Obama Cites Military's Contributions to Peace
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2009 – Instruments of war play a role in preserving peace, President Barack Obama said as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, today.
While acknowledging the controversy surrounding a wartime leader being honored with a peace prize, Obama said the commitment of those in the U.S. military has been an instrument of peace throughout the world.
“The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms,” he said. “The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.”
The president said America is not bearing this burden to impose its will on others, but out of concern for future generations.
“We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity,” he said.
America is in the midst of two wars. Obama noted that while Operation Iraqi Freedom is winding down, the conflict in Afghanistan is one that America did not seek and is not pursuing alone. Forty-two countries have joined the United States in an effort to defend all nations from further attacks.
“Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of Americans to battle in a distant land,” Obama said. “Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.”
Explaining that while the military does ultimately strive to preserve peace, Obama emphasized that that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.
“The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms,” he said. “But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.”
The president suggested that a more practical and attainable peace might come from the gradual evolution of human institutions, involving standardization in the use of military force justified on humanitarian grounds.
“This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor,” he said. “More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.”
Obama said America’s commitment to global security will never waver, but that America cannot act alone to secure peace.
“I understand why war in not popular, but I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it,” he said. “Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.”
Where force is necessary, there is a moral and strategic interest in following certain rules of conduct, Obama said, in reference to his prohibition of torture, his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and his reaffirmation in America’s abiding by the Geneva Convention.
“I believe the United States of America must remain the standard bearer in the conduct of war,” he said. “That’s what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is the source of our strength.”
The president went on to present three ways he believes peace could be built in the world: nations standing together to pressure their adversaries without resorting to violence, respecting the rights and dignity of every individual, and creating economic security and opportunity for all nations.
“Let us reach for a world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls,” he said.
Lauding the protestor bravely standing up to government brutality and a poverty-stricken mother using her little money to send her children to school, Obama also recognized the efforts of a soldier who sees he’s outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace.
“Let us live by their example,” he said.
“Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace,” Obama said. “We can do that – for that is the story of human progress. That’s the hope of all the world. And at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.”
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