The world’s highest humanitarian honor, the Nobel Peace Prize, went Friday to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Considering what we’ve seen in the news about North Korea, that sounds like a good choice. There’s just one problem: The organization hasn’t done anything, and there’s a more deserving candidate.
ICAN is a Geneva-based coalition of hundreds of non-governmental organizations whose contribution to the safety and security of the world consists of promoting a United Nations treaty against nuclear weapons. A piece of paper combatting nuclear warfare feels flimsy enough as is, but there’s another hiccup: None of the world’s nine nuclear powers — including the United States, China, Russia, and North Korea — have signed it.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee could have instead taken the opportunity to celebrate a group that, rather than promoting an impractical ideal of world peace, has saved thousands of lives in a country ravaged by civil war. The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize should’ve gone to the White Helmets.
The organization, also called the Syrian Civil Defense, sends emergency first-responders into dangerous territory to save innocents trapped between belligerents in Syria’s civil war.
Hundreds of bombs barrage Syria each day, while President Bashar al-Assad and his government combat opposition forces. ISIS, which quickly joined the rebellion, now controls much of Eastern and Central Syria. This war has stretched on for six years and has resulted in almost 500,000 deaths. It generated the refugee crisis that has engulfed the region and spilled into Europe. It has also raised questions in the United States about how many refugees the government should accept.
During that time, the White Helmets have rescued 90,000 souls. Launching unarmed into rebel-held areas, the rescuers save the injured and unaided. They are not soldiers, but civilians.
Some 3,000 White Helmets paramedics served the country and the White Helmets was the only rescue group still entering Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, according to a Wall Street Journal report last year.
If that name sounds familiar, you may remember when Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson infamously asked an MSNBC reporter last fall, “What’s Aleppo?” The answer, according to the reporter, was “the epicenter of the refugee crisis.”
“The White Helmets,” a film on the group, won Best Short Documentary in the Oscars this year. One scene reveals a rescuer pulling a wailing infant from fallen blocks of cement. He raises the child to the camera as voices around him cheer.
For two years the White Helmets have received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a shame that a group that sends rescuers into perilous situations and provides peace to thousands of victims of war lost to a committee of bureaucrats.
The Syrian refugee crisis may not sound as dire as nuclear warfare. But the Nobel Peace Prize bears the most power when it’s connected to a people and a place. More than 150 White Helmets have died saving thousands of lives. Let’s honor heroes who have put in action, rather than words.
With North Korea on the warpath, we want to hear talk about getting rid of nuclear weapons. But let’s stop giving awards to people who say the right things and get involved in the right issues. Save those awards for success.
We cheapen peace by pretending it can be bought with a treaty. Real peace requires sacrifice. The White Helmets know it well.
“In the White Helmets we have a motto,” says one volunteer in the trailer for the documentary. “To save a life is to save all of humanity.”
Madeline Fry is a senior studying French.