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Kevin Holten

Holten: The gift of peace

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columns Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Friday is a big day. Do you know why? Because that's when they will once again announce who will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is the Nobel Peace Prize? It's a dead man's will.

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On Nov. 27, 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, there was a man sitting by himself in the corner writing away, pausing to think and then writing again. He wrote in the lines, he wrote outside of the lines, he wrote on the side, he wrote upside-down and he added words to sentences here and there and in the end, he completed a pretty amazing will. His name was Alfred Nobel.

Who was Al Nobel? He's the dude who invented dynamite, made a fortune and then apparently felt guilty enough about it give his money away. He also owned Bofors, a Swedish steel company that specialized in making armaments, like canons and guns.

He lived most of his life as a recluse, like Howard Hughes minus the fingernails, and constantly moved about, enough so that French writer Victor Hugo called him "Europe's richest vagabond."

Al was born in Sweden, into a very poor family with eight kids. However, only three of children, Al and two brothers, survived past childhood.

A year after he penned his will, he died, and because he made a lot of money, his nieces and nephews couldn't wait to find out who got what. There were not pleased with his literary work. In fact, they were so displeased that they, with the help of the courts, delayed the awards being doled out until 1901.

You see, Al instructed his executors to take his capital, invest it in securities and then use the interest from those securities to divide into five awards: One for the greatest discovery in physics, one for chemistry, one for medicine, one for literature and one for the best work toward promoting "fraternity between nations," better known as "peace."

Since 1901, 93 awards have been given out: Two were divided between three people, 15 were received by women, one was declined and three were received by people who were in prison at the time they were selected. Overall, the average age of the awardee is 62.

North Dakota's favorite adopted son, Theodore Roosevelt, is one of those who received the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt was honored for negotiating peace in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-05. He also resolved a dispute with Mexico by resorting to arbitration, as recommended by the peace movement.

Of course, the selection of Teddy, at the time, was very controversial with the Norwegian left, who said Roosevelt was a "military mad" imperialist who had completed the American conquest of the Philippines.

Despite being "lefties," they may just have been right because TR, a radical within the Republican Party, wanted social reforms, pushed for state control of big capital, tried unsuccessfully to become an Army officer during World War I and later, in 1919, opposed U.S. membership in the new League of Nations.

In fact, when Teddy received the award, Swedish newspapers wrote that Alfred Nobel was turning in his grave, and that Norway had awarded the Peace Prize to Roosevelt in order to win powerful friends after the dramatic dissolution of the union with Sweden the previous year.

Yes, once again, politics was involved and it still is. Enough so that John Robert Bolton, an American lawyer and diplomat, who has served in several Republican administrations, recently said that, "The Nobel Peace Prize has become hopelessly politicized. I think it cheapens the prize itself."

Whatever the case, it still reminds us that peace is a pretty good thing and in addition to that, it rewards some very meaningful work.

Still, Mother Teresa -- the Albanian-born Indian Roman Catholic sister and award winner -- might have said it best in her acceptance speech when she said, "Let us thank God for the opportunity that we all have together today, for this gift of peace that reminds us that we have been created to live that peace ..."

In other words, good job Al. You meant well.

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at kholten@thedickinsonpress.com.

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