President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech

There were the obvious nods to other worthy leaders of nations and of social movements, and recognition of Afghanistan/Iraq issues.  But there was also a fascinating broader theme of just war and the need to fight to combat “evil”.

The grabs below are only parts of the speech, but together they form an interesting narrative – one that is worthy of much debate amongst the human rights community that believes we must stand with oppressed peoples but also believe strongly in the values of peace and non-violence.

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-Qaidas 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…

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human folly…

More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace…

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior – for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure – and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one…

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma – there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

Of course, he balances the above with this:

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach – and condemnation without discussion – can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door…

And concluded with:

We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that – for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

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About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Human Rights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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