Power in this Nobel Peace Prize: truth told, truth heard

by Jonathan Frerichs last modified 13 December 2017 05:02 PM
Power in this Nobel Peace Prize: truth told, truth heard

Setsuko Thurlow and Beatrice Fihn step forward to receive the Nobel Prize medal from Nobel Committee Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

13 December 2017

A Nobel Peace Prize ceremony’s greatest power may be that it enables unrealized truth to be told in a new light.  The truth at issue has surely been spoken before, from shattered neighborhoods to the heights of power.  Yet this Nobel award to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons enabled such truth to be spoken to an attentive mixed audience representing the street as well as the summit: Civil society campaigners, the diplomatic corps, nuclear-armed and nuclear-free; religious leaders; Norwegian society, a royal family in the front row; a worldwide audience.

Trumpets sounded.  Artists sang.  Listeners reached for their handkerchiefs when Setsuko Thurlow told what happened to her as a girl in Hiroshima.

In this unique setting, what truth is said to power has good prospects to also be heard.  Words that touch hearts and minds are now on a permanent record of special note.  They will be repeated as a basis for deciding to sign and ratify the new nuclear ban treaty.  They will be raised to further delegitimize an immoral and unacceptable weapon that is antithetical to the common life of humanity.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies for ICAN on 10 December 2017 offered an array of the moral, ethical and spiritual convictions and the political will that are needed in the abolition of nuclear weapons. The passion and the pageantry point towards the critical mass of commitment required for achieving the Nobel Laureate’s goal, one which many churches share.

Two women are the picture of this Nobel Prize: Setsuko Thurlow and Beatrice Fihn.  Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, is a voice for the cloud of witnesses to nuclear disasters, a lifelong advocate whose testimonies also speak for the successive generations alarmed by nuclear dangers.  Fihn is the voice of a new movement to abolish nuclear weapons and, like many in the ICAN network she leads, a committed campaigner in the prime of life.  World Council of Churches is one of the 468 partners in ICAN.

In the joint address from ICAN on receiving the award, Fihn laid out a challenge: “The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.  Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?”

She challenged each of the nine governments that have nuclear weapons: “The United States, choose freedom over fear.  Russia, choose disarmament over destruction…. China, choose reason over irrationality.” Fihn also said governments that shelter under an ally’s nuclear umbrella are complicit in the crimes which would be committed by the use of such weapons.

“We were not content to be victims,” Thurlow said in her part of the Nobel Lecture.  “We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers…brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.”

“We are overjoyed by the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” [cited in the Noble award to ICAN], Thurlow said. “Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen, in her opening address, reviewed threats posed by nuclear weapons and gave clear answers to arguments often used to defend nuclear weapons.  The peace prize has been given to work in this field 12 times in the nuclear age. Her speech provided a firm foundation for the award to ICAN in 2017.

Reiss-Andersen cited what Pope Francis said to participants in a recent symposium at the Vatican including representatives of World Council of Churches: "Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity."

Meanwhile, in his Angelus prayer that day, Pope Francis linked ICAN’s award to the wide pursuit of peace: “Today the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. This recognition happens to coincide with the United Nations Day for Human Rights, and this stresses the strong link between human rights and nuclear disarmament. In fact, to be committed to the protection of the dignity of all people, in particular, the weakest and most disadvantaged means also to work with determination to build a world without nuclear weapons. God gives us the ability to collaborate to build our common home: we have the freedom, the intelligence and the capacity to guide technology, limit its power, at the service of peace and true progress (Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’).


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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