When Philadelphia Quakers won the Nobel Peace Prize

Posted: March 25, 2012

Jay Nordlinger?is a senior editor of National Review and the author of the just-released "Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World" (Encounter Books)

The story of the Nobel Peace Prize is a long one, beginning in 1901. It is also an interesting one, boasting a huge, diverse cast of characters. In 1947, it becomes a bit of a Philadelphia story. The prize was shared that year by two Quaker relief organizations: the Friends Service Council in London and the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. They were honored for their humanitarian work during and after World War II.

The AFSC had been founded during the previous world war, in 1917. Its purpose was to give young Quaker men and others who would not carry arms "a service of love in wartime." One of the founders was Henry Joel Cadbury, Ph.D., a biblical scholar. As chairman of the AFSC in 1947, he would accept the Philadelphians' half of the award in Oslo.

Cadbury lived 90 years, from 1883 to 1974. During the first war, he was teaching at Haverford College, but was forced to leave after denouncing what he regarded as undue American belligerence. He went on to teach at Harvard and Bryn Mawr.

When it was time to go to Oslo, he was concerned about what he would wear. He did not want to spend a lot of money on fancy duds. An obituary in The Inquirer tells us that "Dr. Cadbury appealed to the Friends warehouse at 23d and Arch Streets." There, he managed to find an appropriate suit. "It wasn't a perfect fit, but with pressing, the suit was adequate for the occasion."

Giving the presentation speech in Oslo was the chairman of the Nobel committee, Gunnar Jahn. He recounted the Quakers' many good works in desperate situations. After World War I, for example, "it was the Friends Service Committee which, at Hoover's request, took on the mighty task of obtaining food for sick and undernourished children in Germany."

Jahn gave a staunch defense of the Quakers and their pacifism, but his presentation speech the year before had been a little different. That year, two Americans shared the prize, Emily Greene Balch and John R. Mott. The latter was the leader of the YMCA. The former was a Quaker scholar - a member of Bryn Mawr's first graduating class - and a peace campaigner. As Cadbury had been forced to resign from Haverford during World War I, she was forced to resign from Wellesley.

But when World War II came, Balch broke with the pure or absolute pacifists to back the fight against the Nazis and their allies. Jahn said, "She had to ask herself the question which faced all those who had worked for peace: Shall we submit meekly and allow ourselves to be devoured?"

Cadbury, in his 1947 Nobel lecture, would have none of it. There was no excuse for war, he said. For hundreds of years, Quakers had been "met with the argument that war is the lesser of two evil,." but "I will not admit the validity of that argument." War can be prevented, he said, if men really put their minds to it.

Almost mischievously, he quoted something President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1936, three years before the war, and five years before America's entry into it: "We can keep out of war if those who watch and decide ... make certain that the small decisions of each day do not lead toward war and if at the same time they possess the courage to say no to those who selfishly or unwisely would let us go to war."

In a different speech in Oslo, Cadbury commented on a new war that was developing - a cold one.

"All Europe is rightly anxious about the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union," he said. "Here is a place where you can help. Norway, your well-loved country, and the other nations of Europe must be the bridge of understanding. You must not take sides with either of us, you must help both of us cooperate."

Norway had long cherished a position of neutrality. But the country now found it advantageous to take sides - and became a founding member of NATO in 1949. If you're going to be a "peace nation," far better to be one under the protection of the American military.

Presenting the Nobel Prize to the Quakers, Jahn quoted a Norwegian poet, Arnulf à verland: "Only the unarmed can draw on sources eternal. / To the Spirit alone will be the victory." That is a very fine sentiment. But we are entitled to ask: "Who will defeat the Nazis? Anyone? Who will put the barbarians down?" Gen. George S. Patton and his boys would never have won a peace prize. But did they not contribute to the peace of Europe? A lot?

This is the sort of thing that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has had to consider for more than 110 years now.

E-mail Jay Nordlinger at jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

comments powered by Disqus