Memorable Nobel Peace Prize Winners of the Past - NBC New York
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Memorable Nobel Peace Prize Winners of the Past

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    The Nobel Peace Prize may be one of the most prestigious honors on the planet, but it's provoked plenty of debate over the years.

    Whoever is awarded this year's prize on Friday will join a list of memorable victors since the first award in 1901 — some more universally praised than others.

    The roots of the award were in the will of Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite. In it, he said he wanted the award handed to the "person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

    In 1901, five years after his death, a committee in Norway picked Switzerland's Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, and Frederic Passy, the French economist who believed free trade among nations promoted peace, as the first recipients of the awards.

    Since it's a very political decision, the award has often provoked controversy, such as in 1973 when U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho were honored for their efforts to achieve a cease-fire in the Vietnam War. And then there's the controversy over why some people — such as Mahatma Gandhi — never won the award.

    Bar a few occasions, the award has been handed out annually.

    During the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, no peace prize was awarded except on the the two occasions when it was handed to the Red Cross, in 1917 and 1944. The organization won it again in 1963 — no recipient has won it as often.

    Other organizations to have won the award include Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors with Borders) and the European Union.

    Until 1975, the Nobel Committee did not give the reasons behind its decisions. Since then, it has provided a brief explanation behind the award, which is handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death, in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.