Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech delivered by Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1985, Oslo, December 10, 1985.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize gives us once again an opportunity to reconsider a well known detail in the wording of Alfred Nobel’s will. The prize, it is stated, is to be awarded to the individual or group who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

What is especially important here is the way in which the question of disarmament is given a direct relationship to the attitudes of peoples and nations to one another. Brotherhood and disarmament are two aspects of the same issue. Work aimed at giving international relationships a quality of unity rather than conflict can therefore be seen as a step on the way to a bilateral and controlled disarmament.

Through this year’s award of the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to emphasize this aspect of the struggle for peace – to direct attention to the way in which the problem of disarmament is a concern, not only of politicians, but also of the general public in all countries.

No one can avoid being aware of the anxious interest shown in this problem today, not least among children and young people. The reason for this is obvious: with the development of atomic weapons, the question of disarmament has been given a new dimension, we could almost say, an eternal dimension. The prevention of an outbreak of war is increasingly regarded as a question of life or death for the human race.

It is in this connection that this year’s Peace Prize laureate, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, has, in the opinion of the Nobel Committee, made a commendable contribution. In accordance with the ancient Hippocratic Oath, which demands a dedication without compromise to the protection of life and health, this organization has indicated, using the evidence of medical science, the dangers to life and health which atomic weapons represent. These physicians have told us what will happen if these weapons were to be used. We know now about the “atomic winter” with its destruction of the biosphere and of all conditions necessary for life. The physicians have also shown the absence of any escape route, and that there is no feasible protection available against such an atomic catastrophe. Home defence and medical services would inevitably collapse; it would be impossible to help the injured and the dying, and survivors would be subjected to the murderous long term consequences.

Another aspect of this matter is that the resources which are today used in the development of new weapons could have been used to help the millions of people who die of hunger and lack of adequate health care. What can be more true to the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath than this campaign for new priorities in the use of the available resources, from military ends to health and other development causes?

Also, in this area, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has presented an informative and convincing documentation.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes that the organization in this way has made an important contribution to activating the general opposition to nuclear armaments and contributes therefore to a mobilization of opinion which is now taking place all over the world.

It is also true that the question of bilateral and controlled reduction of nuclear arsenal has been offered a considerable amount of attention at innumerable disarmament conferences. The results have not been particularly encouraging. Possibly, the former laureate, Alva Myrdal, was correct in believing that all we can hope for now is a stronger mobilization of public opposition and a corresponding strengthening of pressure on the political authorities. However that may be, a contribution to an increased public opposition to the continued atomic arms-race can only be seen as a contribution to the cause of peace. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has, in the opinion of the Nobel Committee, made such a contribution.

It is obvious that, if such a public opposition is to have real value as a peace inducing force, it has to be built up independently of ideological systems, political viewpoints or geographical divisions. It has to be universal. One has to begin with the simple fact that, faced with the threat of a nuclear war, the whole of the world’s population is in the same boat. Or, as Nikita Kruschev once expressed it: “After the first exchange of atomic bombs, no one will be able to see the difference between capitalist and communist ashes“.

Face to face with the threat of nuclear war, there is one common interest which will assert itself over all others: the will to survive. In other words, there is a common human interest in preventing nuclear war. The feeling for this common interest is now beginning to be so strong that a watchword seems to be evolving: People of all lands who wish to survive, unite!

It is precisely in the light of the fact that this public opinion has to be universal, that the Norwegian Nobel Committee regards as particularly important the fact that the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is the result of a common initiative from American and Soviet doctors. Together, they have created a forum for cooperation which transcends borders which are otherwise all too often sealed. Building on their realistic evaluation of the situation, these physicians have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder and to work together in a cooperation founded on trust and confidence. The Nobel Committee believes this was a good decision.

