The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, 2017

On December 10, the Nobel Committee awarded the annual Peace Prize in Oslo.  I was honored to attend the ceremony as a guest of the Fulbright Foundation. I count this honor of being included in the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as one of the major highlights of my sabbatical year as a Fulbright scholar here in Norway.

This year’s Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries promoting adherence to and implementation of the United Nations nuclear weapon ban treaty. This landmark global agreement was adopted in New York on 7 July 2017.

This year’s Nobel Committee selection has been particularly meaningful to me. I am committed to the moral imperative to work towards a world free of weapons of instant annihilation and eradication of life.  The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons cannot be understated, and we must recognize the plain truth of the humanitarian impact of nuclear detonation.  Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine.  All people of the world have a basic human right to live in a world free of such an immoral and existential threat to life itself. 

The Peace Prize ceremony was deeply compelling. The Nobel Lectures delivered by both Beatrice Fihn, Global Director of ICAN, and Setsuko Thurlow, ICAN activist and Hiroshima survivor, were unforgettable.   There were profound words about the nature of fear, freedom, and our shared future. And wrenching memories from Hiroshima, and also the will to live in the face of the most terrifying trauma. What emerged was the critical importance of bearing witness to history in order not to forget.  To not let this happen again.  As an American, I am painfully aware the arguments made about nuclear proliferation as a necessary political strategy for global security. And I am also haunted by those American bombs that immediately killed more than a hundred thousand innocent people. I am aware of the precarious nature of security today, and that these weapons of annihilation are in the hands of precarious and reactionary power.  This urgent reality has been reckoned with head on each day by the efforts of ICAN.  They have worked to build a powerful global groundswell of public support for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and they have helped reshape the debate on nuclear weapons by generating momentum towards elimination.

One of the best aspects of this year’s selection for the Nobel Peace Prize is that in choosing ICAN, the Committee also chose to recognize the power of working together.  They chose an awardee that is remarkable for its strength in coalition and collaboration. ICAN organizes global days of action, holds public awareness-raising events, and engages in advocacy at the United Nations and in national parliaments. They work with survivors of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear tests, helping share their testimonies with the public and decision makers. In addition, the ceremony was also impactful with John Legend performing a special rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. His offering was deeply poignant, reminding us of the resiliency of human hearts and the healing power of creativity.  The UN secretary-general praised ICAN in 2012 “for working with such commitment and creativity in pursuit of our shared goal”.

My sincere gratitude to the Fulbright Foundation and the Nobel Committee for including me. To be a part of something so urgent and so beautiful has left me with continued inspiration.  Thank you.