The 9 Worst Nobel Peace Prize Winners Ever

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The 9 Worst Nobel Peace Prize Winners Ever

No, I’m not trolling. If you look closely, the Nobel Peace prize committee actually has a slightly better shooting percentage than a good NBA player, and they made this list far too easy to put together. Don’t believe me? Let’s get to it.

Note: The nature of this kind of a list is such that no one can agree on the placement or the order of everyone, so I didn’t even consider the 1994 prize awarded to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres—Israel’s Foreign Minister. That’s a beehive that will take far too much time to wade in to.

9. Aung San Suu Kyi

The woman who has been called Myanmar’s Nelson Mandela is the inspiration for this list, as she has remained bewilderingly silent during the genocide currently taking place in her native country which has led to the exodus of over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. She won the 1991 Nobel Peace prize after the military refused to hand over power once Suu Kyi won the 1990 election, and subsequently placed her under house arrest. Her refusal to flee the country and quotes like this won her the coveted award.

“As a mother, the greater sacrifice was giving up my sons, but I was always aware of the fact that others had given up more than me. I never forget that my colleagues who are in prison suffer not only physically, but mentally for their families who have no security outside—in the larger prison of Burma under authoritarian rule.”

Despite the plaudits she’s received from prominent western media over the years, Suu Kyi is not the Gandhi-type leader many want her to be. Myanmar is a complex country, and she is not an insurgent like Mandela. She is the youngest daughter of the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar. Right now, she holds an office akin to Prime Minister—albeit in a country where the military is the judge, jury, executioner and legislator. Myanmar is in the middle of a wave of Buddhist nationalism, and government forces are using this as an opportunity to drive Muslims out of the country.

Legally she has no control over the current situation, but no one has more political and social capital than she does, and she has used very little of it. This also isn’t the first time that we have seen “Suu Kyi under fire for silence on Rohingya massacre” headlines. The United Nations called the massacre of Rohingya Muslims a “textbook example of genocide,” yet Suu Kyi told the BBC “I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.” Her government denied visas to UN envoys investigating the crisis, and in a speech this week defending the army that kept her under house-arrest nearly three decades ago, she feigned ignorance, saying “we want to find out why this exodus is happening.”

Myanmar is a difficult country for the West to wrap its head around, and Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize is a reflection of the simplicity with which we tend to view those outside our purview, as Alan Davis—the Asia and Eurasia director for the Institute of War and Peace reporting—wrote in The Guardian:

Do we, then, bear some degree of responsibility for the situation today? Are we partly to blame for putting her on a pedestal and not asking enough of her? Quite possibly. For the past 25 years or so, Myanmar has been boiled down to a simple dilemma of the Lady against the generals. Free Aung San Suu Kyi, went the story, and all would be well.

You can make a case for plenty of people to make this list over Aung San Suu Kyi, but I put her on it to serve as a current example of how biased Western views can warp our impression of what constitutes a humanitarian crisis, which may spark another one down the line.

8. Lê Duc Tho

My central criticism of the Nobel committee is that there are countless examples of them giving out the award based on their expectations of an agreement as opposed to the actual results of it. There is no more obvious example than that of the man who succeeded Ho Chi Minh as the Head of the Vietnam Communist Party. He and another person that we’ll get to later were awarded the Nobel Peace prize for negotiating the Paris Peace Accords, which “ended” the Vietnam War in 1973 (NARRATOR: The war ended in 1975). Lê Duc Tho declined the Nobel, saying “once the Paris accord on Vietnam is respected, the arms are silenced and a real peace is established in South Vietnam, I will be able to consider accepting this prize.”

7. Barack Obama

Obama is the human embodiment of the committee’s penchant for giving out peace prizes over expectations, and not results. After an exhilarating campaign that brightened even the darkest cynics’ hearts, the Nobel Committee handed him their award, and Obama’s immediate response was basically “whaaaaaa?”

“I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”

Barack Obama became the first two-term president in history to oversee U.S. military forces at war for all eight years—fighting in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Pakistan.

6. Elihu Root

Root oversaw the brutal repression of the Philippines independence movement during his time as Secretary of War for the United States, and the Nobel committee said that he deserved it for many reasons—one being “organizing affairs in Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.” The United States annexed the Philippines in the name of empire, fought a war over it against another empire, killed at least 200,000 civilians, then won a Nobel Peace prize over an occupation that entailed interrogations like this, according to Sergeant Charles Riley:

The Presidente (or chief), the priest, and another leading man were assembled, and put on the rack of inquiry. The presidente evaded some questions, and was soon bound and given the “water cure.” This was done by throwing him on his back beneath a tank of water and running a stream into his mouth, a man kneading his stomach meanwhile to prevent his drowning. The ordeal proved a tongue-loosener, and the crafty old fellow soon begged for mercy and made full confession. … The presidente was asked for more information, and had to take a second dose of “water cure” before he would divulge.”

