Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Nobel for Valor

Watching the events in Japan as a small team of people is working on site to try to stabilize six nuclear reactors in the most difficult circumstances I can't help thinking that an international award that recognizes bravery is needed.

Britain awards the George Cross for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger", Frenchman could be given the Legion d'Honneur and there is an existing International Maritime Organization award for Bravery At Sea.

But the situation at the Japanese nuclear plant can be viewed as a global threat requiring a global response. The men (and, I assume, women) who are staying at the plant are trying to protect their own land as well as the lives of others in other countries. They are clearly in danger themselves from a very unstable and changing situation.

It might seem exaggerated to think that the Japanese nuclear situation is a global threat, but it's certainly a cross-border threat as we saw with the Chernobyl Accident. And thus international recognition is appropriate. It will not be sufficient for Japan alone to recognize their actions as their actions have international consequences.

Thus, I propose the creation of a Nobel Prize for Valor (or something similar perhaps to be awarded by the UN) to be awarded when necessary to those men and women who have stood between danger and humanity. We should all hope it does not need awarding frequently.


JF said...


RBerenguel said...

Completely agree, but I think it should be awarded only in extraordinary situations, not every year like other prizes.



John said...

I agree. But how about a Ig Noble prize for the most hysterical and doom-laden reporting of the event too. I would nominate the BBC for coverage of the Fukushima situation, but it's really close with the other meda outlets.

David Cotton said...

A great idea that should be pursued, but it may be hard for it not to become mired in politics...

John Graham-Cumming said...

Who do you think I should pursue it with?

Kerry Liles said...

Great idea. The United Nations does not enjoy world-wide respect (at least at consistent levels) and even the Nobel Committee attracts some critics too.

Not at all sure who should oversee such an award, but I think it is a wonderful concept.

Kerry Liles said...

I agree that it is a wonderful idea.

Not entirely sure what organization could/should oversee the process: the United Nations does not enjoy world-wide respect and even the Nobel Committee has attracted some criticism too.

David Cotton said...


Your excellent work on the Turing pardon shows that you are good at this sort of thing. :-) Then again, you must have a lot on your plate...

An initial question: aside from the current situation in Japan, what occasions in the past would you see such an award as having been justified? Chernobyl springs to mind, but I find it hard to think of other global threats where a few people stand in the way of disaster.

Slightly tongue in cheek, why do we need the UN, the US or the Nobel committees to award such prizes? Surely in these days an on-line committee could be formed to take in suggestions from the public and award as appropriate. Unlike the Nobel prize, it need not be awarded every year (indeed, hopefully it would never be awarded), but as and when needed. It may be faster, easier and less engrained in pre-existing politics to start afresh than to go through a behemoth such as the UN. The problem, of course, is without such backing it may be difficult for an award to have enough heft.

What form would such an award take? Would there be a certificate, medal, prize fund or combination thereof? Would it be granted just to individuals, or to groups (ala Malta being awarded the George Cross in WWII).

Would a distinction be made between people who are brave for their jobs (e.g. astronauts) and people who are thrown into situations where their bravery involved them going above and beyond the call of duty. As an example, see John Axon GC (

A quick web search shows that there are few international bravery awards. This can perhaps be seen by the fact that your post is already on the third page of searches for the unquoted search string 'international awards for bravery' :-)