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10 Most Controversial Nobel Peace Prize Winners

Did you know that Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939? Well, he’s not on this list because he didn’t win the award. The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the highest honors this world has to offer. It showcases that a person or institution has pushed the world in some way shape or form to become a more peaceful place. The official requirement to garner this accolade, according to the will of Arthur Nobel, reads like this; “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” So it is not the easiest thing to win and those that do have outdone themselves in their efforts. Many great names in history have received this honor including Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. These individual’s accomplishments are well known and respected by most people throughout the world. But not everyone who wins the award is considered worthy.

Just because you receive the award does not mean you will be immune from contention. Several Nobel Peace Prizes have been given out, and there are a good number of people that believe some of them should be given back. Whether there has been links in the past to violence or their achievements containing significant factual errors, sometimes the decisions the committee makes can come off as naive or short-sighted. While this is rare, it has happened enough times for people to notice. Here are ten controversial winners of the highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize.

1. Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger

The first bad boy of Nobel Peace Prize winners is Danish Scientists Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger. He discovered that feeding cockroaches, who were infected with a particular species of worm, to rats would ultimately induce abnormal cell growth. This led the scientist to believe that these worms caused cancer. After 16 nominations, Fibiger was awarded the peace prize in 1926. But a closer look at this odd scientific discovery would unveil that something was not right.

About a decade later it was discovered that his findings were actually wrong and the worms were not the cause of cancer.[1] They only added to the tissue damage. The cause of the cancer was determined to be a lack of vitamin A. Even the Nobel Prize award committee for medicine confirmed that Fibiger’s conclusions were very inaccurate. This reveal didn’t happen until 2004.[2]

2. European Union

controversial nobel peace prize-winners European Union

The recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize can be by a person or institution. The EU definitely qualifies as an institution, but apparently, their efforts in the advancement of peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights qualified them to take home the special prize in 2012. According to the committee the European Union has been contributing to the peace agenda for six decades despite at that time of receiving the honor Greece, Portugal, and Spain were engulfed in riots and protests.

The controversy in this one lies with the EU’s possible democratic deficit as well as its economic crisis. There is no denying the EU has been a solid contributor in the areas the Committee claimed was the reason for the victory. They have been crucial in uniting nations after both World Wars and have heavily participated with international aid efforts. So despite their accomplishments, the timing isn’t very great on this one, and that is the prime suspect behind all this controversy talk regarding the European Union’s win.[3]

3. Yasser Arafat

Controversial nobel peace prize winners Yasser Arafat

In 1994 the Nobel Peace Prize was shared amongst three individuals for their work on the Oslo Peace Accords. These three recipients were Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat. These Accords were thought to be a giant step forward in the right direction but turned out to be another failed attempt to stop one of the longest-running conflicts the world has ever seen.

The criticism here comes in two parts. One being that the accords are a failure. The other is that of Arafat. He has been linked to violence, bombings, hijackings, and assassinations. He has a long list of crimes that has led many to refer to the Palestinian leader as so-called “father of modern terrorism.” His critics have stated that he is the worst man ever to win the award. So the controversy surrounding Arafat’s victory is pretty warranted.[4]

4. Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Barack Obama is regarded by many as a great leader, and he has accomplished many great things in his tenure as Commander in Chief. In a surprise move, Obama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 12 days before he set up shop in the Oval Office back in 2009. He then won the coveted accolade just a few months into his first term. While the awards are supposed to be motivated by achievements revolving in and around world peace, this many felt was politically driven.[5]

The Committee claimed Obama deserved this honor because of his efforts in international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples on an extraordinary level. This all came as he raised the war effort in Afghanistan, the Pentagon accelerated delivery of the most lethal non-nuclear weapons arsenal to move against Iran if need be possibly, and he started a drone strike campaign that caused so many civilian casualties. The Nobel Secretary admitted in 2015 he regretted giving Obama the award.[6]

5. Henry Kissinger

Kissinger is easily one of the most notoriously controversial recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize ever. Kissinger served as the US Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford presidencies. He won the award in 1973 with North Vietnamese Leader Le Duc Tho. The North Vietnamese leader rejected the award for two reasons. He did not think that peace had been achieved and did not desire at all to share the prize with Kissinger.[7]

