If, a week ago, one of my Intro to Peace Studies students had handed in the very speech given by President Obama in Norway, I would have given that student a C-.
What? He is charismatic, eloquent, measured, brilliant—how can a peace studies professor be so cynical, so arrogant, so hyperbolic?
Because he cited Gandhi as an influence then attempted to repudiate Gandhi. He cited Dr. King as not merely an influence but as sine qua non to his, Obama’s, very presidency—and then called King’s methods unworkable for a head of state.
Because he said, “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.” Any good student in my field would be on Full Factoid Alert upon hearing that. In fact, where nonviolence was attempted against the Nazis it succeeded. Ask the Norwegian teachers, the brave exemplars of nonviolent resistance to Quisling’s Hitlerism. Some of those teachers perished in Arctic prison camps rather than teach Nazism and Vidkun Quisling eventually blamed those teachers for his failure to change Norwegian culture. Ask the non-Jewish wives of Jewish men whose husbands were rounded up into a prison on the Rosenstrausse, just four blocks from SS headquarters, and whose brave nonviolent siege upon that building led to negotiations with the Nazis and the release of their husbands. Ask the Jewish descendants of the 7,000+ Danish Jews who were saved from the round-up order by non-Jewish Danes, or ask the great-granddaughters of the Jews saved in Le Chambon, France, at great risk to the local descendants of the Huguenots who sheltered them. Yes, these were sporadic and admittedly counterintuitive methods—organized nonviolence versus Nazis—but Peace Studies scholarship has given us a glimmer of the possibilities of such an apparently quixotic strategy and no one who is getting solid advice from anyone in that field would make such a categorical misstatement as Obama did. Certainly I would expect my Intro to Nonviolence students to make a different argument by midterms at the latest.
Because President Obama said, “I believe that all nations, strong and weak alike, must adhere to standards that govern the use of force.” My students know that civilians are legally protected and yet President Obama has presided over unmanned drone missile attacks that have killed an estimated 800 civilians, including children. These attacks not only elicit scorn and derision from indigenous Taliban forces as evidence that Obama’s military is too cowardly to come meet them, they are illegal and are used as recruiting points for both the Taliban insurgency and al-Qa’ida terrorists. Peace Studies students know all this, and much more, about the fallacies, hypocritical stances and reversals of fact proffered in Oslo by our president.
I wish he would find himself at least one advisor from the world of peace—not the imposed peace of empire but the peace of dialog and negotiation, nonviolent force and mass action. Then, if he took some peace studies courses, he would probably be an A student. His pre-test comes back with a C-, however. Too bad the entire world had to hear it and really too bad that his ignorance is going to cost so much blood and treasure of the US, Afghanistan, NATO countries and Pakistan.
Tom H. Hastings teaches various peace and nonviolence courses at Portland State University and directs PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute. He lives in Whitefeather Peace House in north Portland.