The speech Obama should have given

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations -- that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter and can bend history in the direction of justice. In the name of justice, it is fitting to recognize those among us who have made the greatest sacrifices, even the ultimate one, on our behalf.

Because of these higher ideals, I therefore accept this award not in my own name, but in the name of every American soldier, sailor, airman and marine whose labors for life, liberty and global justice have been unsurpassed in our time or any time. The world owes to these men and women a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, but for today we can consider this prize, the Nobel Peace Prize, as a small measure of down payment.

In receiving this prize on behalf of the American military, I also pledge to donate the financial award to charitable organizations within the United States that care for our wounded warriors, as well as the families of those who have sacrificed so much for the cause of peace.

American military men, and later women, have fought against tyranny, and for the greater good of humanity, since the first units of what would soon become the U.S. Army were authorized by the Continental Congress in 1775. These first American soldiers joined ragtag militia units throughout the 13 colonies who had risen to resist taxation without representation and restrictions on liberties by distant monarchs. Alongside them also arose our first sailors and marines, defending commerce and freedom to travel on the seas first in our waters, and then for all nations in every ocean.

I realize that in many nations outside the United States, those wearing American uniforms or bearing American flags may not be popular. So be it. For the task of the soldier, the sailor, the airman and the marine is not to be popular, but to labor on the most difficult tasks a nation can undertake: winning wars and helping rebuild the fields of battle after such devastation as is necessary to bring peace. As much as our men and women may not be popular, it is also true that they have been necessary to the survival of liberty and extension of human rights in the world. From the punishment of the Barbary pirates, to liberating Europe from Nazi darkness, to providing a shield to the free nations during the Cold War, to ending ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, to leading a global struggle against radical Islamic terrorism during the 21st century, it has been the American military that has provided the strength to go where words failed and tyrants refused the offers of reason and equity. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world, and it has been boys from Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Memphis, Springfield and San Francisco who have confronted that evil wherever it has arisen.

American soldiers do not love war. As those most likely to pay the price for conflicts, they hate war and want nothing more than to continue preparing for events that will never happen. When war does come, however, they stand at hell's gates, defending our lives and liberties through the sacrifice of theirs. What could be more worthy of recognition than this? As the Scripture says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Is it not even more worthy to lay down one's life for those who we do not know but are in need of our strong aid?

As commander in chief of the U.S. military, I could not be more proud of our brave men and women, standing shoulder to shoulder with allies across the globe, as we struggle to extend the blessings of liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan and preserve its very existence against existential threats from North Korea, Iran and other rogue states. America is grateful to its friends, as well, and recognizes the real contributions of its NATO partners and other coalition states in promoting regional and global peace. It is not hubris to say, however, that none of these great actions in defense of liberty and human rights would have been possible without the United States and its courageous soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

So let us move forward together, recognizing that without the tools of battle, there will be no quiet place in this world. The old saying that he who wants peace should prepare for war was never as true as it is now. As such, I once again thank you and, most importantly, reserve my most complete gratitude to the men and women of the American military on whose behalf I bring this prize back to the United States.

Dr. Wayne H. Bowen is a professor and chair of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University.

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