President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace today. As he acknowledged at the start of his address, the seeming contradiction of a wartime President receiving a distinction such as this was on the minds of many in the world.
His address was an eloquent rationalization for war. I don’t know any other way to say it. To many, undoubtedly, it made sense. To many more–most of those in the world who suffer under the effects of war–it would seem gross and incomprehensible for him to say what he did say.
While you can easily access the full-text of the speech at the White House, let me share with you the heart of his rationalization, and the critical center of his thinking I find so unsatisfactory:
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
What we must begin to consider is that “peace” is not merely the absence of war. While my concerns as a scholar are far more focused on what this means for everyday people living life on this planet–the freedom to be free from starvation as well as other forms of cultural, spiritual, political, and physical violence–it is equally true for the realm of big government diplomacy.
No, a “nonviolent movement” would not have halted Hitler’s armies in 1939. But a truly peaceful form of national and international diplomacy would have never allowed such a condition to materialize in the first place. If we live in a world where inequalities and inequities are not only allowed to exist but are indifferently and passively fostered and condoned, then we live in a world that will continue to see the worst in our species rise up.
Peace is not simple. Peace is not singular. But make no mistake about it: peace is both possible, realistic, and urgently needed.
3 thoughts on ““The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace…””
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Clearly Mr. President is lying. He isn’t protecting you or me, he is protecting the elites right to aggressively exploit and to profit immensely. If anything is being threatened it is their ability to do so in the face of people globally refusing to accept the boot of oppression on their necks. After WW II the creative social ferment and political awareness so prevalent in the relief that ‘peace had come’ did not bode well for the big powerful industries and their eternal hand-maiden governments–and so this new and yet burgeoning spirit had to be squashed, and it was. That’s why the fifties were so quiescent, not simply “due to McArthyism.” Obama’s campaign speeches held no substance whatsoever for me. The sudden appeal of a possible president of color was erased by the blandness and offensiveness of his speeches, which were really to please the powerful, and to placate the rest of us. Never forget that his upbringing was seriously compromised by his parent’s murderous politics. He was raised in a USAID/CIA household. His contemporary lovey-doveyness with security, surveillance and torture did not happen overnight. One can say that he was “sold out” as a youth. In my eyes one brings a child up to be a human being FIRST, and allowed to develop that humanity creatively, and not by way of pernicious adult ideologies while still developing a sense of self and self respect. On a separate but related note, my forty-five years of activism have shown me the true face of a Latino/Chicano social movement up to it’s eyebrows in self-serving (while very attention getting) machismo, to which even the mujeres subscribed. In other words a sham. This includes some of our noted latter-day ethnic “heroes.” I give my blog readers examples of my lurid experiences with pretend activists. My community is creative enough to look “good” and as though “progressing” while actually spinning it’s wheels. Forget Che, we need minds and hearts, not weapons and swagger. The rulers, our “betters”, characterise as democracy only that which is in their hands and controlled by them, and which serves the business class. We are in the hands of thugs.