BARACK OBAMA wrapped his militarism in a blanket of history in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech
in Oslo, Norway. He spoke with the detachment of a professor lecturing
students about a "living testimony" to the "moral force" of the
teachings of King and Gandhi who just happened to be commander-in-chief
over dual, bloody occupations. War and peace, in Mr. Obama's
presentation, were inseparably intertwined throughout history with
America rising above it all - virtuous and correct in the flexing of
our military muscle abroad in this age, because of our righteousness in
the defining wars we waged with our allies against the Third Reich and
Japan. That American virtue, in Mr. Obama's estimation, is evident by
our leadership in setting the terms of international patronage,
diplomacy, and "just' war.
Mr. Obama began his speech by
attempting to rationalize the obvious contradiction of a wartime
president accepting a 'peace' prize. He downplayed the occupation in
Iraq he has prolonged, distanced himself from the one he just redefined
and escalated in Afghanistan, and declared himself responsible for, and
"filled with questions" surrounding his sending of 'young Americans' to
fight and die abroad.
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President Obama: .
. . perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this
prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the
midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a
conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43
other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves
and all nations from further attacks.
Still, we are at war, and
I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to
battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I
come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict -- filled
with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace,
and our effort to replace one with the other.
answering his own questions, the president recited his own view of our
nation's war history in which our military victories over the
aggression of Japan and Germany established the U.S. as the moral
arbiter of future conflicts.
President Obama: For most
of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity
of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved
inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look
different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to
wars between nations -- total wars in which the distinction between
combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such
carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to
conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and
the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number
of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.
the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age,
it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed
institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century
after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations -- an idea
for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize -- America led the world in
constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a
United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to
protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most dangerous
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible
wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no
Third World War.
Nonetheless, the president next
acknowledged the civil, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts around the
world, which he observed are on the rise, without mention of our own
nation's part in fueling, funding, and deliberately or clumsily
exacerbating many of those into perpetuity.
In Iraq, the war
that the president insists is 'winding down', our nation's invasion and
overthrow of the sovereign government was the catalyst to the chaos and
civil and sectarian unrest and violence which was punctuated last week
with the killing of over 120 civilians by a lone bomber. Our military
forces' inability to stifle or eliminate the killings there, despite
our "surged-up", lingering occupation is a less than ringing
endorsement of some inherent wisdom behind the opportunistic exercise
of our dominating, devastating military forces abroad.
president admitted his own lack of a 'definitive solution' to it all.
Absent that solution, the president says we must be prepared to act
when we feel that war is 'justified'.
President Obama: A
decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the
weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect
of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase
the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern
technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder
innocents on a horrific scale.
Moreover, wars between nations
have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of
ethnic or sectarian conflicts, the growth of secessionist movements,
insurgencies and failed states have increasingly trapped civilians in
unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than
soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked,
civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.
do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of
war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the
same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted
so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways
about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.
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.
It's obvious what the
president is alluding to here. There aren't many who would question
America's pursuit of justice in the wake of the 9-11 plane crashes.
Chasing bin-Laden and his cohorts into Afghanistan, and the rout of his
Taliban accomplices to Pakistan was a reasonable response to most
Yet, there's a question of how much of the
president's militarism today in Afghanistan can be justified as part
and parcel of that original pursuit; or even integral to some defense
of our national security as defined in the original authorization to
use military force. That didn't stop Mr. Obama from casting his
self-escalated role in Afghanistan as a menage between King, Gandhi,
and his inner warrior.
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