This opinion is obviously shared by many. Although the organization has only existed for five years, it now has active support from physicians in more than forty countries all over the world. And this support is growing. One thousand delegates from fifty countries are expected to take part in next year’s annual congress which is to be held in Cologne, West Germany. The organization has achieved widespread recognition for its work. At the third annual congress in Amsterdam, declarations of support were received from, among others, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and from Pope John Paul II, as well as from a number of heads of government in both east and west. In 1984, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was awarded UNESCO’s “Peace Education Prize” “for its remarkable contribution to informing public opinion and mobilizing the conscience of the human race in the cause of peace“, as the citation stated.

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War receives active support from the World Health Organization, which acts as distributor for the organization’s reports on the medical consequences of nuclear explosions. From March of this year, the organization has been recognized as a so-called “non-governmental organization” officially connected to the World Health Organization. In a statement from the WHO, the point is made that the prevention of an atomic war is the most important task in the field of health politics, a task which all physicians should have a duty to contribute to.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War should be seen as yet another recognition of a transnational contribution to the cause of peace, coming from physicians who see it as their duty to mobilize the strongest possible public opposition to atomic annihilation.

It is permissible to wonder whether we don’t already know enough about the terrible consequences of a nuclear war. The answer is, of course, that we know more than enough. While visiting the Peace Museum which the Japanese have erected on the spot where the first atomic bomb fell forty years ago, however, I came across the following epitaph: “We know 100 times more than we need to know. What we lack is the ability to experience and to be moved by what we know, what we understand and what we see and believe“.

One can see that this epitaph touches the heart of the matter. A theoretic knowledge of the megaton-bomb’s explosive power is not enough. It isn’t enough to be frightened to sleeplessness by fiction films on the atomic Ragnarock. The question is: What shall we do about it? Do we have the ability to begin to act? Is it possible to force a change of direction? This is the question which has become our time’s “to be or not to be”.

Albert Einstein wrote, in connection with the development of atomic weapons, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive“.

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has, in addition to its information work, attempted to create such a new way of thinking. Here, again, it is apposite to recall the way in which Nobel’s will emphasizes the connection between the problem of disarmament and the peoples’ attitude to one another.

All the many bloody chapters in the history of mankind tell us of this connection. It starts when groups of peoples and nations begin to regard each other as enemies. In time, each side considers the oppositions to be evil incarnate. The enemy has become a monster capable of unscrupulously attacking and destroying. History, especially European history, has, unfortunately, far too many examples of this philosophy’s self-fertilizing effect.

What sort of results would this philosophy have today? With the murderous potential the various groups now have control over, we have to conclude that the need for a new direction is now categorical, or, as Einstein said, “it is now a question of life or death for mankind“.

Alongside the atomic weapons, a new reality has been created, based on the fact that an atomic war cannot be won. It is no longer possible to solve problems through a power-political confrontation. And, if a war were to be begun, the question of who was to blame would be totally uninteresting afterwards. The world’s conflicts would have found what Hitler called “the final solution”.

Is it possible to find a responsible politician who desires such a solution? Obviously not. We have to believe all politicians who declare that this is precisely what we must avoid. Because it is the truth.

The riddle is, of course, to explain why the arms race continues. How is it possible, in a world ravaged by famine, poverty and sickness, that anyone has the conscience to use more than 800 million dollars a year on armaments?

The explanation is simple. The reason is fear, a fear created and kept alive by the well-known “enemy philosophy” which, more or less, consciously, sets its mark on both ideas and attitudes. Nobody dares to take the risk of relying on the other side. Without this bilateral fear, it would be difficult to find any rational argument for the build-up of armaments. Nobody with any knowledge of the information and propaganda which support our age’s balance of terror can be in doubt: the driving force behind the arms race is the two sides’ fear and lack of confidence in one another. The extent to which this lack of confidence is promoted as a political doctrine is an indicator of the dangerous nature of today’s world as a place in which to live one’s life.

Another aspect of the same picture is the fact that, from time to time, things are both said and done which can easily be interpreted as confirmation of the doubts the various parties have of one another. As a general rule, we have a tendency to believe the enemy when he says something which confirms our suspicions. If he, on the other hand, says something which indicates that he is interested in peace and friendship, it is argued that we would be stupid to believe him, as his intention is to give us a false sense of security in order to be able to destroy us all the more easily.

