Betty Williams delivered her Nobel Lecture on 11 December 1977, in the Oslo City Hall in Norway.
Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1977
I stand here today with a sense of humility, a sense of history, and a sense of honor.
I also stand here in the name of courage to give name to a challenge.
I feel humble in officially receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, because so many people have been involved in the campaign that drew such attention to our leadership that an award like this could justifiably be made. Mairead Corrigan and I may take some satisfaction with us all the days of our lives that we did make that initial call, a call which unlocked the massive desire for peace within the hearts of the Northern Irish people, and as we so soon discovered, in the hearts of people around the world … not least in Norway, the generosity of whose people to our cause is the main reason for our current ability to expand our campaign.
But unlocking the desire for peace would never have been enough. All the energy, all the determination to express an overwhelming demand for an end to the sickening cycle of useless violence would have reverberated briefly and despairingly among the people, as had happened so many times before … if we had not organized ourselves to use that energy and that determination positively, once and for all.
So in that first week Mairead Corrigan, Ciaran McKeown and I founded the Movement of the Peace People, in order to give real leadership and direction to the desire which we were certain was there, deep within the hearts of the vast majority of the people,… and even deep within the hearts of those who felt, perhaps still do, feel obliged, to oppose us in public.
That first week will always be remembered of course for something else besides the birth of the Peace People. For those most closely involved, the most powerful memory of that week was the death of a young republican and the deaths of three children struck by the dead man’s car. A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement. Perhaps the fact that one of those children was a baby of six weeks in a pram pushed by his mother made that tragedy especially unbearable. Maybe it was because three children from one family, baby Andrew, little John and eight-year-old Joanne Maguire died in one event which also seriously injured their mother, Anne, Mairead’s sister, that the grief was so powerful. Perhaps it was the sheer needlessness of this awful loss of life that motivated people to turn out in protesting thousands that week. And we do not forget the young republican, Danny Lennon who lost his life that day. He may have been involved in trying to shoot soldiers that day and was himself shot dead, and some may argue that he got what he deserved. As far as we are concerned, this was another young life needlessly lost. As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother’s labor spurned.
We are for life and creation, and we are against war and destruction, and in our rage in that terrible week, we screamed that the violence had to stop.
But we also began to do something about it besides shouting. Ciaran McKeown wrote “The Declaration of the Peace People” which in its simple words pointed along the path of true peace, and with the publication of that Declaration, we announced the founding of The Movement of the Peace People, and we began planning a series of rallies which would last four months, and through which we would mobilize hundreds of thousands of people and challenge them to take the road of the Declaration.
The words are simple but the path is not easy, as all the people ever associated with the historic Nobel Peace Prize must know. It is a path on which we must not only reject the use of all the techniques of violence, but along which we must seek out the work of peace … and do it. It is the way of dedication, hard work and courage.
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out during those four months and we would not be standing here if they had not. So I feel humble that I should be receiving this award, but I am very proud to be here in the name of all the Peace People to accept it.
I am also aware of a sense of history. I am aware of all the people who have stood here before to receive this award. We think perhaps particularly of Martin Luther King whose memory we cherish, and whose ideals and whose voice inspire us still, as they have done for so many millions of people around the world involved, actively engaged, in the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.
Mairead and Ciaran and I had the honor to receive the Carl von Ossietsky medal in Berlin last year; from the Berlin section of the International League of Human Rights. So we have a special reason for thinking of the man who, forty-two years ago, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as he suffered in prison in Hitler’s Germany. He could not come here to receive the award, but what an encouragement that must have been to those so hopelessly struggling for the only right way to live, then, as now, the way of nonviolence.
As we think of Carl von Ossietsky, and those who languish in prison, we think of those now in jail in Northern Ireland, young men and women misled by tradition into violence, and whose early release into a nonviolent society we seek. And we think of men like Adolfo Peréz Esquivel, imprisoned without trial in Argentina, we think of so many similarly incarcerated throughout the world, whose only “crime” is their unswerving dedication to create just relationships by nonviolent methods throughout the human family. So we think of ourselves as standing in an historic line from the past, and we think of ourselves, all of us, as living at a great moment of opportunity … and danger … in human history.
And with that sense of history, we feel a special sense of honor … honor for women, perhaps a little specially at this time. War has traditionally been a man’s work, although we know that often women were the cause of violence. But the voice of women, the voice of those most closely involved in bringing forth new life, has not always been listened to when it pleaded and implored against the waste of life in war after war. The voice of women has a special role and a special soul force in the struggle for a nonviolent world. We do not wish to replace religious sectarianism, or ideological division with sexism or any kind of militant feminism. But we do believe; as Ciaran McKeown who is with us in spirit, believes, that women have a leading role to play in this great struggle.
