy has accomplished nothing in solving any wars.

      I contend that the prize is actually going to get in his way rather than help him since lot of people will want to lure him in to war or war like rhetoric knowing it is hard for him to go there now after the Nobel Peace Prize.

      Regarding gun control — there is enough momentum to try for an amendment of the constitution. I agree though that he is quite busy with the wars and health care among other things to contend with gun control. May be in the 2nd term. :-)

    • Whilst writing my reply to the artical, I read your reply, Barbara, and found there was no need to repeat what you’d just said. Bravo to you for seeing things correctly in my opinion. I would like to add that for first time in my 53 years being on this planet, I am proud of my President and proud of my country for electing him. He says what I thought an American President should say but never heard while I was growing up. What I’d learned in school about this being a great country looked to be a big lie to me. The Reagan-Bush years reinforced that feeling. Clinton did not dispell it. Barack Obama is different, and I will give him the benefit of any doubt that comes along.

  3. It may sound ironical, but when Alfred Nobel came up with the invention of dynamite, the key idea was to control the explosion for a good cause.
    His will brought a great noble idea to recognize outstanding efforts every year in certain fields. Now, when we look at Noble peace prize which went to Obama , I think in the last one year no one influenced more than he did. The good thing about this debate is no one has any other person name to suggest, why he or she didn’t get the Noble Peace prize for this year…

    • What about the minor fact that Alfred Nobel owned Bofors? Until his dying day.

      • Infact, bofors may be a minor fact but it is the ironical fact, how Nobel’s wealth were acquired and how it is being used now.

        Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerine and how it could be put to practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety problems had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled detonation of nitroglycerine. This led to the invention of dynamite. But the penetrating mind of the scientist and inventor with the forward-looking dynamism of the industrialist. He focused on the development of explosives technology as well as other chemical inventions, including such materials as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk, etc. By the time of his death in 1896 he had 355 patents.

        Many of the companies founded by Nobel developed into industrial enterprises that still play a prominent role in the world economy, for example Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), Great Britain; Société Centrale de Dynamite, France; and Dyno Industries in Norway. It is only towards the end of his life, he acquired the company AB Bofors.

        His companies were exporting nitroglycerine explosives to other countries in Europe, America and Australia. Over the years he founded factories and laboratories in some 90 different places in more than 20 countries. Although he lived in Paris much of his life he was constantly traveling. Victor Hugo at one time described him as “Europe’s richest vagabond”.

        At the age of 43 he was feeling like an old man. At this time he advertised in a newspaper “Wealthy, highly-educated elderly gentleman seeks lady of mature age, versed in languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified applicant turned out to be an Austrian woman, Countess Bertha Kinsky. After working a very short time for Nobel she decided to return to Austria to marry Count Arthur von Suttner. In spite of this Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms and became a prominent figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.

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