Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize. How Should We Respond?

For those who seem so distraught over the fact that Barack Obama is now a Nobel Laureate I have an history lesson.

When, on December 10, 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he began his speech with the following words:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

I wasn’t around at the time, but I rather suspect Dr. King was addressing his American critics who must certainly have suggested that he really hadn’t yet achieved anything worthy of a Peace Prize. I can hear King’s detractors now, their voices cutting through history in my mind: “It is one thing to stand in Washington and talk about your Dream from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s another thing entirely to do the hard work of making that dream a reality. Besides he’s a trouble maker, asking Whites to share lunch counters and the front seats in busses with hard-working, taxpaying, real Americans.”

History has proven that Martin Luther King was the most worthy of American recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, and history may yet prove Barack Obama to be equally worthy. Or not. Perhaps forty-five years from now we’ll look back on this year’s Peace Prize and we’ll shake our heads in disbelief, asking “what where those five Swedes [see author’s note below] on the Nobel Committee thinking?” We’ll make jokes about the deleterious effects of spending too much time sitting on Ikea furniture [see author’s note below]. We’ll wonder if loganberry [see author’s note below] jam impairs sound judgment, and we’ll laugh.

But until then, let’s celebrate with our president as proud Americans, happy that one of our own has been given so fine an honor. Let’s turn aside from the sour grapes of partisan bickering, hoist a pint of färsköl (if you have one handy—if not, even chamomile tea will do) [see author’s note below] and, in the general direction of Stockholm [see author’s note below] let out a hearty “Skoal” in honor of Barack Obama who, if we are willing to let him, has done us proud.

Author’s note: my friend and colleague, Fr. James Graham, who is wonderfully detail-oriented, points out in comments below that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by Norwegians in Oslo and not by Swedes in Stockholm (the other Nobel prizes are, in fact, selected by Swedes and presented in Stockholm; the cash prize for all Nobel Prizes–including the Peace Prize–is awarded in Swedish currency). So in the interest of accuracy, the last two paragraphs should read as follows:

History has proven that Martin Luther King was the most worthy of American recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, and history may yet prove Barack Obama to be equally worthy. Or not. Perhaps forty-five years from now we’ll look back on this year’s Peace Prize and we’ll shake our heads in disbelief, asking “what where those five Norwegians on the Nobel Committee thinking?” We’ll make jokes about the deleterious effects of socialism and universal healthcare. We’ll wonder if lutefisk impairs sound judgment, and we’ll laugh.

But until then, let’s celebrate with our president as proud Americans, happy that one of our own has been given so fine an honor. Let’s turn aside from the sour grapes of partisan bickering, and, on December 10, hoist a pint of juleøl (if you have one handy—if not, eggnog will do) and, in the general direction of Oslo let out a hearty “Skoal” in honor of Barack Obama who, if we are willing to let him, has done us proud.

15 thoughts on “Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize. How Should We Respond?

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize. How Should We Respond? at bendaniel.org [bendaniel.org] on Topsy.com

  2. Hi, Ben–

    Good idea to bring up MLK’s award and response.

    But, to be a nit-picker, isn’t it Norwegians rather than Swedes who make up the Nobel Prize Committee?

    Peace,
    James

  3. I’m glad you’re back and blogging, Ben! Regarding the President and the Peace Prize, these thoughts:

    US partisan politics being what it is, the Right is vocally sneering and detracting while the Left is vociferously defending.

    The reality is that the Right has no need to attack, the Left has no need to defend, and the President has no need to apologize. I do like his graceful reply.

    Any explanations should come from the committee of leftist Europeans in Oslo who seemingly gave the award as some message to the US polity, or for candidate Obama’s public speaking abilities, or whatever. Look: the Nobel nominations opened September 1, two months before the US elections; nominations closed February 1, when Mr. Obama had been President a mere 11 days.

    Last night I heard a sound byte from some committee member who claimed the committee was not partisan, and had in fact awarded the prize to “conservatives” in the past — then he cited two: Henry Kissinger (30-odd years ago), and Theodore Roosevelt (the heart and soul of the then-new Progressive movement, who got the prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese war, circa 1905).

    As I say, no explanation needed from anyone but the Norwegians.

    Bill

  4. James

    Thanks for the heads up on the imprecision of my Scandinavian geography! I’ve written a revised, geographically correct, ending to the piece and added it in an author’s note above.

    Bill,

    Thanks! It’s good to be back. It is an adjustment, this remembering how to write a thought in five hundred words instead of 55k for a book or 5k for a chapter!

    The point you make about Obaba’s being nominated no more than eleven days into his presidency makes me wonder if the Nobel committee gets to consider accomplishments that happen after the nominations are closed. If not, the nomination becomes even more remarkable, but, as you say so well, that’s for the Norwegians (and not the Swedes!) to explain.

    Cheers,

    Ben

  5. No one consulted me, but I am happy with the Norwegian verdict. We need more Norwegians in places of world decision making. I have a good friend who helped liberate Norway at the end of WWII; he still is happy about our liberation efforts in the cold North country! Perhaps we will eat Lutefish tonight….perhaps!