So we are honored, in the name of all women, that women have been honored especially for their part in leading a nonviolent movement for a just and peaceful society. Compassion is more important than intellect, in calling forth the love that the work of peace needs, and intuition can often be a far more powerful searchlight than cold reason. We have to think, and think hard, but if we do not have compassion before we even start thinking, then we are quite likely to start fighting over theories. The whole world is divided ideologically, and theologically, right and left, and men are prepared to fight over their ideological differences. Yet the whole human family can be united by compassion. And, as Ciaran said recently in Israel, “compassion recognizes human rights automatically … it does not need a charter”.
Because of the role of women over so many centuries in so many different cultures, they have been excluded from what have been called public affairs; for that very reason they have concentrated much more on things close to home … and they have kept far more in touch with the true realities … the realities of giving birth and love. The moment has perhaps come in human history when, for very survival, those realities must be given pride of place over the vainglorious adventures that lead to war.
But we do not wish to see a division over this … merely a natural and respectful and loving cooperation. Women and men together can make this a beautiful people’s world, and that is why we called ourselves, “THE PEACE PEOPLE”.
So, in humility at the efforts of so many people, I am proud to stand here on their behalf, and accept this honor on behalf of all of us.
But I am also angry. I am as angry today, in a calm and a deep sense at the wastage of human life that continues each day, as I was when I saw young life squashed on a Belfast street.
I am angry, the Peace People are angry that war at home dribbles on, and around the world we see the same stupidity gathering momentum for far worse wars than the little one which the little population of Northern Ireland, has had to endure. We are angry at the waste of resources that goes on everyday for militarism while human beings live in misery and sometimes even live in the hope of a quick death to release them from their hopelessness. We rage as 500.000 dollars are spent every minute of everyday on war and the preparation for war; while in every one of those minutes human beings, more than eight people, die of neglect. Every day 12.000 people die of neglect and malnutrition and misery; yet every day, 720 million dollars are spent on armaments. Just think of those insane priorities: after all, we have time to think while others die. Think of it this way: If the expenditure for one minute on armaments 500.000 dollars could somehow be stopped for that one single minute, and shared out among the 12.000 that will die in that day … each of the doomed would get more than forty dollars … enough to live in luxury instead of dying in misery. If the expenditure on armaments could be transferred for one whole day, then 720.000.000 dollars could be shared among those twelve thousand doomed: in other words, each of the doomed would receive 60.000 dollars on that day. What makes these insane priorities the sicker is that this obscene amount of money is spent in the name of defending either freedom or socialism … no doubt the dead and dying are relieved that freedom and socialism are being so efficiently defended!
We know that this insane and immoral imbalance of priorities cannot be changed overnight: we also know that it will not be changed without the greatest struggle, the incessant struggle to get the human race to stop wasting its vast resources on arms, and start investing in the people who must live out their lives on the planet we share, east and west, north and south. And that struggle must be all the greater because it has to be an unarmed, a nonviolent struggle, and requires more courage and more persistence than the courage to squeeze triggers or press murderous buttons. Men must not only end war, they must begin to have the courage not even to prepare for war.
Someday we must take seriously the words of Carl Sandburg: “Someday there will be a war, and no one will come”1. Won’t that be beautiful? Someday there will be a “war” but no one will come. And of course, if no one comes there will be no war. And we don’t have to go, we don’t have to have war, but it seems to take more courage to say NO to war than to say YES, and perhaps we women have for too long encouraged the idea that it is brave and manly to go to war, often to “defend” women and children. Let women everywhere from this day on encourage men to have the courage not to turn up for war, not to work for a militarized world but a world of peace, a nonviolent world.
To begin to have that kind of real courage, people must begin to breach the barriers which divide them. We are divided on the surface of this planet, by physical barriers, emotional barriers, ideological barriers, barriers of prejudice and hatreds of every kind.
The whole world watched a few weeks ago as President Sadat went directly to Israel to make peace. For years, the superpowers have been involved, at everyone’s risk in the Middle East. Yet as we watched the Russians parade their deadly missiles and the Americans proceed with the development of the Neutron bomb, the leader of one of the warring nations went directly on a mission of peace, bypassing the superpowers. What was beautiful about that Sadat mission, was not the specific outcome, but the fact that Sadat recognized that the problem was 70 percent, as he said himself, “psychological”. The problem of war everywhere is mainly psychological … it comes from fear, mistrust, suspicion, a persecution complex, and President Sadat, while he might yet go to war over the thirty percent difference between himself and the Israelis and the other Middle East nations, he was at least prepared to breach that all-important psychological barrier.
