Posted on 11 October 2019
In 1947, Quaker work for peace and humanitarian aid was recognised in the form of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
The prize was jointly awarded to the Friends Service Council (FSC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), honouring their relief work during and after the two world wars. The FSC and the AFSC accepted the award on behalf of Quakers worldwide.
The prize also recognized 300 years of Quaker efforts to heal rifts and oppose war. In particular, it named the work done by the two recipient Quaker organizations to both feed starving children and help in the reconstruction of post-war Europe.
In his presentation speech, Gunnar Jahn, the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, said:
“It is not this side of their activities – the active political side – which places the Quakers in a unique position. It is through silent assistance from the nameless to the nameless that they have worked to promote the fraternity between nations cited in the will of Alfred Nobel.”
“The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them – that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace.”
“For this reason alone the Quakers deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize today. But they have given us something more: they have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force. And this brings to mind two verses from one of Arnulf Överland’s poems which helped so many of us during the war. I know of no better salute: ‘The unarmed only can draw on sources eternal. The spirit alone gives victory.'”
In Henry Cadbury’s acceptance speech for the Quakers, he spoke about the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to a body and not an individual.
“The common people of all nations want peace. In the presence of great impersonal forces they feel individually helpless to promote it. You are saying to them here today that common folk, not statesmen, nor generals nor great men of affairs, but just simple plain men and women, like the few thousand Quakers and their friends, if they devote themselves to resolute insistence on goodwill in place of force, even in the face of great disaster past or threatened, can do something to build a better,peaceful world.”
Benefits of Being a Prize Winner
Being a Nobel Peace Prize winner sometimes gives opportunities to join with other winners to consider current issues, and occasionally to speak out with them. But the greatest privilege of being a Peace Prize winner is to be able to make nominations each year to the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize Committee. AFSC has done this since 1948, in that year nominating Mahatma Gandhi.
Since 2005 Quaker Peace & Social Witness (the successor to the FSC) has also participated in the process, appointing a Quaker to serve on AFSC’s Nobel Peace Prize nominating task group. Each spring, suggestions are invited and then a careful process of research and discernment follows. Unlike most nominees, Quaker nominees are deliberately publicised to encourage and strengthen their work.
The Society of Friends, as a group, had first been nominated for the prize as early as 1912, just eleven years after the award was founded. It was nominated again in 1923, 1924 and 1936. On each occasion the nominations were influenced by Quaker relief work with the victims of war and famine.
Featured image from quaker.org.uk