Americans can be proud that the President of the United States has won the Nobel Peace Prize. But some perspective might be useful, too. The Nobel Committee never gave the Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi. They did award it to Henry Kissinger in 1973, and Tom Lehrer, the satirist, observed, "A world that gives Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize is beyond satire."
Hu Jia, the Chinese AIDS and human rights activist, was also reportedly considered this year. Mr. Hu was put in jail — for the fifth time — before the Olympic Games in Beijing last year for writing about some of the millions of people who were relocated by force. Mr. Hu is still in prison, charged with subversion for using the Internet to alert the world to China's political prisoners.
Morgan Tsvangirai was also nominated. The former miner who is now Prime Minister of Zimbabwe first went to jail in 1989 for protesting President Robert Mugabe's brutality. He has been beaten and harassed by security police. Even though international observers believe Mr. Tsvangirai won last year's presidential elections over Mr. Mugabe, he agreed to serve as his prime minister to work for peaceful change.
You might also recall some past Nobel Peace laureates. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott, organized mass movements, endured solitary confinement, and armed non-violence with unparalleled eloquence to help overturn segregation, all before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Lech Walesa led Poland's Solidarity movement and was jailed, beaten and threatened for seven years before he won the Peace Prize in 1983 for using strikes and assemblies to peacefully challenge a steel-and-tanks dictatorship.
The Dalai Lama won the prize in 1989 for defying totalitarianism and embodying interfaith harmony for more than 30 years. But this week, President Obama pointedly declined to meet with the man who is now his fellow Peace laureate — to avoid offending China.
Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, forced to sell her furniture to her Burmese military captors to pay for food. Eighteen years later, she is still under arrest.
By the time Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk shared the Nobel in 1993, Mr. Mandela had spent a third of his life jailed and banned, but accepted Mr. de Klerk's hand to overturn the historic crime of apartheid.
Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, after spending 40 years helping to feed, teach and care for thousands of immigrants who built and enriched Chicago.
The president said yesterday, "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize." He deserves to be taken at his word.