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 crisis 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 naive, utopian idealists, we say that we are the 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 center, east and west, north and south.
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 centers 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 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 every day 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 honor any human being can receive on this earth”. Well that may be the case, and we tremble in the awful responsibility that such an honor 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 rumors, 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 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
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
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
Betty Williams, along with Mairead Corrigan, is the winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring peace to North and South Ireland. She is the founder of World Centers of Compassion for Children.
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1976. Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997.