Students react to Obama peace prize
The selection of President Barack Obama as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just nine months after he took office was a surprise that has elicited shock, applause and, in some cases, disapproval on campus.
“I think it was pretty surprising,” said Alex Broad, a first-year graduate student. “I liked his response, that he said he sees it as more of a call of action as opposed to an award he has won for something he has done.”
In the past, the prize has been awarded to candidates with a history of peace-making accomplishments. In contrast, Obama was awarded the prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people,” according to the Nobel Committee.
“That’s what’s strange about it,” senior Hannah Wroblewski said. “They’re trying to accomplish something by giving him the prize.”
The Nobel Committee, based in Oslo, Norway, said it came to its decision largely as a result of Obama’s effort to disarm the world’s nuclear arsenals, as well as his commitment to international diplomacy and dialogue.
According to Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, who issued a public statement on Friday, Obama was chosen after a rigorous selection process.
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
Despite this reasoning, some students have expressed skepticism about the Nobel Committee’s decision.
“I think that he doesn’t necessarily deserve the prize,” sophomore Mariana Oliver said. “The prize was sort of given preemptively in the sense that it’s only the first year of his term and he still hasn’t really done anything to merit the prize.”
Junior Nathan Fine agreed and said he sees the prize as more of an endorsement than a recognition of Obama’s efforts.
“I don’t think he deserved it yet, but I think it was just a huge vote of confidence from the world,” Fine said.
Regardless of whether Obama deserves the award, junior Maggie Parker said he accepted it graciously.
“It’s not like he chose to be awarded the prize, but I think that the way he has handled it is the best way possible,” Parker said. “When he said he took it as a call of action, as a charge to his presidency, that was the best way he could have handled it.”
Professor expresses shock
Peter Kastor, associate professor of history and American culture studies, said he was shocked to hear that Obama won the prize.
“I was really stunned that he won it. I was really surprised,” Kastor said. “I don’t mean to say that he should or shouldn’t have won it. My point is it’s really surprising. He’s not the typical person to win this.”
Kastor, who teaches a course called Americans and Their Presidents, said Obama is unlike any previous sitting president who has received the prize.
“The circumstances under which Obama won it, and more importantly the context in which he won it, in my mind are just completely different from when Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson won it,” Kastor said.
Kastor said that while Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s peace prizes recognized their achievements in ending major wars, Obama has not ended either of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Moreover, Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s awards came at a time when the United States was just beginning to assert its role as a world power, while Obama’s prize comes amid efforts by the president to redefine America’s role as a global superpower.
By comparison, Kastor said Obama shares more in common with former President Jimmy Carter, who was awarded the prize for his role in diffusing international conflict after he had left office as president.
“Both of them have fashioned their public persona around being circumspect about the role of the United States in involving itself in international affairs,” he said.
Peter Kastor is a member of the Washington University Student Media, Inc. board of directors, which oversees the publishing of Student Life.