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The Nobel Speech Obama Should Have Given

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

The Nobel Speech Obama Should Have Given

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US President Obama speaks upon the reception of his Nobel Prize in Oslo
(Image: White House photo, Pete Souza, 12/10/09

Fellow citizens of the world, I stand before you in a time of undeclared war to accept the world’s greatest commendation for peace. It is in this contradiction we, the peoples of the world, find ourselves; and it is from this contradiction that we must extricate ourselves.

Following the firebombing of Dresden, Winston Churchill, brooding on the eve of Allied victory, said that “war, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid.”

In an age of global terror, when even the most powerful states impotently fling their power upon stateless enemies, war has become a word, a concept, and an activity unbecoming of civilized peoples. In using the terminology and excuse of war to combat terror, war has become an open-ended barbarity with no end--a word, a concept, and an activity that suits only the enemies of civilization.

Many of you will disagree with my reasons and reasoning in expanding military operations in Afghanistan. You may well turn out to be correct, for I admit the contradiction of escalating a conflict in a land where foreign invaders are despised above all else. So I pledge to you that if, in 18 months, the United States and NATO are still mired in Afghanistan, we will change our basic premises, and pursue a radically different course.

The logic of my decision to increase American forces is not invasion or occupation, the actions that are synonymous with war, but with nation building and international security, actions that are synonymous with peace.

The great question before humanity is this: Do we, in whom power to wage war exists, continue to wage undeclared wars, or do we have the courage to give voice to what our world has already made reality? War is obsolete, an evil thing from which good can no longer be derived.

For when war becomes a battle between the ancient powers of nations and the inchoate forces of destruction, then the word and the barbarity belong to history. When war becomes an exercise in which armies are no longer pitted across sovereignties, but an operation in which allies patrol porous boundaries, then our language and our thinking must catch up to our world and its reality.

This ‘war on terror’ is a quasi-religious struggle, a cataract of ancient and modern civilization. To repeat the language and ideology of war, to use the term for political purposes when the reality no longer fits the word, is to continue the tragedy of war, and lead humankind into ever deepening darkness and despair.

I will not be such a president, since to attempt to regulate the destructive power of war when the word no longer applies is to deceive and mislead not only my nation, but also the world.

To say that we are at war is to lie, since our Congress has not declared war, even in Afghanistan, but simply authorized the use of force, and the use of force is not synonymous with war. The world cannot and will not ever have peace as long as leaders retain a weakness for the mentality of war.

There have been times, such as in World War II internationally and the American Civil War nationally, when war has been thrust upon us from evils such as Nazism or slavery. But this global struggle against one of the weapons of war—terrorism—is not such a case, and this is not such a time. That is especially true when one of the wars that we are supposedly waging, in Iraq, has been a “war of choice.” That alone proves that we cannot use evil to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves.

The wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. More than this however, in the undeniably global society that our world has become, all conflict is now internecine. The world as it actually is compels that I, as the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, with a military expenditure greater than the military expenditures of all other nations combined, think in new ways about the mistaken notions of just war and the new imperatives of a just peace.

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.

But the use of force is not the same as violent conflict, much less war. Citizens who don’t make distinctions between these things are confused; politicians who don’t make distinctions between these things are devious.

Evil does exist in the world, and a non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. But to wage war against a stateless network of terrorists in a global society is not only destined to fail; it is itself evil.

In many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, and this is as it should be. To say that people of conscience oppose the use of force no matter what the cause is is to be disingenuous and to willfully mislead. People of conscience do not oppose the use of force; they oppose war, and the ideology of war, which for too long my country, the United States, has promoted.

I humbly accept this award for peace at a time when humanity must end war. The world has changed, and our thinking must change with it. War, the unbridled conflict and tragedy of peoples, nations, and empires pitted against each other, has ended. If our future on this beautiful planet is not to continue to darken, we must have the courage and clarity to change with history. We can begin, and I begin today, by ceasing to use the language and ideology of war.

Read Obama's Nobel acceptance speech here:


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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