As a peace educator, I look at the president’s recent speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize with sadness. I had wanted the president to add  his “teachings” to history’s heroes of peace, Gandhi, Mandela and King, and celebrate their deep wisdom about promoting peace precisely at a  time when violence and terrorism were gaining favor. I had wanted to   read and hear the president acknowledge that the fable of violence has  to be understood and rejected. The fable goes something like this: Violence is the reality of the world and must be met with violence or otherwise the evil forces of the world will see weakness and make more violence. The logic of the fable is that strategic violence can  prevent both limited and  broad-scale violence by showing the makers of violence that  their actions will never be tolerated.
I wanted president Obama to reject this fable as having little sway   as his guiding principles, just as it had no philosophical or political weight for Gandhi, Mandela and King. The violence of the soldier, being a killer and being killed, as acts of service were no long tolerable as the central way of governing, I had longed to hear him say.  I wanted the president to turn the rationale for violence on its head and instead make clear that a a new day in diplomacy will be tried, that a hierarchy of peaceful efforts will be made, and that violence and lethal sacrifice would be used only as a last straw, only in defense, and only with great caution. The 21st Century, I hoped he would say, cannot go any further along the path of filling cemeteries with “enemies” and “heroes” and expect that these results will stop violence.
I listened for him to say, this is a new day of hope and tragedy. Hope because nations, communities and individuals believe that we can resolve conflicts with compassion, discussion, compromise, innovativeness, and reconciliation and the US will be going down this  path, opening discussions, crossing borders with respect, discussing taboo areas of history and meaning, and working even harder for  justice through non-violence.  As a leader of a major nation, he has learned from Gandhi and Mandela  that non-violence can be achieved as   part of governance and he has learned from King that non-violence  is a productive seed for the future. Tragedy, because so many people  have bought into the fable of violence as the answer and justify the   destruction of people by many violent means.  The U.S. is fighting two wars within the confines of the fable. It is tragic that “reality” is only  represented as empowering the violent tendencies in individuals and countries.
President Obama’s Nobel peace prize acceptance speech, instead of being a brief for peace is an eloquent  defense of violence. It is wrong. Violence, dressed up as “just war,” is a way of justifying actions that cannot be acceptable to those of us who are committed to peace. I say, “dressed up,” because constructive peace, peace with justice and dignity, cannot rest on violence, either threatened or actual. Violence is a form of coercion. Someone is forced into a situation that is  presumably a condition that will lesson their fear or experience of violence. Such a state is anything but peace or a kind of peace that can be seen as “just.” There is the peace of defeat and surrender. The enemy has been bested and there is an unwillingness to continue to resist or revolt. This condition can exist and look like peace but it is really a form of bare survival. Under terrible conditions, it might even turn out to be slavery. The slave, wrested from an existence of choice and freedom, can be beaten down into a form of submission that would unfairly be called peace.
Sadly, Obama has mistakenly chosen to use the heroes of peace, Gandhi, King, and Mandala, as people different from him, people who were not heads of governments that had obligations to protect their lands. Even more tragically, Obama has used the examples of Hitler and Al Qaeda as  case studies in the inability of non-violence to stop state violence and local terrorism. What is so wrong about these examples is that people  may use Obama’s statements to skip over the  complicated history of the role of resistance and non violence in fighting Hitler and Al Qaeda.  Moreover, it ignores the history of the civil rights’ successful movement against terrorism in America, and Mandela’s repudiation of violence in successfully changing the brutal South African government. Non-violent methods, while usually not as dramatic as bombs and gunfire, have had and are having a steady positive effect on all forms of   coercion.
To speak at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony of the limited effectiveness of non-violence in recent history continues a mind-set of excluding   non-violent approaches as a basis for real politics, or an effective   response to conflict, and turns advocates of non-violence into naive and  romantic people. The belief that “Real” governments and leaders  cannot dare use non-violence if their attempts at policy and personal  conflict reduction are to be taken seriously, is a dangerous rewriting of history. By making  violence  the major factor that backs up decisions  that have to be taken in the national or local interest, and linking violent actions to an abstract concept of “justice,” the president has tried to protect himself from the criticism that his concept of “justice” is fake. The president must know that every tyrant has used the language of justice to justify acts of brutality, whether the “justice” arises from a phony reading of a law, or the “justice” springs from an manipulated religious principal, or the promotion of bogus sense of national character.
The reality is that non-violence is both a tough minded concept and a  tough behavior to live in policy and personal life. Choosing to have checks and balances, or deciding to allow all voices in major decisions, including dissenting ones, or resisting arbitrary uses of religious and secular laws, or encouraging participation by previously held back groups, or making room for different standards and people in places and experiences, or seeking counseling for temptations to violence, or allowing alternative ways of solving conflict to flourish, are all actions that require a muscular approach to human relations.  Resisting  violence in word and deed forces the compassionate person to look deeply into how shallow or profound is their own concepts. The greatness of Gandhi, King, and Mandela was in their capacity to look at violence and reject it in any form even if it meant jail, brutality and torture. Their “reality” was, unlike president Obama, created in a lifetime of struggling with acts of personal and political violence. The threats of brutality were realized as oppressive governments and individuals seized on their tenacious  hold on non-violence. This history of courage, wisdom, and love has yet to be fully shared with our culture in ways that change the weight of compassion to the greater strength.
Last January, I stood in the cold and beautiful inaugural crowd in Washington, D.C., and listened to the words of a president of hope   through a transistor radio held high above our heads. Thousands of us stood together, squeezed, smiling and just a short distance from the parade route. Our group were not strangers but new friends. We listened as joyful tears were falling to what we hoped was a new page in American history.  Our new president had emerged from a long and distinguished non-violent process, a journey marked by peace and justice. Now, a new reality is emerging and it is troubling for all of us who teach and practice peace and non-violence. We must help this president find his way back to the way of peace.

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