Peace and Conflict Resolution
Betty Williams
Excerpts from Betty Williams's 1977 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

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 inspires us still, as they have done for so many millions of people around the world involved, actively engaged, in the non-violent struggle for justice and peace.
 
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 every day 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 every day 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 militarized world but a world of peace, a non-violent world.

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.

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.”