Magazine article The Christian Century

Obama's Peace Prize Speech Explores the Ethics of Warfare

Magazine article The Christian Century

Obama's Peace Prize Speech Explores the Ethics of Warfare

Article excerpt

Nine days after announcing that he would send more troops to Afghanistan and set July 2011 as the start of a gradual withdrawal, President Barak Obama gave a similarly nuanced speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama condemned religious-inspired violence, so-called holy wars, but also offered a defense of the just-war tradition in the face of "evil" in the world.

In his December 10 acceptance speech in Oslo, the U.S. president said that "given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities--their race, their tribe and, perhaps most powerfully, their religion."

Still, religion had been used "dangerously" to "justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan," Obama said.

"These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no 'holy war' can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out the divine will, then there is no need for restraint--no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith.

"Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace but I believe it is incompatible with the very purpose of faith--for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us."

At the same time, Obama spoke of the just-war tradition, asserting that the world must acknowledge what he called a "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," Obama said.

The Christian Science Monitor reported praise from former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2012, who credited Obama for taking a realistic view of war and peace. …

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