I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.
This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.
As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.
Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.
War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.
If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.
Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)
The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.
During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?
Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?
Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.