Dynamite king's legacy Peace Prize: Always unpredictable, jury gives this year's Nobel award to Ameican activist battling land mines.

October 11, 1997

BY AWARDING this year's Nobel peace prize to American Jody Williams and her International Campaign to Ban Landmines the prize jury has one again fulfilled the letter and spirit of Alfred Nobel's last wishes.

When the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite and smokeless gun powder died in 1896, he created a sensation with his visionary will. Through well-endowed annual prizes he wanted to recognize those who in the previous year "conferred the greatest benefit to mankind" in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine and literature ("for the most outstanding work of idealistic tendency").

The biggest surprise was a prize to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for the fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Such a broad mandate has enabled the Nobel jury to give peace prizes not only to a number of staid peace organizations but also to more controversial groups and individuals. In awarding this year's prize to international anti-land mine activists, the prize jury is promoting a disarmament proposal that is hotly debated in capitals throughout the world.

Cheap land mines take a terrible human toll, particularly in many Third World countries where they have been used with abandon by various warring factions. But several countries, big and small, want to retain them because mine fields are useful in deterring invasions.

The quiet work of anti-land mine activists burst into public consciousness through the efforts of the late Princess of Wales, one of the campaign's most visible supporters. This was followed last month by the unveiling of a treaty drafted by more than 90 countries that would totally ban anti-personnel mines.

The treaty faces uncertain prospects. The United States has said it would not sign the pact, and Russia and China -- two top manufacturers of such explosive devices -- did not take part in the treaty talks.

The Nobel peace prize has often been given to lost causes. It is one visionary's tribute to other visionaries who search for a better world.

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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