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Obama's Nobel Speech Cut to Gettysburg Length... Almost

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My, how times have changed. Just imagine how things were at Gettysburg when Lincoln ambled over to the rostrum. Most likely, someone in the crowd pulled a pocket watch out of his vest and wound the stem, inadvertently inventing the term for a long speech. But it was not to be. Attention spans were short in 1863. People were easily distracted by newspapers and mail. Lincoln understood his audience. In few minutes and very few words, just 265, he was done.

In these more leisurely times, we can understand why Obama's Nobel Acceptance speech was some 4244 words. For those few in a hurry but wanting to know our President's deepest thoughts on war and peace, I have taken the liberty of trimming it down to something approaching Gettysburg length. For reading ease I've thrown in some headlines to help clarify the underlying structure. I'm still almost triple the Gettysburg length.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am going to acknowledge the controversy over me getting this prize. I am at the beginning of my labors on the world stage, compared to the Greats who have received it. I may also not be as worthy as many unknowns people who have shown great courage in the cause of peace.

I recognize the irony that I am receiving this Peace Prize while Commanding two wars. I'm putting soldiers into battle. They will kill and be killed.

Big Concept #1: There has always been war and we will not be able to end war in our lifetimes.

War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. (Editor: I think he probably means at least two men, but let's not quibble.) It was simply a fact, like drought or disease. Over time the concept of a "just war" emerged, but was rarely observed. In the 20th Century wars between armies gave way to wars between nations -- in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred.

With the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear we needed to prevent another world war. That gave us the Cold War which ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall.

Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are proud of our part in this.


But this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats: terrorism and its ability to murder innocents.

(Your editor must interject here: Dear President Obama. This term for civilians as "innocents" drives me crazy. Isn't everyone innocent? And so what if they were in fact civilians guilty of something. Then it would be okay to blow them up? Obviously not. They're just civilians, non-combatants. Let's restore them their dignity. Just call them civilians.)

Wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations.


There will be times when nations will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.


Big Concept #2: Pacifism will not end all wars.

I understand what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.

Because,

Big Concept #3: Evil exists in the world.

A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.
 
So part of our challenge is reconciling that war is sometimes necessary, and also is an expression of human folly.

The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it.

The Three Essentials to Build Peace:

First. We need alternatives to violence: sanctions and disarmament. We must prevent nations like Iran and North Korea from gaming the system. But we need to be ready to use armed intervention when nations brutalize their own people.

Second. Real peace must be defined as including human rights and dignity. Peace is not just absence of war. So to have lasting peace we must have the implementation of universal human rights everywhere.

Third. Real peace also includes economic security: freedom from fear, freedom from want. A just peace also must encompass economic security and opportunity. People must have freedom from want.

Big Concept #4: What we are fighting against and what makes us different.

What we are fighting against is the tendency of globalization to cause some people to retreat into tribalism, into religion, and ultimately those willing to kill in the name of God.

To able to win this fight it will be necessary to expand our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share. We do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. 
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. (Editor: This sounds dangerously close to the reasoning of the other side. But their "spark of the divine" stirs them on occasion to slaughter others.)

Let us live by their example: a young protestor who awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Or a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Oppression will always be with us, yet we must still strive for justice. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. That is the story of human progress, that's the role of hope, and that must be our work here on Earth.