award thrills local historian
As the world watches
on Dec. 10, the city of Oslo, Norway, will come alive with festivities
in honor of Jimmy Carter, the recipient of this years Nobel Peace
Prize. Following the afternoon awards ceremony, Norwegians will take to
the streets in a torch-lit procession as the winner waves to the crowd
from the balcony of the Grand Hotel. Later, a select group of guests will
join Carter at a banquet in his honor.
Throughout the festivities, perhaps no one will be more thrilled for Carter
than local resident Irwin Abrams, who has served as the Nobel Peace Prize
historian for 20 years. While attending the awards ceremony is always
exciting for the 88-year-old retired Antioch College professor, this year
Abrams has a special reason to celebrate the man he has been nominating
for the past 11 years finally brought home the prize.
Jimmy Carter is a man of moral stature, a spiritual force,
said Abrams in an interview last week. In these materialistic times,
hes what the world needs.
In his nominating letter to the Nobel Committee, Abrams said, I
have nominated Jimmy Carter for the prize every year since 1991, convinced,
as I wrote to you in my letter last year, that his qualifications
are indubitably the equal of many of the Committees celebrated choices
in the last hundred years.
In his letter, Abrams cited Carters achievements as president, including
his 1978 Camp David mediation between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem
Begin of Israel and his successful negotiation of nuclear arms agreements
and the Panama Canal Treaty. Most important, however, are Carters
post-presidential achievements in peacekeeping and human rights, said
Abrams, quoting the former President as saying, I am more committed
than ever to waging peace, fighting disease and building hope around the
Abrams bristles at the recent press emphasis on the selection of Carter
as the Nobel Committees kick in the leg, (the Norwegian
version of slap in the face) to the Bush administrations
proposed war on Iraq, an emphasis that some could see as taking away from
The award citation doesnt mention Bush at all, said
Abrams, and thats the only document that the whole committee
has to approve.
The world will never know what took place in this years award selection
process, Abrams said, because the committee selections take place in private,
and the committee five members selected by the Norwegian parliament
every six years does not take minutes of its process.
Although the secrecy of the Peace Prize selection process seems a crazy
way to run a railroad, Abrams said, he believes the end results
have, overall, been positive.
I think over the years theyve done a good job implementing
Norwegian values, Abrams said. Overall, he said, Norway tends to
be a liberal, humane country that, per capita, gives more aid to developing
countries than do other countries.
What is known is that, when considering potential Peace Prize laureates,
the Nobel Committee meets under a candelabra in a 19th century building,
said Abrams, surrounded by portraits of previous Peace Prize winners.
All the previous winners are on the wall and presumably set
a good example, said Abrams.
The Nobel Committee picked Carter from 156 valid nominees, including 39
groups and 117 individuals, Abrams said. Those eligible to nominate candidates
include governments, legislators, members of international courts, previous
winners and university professors of history, political science, philosophy,
law and theology.
Someone wants to nominate me, said Abrams with a smile. Happily,
she isnt eligible.
The case could be made, though, that Abrams has done a considerable amount
to promote world peace. When he was approached 20 years ago by the publisher
G.K. Hall and Company to write a history of the Nobel laureates, Abrams
had retired from a long career teaching history at Antioch College and
had another project in mind. But he reconsidered his project, influenced
by a survey he encountered at that time listing young peoples heroes.
Those heroes, mainly rock stars and actors, left Abrams, a longtime Quaker,
longing to provide young people with more substantial role models.
So he agreed and set about his long-term project of writing biographies
of each Nobel Peace Prize winner.
A centennial edition of that history, The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates,
is currently available at Sam & Eddies Open Books in Yellow
As the Peace Prize historian, Abrams has been interviewed by many members
of the national media, including CNN and The New York Times, since Carter
won the prize.
He has never regretted his 20 years spent researching, and in many cases
interviewing, the Nobel Peace Prize nominees, Abrams said.
I get educated every time, said Abrams of each years
awards. He said Nobel awards of recent years have brought the worlds
attention to little known human rights conflicts in such places as East
Timor, the home of 1996 Peace Prize winners Carlos Belo and José
The world had never heard of this half an island under Indonesian
rule where people were being mistreated, said Abrams. The
Nobel prize gave recognition to their independence movement, and now theyre
independent. The Peace Prize played an important role.
Over the years Abrams work has also provided him with countless
role models of men and women who live lives of courage and faith, the
two attributes he finds most laureates share. While some, like Jimmy Carter,
Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer, expressed a profound religious
faith, many, such as Linus Pauling did not, said Abrams, but they did
share a faith in humanity.
They had to have that faith, he said, because they met
an awful lot of obstacles.
After finishing the latest edition of his book, Abrams felt he had completed
his 20-year project. But recently, he said, he was contacted by his publisher
about adding a new section on the 2002 selection of Carter as Nobel laureate.
I felt that Id done my book and should be able to relax,
Abrams said of his first response to the publisher. But then he considered
the possibility of writing about, and possibly interviewing, the man he
had wanted to win the Peace Prize for more than a decade.
Abrams smiled and shrugged, and it seemed clear that perhaps his work
isnt yet finished. Regarding the offer from his publisher, Abrams
said, He set my mind spinning.