The Just War Speech

In 1933, a period when Great Britain was still staggering and exhausted by the human loss of World War I, the Oxford Union Debating Society considered the proposition, “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” Even given the extremely categorical nature of the resolution, it passed overwhelmingly 275-153. It is amusing at this distance in history to see those in favor of the resolution unselfconsciously arguing, “It is no mere coincidence that the only country fighting for the cause of peace, Soviet Russia, is the country that has rid itself of the war-mongering clique.” The prevalent attitude  then in Great Britain, as evidenced by  the outcome of the debate, is part of the reason that in the words of President John Kennedy, “England slept” as European Fascism grew in power.

Ultimately, the consummate evil of the Nazi Regime and the ensuing war after a period of shameful appeasement woke England and the rest of the world from the pleasant dream of a world ruled by pacifist sentiments.  It was a lesson that should be hard to forget, but the peace in Europe for decades — a peace secured by  World War II — has largely erased the memory of the terrible necessity of war. The Europeans have enjoyed a generation where disputes in Europe are resolved by politics and committees. Wars as a means of resolving disputes seem barbaric and unnecessary.

In this context,  the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded President Barack Obama the its prize. President George Bush represented an America that sometimes found it necessary to its security to wage war. Obama was not Bush and ran for election on a policy that was largely critical of Bush’s war efforts. To his credit President  Obama and the the chagrin of his hosts recently stepped up to his duty to lecture the European elites, especially those on the Nobel Committee, on Just War Theory:

“But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Even if Obama appreciated Just War Theory long ago, we can be certain that his appreciation of its importance has grown given his responsibilities as President. It is a reminder of just how far European elites have fallen from this understanding, that Obama’s elucidation of the possibility of a just war took his hosts in Norway by surprise. The paragraph above represents words that could have been delivered by any elected leader and particularly by any American president. The Nobel Committee may have been disappointed.

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