Wartime President Honored For Peace

President Obama has accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. The ceremony comes days after the president announced plans to send 30,000 additional troops to wage the war in Afghanistan. In his speech, Obama spent a lot of time on the tension between wanting peace but the reality of war.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for peace earlier today. The ceremony comes days after the president announced plans to send 30,000 additional troops to wage war in Afghanistan, something the president addressed right at the beginning of his acceptance speech.

President BARACK OBAMA: And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict, filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

MONTAGNE: That's President Obama, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize earlier today in Oslo. NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president and joins us now. Good morning.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And Don, the president spent a lot of time on that tension between desiring peace and the reality of war. He said at one point, he was standing in Oslo today as a direct consequence of Dr. Martin Luther King's life work and the moral force of nonviolence - and then he made a turn.

Pres. OBAMA: But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.

GONYEA: So what we had there, Renee, is the president addressing the paradox that everybody's been talking about for the last week and such, since he made the announcement on the Afghanistan troop increase. That this is a war that he didn't inherit, that it is justified, that it is required, and that it doesn't mean that you are not a man of peace and one who still pursues the ideals of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or of a Gandhi, whom he also cited today.

MONTAGNE: He also emphasized the role of the U.S. in establishing stability for the world after World War II, and in a sense, peace. Let's listen to what he had to say.

Pres. OBAMA: Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

MONTAGNE: And that is, of course, pretty, you know, that's pretty strong language. What was the most important audience, do you think, for this comment, the Europeans or here at home?

GONYEA: Certainly European critics of the United States. This president has talked in the past of, kind of, the knee-jerk criticism that is often leveled at the United States. Now, it is one of the reasons that he was awarded this prize in the first place by the Nobel committee. They say that he has changed the tone, he has changed the dialogue among nations, he has set aside unilateralism, and he is committed to finding solutions, through diplomacy, working with the rest of the world.

But still, he wanted to put that marker down, that people need to know that the U.S. has been a force for good even if it hasn't been perfect all the time.

MONTAGNE: And watching it on TV, you could see the reaction there in the audience, depending on what President Obama was saying at that point in the speech. What, though, was your experience - you're there on the scene.

GONYEA: It is a very formal event. It is not a rally. In fact, I think he was only interrupted by applause two, maybe three times, if you count the very warm greeting he got at the top. It is billed, not as a speech, but as a lecture, and the audience treats it as such. These are serious people. But still, you walk into this room. It's a very ornate room. You know immediately that this is not just any room. This is a room where something special takes place. It takes place every year, and this year was Mr. Obama's turn on the lectern.

MONTAGNE: Well, he did get a long standing ovation at the end.

GONYEA: He did. He did. It was very warmly received. People saw it as a very thoughtful and complex speech.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea in Oslo, Norway, where earlier today President Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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