December 11, 1977
stand here today with a sense of humility, a sense of history, and a sense
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 organised 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 deep even
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 labour 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 mobilise 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 a 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 honour 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 Perez 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 honour honour 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
So we are honoured, in the name of all women, that women
have been honoured 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 recognises 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
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 honour 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" 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 militarised 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 recognised 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
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 crises 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 nave, utopian idealists, we say that we are 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 centre, east and west, north and
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 centres
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 the 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 honour any
human being can receive on this earth". Well that may be the case,
and we tremble in the awful responsibility that such an honour 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 rumours, 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
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 recognise that to build such a life demands of all
of us, dedication, hard work and courage.
We recognise that there are many problems in our society
which are a source of conflict and violence.
We recognise 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."
Ctrl + P to Print