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Peace Prize Debate On BBC

I joined a panel yesterday on BBC Radio’s “World Have Your Say” that included former Nobel Peace prize winner Jody Williamson to talk about President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech. As a fellow writer, I’ve always enjoyed the most those speeches Obama makes when he is intimately involved in the writing process.

While reading the text of his speech in preparation for the show, I could see the Obama mind at work, attempting to turn what would appear to be a no-win situation, like the one he faced before his race speech in Philadelphia during last year’s presidential campaign, into a grandiloquent assessment of today’s geopolitical realities.

“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

President Barack Obama — Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech 

Controversy has swirled around the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s selection of President Obama since they made their surprising announcement in October. 

Williamson, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), began the afternoon with a blistering attack on the president for accepting the award. She reeled off a laundry list of treaties the United States had refused to join, and specifically pointed to the Mine Ban Treaty to assert that the Obama Administration showed disregard for international humanitarian law.

Given President Obama’s penchant for the diplomatic gesture, I asserted that there was no way he could have refused the award, even if, as he stated in his speech, “compared to the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”

Former Nobel laureate Williamson also described how winning the award back in 1997 helped to dramatically increase the number of countries who ultimately became involved with the ICBL. She believed the award should go to an honoree who had done the most within the previous year to work towards world peace. Williams is one of only forty women to have been awarded a Nobel Prize.  

As it was a fairly interactive radio show, the callers and real-time emails the “World Have Your Say” moderator read on the air seemed to be a mixed bag of reactions to the ceremony and to our comments. The sentiments of many of the international callers and emails tended to reflect a continued fascination with the idea of the Obama presidency that superseded any disappointment with America’s war efforts.

I couldn’t help but think, as I listened to the transatlantic chatter on the line while waiting to speak, about the overarching irony of the Nobel Peace Prize itself, which is funded by riches derived largely from Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite, one of modern warfare’s most destructive tools.


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