It is easy to see how such a mode of thinking creates problems for arms reduction negotiations. The result is all too well known. For our own security’s sake we have to have more weapons because we cannot trust the opposition, and they have to have at least as many weapons because they cannot trust us. And thereby, the evil circle is made whole.

Meanwhile, fear and insecurity grow in all countries, and resources which could have been used in the fight against famine and sickness are used to further increase an arsenal which was more than big enough before.

It was once fashionable to talk about “the inevitable conflict”. It is universally accepted today that such an argumentation cannot be maintained. The unavoidable truth is that our little planet could not survive an atomic war. Nobody today dares to think of an atomic confrontation as unavoidable.

This makes the question which is being raised in more and more countries even more urgent. Why do we develop more and more sophisticated atomic weapons when we know that each new development makes their use seem even more absurd? There is, of course, no political or ideological objective which can justify the use of such weapons, for who would be able to enjoy the fruits of our wonderful political or ideological systems if the price of their introduction is a common annihilation?

Among all the complications which abound in our world, there remains one simple fact: we have the choice between living together or ceasing to live at all. Irrespective of what we call ourselves or to which political philosophy we subscribe, it is this reality which has to be the starting point for our thoughts and actions, that is, if we want to survive. This is becoming increasingly more recognized. We have to assume that the fear of atomic war and the will to prevent it is just as strong in all human beings, wherever in the world they live. The absurdity of the atomic arms race is ever more apparent and its necessity ever more doubtful. It ought to be simple to argue that resources ought to be diverted to causes like health care or used for the benefit of those in need.

The creation of a new way of thinking and acting based on this common opinion ought not to be too difficult.

It is regrettable that the world is divided in the way we know it is. It is just as regrettable that atomic weapons were ever invented. This is, however, the unfortunate reality with which we have to live. The technological development or weapons cannot be reversed, and it is even questionable that our divided world can be united through a power-political confrontation. It is in the light of this reality that we have to define our own involvement, and it is this reality which now presents humankind with a decisive test. Nobody can opt out by resorting to the easy excuse that it is the other side which is responsible, and that it is their philosophy and actions which make ours an unfortunate necessity. The problem is that those on the other side reason in precisely the same way. The fear which oppresses mankind today is the possibility that both sides are right, and that we can begin to build the future on the basis of a strategy which would be disastrous precisely at the moment it showed itself to be correct.

It is in the light of this reality that we have to regard the engagement in the cause of peace which has been shown by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee does not regard the evaluation of this organization’s, or any other’s, concrete proposals for disarmament to be part of its duties. The committee is primarily interested in the way in which International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has directed its efforts towards the brotherhood which is the key to the problem of disarmament. A forum has been created where discussions and actions can be raised out of ideological blind alleys. The organization has recognized the consequences of the fact that only by uniting in a common cause today is it possible to make even things that are impossible today, possible tomorrow.

In the opinion of the Nobel Committee, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has shown that this is a feasible course. And it is our duty to believe that the cause of peace can only be promoted through common interests and brotherhood.

The Nobel Peace Prize has, especially in later years, often been awarded to campaigners for human rights. The Committee has followed, and still follows, the fate of these prizewinners with interest, but also in the hope that the concept of human value they represent will be successful and will be consummated in the universal recognition of the freedom which is every human being’s birthright.

This year’s prize is more concerned with the problem of disarmament, but is also, at a deeper level, concerned with human rights – perhaps even the most fundamental human right of them all – the right to live. The right to a life and a future for us all, for our children and for our grandchildren. Yes, it is concerned with the unborn generations’ right to inherit that earth which we today tend on their behalf.

It is in the light of this fundamental right of man that the organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has chosen its course. And, as it now receives the Peace Prize, it is in recognition of a constructive work in the cause of peace. But the prize also expresses a hope – a hope for the steady advance of a new way of thinking, so that bridges can be built over the chasms that represent our fear of the future.

Mankind in all countries is united in that hope.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1985, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1986


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1985

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