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Obama defends eternal war as he accepts an award for peace

December 10, 2009

I have not read many Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speeches, but the one that Obama just gave made me feel like I was reading the Onion. Here are the highs, lows, and some commentary.

Highs:

1. Obama doesn’t pretend that he is not a war lord. Well, at least not if you take his rhetoric to its logical conclusion.

2. Obama seems to be somewhat aware of just war theory, unlike his predecessor. Or, his speechwriting team checked Wikipedia.

3. Obama seems to be trying to be honest and admits that he is not the best candidate for a peace prize. And then he tells us why it is still okay for him to accept it—a quintessential politician.

Lows:

Too many to mention. But this just about sums it all up: Obama articulates his Gospel of War to justify his acceptance of a prize for peace. Obama’s Gospel of War is remarkable. It overrides history, Gandhi, Dr. King, and more. Here are some excerpts:

War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.

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.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.

We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.

Commentary:

While it seems like a good thing that Obama appears to know what he is doing, what he is actually doing is nothing to be proud of. Comparing Bush vs. Obama is like differentiating between ignorant neglect and willful harm. Which is worse? In practice, I don’t really know. We need better options than this. It is like asking me if I would prefer to be branded by a hot iron for my “good” by some mindless buffoon or carefully tortured by a more enlightened antagonist.

To be clear: Obama is wrong—dangerously wrong. War is not a primordial feature of man. War is not eternal. Non-violence is not passé. War is never a means to peace. War is only a means to—rarely justified—moral tragedy. The USA is not a State of exception when it comes to the waging of war and its record speaks for itself. The logic of war is an ideology that literally makes peace impossible. Under this logic, Obama fails to bring us change; much less change we can or should believe in.

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29 Comments
  1. December 10, 2009 11:59 am

    So much for him being the “peace candidate”, eh?

    • December 10, 2009 12:07 pm

      Well, there are many things which are ignored about Obama being “the peace candidate.” What was generally believed, and I still believe to be the case, is that of the candidates which had any possibility to win the election at the time, he was the one who had goals more in line with those who advocate peace. This makes him the “peace candidate” not because he is one with their goals, but closer to them than the rest. It was well known through the election season he was not a man of peace in the sense of being a pacifist; he rightfully saw Iraq was an erroneous war, and that again, put him more in line with those working for peace than McCain’s position. It is also right in saying the situation in Afghanistan has a different moral weight than the war in Iraq, and so one can understand, even if disagree, with his position here. But as far as I know, no one had any illusion he would create world peace save in the caricatures made by some Republicans. If one read Vox Nova, for example, critical words were made of this before he was president.

  2. December 10, 2009 12:04 pm

    When in the world was he a “peace candidate”? I can say that I have never considered him to be such a thing.

  3. December 10, 2009 12:16 pm

    Obama as “peace candidate” is a construction of republicans such as Dick Cheney who continues, even in a recent interview, to characterize Obama (in all seriousness) as “dangerously radical,” and “outside of what has come to be expected of Democrats.”

    Great post, Sam. Dead on.

  4. December 10, 2009 12:24 pm

    This statement from Obama…

    “These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease – the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.”

    …is deeply theological. And deeply wrong from a Christian perspective. As Brett said so well in another thread, humans were created in the image and likeness of God and that means we were created for communion. War is not a “fact,” but a choice against communion, i.e. it is sin. It always has been sin. Always.

  5. December 10, 2009 12:26 pm

    “The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory…”

    More Obama-theology. This statement is also wrong.

  6. December 10, 2009 12:33 pm

    “Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. ”

    Hmm… “somewhere” like Pittsburgh, perhaps?

  7. December 10, 2009 12:35 pm

    “Faith in war is the closest thing America has to a national religion.”

    – Joe Sobran

  8. December 10, 2009 12:37 pm

    “Obama’s position on land mines calls into question his expressed views on multilateralism, respect for international humanitarian law and disarmament. How can he, with total credibility, lead the world to nuclear disarmament when his own country won’t give up even land mines?”

    Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams

  9. December 10, 2009 12:38 pm

    Good post, Sam. It is a shame that the gospel of war, a false gospel of salvation that replaces santifying grace with military might and political ideology, has adherents even among Christians.

  10. December 10, 2009 1:35 pm

    You know, in reading this speech I wondered whether there is any real difference between the “Gospel of War” as preached by Bush or Obama. Maybe there was some different justifications (“democracy” for Bush and “faith in human progress” for Obama) but in the end it leads to the same result.

  11. December 10, 2009 3:16 pm

    Michael – I think that Bush and Obama both buy into the “Gospel of War” in the sense that they both believe war to be simply a “fact” in a fallen world, as in the Obama quote I cited above. They both buy into what John Milbank calls an “ontology of violence” vs. an “ontology of peace.” At the same time, I think Bush and Co. went further, seeing war instrumentally as a way to achieve various perceived goods, as simply a political tool. Obama seems to legitimately believe that war is an unfortunate and tragic but necessary means to restrain evil rather than as a means to an end.

    Both views are false, and both are rooted in the prior assumption that in our world war is simply a “reality.” Perhaps they both “lead to the same result” as you say. But one seems to me more imperialistic than the other. (That is to say, both are imperialistic, but one less so than the other. I’m not sure that being less imperialistic matters much to those on the receiving end of our bombs though.)

  12. December 10, 2009 5:09 pm

    I supported Obama, and I know full he had bought the whole “American exceptionalism” role in the world, especially when it came Afghanistan. I have no regrets, as politics is about choosing people who do the least harm. With McCain, we quite probably would have seen the bombing of Iran, and that thought (even today) scares the hell out of me.

  13. December 10, 2009 7:05 pm

    Michael I.:

    I think imperialism is an important difference, though I am concerned about the way Obama closed the speech with a mention of human progress seems to be marching forward. That’s not a whole lot different from the “end of history” fukiyama wrote about the inevitable march of democracy that helped persuade the neo-cons of Bush. for both we see this idea of an inevitable march of history for which role, in which good ideas conquer evil ones, play a critical role. As you said, the citizens in Afghanistan getting bombed don’t much care whether it’s imperialism or human progress dropping the bomb.

    MM:

    Perhaps Obama was better than McCain (I seriously doubt McCain would have attacked Iran; the war would have been too unpopular and the one thing McCain shared with Obama was an obsession with the polls) but I continue to fail to see how in the matters of foreign policy Obama presents us with a much better choice. I think we got the same old “American exceptionalism” as you put it, perhaps even more than we could have imagined (i’m still stunned at the inability of the Obama camp to truly close Guantamo as well as his persistence in covering the tracks of torturers).

    I think many Obama supporters were far too willing to give him a pass on foreign policy b/c they hated Bush’s so much, which I think has allowed him to get away with a lot more than he could have had his supporters been more honest with his considerable failings in foreign policy and just admitted that Obama was bad, but tried to argue that he was better than McCain.

  14. December 10, 2009 7:42 pm

    Michael Denton – Yes, I think Obama’s is maybe a soft imperialism whereas Bush and McCain’s is overt. For Obama, the u.$.a. is the bearer of Enlightened progress, through the barrel of a gun if (tragically) necessary. For Bush and McCain, we are God’s army, period.

  15. December 10, 2009 7:44 pm

    …had his supporters been more honest with his considerable failings in foreign policy and just admitted that Obama was bad, but tried to argue that he was better than McCain.

    As I recall, this is precisely what many of us did.

  16. December 10, 2009 9:03 pm

    Using George Bush (or John McCain) as a measuring stick for justice is about as interesting as using an old T.V. dinner as a measuring stick for good food.

    Ergo, if Obama needs to just be better than Bush, then, our standards need to be revisited. And from this speech he is trying pretty hard to toe the line.

