Peace through strength

Congratulations to President Barack Obama for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. By awarding the prize to a wartime president who is presiding over two wars and has just ordered an escalation in one of them, the Nobel Prize Committee may be setting a precedent that recognizes that peace often comes from force of arms. President Obama delivered a speech to this effect:

Just nine days after ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops into battle in Afghanistan, Obama delivered a Nobel acceptance speech that he saw as a treatise on war's use and prevention. He crafted much of the address himself and the scholarly remarks – at about 4,000 words – were nearly twice as long as his inaugural address.

In them, Obama refused to renounce war for his nation or under his leadership, saying defiantly that "I face the world as it is" and that he is obliged to protect and defend the United States.

"A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms," Obama said. "To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history."

The president laid out the circumstances where war is justified – in self-defense, to come to the aid of an invaded nation and on humanitarian grounds, such as when civilians are slaughtered by their own government or a civil war threatens to engulf an entire region.

"The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it," he said.

He also spoke bluntly of the cost of war, saying of the Afghanistan buildup he just ordered that "some will kill, some will be killed."

"No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy," he said.

But he also stressed the need to fight war according to "rules of conduct" that reject torture and other methods. And he emphasized the need to exhaust alternatives to violence, using diplomatic outreach and sanctions with teeth to confront nations such as Iran or North Korea that defy international demands to halt their nuclear programs or those such as Sudan, Congo or Burma that brutalize their citizens.

"Let us reach for the world that ought to be," Obama said. "We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."

Maybe next year the prize will be given to George W. Bush.

UPDATE: Seriously, it’s a good speech, and, as Kathleen Parker points out, it is distinctly Christian in its worldview and theological tradition. Consider this passage:

“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Here we have acknowledgement of the reality of evil, implying the existence of objective moral truths; the imperfections of man; the limits of reason; just war theory. All proclaimed to a hostile crowd that has probably forgotten these elements of their Christian heritage.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    “Maybe next year the prize will be given to George W. Bush.”

    Yeah, when they give the Nobel Prize for Medicine to the Tooth Fairy.

    Coincidentally, in the Dec. issue of Physics Today, a letter to the editor claims that Physicist John A. Wheeler was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics because of his avid support of the Vietnam War.

    Wheeler collaborated with Neils Bohr on the liquid drop model for fission and worked on the Manhattan Project and the hydrogen bomb. He coined the phrases “black hole” and “wormhole.”

  • Carl Vehse

    “Maybe next year the prize will be given to George W. Bush.”

    Yeah, when they give the Nobel Prize for Medicine to the Tooth Fairy.

    Coincidentally, in the Dec. issue of Physics Today, a letter to the editor claims that Physicist John A. Wheeler was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics because of his avid support of the Vietnam War.

    Wheeler collaborated with Neils Bohr on the liquid drop model for fission and worked on the Manhattan Project and the hydrogen bomb. He coined the phrases “black hole” and “wormhole.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    In effect, Obama has become a “neo-con”, following, Bush’s counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, though studiously giving Bush no credit for this.

    Robert Kagan, an arch “neo-con,” remarked on this Nobel speech as follows”

    Wow. What a shift of emphasis. Something about this Afghan decision, coupled perhaps with events in Iran, has really affected his approach….It’s always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a speech, but this is a big one.

    Andrew McCarthy’s view is that OBama’s words on anything are not to be taken seriously, as he is a hard-core, deceptive Alinskyite with a fundamental purpose to take down evil capitalism.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In effect, Obama has become a “neo-con”, following, Bush’s counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, though studiously giving Bush no credit for this.

    Robert Kagan, an arch “neo-con,” remarked on this Nobel speech as follows”

    Wow. What a shift of emphasis. Something about this Afghan decision, coupled perhaps with events in Iran, has really affected his approach….It’s always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a speech, but this is a big one.

    Andrew McCarthy’s view is that OBama’s words on anything are not to be taken seriously, as he is a hard-core, deceptive Alinskyite with a fundamental purpose to take down evil capitalism.

  • Bruce Gee

    This was a heroic speech, and had to be extremely difficult for the president to give. Who knows, maybe nine months in the oval office has caused him to grow up a bit? I sure didn’t see this sort of rhetoric at any time during his campaign. Something about the office causes men to keep looking at a bigger and bigger picture. Good stuff, may it continue.

  • Bruce Gee

    This was a heroic speech, and had to be extremely difficult for the president to give. Who knows, maybe nine months in the oval office has caused him to grow up a bit? I sure didn’t see this sort of rhetoric at any time during his campaign. Something about the office causes men to keep looking at a bigger and bigger picture. Good stuff, may it continue.

  • CRB

    Excellent critique of Obama’s speech here:

    http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson121109B.html

  • CRB

    Excellent critique of Obama’s speech here:

    http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson121109B.html

  • http://www.fatherhollywood.blogspot.com Rev. Larry Beane

    War was never declared by Congress. Do they still call these things “police actions,” or do we just wink at Washington’s bipartisan abuse of the Constitution and Congress failure to do their duty (kinda like the way we toss about the word “war” like in “war on poverty” and the “war on drugs,” etc.)?

  • http://www.fatherhollywood.blogspot.com Rev. Larry Beane

    War was never declared by Congress. Do they still call these things “police actions,” or do we just wink at Washington’s bipartisan abuse of the Constitution and Congress failure to do their duty (kinda like the way we toss about the word “war” like in “war on poverty” and the “war on drugs,” etc.)?

  • Kimett N Geist

    Our current president is a total and committed social pragmatist. He has made it abundantly clear what are his views of America. I am not impressed with his speech because he simply said what he had to say at the time. He has bigger fish to fry, healthcare/global warming agenda. Afghanistan is merely an irritant to him. He waited as long as he possibly could before making his decision on the war. We must keep our eye on the ball when it comes to anything this man says. It is also surprising to me to see just how hard-up people are to make themselves believe that he cares about our troops and their welfare.

  • Kimett N Geist

    Our current president is a total and committed social pragmatist. He has made it abundantly clear what are his views of America. I am not impressed with his speech because he simply said what he had to say at the time. He has bigger fish to fry, healthcare/global warming agenda. Afghanistan is merely an irritant to him. He waited as long as he possibly could before making his decision on the war. We must keep our eye on the ball when it comes to anything this man says. It is also surprising to me to see just how hard-up people are to make themselves believe that he cares about our troops and their welfare.

  • Kimett N Geist

    Just a thought to add to what I previously said. I picture us, the American people, similar to a flock of chickens frantically running after a few handfuls of corn. We fail to realize, however, that the one throwing out the corn is the hatchet-man, fattening us up for the slaughter. The hatchet-man doesn’t ask the chickens if they want their heads cut off – he merely sets the date, the conditions and the outcome. Of course, we are smarter than chickens now, aren’t we.

  • Kimett N Geist

    Just a thought to add to what I previously said. I picture us, the American people, similar to a flock of chickens frantically running after a few handfuls of corn. We fail to realize, however, that the one throwing out the corn is the hatchet-man, fattening us up for the slaughter. The hatchet-man doesn’t ask the chickens if they want their heads cut off – he merely sets the date, the conditions and the outcome. Of course, we are smarter than chickens now, aren’t we.


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