Kissinger’s win has had some serious ramifications. In protest of the win, two of the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee resigned. Besides Le Duc Tuo’s two reasons for not wanting the award, there are two main reasons for the controversy surrounding Kissinger’s name on the list of Nobel Peace Prize Winners. He was allegedly linked to secret bombings in Cambodia by America. This war crime accusation didn’t sit well with Kissinger as he accepted the honor with humility. The win could also be considered premature. Two years later the North invaded the South in Vietnam making all the previous work toward peace for absolutely nothing.[8]

6. Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1918 was one Fritz Haber. He received the honor for having made significant discoveries in the field of chemistry. His method involved synthesizing ammonia. This process is used to assist in food growth along with the aid of synthetic chemical fertilizer. This ability is believed to be the reason why 30-40 percent of the Earth’s population is alive today.[9] While this is an excellent contribution to the world, he is also known for being linked to some pretty heinous war crimes.

Before he changed the world and kept global starvation at bay, he was involved with poisonous chlorine gas. This poison in which he assisted in the development of, went on to kill more than 1.3 million people in the first World War. Haber himself lobbied heavily for it to be used. His wife killed herself not long after the first chemical attack. He still received the Cross despite all the blood on his hands.[10]

7. Harald zar Hausen

Harald Zar Hausen

Probably the least famous of anyone that has made this list is that of Harald zar Hausen. This has a lot to do with the fact that the controversy more so surrounds the win than the winner. Hausen had received the award in 2008 for being the one who discovered that HPV causes cervical cancer. Because of this, a pharmaceutical company named AstraZeneca benefited directly from Hausen’s win because of the massive monetary stake they had with two lucrative HPV vaccines. It was also later revealed that a member of the Nobel Medical Prize Jury also sat on the board of AstraZeneca.[11] This led to an investigation probe conducted by the Swedish anti-corruption police. The investigation did not prove anything shady went down. AstraZeneca denies allegations to this day even though the popular opinion is they bought that Nobel Peace Prize.[12]

8. Rigoberta Menchú

Rigoberta Menchu

Rigoberta Menchú wrote a powerful biographical account of her life as a Mayan which specifically involved her experiences with the genocide of the indigenous Guatemalan people that unfortunately occurred in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The book that was published in 1982 initially would go on to be translated into twelve different languages. It was once considered to be the first legitimate account of the terrible atrocities that occurred against the Mayans. This inevitably led to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her book, I, Rigoberta Menchu.

American anthropologist David Stoll later unveiled that Menchu had stretched the truth to make her story emotionally resonate with people. While Stoll didn’t question her award, it is known that Menchu’s take on what happened was not a realistic portrayal of what actually went down.[13]

9. Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull

In 1945 Cordell Hull was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Peace. He received the honor for his efforts in the Western Hemisphere regarding peace and understanding. His trade agreements and the work he did to establish the United Nations was also a factor. While these are definitely solid qualifications for the award, there are some things Hull was known for that directly contradict what this accolade stands for.

The ship called the SS St Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean with more than 950 refugees of Jewish descent on their way to America seeking safety from Nazi persecution. This went down in 1939 just before World War II. Roosevelt was ready to let the ship in. But Hull, who was known for his antisemitism, advised against it leaving them without a safe haven. This led to these poor souls having to take the long journey back to Germany where they met the wrath of the Nazis. Many of the passengers went on to die in concentration camps.[14]

10. António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz

António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz

When someone thinks about the lobotomy, the last thing they think of is this awful act having any correlation to the Nobel Peace Prize. They’d be wrong. It is something seen in movies and TV shows as something done by villainous characters. So when the inventor if this horrific procedure received this prestigious award, it was the epitome of controversy.

António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz was the man behind the lobotomy procedure. He won a share of the award in 1949 for his development of this particular surgery.[15] But since its inception, many have argued that this process has caused more harm than good.[16] While this process has been made illegal in Russia and America, the Committee stands by their decision with the lobotomy.

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