Monday, December 14, 2009

Obama Dismisses King, Justifies War

Like many over the past week, I have read the words delivered by President Obama as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. I was interested to see how he was going to address the apparent conflict of his being awarded a peace prize while presiding over and escalating war. How Obama chose to address this contradiction was both troubling and very telling about how both he and this Administration view the role of war.

The President chose to address this contradiction early on in his speech:

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I.... 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 forty three 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.

As Obama continued, he spoke about the idea of a "just war" that has been circulated by various philosophers throughout time and his belief that wars of this nature are necessary to bring about peace. Obama admits that the requirements for fighting a so-called "just war" have often been ignored throughout history, but expressed his view that World War II was such a war that fell under this label.

Using this foundation as a premise and in acknowledging anti-war words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Obama then makes the declaration that: "the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." He labels this as a "truth" and while he admits that war produces human tragedy, he paints the efforts of the United States as noble with an end goal of providing security and freedom to the world.

This tale, that the United States is a benign power whose mission is to merely protect its citizens and sow the seeds of freedom, is the same tale that has been told for Centuries. It is the same tale that has been used to drum up Patriotic support for all military conflicts and that leads citizens of the United States to believe that we have been fighting in Iraq to preserve our very freedoms.

President Obama's embrace of an ideology of "just war" not only continues the narrative that has been spoken by many of his predecessors, but ignores other realities that need to be taken into consideration. Obama was quick to label World War II as a war that was needed in order to quell the rise of Fascist Germany, but failed to address actions such as the bombing of Dresden and the release of two atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Were these actions of a country involved in a "just war" or is it possible that violence will always beget violence? What about the actions of the United States in Iraq, Gaza, Latin America, Vietnam, etc?

It is not only the selective telling of historical events that speaks volumes about this President's view on war and peace, but in his dismissal of the ideas of a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King. Obama says that while King's ideas have had great impact, he cannot rely on his ideas alone and that we must strive for peace while understanding that there will be war. It is disingenuous for President Obama to quote Dr. King while completely ignoring the warnings which King outlined in his own Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

So man's proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good.


I venture to suggest to all of you and all who hear and may eventually read these words, that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations. It is, after all, nation-states which make war, which have produced the weapons which threaten the survival of mankind, and which are both genocidal and suicidal in character.


So we must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a "peace race". If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.

These are the ideas that are being rejected by the current President of the United States while we are expected to embrace the mantra that creating war will lead to a peaceful future. Is it not clear that this idea has become, as Dr. King mentions, "obsolete"? In what way is war "just" for the civilians who have been (and will be) killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

President Obama's contradictory acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize as well as his contradictory speech have made it clear that it is high time for a re-emergence of the anti-war movement to harness the ideas that King set forth in his 1964 speech. This President and his Administration have made it clear that they view more death and destruction as a viable means to an end and if they are not willing to accept peaceful solutions, then it is necessary for the people to voice this agenda.

This piece is cross posted here.

1 comment:

Grumpy said...

So in your view, killing 3,000 people on American soil should just be ignored? As well as the targeting of American citizens and American interests abroad? Must be wonderful to be so naive.