For years, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee has faced criticism over its secrecy and selections, perhaps most notably in 1973 when Henry Kissinger won the award. Leading the critique of the committee has been Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl. "Since [the committee is] very devoted to the NATO alliance and to the United States’ foreign policy and wants," Heffermehl says, "so the prize has come to serve the exact opposite of what it was intended to serve ... to support the work for breaking the military tradition and creating global peace or demilitarized global peace order. It’s a very radical idea." Heffermehl is past president of Norwegian Peace Council and a member of the board of the International Peace Bureau, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. He is author of the book, "The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted." Before Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, died on Dec. 10, 1896, he wrote in his will that his fortune was to be used to give out annual prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. Heffermehl argues the Norwegian Nobel Committee has illegally ignored Nobel’s will. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. And we are in Oslo, Norway, on this December 10th, the International Human Rights Day, the day that Alfred Nobel died.
Sunday’s march against the European Union came three years after thousands of protesters filled the streets here in Oslo opposing the 2009 peace prize winner, President Obama, who received the award at a time he was overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has faced criticism over its secrecy and selections, perhaps most notably in 1973, when Henry Kissinger won the award.
Leading the critique of the committee has been Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl. He is past president of the Norwegian Peace Council, a member of the board of the International Peace Bureau, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. Heffermehl is author of the book The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted.
Before Alfred Nobel died, on December 10th, 1896, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, wrote in his will his fortune was to be given out to annual prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. Heffermehl argues the Norwegian Nobel Committee has illegally ignored Alfred Nobel’s will. I sat down with the author and asked him to read a part of Alfred Nobel’s will.
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: That a weapon that powerful would—he didn’t say exactly how, but, I mean, that some kind of weapon of that strength would occur. And I think that his will must be read in that background, with his seeing how bad the weapons development could—the terrible situation it could create for mankind. And on the other side, it was also his close connection with the peace movement of that time, which was a strong cultural movement with a lot of attention in the public sphere. I mean, they were represented in parliaments all over Europe, peace people.
And Nobel, he had a friendship with a woman who was the leader of the peace movement at the time called Bertha von Suttner, who was a remarkable woman, and there should be made a movie about her, because it’s a fantastic organizer. And she wrote a book, Die Waffen nieder, or Lay Down Your Arms, which was a best-seller of the 19th century—it was published in, I think, 16, 17 languages—which was her real protest against war and militarism. And Nobel said that this book is so wonderful, it should—there are 2,000 languages in the world, and it should be translated into every one of them.
So, to understand the will, you have to see the close connection with Bertha von Suttner, which leaves no doubt that it was her kind of peace movement he had in mind, wanted to support those working to establish law instead of power and force in international relations.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, famous as the national security adviser, then secretary of state—
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —for President Nixon, very well known for Vietnam War—
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —in which, what, 55,000 U.S. soldiers, millions of Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese died; supported the dirty war in Argentina against the people.
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah, and the attack on East Timor followed his visit to Indonesia, and they started the attack only one hour after he was—his plane was out of Indonesian territory.
AMY GOODMAN: President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto—
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —the long-reigning dictator, and gave the approval for the invasion of Timor.
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah. So, I mean, this prize is probably the most scandalous ever, but it created huge discussion and criticism afterwards. But I think the prize for Obama—he gave the probably most eloquent and brilliant speech that has been held on Norwegian soil when he accepted the peace prize, but I have analyzed his statements and his arguments, and I think they are disgusting, and they are a defense of American interventionism and aggressive wars everywhere and whenever they like. So—
AMY GOODMAN: They—he—
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: I think there has not in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize been a worse affront to the memory of Alfred Nobel than the speech that Obama held.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything you’d like to add?
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: That there is an alternative to military control of people. I mean, really, this is in the interest of people all over the world in throwing off the yoke of militarism, or what you call the burden of militarism, and organize a much better world for everyone.
AMY GOODMAN: Fredrik Heffermehl is author of the book The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. And again, I want to go back to the part of the interview where Heffermehl read from Alfred Nobel’s will.
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: The peace prize shall go to the person "who shall have done the most or the best work for brotherhood between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
And what the committee has been doing is to say that this—they have not been concerned with the aspirations of the will at all. They have said, "This is a peace prize, and we’ll give it for anything we think is useful for peace." That means, in practice, the Norwegian parliament has taken over the money entrusted by Nobel for this purpose of a disarmed world and used it for whatever they like. And they are then—of course, since they are very devoted to the NATO alliance and to the United States’ foreign policy and wants, so the prize has come to serve the exact opposite of what it was intended to serve.
This is very unpopular in Norway, to really—nobody wants to address the truth about the purpose of the peace prize, which is to support the work for breaking the military tradition and creating a global peace or demilitarized global peace order. It’s a very radical idea. But it is, of course, very far from that which is cultivated by the political establishment of Norway and of the U.S. and of the European Union nations, for instance.
That is the problem with the prize for 2012 for the European Union, that nowhere in their policy and programs can you find any mention of working for a global—demilitarized global order, peace order—nowhere. And you find the exact opposite, that they are promoting arms research, production and development and trade, and they are developing a European army, European rapid deployment forces, battle groups, etc., etc. So, they have a program which is the exact opposite of the purpose of the prize.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell me who Alfred Nobel was. Where was he born? Where was his wealth from, his convictions, his passion? How did the Nobel Peace Prize get established?
FREDRIK HEFFERMEHL: Yeah, yeah. He was born in Sweden. He was a Swedish national. At the age of nine, his father was an inventor and a technical engineer. He went to Russia to work for the tsar with weapons development. And Nobel himself, he was speaking seven European languages. And he had—he was an inventor, and particularly a chemist. He developed some powder, which was a huge—what will leap in arms production, because it—you could have much lighter weapons, arms. Firearms could be reduced in weight with his special powder. And he invented dynamite, which has been used for building and mining and for all these purposes.
And in—he had activities in, I think, 32 countries, and he earned a fortune. He was running both the inventions and his innovative mind, and he was also taking care of the practical bookkeeping and the—I mean, all the financial side of the use of the inventions. And then, he never married. He had no children—a great thing, because then he found out he would use his fortune to establish these five prizes, for medicine, for chemistry, and for literature and for peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Fredrik Heffermehl, author of the book The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. After the book was published in 2010, Heffermehl was no longer invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. He had attended for decades. In fact, was there in 1964 when Dr. Martin Luther King won the prize.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll talk about the results of the Doha U.N. climate change summit. We’re broadcasting live from Oslo, Norway, where the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has just wrapped up. The Nobel Prize this year was awarded to the European Union. Stay with us.