  17. December 10, 2009 10:40 pm

    Good post Sam.

    Thanks for this.

    I know he thought this way, and have never been a supporter of his, still its a bit depressing to see put so bluntly and for this occasion.

    Come Lord Jesus.

  18. Gerald A. Naus permalink
    December 11, 2009 4:02 pm

    “The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory”
    This is not satire ? Sounds just like Wehrmacht times. Meine Ehre heisst Treue! (My honor is fidelity).

    Speaking of groups of people in the singular rubs me the wrong way. Obama is no liberal, in Europe he’d belong to the Right (even the EU Right would never adopt “throw Grandma in the snow” social policies – and it’s much more pacifist than Obama)

    Obama is an American president – that comes with frenchkissing the military, buying into the whole manifest destiny BS and making peoples around the world happy by force. Nothing like shooting peace into the heart of men.

    The other week, I saw a Marine kneeling, changing a tire on someone else’s stranded huge Mercedes. (This was near Camp Pendleton). I thought to myself, how apt – and if he filled up the car the picture would be perfect.

  19. Gerald A. Naus permalink
    December 11, 2009 4:10 pm

    “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.”
    He should have added….”And I haven’t really evolved past that stage.”

    The only thing scarier than Obama is the alternative. Sarah Palin, eg, who’s exulting that more and more Jews are “flocking” to the “Holy Land.” I.e., rapture, baby!

    This is a strange country indeed – on the forefront of technology on one hand, and in the intellectual stone age on the other.

  20. Craig Kelly permalink
    December 11, 2009 7:36 pm

    I am embarrassed by the vague (if not cynical) appeal to just war theory. Perhaps the President could tell us which conditions have been met?

    And from the comment box over at Commonweal:
    “I would like to see, for once, the just war theory used to explain why we are NOT participating in war.”

  21. December 11, 2009 8:40 pm

    The other week, I saw a Marine kneeling, changing a tire on someone else’s stranded huge Mercedes. (This was near Camp Pendleton). I thought to myself, how apt – and if he filled up the car the picture would be perfect.

    I’m guessing you didn’t have that camera of yours?

  22. Kurt permalink
    December 11, 2009 9:36 pm

    It was an amazing speech. The President very clearly expressed and defended American policy. It showed that he is neither a war-monger nor a fool. It showed he actually has a vision of what needs to be done to avoid future war, particularly the call to update the structures of the post-war period. It clear drew from the thinking of Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr.

    Oh yes, Princess Mette-Marit looked fab!

  23. Aegis permalink
    December 11, 2009 10:47 pm

    “The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory”

    If for a just cause, I’d say it would be praiseworthy while simultaneously lamentable.

    In a unjust cause, courage and sacrifice are only a waste of something precious- human life.

    My doubts are growing about Afghanistan. I initially thought it a just war, and I am not sure what the Vatican and the USCCB has exactly said on the matter. Perhaps I was mistaken, horribly mistaken.

    • December 12, 2009 1:22 am

      “The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory”

      If for a just cause, I’d say it would be praiseworthy while simultaneously lamentable.

      Whether it’s praiseworthy is debatable. Unfortunately, though, Obama said “glory” which is theological language, a word used to refer, for example, to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It’s also, of course, used to refer to the human person, e.g. Irenaeus who said “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Note he did not say, contra Obama, that the glory of God is the human person locked and loaded, turned into an unstoppable red, white and blue killing machine.

  24. Gabriel Austin permalink
    December 12, 2009 2:17 pm

    Si vis pacem, para bellum.

  25. Gerald A. Naus permalink
    December 12, 2009 7:47 pm

    Si vis pacem, para pacem.

    Btw if you haven’t read it, read “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein.

Trackbacks

  1. A Telling Example « Vox Nova
  2. Catholic Peacemaking » Blog Archive » Obama’s Satanic Peace Speech

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