Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize Speech

I have heard fine and noble talks, JFK's "ask not" speech, MLK's "free at last" speech, but I believe that Obama's Nobel Prize speech was the greatest of all. It was brilliantly constructed, starting with gracious acknowledgements of his famous and unsung predecessors and of the controversial nature of his own selection at such an early point in his public life. He then used the apparent irony of his selection while leading the US in fighting two wars as the launching pad for a searching discussion of the uses and abuses of war. Recognizing that there is evil in the world, and that nonviolent resistance could not have stopped Hitler's armies, he persuasively made the case for the use of force. But he also made the case for doing so justly, only as a last resort, to the degree necessary, in compliance with the Geneva Convention, and in a way that as much as possible avoids injury to innocent bystanders. This led to another point, that acting to bring about peace is a very difficult task that goes far beyond the mere assertion of its desirability or the blanket condemnation of war. He stated that despite its 60 year history of protecting the world from a 3rd world war, the US can no longer act alone. The changing nature of war requires concerted action if malefactors are to suffer the consequences for their evil behavior. As war has become increasingly hard on civilians it has also become increasingly important to reduce nuclear arsenals, an effort that the President said was the centerpiece of his foreign policy. The President made many other important and thought-provoking points as well. To choose just one example of the brilliance and originality of his thinking, he noted that while we rightly glory in the bravery, accomplishments, and self-sacrifice of the soldiers who fight in war, war itself is Hell. I am writing this before having heard all the rest of his speech, but this was enough. I am proud of our President, and of our nation for having elected him. Whatever the difficulties with democracy, and they are many, the election of Obama and the continuing support for him as he navigates the incredible mess that Bush et al have left vindicate the democratic idea.

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