5. Antonio Egas Moniz

Not a Peace Prize; but it’s related to human rights—and hoo boy—is this one a doozy. Moniz won the Nobel in physiology or medicine for inventing the frontal lobotomy as a way to treat mental disorders.

This is real life.
I think.
We may be in a simulation.

Moniz defended the practice, saying that “prefrontal leukotomy is a simple operation, always safe, which may prove to be an effective surgical treatment in certain cases of mental disorder.” His intentions weren’t sinister, as he was simply trying to find a cure for mental illness. But his results sure were, and this is yet another example of the Nobel committee trying to make an omelet before even cracking an egg.

4. Aristide Briand

Briand initially made his name as a force within the French labor movement, and he enacted some very popular socialist reforms as Prime Minister of France just prior to the breakout of World War I. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1926 as President of the Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs for helping to construct the Locarno Treaties—a post-World War I agreement that essentially split Europe in half. The Polish were apoplectic because it did not guarantee their border, and statesman Józef Beck’s criticisms summarized this train wreck of an agreement perfectly: “Germany was officially asked to attack the east, in return for peace in the west.”

Looking back, there’s a lot of crazy stuff that the Nobel committee considered prize-worthy, but helping sow the seeds of World War II may take the cake. It gives you an idea how egregious the next three are that this isn’t number one.

3. Cordell Hull

Hull won it in 1945 for helping to set up the UN, but it was his work prior to that which should have disqualified him from winning anything with the word “peace” in it. Remember how every time the topic of refugees comes up, we bring up the fact that we turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust? This is the mother fucker who lead the charge on that. FDR had shown willingness to help, but Hull cobbled together a group of southern Democrats to raise hell about letting 950 refugees in to the country, and on June 4, 1939, FDR turned the ship away, and over a quarter of its passengers died in the Holocaust. It wasn’t the only ship we redirected back towards Hitler’s concentration camps.

2. No One in 1948

There’s an argument to be made for everyone above here not being on this list. The world is an impossibly complex place, and the very concept of “peace” is not easy to define on this war-obsessed planet, especially for those who work for the entity making war. The Nobel Committee only had the information they had to work with at the time, and of course in hindsight, lobotomies look ridiculous. Yadda yadda yadda.


Mahatma Gandhi.

Mother. Fucking. Mahatma. Gandhi. Doesn’t. Have. A. Fucking. Nobel. Peace. Prize.

In 1948—the year of Gandhi’s death—the committee looked around the world and didn’t see a single person deserving of their chachki. There is no argument in favor of the committee’s competence here. This is as embarrassing as it gets, and Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006, said of their flub:

“The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether the Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question.”

1. Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger is more evil than Gandhi is good—that’s what this ranking means. Unlike Lê Duc Tho, Kissinger accepted his award for the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. It’s impossible to quickly summarize all the damage that Kissinger has done to this world, so I will present you with a list within a list of examples that helped make him the father of all modern secret wars on civilians. In no particular order…

1. Best way that I can summarize his worldview is in this leaked State Department cable of his: “the illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

2. Helped Nixon fight a secret war in Cambodia—where B-52 bombers dropped a higher proportion of bomb tonnage than they did in Vietnam. The campaign is now considered by many to be a genocide, which left between 50,000 and 150,000 civilians dead.

3. Encouraged bombing campaigns throughout Southeast Asia that either killed, wounded or left roughly six million people homeless—most of them civilians.

4. Most bombs dropped in the region were antipersonnel bombs, meaning they were designed to maim, not kill. People lived entire lives in the war-torn area with shrapnel stuck in their bodies.

5. A leading scholar on Cambodia, Ben Kiernan, wrote that brutal dictator Pol Pot’s “revolution would not have won power without U.S. economic and military destabilization of Cambodia.” Estimates fall between one and three million people killed (out of eight million) under Pol Pot’s regime.

This sub-list could go on and on and on and on and on and on, but you get the point. One of the constants of America’s war crimes in Southeast Asia in the second half of the 20th century is Henry Kissinger, and he has continued his role as war(crime) advisor to this very day. In fact, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump called on him during the campaign for advice. The fact that Kissinger won a Nobel Peace prize proves that the word “peace” is not always the driving force behind the committee’s decision, and that the choices are often far more reflective of the committee than the recipient.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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