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The Washington Post's lead editorial today argues that a more deserving winner for the Nobel Peace Prize would have been Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose death during the Iranian uprising became a worldwide symbol, comparable to the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

NedaHeadline.jpg

Defensible point, though obviously purely symbolic in its own way too. As the paper says, after arguing that the selection of Barack Obama is an expression of hope rather than a post-achievement recognition:

"The Nobel Committee's decision is especially puzzling given that a better alternative was readily apparent.... A posthumous award for Neda, as the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour."
Would it have been so hard to mention the complicating fact that Nobel prizes are only for still-living people? And that this is a basic element of discussion when, for example, the literature prize rolls around each year? (After John Updike's death in January, one of the Post's own writers noted that among the sadnesses was that Updike would never be recognized with a Nobel prize.) And that therefore the omission of Neda is not "especially puzzling" at all? The FAQ page at NobelPrize.org (yes! there is such a site) makes this clear:
"Is it possible to nominate someone for a posthumous Nobel Prize?

"No, it is not. Previously, a person could be awarded a prize posthumously if he/she had already been nominated (before February 1 of the same year), which was true of Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931) and Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize, 1961). Effective from 1974, the prize may only go to a deceased person to whom it was already awarded (usually in October) but who had died before he/she could receive the Prize on December 10 (William Vickrey, 1996 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). See also par. 4 of the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation."
And this paragraph is the very first thing that comes up on a Google search for "posthumous Nobel prize." According to Google's meter, it took 0.24 seconds to find that info, and it would have taken maybe another fifteen seconds to change the sentence in the editorial to say: "Although the Nobel committee ordinarily rules out posthumous awards, an exception in this case... [and make the argument]."

Maybe the no-posthumous-award rules make sense. (Otherwise, you could have a debate every year on whether Abraham Lincoln, St. Francis of Assisi, or Gandhi was the most deserving choice.) Maybe they don't. Maybe they should have exceptions for deaths within the calendar year. Etc. But these are the widely-understood rules. Who is on the copy desk these days? Or writing editorials like this? 
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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