  6. Ben,

    I appreciate your keen sense of history and your ability to
    make your point on how appropriate it was for President
    Obama to be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m
    sure he and his team will double their effort to bring people to the peace table throughout our troubled world.

    Judy

  7. As I already pointed out to Ben in an email, I thought this needed a larger audience

    “Maybe an American President doing nothing counts as making the world safer?”

  8. On a scarier note, I know a fella that is Scottish but has lived in Canada for many, many years. He is a Christian fundamentalist, a scarey breed as any fundamentalist is.
    He equates Obama with the Anti-Christ as he too wil come on a “platform of peace”.

    Bampottery!

  9. Hi, Ben…You don’t know me…but I’m a Music Director at the First Presbyterian Church in Cottage Grove…I had Jennifer Root Wilger in my youth choirs, LONG AGO!!!!! She sent me you article. Thanks so much for your voice of reason….regardless of your Scandinavian accuracy! [You could attend the Scandinavian Festival outside Eugene in Jct. City and get educated! 🙂 ] I’m SO THANKFUL we have a RELIGIOUS LEFT! And I prefer loganberries to lutefisk, anyhow! Linda Dorsey Royston

  10. Craig, God bless the Tartan Army for that wisdom! All joking aside, the fact that Obama has decided to abandon the Unilateralism which marked the Bush era has made the world safer. Its doing nothing proactively, which almost sounds like a Zen Koan.

    And your friend in Canada is not alone in his beliefs. A lot of us fear for our president because his detractors don’t just dislike him, they think he’s the Antichrist or they think he’s Hitler. There is some really valid concern that someone might try to assassinate the president, especially when people are showing up armed to anti-Obama rallies. The author Frank Schaeffer (who, I’m proud to say, has written the foreword to my forthcoming book) has written eloquently on this point.

    Linda, thanks for reading! When I was a kid a guy named Hugh Penniston, a former pastor of your church, was interim pastor at my home church. I’ve never actually eaten lutefisk, but I’m sure loganberries are better. Someday I’d like to try both färsköl and juleøl to see which is better.

    Cheers,

    Ben

  11. I forgot to pull you up about your Geography! You American types…. so insular!!! 🙂
    I have been to the Nobel museum in Oslo, a fantastic modern and very interactive place. You should go if you get the chance, then head to the local bar for a $16 beer

  12. Ben, the comments thus far compel further discourse!

    First, I don’t expect much but frustration to come from Obama’s diplomatic efforts. Real diplomacy requires good faith on the part of all parties, and such will not be forthcoming from the thugs his administration has to deal with. For instance, in spite of seeming breakthroughs by the Clinton and Bush administrations, North Korea and its Dear Leader have reneged on every single agreement. We can expect the Iranians to talk and talk and talk while they continue to pursue nuclear weapons; given the Iranian leadership’s holocaust denial and threats to wipe Israel off the map, that situation grows scarier by the day.

    Next, while many on the left have sounded cautionary notes about threats against the President, that same contingent was remarkably silent when unconscionable nastiness was hurled at the last administration. Those who called for the scalp of some back-bencher who shouted, “You lie!” during Obama’s address to the joint session are literally the same people who booed Bush during a State of the Union address. Count me as one conservative who remains perpetually appalled at the utterly coarse state of public discourse these days — whether from partisan pols who ought to know better, the rabid talk radio right (and sometimes, left), or a nighttime TV talk show host with the personal morals of a stoat who thinks it funny to make salacious remarks about Sarah Palin’s 14-year-old daughter.

    And so it goes.

  13. Bill,

    On the diplomatic front, I think Obama’s record is mixed. You are absolutely right when you say that he has not been able to do what his predecessors also were unable to do, namely make progress with North Korea and Iran. He’s only ten months into his job, but so far no progress has been made.

    On the other hand, I think he Obama administration has made some significant progress in “resetting” our relationship with Russia, and we are on much better terms with countries in Western Europe. Most importantly, Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world has been profoundly.

    To be sure, a lot of Obama’s success so far has to do with the fact that he is not George W. Bush, but if that’s an asset he can use to make the world a safer place, I say more power to him.

    Regarding the President’s safety, I agree that the left said some nasty stuff about Bush the Younger, but I don’t think I’m just making excuses for my fellow lefties when I say that Obama’s detractors have taken it to a much higher level. And I should know, because I was around a lot of people who had VERY low opinions of the Bush administration. I read a lot of way off the scale left-wingnut literature, and you didn’t have the racism, you didn’t have the comparisons to Hitler, you didn’t have the anything that compares to the weirdness of Obama’s birth certificate. No one took a poll on Facebook, asking if Bush should be assassinated, and you didn’t have lefties carrying loaded guns to events where the President was scheduled to speak. Bottom line: during the Bush years people like me said awful stuff about W. We slandered him. We refused to hear anything good about the man. But the things we said didn’t have the potential to provoke anger in the way that Obama’s detractor’s statements do.

    At least that’s how it looks from here…

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