Marshall and the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Prize season has just concluded. As always, the announcement of the winners in five disciplines, Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Economics and Literature, are eagerly awaited. The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, however, holds special significance. Unlike the other prizes, the Peace Prize is distinctly different because it represents a recognition of something less precise and not easily defined—a movement toward peace.

malala-yousafzai-ftr-500x375cIMG_4003This year’s recipients, India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” the Nobel Committee said. The five-member Nobel Committee picked the winner from a record-number 278 nominations. The committee has been criticized in recent years for selecting winners such as the European Union in 2012 and President Barack Obama in 2009.

When George C. Marshall received the award in 1953 in recognition of his efforts to restore the economies of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan that ended in 1952, his selection was equally controversial. After all he was the first professional soldier to win this high honor for peace. Marshall acknowledged the controversy in his remarks.

53.12.10 getting Nobel Prize [1326]“There has been considerable comment over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a soldier. I am afraid this does not seem as remarkable to me as it quite evidently appears to others. I know a great deal of the horrors and tragedies of war. Today, as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, it is my duty to supervise the construction and maintenance of military cemeteries in many countries overseas, particularly in Western Europe. The cost of war in human lives is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones,” he said.

Did the Nobel Committee get it wrong in 1953? Not at all. Within a span of 14 years, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and Secretary of State George C. Marshall won the war and won the peace. There were certainly others who prevailed in the great global struggle, but only Marshall gave the world military victory and followed that by securing, through his vision of the Marshall Plan, the necessary economic pre-conditions for stability in Western Europe. Diplomatic leaders—Truman, Churchill, Stalin, Bevin and Bideau—and military leaders—Eisenhower, MacArthur, Montgomery, King and Nimitz among them—participated in one or another aspect of the world war and recovery but not equally nor as effectively as Marshall. Often, when we at the Marshall Foundation think how best to characterize the breadth and the depth of Marshall’s contributions we often settle on the broad description of the man who won the war and won the peace. Few, indeed, are those who can claim such an impact in those disparate spheres of human endeavor.