Whenever I am at a social gathering, or any other kind of gathering, for that matter, and someone says ‘Violence never solves anything,’ I make an excuse (sometimes even a polite excuse) and go and look for someone else to talk to.
That belief is indicative of such ignorance of history, such a lack of understanding of the cost of our freedom, and such an inability to think, that the effort involved in conversing with anyone who holds it would be better spent cleaing skirting boards with a tooth pick.
So I was pleased and impressed by President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. That link takes you a full transcript.
Just a few key paragraphs:
America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. (! Absolutely right, but astonishing for someone of his socialist background). The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. (I would have said sometimes a moral imperative. There are some conflicts we must not shy away from, no matter what the cost.)
I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. 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.
I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: 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. 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. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. 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.
It is a long speech. It is also a great speech, one that reflects idealism, courage and determination.
Let’s hope these qualities, clear in words, are carried through into a genuine role of leadership for good, by Obama and the US, and by the rest of the developed nations.