The Four US Presidents Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize
Can You Name Them?
Most of the time US presidents get a bad rap, and much of the time it is completely deserved. However, there are four times where US presidents made such a significant contribution to the world that they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. We see the negative every day; let’s look at something positive for a change.
In chronological order, the presidents who won the Nobel Peace Prize are:
1. Theodore Roosevelt (1906). Five years after the prize was inaugurated, Teddy Roosevelt won the award for negotiating a peace treaty between Imperial Russia and Japan, ending the Russo-Japanese War that lasted from February 1904 to September 1905. Roosevelt was also praised for efforts resolving a dispute between the United States and Mexico through arbitration rather than armed conflict.
What is most interesting about Teddy Roosevelt winning this award is that he is also known for being an imperialist, in particular for his role in the Spanish-American War before taking office and US domination of the Philippines during his time in office. I suppose if you look at it objectively, it is no more contradictory that Roosevelt should win a peace prize than that the peace prize itself is named after the man who invented dynamite.
2. Woodrow Wilson (1920). President Wilson being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920 likely surprised no one, given his role as “the leading architect behind the League of Nations.” The League of Nations was established to ensure world peace after the slaughter of millions during World War I, and though it did not survive, it did serve as the blueprint for the United Nations as it exists today. Wilson had also tried his best to keep the United States out of World War I, and though that ultimately became impossible the Nobel Committee surely took this into consideration as well.
3. Jimmy Carter (2002). Jimmy Carter was already a former president when he won the award for “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” This one was also not a huge surprise given how active Carter has been since leaving office in January 1981. It may also be a case of the Nobel Committee correcting a huge earlier mistake.
While he was still president, Jimmy Carter was instrumental in brokering the Camp David Accords in 1978; these were the first peace treaties ever agreed to between Egypt and Israel. As a result of the Accords, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize, yet despite bringing the two sides together, Carter was not included in the award. He should have received the Nobel in 1978, so perhaps his 2002 award was a delayed acknowledgement of that error.
4. Barack Obama (2009). Newly-elected President Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 caused as many raised eyebrows as Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Though he was less than a year into his presidency, the Nobel Committee said they were awarding it to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Even many of President Obama’s supporters were surprised by the award, and he himself acknowledged this in his Nobel acceptance speech:
“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.”
That he received the award with such humility speaks volumes about his character. He also kept his trademark humor, relaying this funny story about the prize. After he received word that he had won the award, his daughter Malia (who was 11 years old at the time) walked in and said: “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it’s Bo’s birthday.” Bo was the family’s dog. Kids know how to keep things in perspective.
So those are the four US presidents who won the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a tremendous honor, both for them and for our nation. Let’s just hope the men and women who hold the office in the future rise to the same level.
First published on Medium.com.
About the author
I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.