In April, President Obama delivered a speech in Prague announcing that the US will lead the world in abolishing nuclear weapons. On September 24, under his leadership, the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed a path to the abolition of nuclear weapons. And on October 9, he was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts at dialogue to solve complex global problems, including working toward a world free of nuclear weapons” (CNN). The announcement was met with a high degree of confusion, and it was something that “few people wholeheartedly applauded” (The Atlantic).
So why is Beyond Boulders blogging about this issue? After all, here at ASF, our Fellows aren’t in the middle of the political fray; they’re working to embody Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of “Reverence for Life” by making a direct, on-the-ground difference in the lives of underserved individuals and communities as they develop into “leaders in service.” Our big-picture goal is a nation (and a world) in which unconscionable health disparities no longer exist; we support and sustain our Fellows in bringing about that reality by — in the words of Schweitzer — “making their life their argument.”
But in the words of ASF President Lachlan Forrow, a crucial part of Schweitzer’s journey was his realization, in the last decades of his life, that “sometimes ‘reverence for life’ and ‘my life is my argument’ require advocacy, not just direct service.”
In line with this evolution in his understanding of “reverence for life,” Schweitzer spoke out against nuclear weapons — seeing his advocacy as a clear outgrowth of his work in Africa. “His daughter Rhena wrote that his one regret at the end of his life was that he hadn’t done enough to achieve, or at least catalyze a path toward, nuclear abolition,” Forrow says (listen to an interview with Forrow about Schweitzer’s nuclear legacy on Chicago Public Radio’s “Worldview” here).
Schweitzer believed in individual human moral force: he said that if the people of the world insisted their governments abolish nuclear weapons, those governments would have no choice but to listen. Click here to read the text of his famous Declaration of Conscience speech, part of which says in short that an agreement ending the testing and use of nuclear weapons has not been agreed upon because there is insufficient public opinion calling for such an agreement.
For better or for worse, debate over whether or not President Obama has truly earned the Nobel Peace Prize — and whether the honor should have instead gone to someone else — will continue to rage. But in the words of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) — which carries on Schweitzer’s anti-nuclear legacy, and of which Forrow has been a member for more than 25 years:
As they did 24 years ago, when they awarded a group of physicians the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to stop the nuclear arms race, the Nobel Committee has once again used their power to leverage action on nuclear disarmament. In attaching “special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” the Nobel Committee understands the significance of the transformational change that is necessary.
With their choice, and the reasoning behind it, the Committee has shone a serious and very public spotlight on the importance of finding a workable path to nuclear abolition. In doing so, the Committee has ignited conversations on nuclear weapons across the globe — conversations that are necessary if, as Schweitzer hoped, a transformative and international tide of public opinion on the matter is to emerge. And that, at least, is something to celebrate wholeheartedly.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know by leaving a comment!
For more on Schweitzer’s decades of advocacy against nuclear weapons, read Homer Jack’s “On Nuclear War and Peace” and Lawrence Wittner’s “Confronting the Bomb” series.