Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Halvdan Koht*, member of the Nobel Committee, on December 10, 1931

In awarding the Peace Prize to two Americans, the Nobel Committee today brings the United States into first place among those nations whose representatives have received the prize during the past thirty years. Previously, France had the highest number of prizewinners, a total of six, while other nations had no more than two or three. As of today, seven Peace Prizes will have gone to America, four of them during the last five years.

What is true of the other Nobel awards is also true of the Peace Prize: people do not always agree that it is given to the most suitable candidates. And no one is more aware of the difficulties involved in the selection than the members of the Nobel Committee. But I trust everyone will agree that it is only natural that so many Peace Prizes should have gone to the United States in recent years.

The United States of America is a world in itself, as large as the whole of Europe; and this world is a great land of peace where war between states, either economic or military, is unthinkable. But the United States is, at the same time, one of the great world powers and economically is now the greatest of all. By virtue of this position, she influences decisions on war and peace in all corners of the globe. We can say, in fact, that, because of this vast economic strength, she wields greater power over war and peace than any other country on earth. All who yearn for a lasting peace must therefore look to America for help.

America helped – perhaps it would be more correct to say compelled – Europe to create a League of Nations which would provide a firm basis for peaceful coexistence among nations. It was a crushing blow that America herself did not join this organization, and without doubt her failure to do so contributed largely to the failure of the League of Nations to live up to expectations. We still see too much of the old rivalries of power politics. Had the United States joined, she would have been a natural mediator between many of the conflicting forces in Europe, for America is more interested in peace in Europe than in lending her support to any particular country.

It must be said, however, that the United States is not the power for peace in the world that we should have wished her to be. She has sometimes let herself drift into the imperialism which is the natural outcome of industrial capitalism in our age. In many ways she is typical of the wildest form of capitalist society, and this has inevitably left its mark on American politics.

But America has at the same time fostered some of the most spirited idealism on earth. It may be that this idealism derives its vigor from the squalor and evil produced by social conditions, in other words from the contrasts within itself. It is certainly an undeniable fact, which must strike anyone who knows the country, that the American nation has an instinctive and profound faith in what the philosophers of 100 or 150 years ago used to call human perfectability, the capacity to become more and more perfect. It is a faith which has provided the foundation for some of our greatest religions and one which has inspired much of the best work for progress. It was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; it inspired the work of men like Emerson and Wergeland1. To the American mind nothing is impossible. This attitude applies not only to science and technology but to social forms and conditions as well. To an American an ideal is not just a beautiful mirage but a practical reality the implementation of which is every man’s duty. American social idealism expresses itself as a burning desire to devote work and life to the construction of a more equitable society, in which men will show each other greater consideration in their mutual relations, will provide stronger protection to the weak, and will offer greater opportunities for the beneficent forces of progress.

Two of the finest representatives of this American idealism are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. Both have worked assiduously and for many years to revive the ideal of peace and to rekindle the spirit of peace in their own nation and in the whole of mankind.

In honoring Jane Addams, we also pay tribute to the work which women can do for peace and fraternity among nations. The old concept implied that woman was the source of nearly all sin and strife on earth. Popular tradition and poetry would also have it that women were frequently the cause of the wars waged by kings and nations. I know of only one legend to the contrary, the story of the Sabine women who threw themselves between their Roman fathers and brothers and their Sabine husbands.

In modern times the poets, starting with Goethe, Ibsen, and Bjørnson 2, have seen women in a different light; in their eyes women reflect the highest and purest moral standards of society. And no man has placed greater faith in the work of women for the cause of peace than did Bjørnson. It is this new position acquired by women in the society of our time, their new independence in relation to men, that gave us reason to anticipate that they would constitute a new force in the work for peace. Bjørnson seemed to see women as bringing «the spirit of calm to the tumult of battle», with the prayer that love should prevail over the passion to kill, and to believe that when women obtained power in society and in the state, the very spirit of war must die.

We must nevertheless acknowledge that women have not altogether fulfilled the hopes we have placed in them. They have allowed too much scope to the old morality of men, the morality of war. In practical politics we have seen too little of that love, that warm maternal feeling which renders murder and war so hateful to every woman. But fortunately we have seen something of this feminine will which revolts against war. Whenever women have organized, they have always included the cause of peace in their program. And Jane Addams combines all the best feminine qualities which will help us to develop peace on earth.

