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Watching the president’s Nobel speech

December 10, 2009

Watching the president’s Nobel Peace Prize speech this morning I found myself cheering loudly when he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and then said “I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. ” Wow, a sitting president who acknowledges the power of nonviolent action and continues to quote two of my greatest heros.

Yet as much as my heart soared to hear the words about nonviolence, I believe the president missed a real opportunity to practice the audacity of hope. The tired rhetoric of just wars to protect the United States and the world did not rise to the standard that we have come to expect from this president and does not conform to my experience.

I grew up partly in Africa and have worked both on U.S. policy toward Africa and Latin America. In this work, I have not found a reality that conforms to the president’s statement that “America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens.”  The U.S. may not have declared wars against Chile or the Dominican Republic, but the U.S. wars against those countries played critical roles in overthrowing democratically elected governments. And how exactly is the United States promoting democracy in Honduras by recognizing a political process under taken by politicians put into office as the result of a military coup?

As I listened to the president’s speech I kept waiting for his call to action, for his appeal to all of us to rally behind the next bold step that the global community can take to address at least one of the major issues facing the earth today. What I kept hearing instead was a justification of military action wrapped in some great rhetoric. I stand with the president in wanting to work for the world that is not yet here, but for me the lesson of this speech is that our community will need to mobilize the people to lobby for action on the issues that are the highest priorities for us.

One Comment
  1. Robert Lowing permalink
    December 19, 2009 5:48 pm

    To the Editor,
    There are many who shared the Europeans’ hope that was expressed by awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize would bring America closer to the European experience of war and reject the pattern of militarism that dominates American foreign policy. President Obama’s acceptance speech was brilliant, balanced and complicated, but in the end, it tipped toward more war.
    Just one month before he spoke at West Point, public opinion polls showed 51% of the American public opposed the War in Afghanistan. After he spoke, a New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 51% were in favor of the surge. (12/10/09) They attributed the increase to Republican and Independent voters’ approval for President Obama’s handling of the war. The New Era/Intelligencer Journal conservative columnists have also recently shown cautious approval for his decision. (Noonan, Barone, and Brooks.)
    The shift of opinion did not happen in a month. Conservative and right wing politics have dominated American policy for 60 years, most recently by joining other wealthy nations in opposition to climate change and defeating a public healthcare system domestically. Conservatives attacked Harry S. Truman’s policy toward Communist China, influenced John F. Kennedy’s attack on Cuba and pressured Lyndon Johnson to escalate the war in Vietnam.
    A Buddhist leader in Vietnam said, “It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat.”
    Robert Lowing
    341 North West End Avenue
    Lancaster, PA

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