We as Peace People go much further: we believe in taking down the barriers, but we also believe in the most energetic reconciliation among peoples by getting them to know each other, talk each other’s languages, understand each other’s fears and beliefs, getting to know each other physically, philosophically and spiritually. It is much harder to kill your near neighbor than the thousands of unknown and hostile aliens at the other end of a nuclear missile. We have to create a world in which there are no unknown, hostile aliens at the other end of any missiles, and that is going to take a tremendous amount of sheer hard work.
The only force which can break down those barriers is the force of love, the force of truth, soul-force. We all know that a simple handshake, a simple embrace, can break down enmity between two people. Multiply such acts of friendship all over the world, and then the moments of pathetic friendship in the miserable trenches of the First World War would no longer be the exception but the rule in human affairs.
But such acts of friendship must be backed by dedication. A handshake or an embrace is not enough: Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss. The initial acts of friendship must be followed, day in and day out, by cooperation in everything that improves life and prevents violence.
We hear every day about the various crises in human affairs. But the only real crisis is the one which our predecessor in this great Nobel tradition, Martin Luther King, Jr., described so well when he said that the question today was not whether violence or nonviolence, but that the choice was nonviolence or nonexistence.
We are deeply, passionately dedicated to the cause of nonviolence, to the force of truth and love, to soul-force. To those who say that we are naive, utopian idealists, we say that we are the only realists, and that those who continue to support militarism in our time are supporting the progress towards total self-destruction of the human race, when the only right and left, will be dead to the right and dead to the left, and death and destruction right, left and center, east and west, north and south.
We wish to see those who keep the lights burning twenty-four hours a day in the Pentagon and the Kremlin and all the other great centers of militarism, liberated into truly creative and happy lives instead of the soul-destroying task of preparing for self-destruction. At the same time we wish to see those suffering from the slums of Peru, in the jails of Argentina and Brazil and elsewhere, from the sweltering conflicts of Soweto to the cold miseries of Siberia, liberated from suffering that is as unnecessary as it is unjust. Above all, we wish the little children who are going to die of neglect today and everyday we fail to change, begin to have a chance of life. But wishing is not enough, no matter how heartfelt the wish. What is required is dedication, hard work and courage.
For us on that little area of the globe known as Northern Ireland, we know how much we have yet to do, indeed that we will have much to do for the rest of our lives. Today, we may be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, which has been described as “the highest honor any human being can receive on this earth”. Well that may be the case, and we tremble in the awful responsibility that such an honor places on us. But even as we receive it, we think of the blood that has been spilt, and may yet be shed on that beautiful landscape, from the majestic Mourne Mountains to the Glens of Antrim, from dear old suffering Belfast to the magnificent lakes of Co. Fermanagh, from lovely Derry on the banks of the Foyle to the orchards of Armagh. And we know, that for us, there is still a vast amount of work to be done to make the lives of the Northern Irish people as beautiful as our landscape is green.
We owe it not only to Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Institute to make our work ever more effective in the creation of a nonviolent society, but we owe it to the whole world. In a very special way, we owe it to the people of Norway, who have taken us to their hearts, and whose financial help alone has enabled us to set up headquarters and to assist all sorts of projects. We have much to do, and there is much that we have to do for ourselves or else it would be worthless. But in helping us to rise slowly off our knees, in assisting us with practical help, and most especially in this often cynical world, in helping us with their affection and unswerving loyalty in spite of all sorts of rumors, the Norwegian people have made a real contribution to peace in Northern Ireland, just as they have made substantial contributions to the suffering people of Bangladesh and other distressed peoples throughout the world. Perhaps some day, the Nobel Peace Prize should itself be awarded to the people of Norway.
To the Norwegian people and to the Nobel Committee we say [Tusen Tak!] a thousand thanks, again and again.
And to the whole world, we repeat the same message that we proclaimed in August, 1976. It is the Declaration of the Peace People:
“We have a simple message for the world from this movement for peace.
We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.
We want for our children, as we want for ourselves, our lives at home, at work and at play, to be lives of joy and peace.
We recognize that to build such a life demands of all of us, dedication, hard work and courage.
We recognize that there are many problems in our society which are a source of conflict and violence.
We recognize that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb makes that work more difficult.
We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.
We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbors, near and far, day in and day out, to building that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning”.
1. This is a common misquotation of a line in a poem by the American poet Carl Sandburg from The People, Yes. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936, p. 43. In various forms it was a popular slogan of the opposition movement to the United States intervention in Vietnam in the 1960s. See Ralph Keyes, “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”, False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations. New York: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 38.
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