Twice in my life, once more than twenty years ago and now again this year, I have had the pleasure of visiting the institution where she has been carrying on her lifework. In the poorest districts of Chicago, among Polish, Italian, Mexican, and other immigrants, she has established and maintained the vast social organization centered in Hull-House3. Here young and old alike, in fact all who ask, receive a helping hand whether they wish to educate themselves or to find work. When you meet Miss Addams here – be it in meeting room, workroom, or dining room – you immediately become poignantly aware that she has built a home and in it is a mother to one and all. She is not one to talk much, but her quiet, greathearted personality inspires confidence and creates an atmosphere of goodwill which instinctively brings out the best in everyone.

From this social work, often carried on among people of different nationalities, it was for her only a natural step to the cause of peace. She has now been its faithful spokesman for nearly a quarter of a century. Little by little, through no attempt to draw attention by her work but simply through the patient self-sacrifice and quiet ardor which she devoted to it, she won an eminent place in the love and esteem of her people. She became the leading woman in the nation, one might almost say its leading citizen. Consequently, the fact that she took a stand for the ideal of peace was of special significance; since millions of men and women looked up to her, she could give a new strength to that ideal among the American people.

And when the need became more pressing than ever, she inspired American women to work for peace on an international level. We shall always remember as one of the finest and most promising events during the last great war, the gathering of women from all over the world, even from enemy countries, who met to discuss and pursue common action for world peace. The initiative for this conference, which took place at The Hague in April of 1915, came from the Dutch women, and it is only right to pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Aletta Jacobs4 who stood at their head. But it was natural that they should ask Miss Addams to come to preside over their conference. From the moment the war broke out, she had launched a propaganda campaign, with the aim of uniting America and the other neutral countries to end the war, and had succeeded in forming a great organization of women to support this program. So it was that she energetically opposed the entry of the United States into the war. She held fast to the ideal of peace even during the difficult hours when other considerations and interests obscured it from her compatriots and drove them into the conflict. Throughout the whole war she toiled for a peace that would not engender a new war, becoming, as she did so, the spokesman for the pacifist women of the world. Sometimes her views were at odds with public opinion both at home and abroad. But she never gave in, and in the end she regained the place of honor she had had before in the hearts of her people. Devotion to a cause always inspires respect, and in her devotion Miss Addams is truly American. This very year she joined with representatives of countries all over the world to call for general disarmament.

In Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the great Columbia University in New York, the Nobel Committee sees a man who shares the qualities of Jane Addams. His work for peace began at about the same time as hers, some twenty-five years ago, and it has been distinguished by tireless energy and a zeal almost without parallel. He is one of those men who give themselves completely to anything they undertake, always ready, always willing. Nothing can discourage him or sap his strength. Nothing can disturb the serene smile in his eyes. And his personality is infectious, for he communicates courage, vigor, and confidence to all who work with him. He has a great talent for putting others to work and for finding the right job for the right man. If there be a man who can truly be called American, then Butler is that man: a greathearted worker and a splendid organizer. I have watched him at work at his university and I have seen him preside over a peace conference – wherever he goes, an aura of vitality seems to follow him.

It was another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Frenchman d’Estournelles de Constant, who drew him into the work for peace and who first oriented his efforts. In 1907 he was elected president of the American branch of the Conciliation internationale which d’Estournelles himself had founded. While d’Estournelles’ chief aim had been reconciliation between France and Germany and between France and England, Butler adopted a much wider program, and, as a result, the American branch rapidly became the most important in the whole organization.

In my opinion it would be difficult to name another peace organization which has persisted in such effective, tenacious, and steady work for the cause of peace as has this American group under the presidency of Butler. With typically American practical common sense, he saw the need to establish this work on a sound economic footing, and it was primarily his influence that prompted Carnegie to establish the very substantial Endowment for International Peace in 19105. Butler himself became president of one of its sections, that concerned with «intercourse and education», which he finally linked to the American branch of the Conciliation internationale, and later he became head of the Endowment itself. But throughout these years, the kind of work he did remained basically the same.

