Philip John Noel-Baker, Baron Noel-Baker, born Philip John Baker (November 1, 1889 – October 8, 1982) was a politician, diplomat, academic, an outstanding amateur athlete, and renowned campaigner for disarmament who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959. His most valuable contribution to peace was his analysis of the issues surrounding disarmament and its modalities and practicalities, as well as how the world might police this process. A pragmatist, he advocated total disarmament on the one hand while on the other he addressed and discussed obstacles and challenges. He was also involved in both the establishment of the League of Nations and the United Nations and was convinced that the only way to prevent war is to make it impossible, to remove it as an option from international arena, stating that "Unless there is an iron resolution to make it the supreme object of international policy and to realize it now, I believe all talks about disarmament will fail."
Born Philip Baker, he was born to a Canadian-born Quaker father, Joseph Allen Baker, who moved to England to set up a manufacturing business and himself served on the London County Council and in the House of Commons. Initially educated at Bootham School, York, and then in the U.S. at the Quaker-associated Haverford College, he attended King's College, Cambridge, from 1910 to 1912. As well as being an excellent student, he became President of the Cambridge Union Society and the Cambridge University Athletic Club. Noel-Baker also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Munich in Germany
He was selected and ran for Great Britain at the Stockholm Olympic Games, and was team manager as well as a competitor for the British track team for the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. In 1920, at Antwerp he won a silver medal in the 1500 meters. The exploits of the British team at the 1924 Games were later made famous in the 1982 film Chariots of Fire, though Noel-Baker's part in such was not portrayed in that film.
During World War I, Noel-Baker organized and commanded the Friends' Ambulance Unit attached to the fighting front in France (1914-1915), and was then adjutant of the First British Ambulance Unit for Italy (1915-1918), for which he received military medals from France and Italy as well as his own country.
After the war, Noel-Baker was heavily involved in the formation of the League of Nations, serving as assistant to Lord Robert Cecil, then assistant to Sir Eric Drummond, the league's first secretary-general. He was present at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, and was appointed head of the League's Mandate department. From 1931 to 1933, he was a member of the Disarmament Commission. He was for many years closely associated with Fridtjof Nansen, who is renowned for humanitarian work in Russia, Greece, and in Asia Minor
He also spent time as an academic early in his career. In 1914, he was appointed vice-Principal of Ruskin College, Oxford. Between 1924 and 1929, the first Sir Ernest Cassell Professor of International Law at the University of London. He taught at Yale University from 1933 to 1934, where he was Dodge Lecturer.
His political career with the Labour Party began in 1924, when he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament. He was elected as the member for Coventry in 1929, but lost his seat in 1931. In 1936, Noel-Baker won a by-election in Derby after J.H. Thomas resigned; when that seat was divided in 1950, he transferred to Derby South and continued until 1970. In 1977, he was made a life peer as Baron Noel-Baker, of the City of Derby.
As well as a parliamentary secretary role during World War II under Winston Churchill, he served in a succession of junior ministries in the Attlee Labour Government. He was also prominent within Labour, serving as Chairman of the Labour Party in 1946. In the mid-1940s, Noel-Baker served on the British delegation to what became the United Nations, helping to draft its charter at the San Francisco conference. He was also involved in the selection of a site for the UN Headquarters and in drawing up rules for its employees. He represented Britain on the Economic and Social Council, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He became president of UNESCO's International Council of Sport and Physical Recreation in 1960. After World War II, Noel-Baker was also involved in helping to solve the refugee problem.
As early as 1918, Noel-Baker started to speak in favor of disarmament and peace. He strongly advocated negotiation as the mechanism of resolving disputes, not war. Working as a volunteer in the London slums, Noel-Baker taught adult literacy and also established schools, lobbying to improve housing conditions and public transportation. Noel-Baker's concern for disarmament involved academic study of the issues surrounding this, which he explored in such books as The Private Manufacture of Armaments (1936) and The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament (1958) This book, which began by analyzing the the 1919 Paris Peace conference won the 1961 Albert Schweitzer Book Prize. His Nobel Peace Prize citation referred to him as the man who "probably …possesses the greatest store of knowledge on the subject of disarmament and who best knows the difficulties involved." Jahn also observed that "There is little doubt that the influence and inspiration of a cultured and harmonious family life, with father and mother working selflessly to help those in need, inevitably left their mark on the son's attitude to life." Noel-Baker's writing and research revealed the role of the arms industry in contributing to conflict generation. He considered the arms race to be a major contributor to war. In calling for total disarmament, he addressed issues of implementation and of control. He believed that disarmament would not be an easy task but that it fell within the realm of what is possible, not impossible.
Noel-Baker's long advocacy of peace and disarmament and his contribution to the work of both the League and the United Nations attracted the 1959 Nobel Peace Prize. In presenting the Prize, Gunner Jahn spoke of Noel-Baker's Quaker heritage:
Throughout his life he has been true to the high ideal of the Quakers - to help his fellowmen, without regard to race or creed; he has striven to build a world in which violence and arms are no longer necessary in the struggle for existence, either among men or among nations.
In his Nobel Lecture, Noel-Baker was critical of the way in which any peace or disarmament suggestion coming from the East, that is, from the Communist bloc, was always treated with skepticism. He had discussed his ideas with Nikita Khrushchev and had not found him unreceptive. He challenged the world in these words, "In the age when the atom has been split, the moon encircled, diseases conquered, is disarmament so difficult a matter that it must remain a distant dream? To answer 'Yes' is to despair of the future of mankind.
Noel-Baker married Irene Noel, a field hospital nurse, in 1915, adopting the hyphenated name in 1943. Their only son, Francis Noel-Baker, also became a parliamentarian and served together with his father in the Commons. Philip Noel-Baker's mistress from 1936 to 1956, was Lady Megan Lloyd George, daughter of the former Liberal Party leader David Lloyd George and herself a Liberal and later Labour MP.
Much of Noel-Baker's academic work on issues surrounding the practicalities and modalities of disarmament remain valid. So, too, does the need to address the role of the arms industry, the unfortunate reality that some people profit from war and have a vested interest in the war option as opposed to the option of negotiation and non-violent resolution of disputes. Noel-Baker was less interested in the cause of conflict than in encouraging nations to abandon the very means by which armed conflict could occur, since without weapons, war would become an impossibility. Perhaps this approach needs to be combined with an emphasis on education for peace, so that not only would the physical means of pursuing war be abolished, but the very idea of conflict would recede in the human consciousness, to be replaced with a bias towards negotiation, diplomacy and compromise.
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