Good writing is inspirational, lingering with you for longer than the reading. For me there are certain attributes every engaging piece has — a certain magic in the manipulation of words and phrases, a dexterity, an evocativeness that is revealed, a tugging along of your heart or brain (or both). Clearly there are so many ways to write well with ‘well’ meaning different things to each of us. I was mulling this as I read the speech that Barack Obama gave in December 2009 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Here is the link to it and well worth a read if you have a few minutes.
Barack Obama was awarded this prize very early on (9months) into his first term as President of the United States and it proved quite controversial. His presidency oversaw escalation in US military activity across several countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria) and he himself did not feel he deserved the award. But on deciding to accept he labelled his recognition ‘as a call to action’. A member of the committee later said that although he had not done much to merit the award at that point, ‘he represented the ideals of the committee’ and unlike previous recipients, he was awarded the prize for what it was believed he would do rather than an achievement so far.
The Nobel Peace Prize started in 1901. The website says that the criteria for the prize is that it is to be awarded to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. The website goes on to say that the recognition implicit in the prize has evolved. From World War II, the Peace prize, was awarded to participants in the areas of ‘arms control and disarmament, peace negotiation, democracy and human rights, and work aimed at creating a better organized and more peaceful world’. Lately the prize has gone onto recognise those individuals who are helping in the efforts to ‘limit the harm done by man made climate change’.
When you search the internet there are many calls for Obama to be stripped of his prize as there was disappointment in what he achieved in the name of peace in his two terms. I find that an unfair judgement. He did not ask for the award, recognising that he had not accomplished anything of significance at the time it was bestowed upon him. Scrutinising his speech, you can see he wanted to further develop the narrative around the military actions of the US in the context of preserving peace, raising the debate around this : ‘Part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly’.
I am torn by the use of military force to achieve peaceful aims as there does intuitively feel a place for it but I’m not sure how I would strike the proper balance between the right amount of force and how much civilian casualty is acceptable in order to achieve said aims. Ironically (and true in all walks of life when we are the ones threatening as I have found to my detriment with my cost centres) we have to be able to back our threats to maintain peace and stability. The discussion around Trident here in the UK (a British sub-marine carrying nuclear weapons which can be triggered on orders from the Prime Minister) reflects this debate. I know it’s not that simple but in a world where leaders are constantly engaged in game theory with bad actors it’s difficult to be puritanical about peace. At least that’s what I tell myself when trying to negotiate a cease fire with my cost centres….