We can see at once that all this activity has been directed by a man of great knowledge and wide views. He has not confined himself merely to empty generalities but, on the contrary, has raised all the questions which might imperil international peace. He has had experts sent to examine potential causes of war in the Balkans, the Far East, and Mexico, and so has succeeded in compiling invaluable reports on a number of political danger spots. His main concern has always been the gathering of information on all kinds of international conditions and relationships, and his great ambition has been to create an «international mind», the will and the ability to examine every question from an international point of view which never forgets that in any dispute each of the two combatants may have his justification and consequently the right to a fair hearing. He himself has never failed in this obligation, and he has done more than most to draw attention to such a duty in all parts of the world.

It is also worthy of mention that on one occasion four or five years ago he intervened in an actual situation, securing results that delighted many friends of peace. When Brind made his famous speech in April, 1927, proposing that France and the United States should agree to outlaw war, his appeal found no response in America until Butler took it up and successfully rallied public opinion to it. He himself had discussed the matter with Briand beforehand, and the work he then did6 drew America into the negotiations which, in the following year, resulted in what we know as the Kellogg Pact. People may hold differing opinions as to the practical effect of this pact, but it is at least a living proof of the development of the peace idea. It was no more than a just recognition that Briand should send particular words of thanks to Butler on the day the pact was signed. And it is only natural that in addition to Briand himself, two other Nobel Peace Prize winners, Sir Austen Chamberlain and Elihu Root, should have strongly supported Butler’s candidacy for this year’s prize.

In the case of peace workers such as Butler and Jane Addams, it is often difficult to point to tangible and manifest results of their actions or to particular events in political life with which their names may be associated. Those who set their sights on awakening and educating public opinion cannot expect swift victories of the kind that win popular acclaim. Consequently, it has come about – and perhaps had to come about – that the Peace Prizes have passed over such patient pioneers as these and have gone to statesmen holding governmental positions of authority who had the power to transform efforts for peace into treaties and other political measures.

But a statesman and the policies he represents reflect the social and intellectual conditions of his country. If his work is to endure, it must have a solidly developed foundation. Enterprises for peace such as the League of Nations, the Locarno Treaty, or the Kellogg Pact would have been impossible if they had not been backed by a desire and will for peace on the part of powerful sections of the people in all countries.

Certainly, there are profound forces which shape the progress of society and of the state, forces which inevitably affect what we call peace policy. New interests and new ideals are born which direct nations toward new forms of organization. The idea of international peace and justice can perhaps never attain ultimate victory until our entire society is reconstructed upon a new foundation. Such is the context of progress in all fields of society.

But any new idea which grows and prospers always needs men who can give it a clear and conscious form. Nothing in society ever moves forward of its own momentum; progress must always be sustained by the human thought, human will, and human action to transmute the need into a living social form. We should therefore recognize as a great historic mission the work of all those who help us to see the goal which, willingly or unwillingly, we should make our own, all those who help to unite popular thought and public will in positive action for social reconstruction. With every specific idea that they implant in the popular will, they take us another step along the road to the new society.

It is to two such people that we now pay tribute. A long labor, rich in sacrifice offered in the cause of peace, is today honored by the Nobel Prize. Miss Addams and President Butler belong to those who have brought the ideals of peace to life in thousands and thousands of people. They have taught large sections of the population to demand peace from their leaders. They have created forces which will stimulate progress, and all those who aspire to a peaceful society on earth are deeply in their debt.

* Mr. Koht, also at this time professor of history at the University of Oslo, delivered this speech in the auditorium of the Nobel Institute in Oslo on the afternoon of December 10, 1931. Because neither laureate was able to attend, Mr. Hoffman Philip, United States minister to Norway, accepted the prize on their behalf in a brief speech expressing their gratitude and that of the United States for the honor conferred. This translation of Mr. Koht’s speech is based on the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel en 1931.

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist and philosopher. Henrik Arnold Wergeland (1808-1845), Norwegian poet, dramatist, and patriot.

2. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet and dramatist. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), Norwegian poet and dramatist. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), Norwegian poet, novelist, and dramatist; recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1903.

3. See Jane Addam’s biography.

4. The International Congress of Women, with 1,500 delegates from 12 nations, assembled at The Hague on April 28, 1915, upon the invitation of the Dutch Committee of the International Suffrage Alliance of which Dr. Aletta Jacobs (1849-1929) was a leader.

5. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), American industrialist, who gave $10,000,000 for the Endowment.

6. Among other things, Butler stirred up public discussion with the publication of an open letter in the New York Times (April 25, 1927).

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1931

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