Paul Greenberg

Some are awarded their Nobel Prize for past achievement. One thinks of Theodore Roosevelt's mediating the peace that concluded the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and led to the establishment of an international tribunal at The Hague to resolve disputes between nations. Bully for him! Barack Obama, it turns out, isn't the first sitting president of the United States to be awarded the Prize.

Others earned their Nobels, whether for peace or literary accomplishment, in tribute to their courageous -- and visionary -- stands against tyranny and injustice in their own country. Names like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak come to mind. Both paid a heavy price for their courage, but the Soviet Union would pay a heavier one. That vast criminal enterprise is no longer with us, while "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and Doctor Zhivago will surely be read long after Soviet Communism is but a dismal memory.

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Still others are awarded their Nobel for no discernible reason except the arbitrary whims and political biases of those doing the awarding. One thinks of master terrorist Yasser Arafat and master bungler Mikhail (Butterfingers) Gorbachev. The latter was going to reform the Soviet Union with a little openness and reorganization. (Remember good ol' Glasnost and Perestroika, the Laurel and Hardy of Soviet history?) Gorby may have meant to replace just a creaky plank or two in the Workers' Paradise, but he wound up bringing down the whole fraudulent structure -- on his own head.

Comrade Chairman Gorbachev just didn't get it, and may not even now. He thought all it would take was a few correctives, maybe just some cosmetic surgery, to save that decaying leviathan. It helped like leeches do a dead man.

Poor Gorbachev, more sinning than sinned against, didn't realize that everything about the monstrous system he'd come to head was rotten from the inside out, first to last, from Lenin-and-Trotsky to Stalin-and-Beria to his own tragicomedy of errors. He might actually have deserved his Nobel Prize if he'd planned to free the world of Soviet Communism; instead he seems to have destroyed it by accident. Oops.

Naturally the now historic figures who did play a pivotal role in ending the evil empire -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II -- weren't awarded Nobel Prizes, given the ideological predilections of those who hand them out. They were the sort of leaders, like Churchill, who make history, not just the annual list of Nobel Prize winners.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.