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Inspiring Peace? A Noble Idea

“Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.”
– Pablo Neruda

Calm, harmony, serenity, and freedom from strife: these are the tenets of peace. Historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King dedicated their lives to advocating that these rights be afforded to all. Each year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize to an individual who has “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.”  

Although Ghandi inspired many of the winners, he himself never won. Past winners have included the 14th Dalai Lama, Wangari Muta Maathai, Elie Wiesel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Although the selection has often been met with criticism, when President Barack Obama won for the year 2009, many were overtly disgruntled.

According to a press release by the committee, President Obama was chosen “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” While many cheered the win, others were perturbed by what they thought a careless and premature choice on the part of judges.

Reverend Robert Moore of the Coalition for Peace Action said, “It is ironic that this award comes on the same day (Oct. 9) that the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the administration is considering sending as many as 60,000 more troops to Afghanistan. President Obama needs to prove that he really is a force for peace. He can do that by refusing to put more troops in Afghanistan, and instead committing to a non-military solution that doesn’t destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan like a surge would.”

But the Nobel committee did not back down and immediately responded to critics. Ian MacDougall and Karl Ritter of the Associated Press write: “In announcing the award Friday, the committee, whose members are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, applauded the change in global mood brought by Obama’s calls for peace and cooperation. They also praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the U.S. role in combating climate change.“  Kaci Kullman Five, a former Conservative Party parliamentarian and Nobel committee member said, “Of course I expected disagreement and debate on…giving him the prize. But what I want now is that we seriously raise a discussion regarding nuclear disarmament.”

While Obama’s critics say he has done “too much talk and not enough action” others, including the committee, were won over by his ability to inspire hope and capture the attention of people around the world. They say that by simply giving Obama the prize, a new level of international conversation on nuclear disarmament has been sparked, which is the kind of conversation they felt was missing during the Bush White House years.

In his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama said, “True happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We all need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share.”  John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus agrees and writes on, “Obama can’t do this by himself. Jefferson didn’t write that ‘I hold these truths to be self-evident.’ Lincoln did not write the ‘better angels of my nature.’ The Nobel Prize is the collective achievement of the American people for repudiating the Bush years and making the words of the Declaration of Independence come that much closer to reality. Now, let’s all prove that we deserve it.”

What does it means to be an advocate for peace? Can individuals promote peace through how they choose to live their lives, or should they take more active roles? How do you envision a peaceful society? What does it mean to be an active citizen calling for a more humane world? Do you think President Obama should have received the Nobel Peace Prize? If not, who do you think should have? What kinds of individual actions have you witnessed or performed to champion peace?

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