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Peace campaigners tend not to be very effective, as Jay Nordlinger's entertaining and readable history of the Nobel Peace Prize shows. The first decade of the 20th century was the climax of the first great era of peace campaigning: it culminated in the First World War. The horrors of that war not unnaturally caused good men and women to redouble their efforts. Yet the next two decades ended not with universal peace and brotherhood, but the Second World War.

Many of those worthies were early recipients of the Nobel, launched in 1901 five years after Alfred Nobel's death: men like the 1903 laureate Sir Randal Cremer, a Liberal MP who co-founded the Inter-Parliamentary Union with one of the inaugural winners, Frédéric Passy. In his Nobel lecture, Cremer proclaimed of his fellow peace advocates: "The darkness is ending, a new day is dawning, and the future is ours. Hurrah! Hurrah!" That was fairly typical of the Nobel mindset, then and now.

The 1906 winner, Theodore Roosevelt, then President of the United States, was most certainly not. He was awarded the prize for his efforts in ending the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, in which some 200,000 people had died. In his Nobel lecture he took a very different tack: "Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness . . . No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong." Nordlinger comments: "Very, very seldom has a Nobel peace lecture sounded this way — indeed, pretty much never."

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