Peace, Perfect Peace!

The Story of the Nobel Peace Prize


Most people are aware of the existence of the Nobel Peace prize. They read, or hear, a news bulletin every year, giving the names of the fortunate recipients.


Rather fewer know that the founder of this bequest was Alfred Nobel, the millionaire explosives manufacturer. In 1896,  £1,750,000 was left by him to. endow a trust fund divided to produce five prizes of about £8,000 each annually to a chosen physicist, chemist, medical man, writer and/or Pacifist who, in the opinion of the selectors, had best served the cause of peace.


Same may find it rather surprising that Alfred Nobel, who made a fortune from war, should donate a large sum to what might be considered the pursuit of Peace.


The facts show that, whatever his intentions, the Nobel Peace Prize has not had the slightest effect in preventing or lessening the incidence of War. Indeed, Alfred Nobel is but one of a number of paradoxical figures of this modem topsy-turvey world.


No less so is Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize winner, who wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939 drawing attention to the power of the Atom Bomb, and urging him to set science working on it in case the Nazi’s got in first; only to say afterwards that “if World War III is fought with atom-armed missiles then World War IV will be fought with clubs,” and sign the famous scientists declaration with Bertrand Russell, in July 1955, predicting that radio-active dust could end the human race.


Alfred was the second son of Immanuel Nobel, who had a small chemical works in Stockholm in the sixties of the last century.


The family managed to land a contract for the Russian Navy in the Crimean War and for mines to be sown in the Baltic. These in fact did no harm, as they never went off.
In 1870 Alfred took over and moved to Hamburg. During this period the firm invented a powerful new explosive, which he christened “Dynamite.” This material was the atomic bomb of that day, compared to kid’s stuff like gunpowder. He later founded the British Dynamite Co., which made 1,000 per cent. profit in six years.


The first dynamite weapons were shells poured into densely populated Montmartre, by the German Army during the siege of Paris, in the time of the Commune.


“Surely,” said those who witnessed the devastating power of the high-explosive shells, “this must make war impossible, for who would dare to use such a means of wholesale extermination. Fear of reprisals would prevent it.”

But fear of reprisals did not prevent it being used, among others, by the Russian Anarchists who seized the new weapon with enthusiasm, and assassinated the Czar with it. This, and a number of disastrous accidents in factories and mines, placed its manufacture and sale under control.


Same years later, Alfred Nobel, now, like so many millionaires, lonely and thoroughly miserable, established in an office in that same city of Paris he had helped to  batter down, advertised for a personal secretary for a few days work, The advertisement was answered ‘by an Austrian countess, who needed money because she had been cut off for marrying a journalist called Arthur von Suttner. Subsequently she went into exile with her husband, to the Caucasus during the Russian annexation. Her experiences there made her an ardent Pacifist. With her husband’s help she published a book, in the form or a personal diary; an impassioned protest against the injustice, corruption, and bestiality of war.


The hero of the story is a conscientious objector, who is shot by the Germans as a French spy during the 1870  war. It was called “Die Waffen Nieder”, or “Lay down the Arms.” The Baroness became world famous. The book rocketed through Europe. The Third World Peace Congress in Rome elected her World President.


Previously, Nobel had told the Countess that he liked “novels with a message,” “propaganda novels,” so she sent him one—her own. Nobel replied that he liked the book, and sent a donation to the Peace League’s funds, and a suggested “peace plan.”


By this time his Head Office was in Zurich. Baroness Bertha hurried there to try to gain his full support for the Peace League. According to Egon Larsen, from whose interesting book “Men Who Shaped the Future” (Phoenix House, London), these details are culled, the following discussion took place:


Dr. Alfred Nobel: “Perhaps my explosive factories will end war sooner than your Congresses. On the day when two army corps will be able to annihilate each other in a flash all civilised nations will recoil in horror – and disband their armies.”
“No! they will not, cried Bertha, for each of them will rely on its bigger and better bombs, each of them will try to annihilate the enemy first. We, the peoples of ‘the world, must force our governments to lay down arms.”
“I wish I could prove my theory to you here and now, Baroness,” smiled Nobel. “I wish I could produce some material . . . some machine of terrible power of annihilation and devastation that would make wars altogether impossible.”
“It would not make them impossible Mr. Nobel, that is the horrible truth we must face. People will go on slaughtering one another, and you armament kings will increase the efficiency of their arms, because that’s your profitable business.”
Alfred Nobel: “I don’t think a mere increase in the deadliest of weapons would bring world peace, Baroness. A few more soldiers on the battlefields will die – that’s all. No, I am thinking of something more efficient; weapons that will make war as deadly for the civilians at home as for the troops in the front line.
Let the sword of Damocles hang over every head and you will witness a miracle; they will all clamour for peace.
But perhaps dynamite is not sufficient to achieve that result, even if one day it will be dropped from the air on the capitals of the world. I think we need something more powerful. Perhaps war would stop instantly if that weapon were Bacteria.
And there, for the time being, the matter was left.
Subsequently, after considerable illness, Nobel wrote the following to the Baroness in November, 1895.
“I should like to allot part of my fortune to the formation of a Prize Fund. This prize would be awarded to the man or woman who had done most to advance the idea of general peace in Europe. If we have failed, at the end of 30 years, to reform the present system of international relations, we shall inevitably revert to barbarism.”


He died in San Remo in 1896. In 1953 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Sir Winston Churchill.