The speech skillfully pronounced a passion for peace, while alleging a necessity for war. The phrase that most caught my attention was his claim that "A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." Surely nobody in that largely graying audience in Oslo City Hall could fail to catch that allusion to recent Scandinavian history.
It is vital to notice the unspoken premise behind the President's remarks about "just wars"--namely, that governments exist. Wars are, indeed, the prime business of governments so that's unsurprising; but he was presupposing that the world in which wars are sometimes unhappily unavoidable is one operated by governments; usually in these days, nation-states. His speech did not contemplate a world in which governments do not exist, and that is a critical omission to which I'll return.
Before doing so, let's check: Is his claim correct? That even when governments face each other, non-violence is sometimes not an option? He referred to Hitler, whose government with its allies dominated Europe in 1941, from the North Cape to Sicily and from the Pyrenees to the Urals. How much of that amazing expansion had been done by violent, marching armies?
Not nearly as much as government-school propaganda likes to suggest. Hitler took over the governments of Austria and Czechoslovakia without a shot being fired. Finland, Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria also cooperated willingly to differing degrees, although Yugoslavia was (surprise!) complicated. His conquest of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France was preceded by unusually short campaigns lasting from a few days to a few weeks, each ending in the surrender of the defenders. Greece resisted all the way to a bitter defeat, in 1941, but lost over 13,000 dead in that attempt. Poland capitulated quickly after putting up a brave but hopeless resistance. Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and (until 1941) Russia were neutral. That's how his empire was created.
Notice, once a government capitulates, its population is captured. The whole machinery of its régime of control is merely taken over by the invader; its own police and bureaucracy are operated for the benefit of the conqueror, and he can run the country with a modest force of occupation. The real people just swap one government for another.
That was nowhere more evident than in the case of Norway. A small German invasion fleet showed up in Oslo Fjord on April 9th, 1940, and after sinking one of the ships, the government, recognizing force majeur, gave up. Hitler installed a puppet called Quisling, whose name has entered the language (though sadly, the delicious verb "to quisle" has not) and who was executed in 1945, and spread an army up the long, narrow country to build part of his "Atlantic Wall" to face Britain and the Atlantic.
Norway was important strategically at that time not just because its long, jagged coast line provided safe havens for the marauding German Navy--rather, it had to do with iron. In 1939, the British government formed "Plan R-4" to invade Sweden , via Norway. Why? Because of iron. The richest deposits of iron ore in Europe lay around Kiruna in Northern Sweden, and the Brits intended to swipe them--or at least to deny them to the Germans. The only route was to land in the far North of Norway at Narvik and cross into its neighbor, so the German invaders had to be cut off; hence the campaign of April through June of 1940. As it happens, the campaign failed, due to German air power operating from Norwegian bases, so Kiruna remained Swedish, and the Swedish government sold ore to the German one, so enabling it to build tanks and guns and very nearly to conquer Russia a year later and to fight so well in defense against Soviet, US and British forces later on yet. Kiruna was the price of Swedish neutrality; Hitler got a bargain, but so did the Swedes. They were spared the bloodbath.
So the Norwegians gave up after only a token fight, and the Swedes sold iron ore and Bofors guns to Hitler, and this was the recent history of the two countries represented in Oslo City Hall, where Obama was thanking a Norwegian committee for giving him some of the money provided by a Swedish benefactor, and solemnly lecturing about the occasional need for violent resistance. The irony (no pun intended) of the occasion was rich indeed.
So even on the premise that governments exist, did Obama make his case for "just wars"? Hardly. When we check as above what happened at the start of WWII, all but two of those governments that resisted Hitler were defeated, with loss of life to their citizens, while those who didn't resist were controlled from Berlin and the loss of life was much smaller. Which was better, from the viewpoint of the citizen/resident? To be ruled by Germans and left more or less in peace, or to be ruled by the local mob with heavy risk of annihilation? It's not obvious to me that either option is the better one, and therefore Obama's argument for war now and again is ill-supported. The death toll, further, was roughly in proportion to how much they resisted; the worst by far was in Russia, and the second worst was among the US and UK invaders of Italy in 1943 and France in 1944.
That is the kind of senseless slaughter that Obama was, while accepting a Peace Prize, endorsing.
Now, I quite expect that several readers will be shocked that I could contemplate rewriting history so as to leave Hitler astride Europe for half a century. Surely, they may say, it was worth 60 or 70 million innocent lives so as to squash him like the bug he was? My response is that sure, it would have been awful. But (a) that appalling body count was the price actually paid, and none of the extinguished lives belonged to us who comment; (b) the deal was a swindle anyway because the result was only slightly better than it would have been, and (c) while we're rewriting history, let's do the job properly and change Obama's unspoken, underlying premise.
Regarding (b), the whole result of WWII in Europe was that the United States was dominant, everyone else was more or less ruined, and a government even more repressive than Hitler's dominated everyone East of the Elbe --for half a century. Things to its West were better than they would have been had Hitler won, but if we try to view the scene as a whole or as an average, it's more or less a wash. Those 60 or 70 million died more or less in vain. Half the population were brutally suppressed by a Red government instead of a Brown one and the other half, while certainly freer than either, have come to be subjugated by governments whose degrees of control have, by now, become Fascist in all but name. Without being too fanciful, one might even say that Hitler has enjoyed a posthumous victory.
So much for the swindle; now consider (c). Let us suppose that in 1939 and 1940 Hitler's was the only government in the region--that all others were zero-government societies, all of whose populations understood what freedom means and what governments mean, and therefore repudiated the latter and declined to work for them, exactly as the situation will be here, in and after about 2027. On that premise (which of course would have been contemplated by nobody in Oslo City Hall last week), there would have been no government either to oppose Hitler or to surrender to him; the choice that Obama referenced would not have existed. If German troops had marched in any particular direction, there would have been no government force to oppose them--but then what? How would they have exploited anything they happened to want? What, from Hitler's point of view, would have been the point of sending them in the first place?
They would not have been able to take over an existing bureaucracy to control the population, for there would not have been one. Therefore, Germans would have had to supply it. Therefore, the costs of occupation would have been unacceptably high, and therefore the invasions would not have taken place. Even if the only prize sought had been lebensraum, those who settled in the "conquered" land would eventually have been obliged to work for a living, and that would have meant trading with their neighbors, not one of whom would have been willing to trade with such aggressors and mega-thieves. There is no solo tango.
Harry Browne visualized such a result in his delightful essay "A Visit to Rhinegold" shown in The Voluntaryist, as it related to a small fictional country somewhere near Luxembourg. It had no government, no paper money and no army, but one day in 1940 a whole raft of Germans in uniform came visiting and demanded to be taken to its Leader, but there was none. All they got were polite, puzzled smiles of welcome and offers of refreshment--to be purchased, naturally, with gold. Being ill-equipped to create a whole government bureaucracy where the very concept was foreign to every resident, the soldiers rolled their eyes, scratched their heads and moved through to deal with the French--having, as Harry says, just "stolen some cheese," an outrage long remembered.
So Obama's unspoken premise is critically important, when one contemplates the awesome subject of organized mass murder. If it continues--while governments exist--wars will, indeed, always take place; because the "evil in the world" to which he alluded consists precisely of those governments, of that premise. Once it has been abandoned, however, they will cease. The world will then consist of human beings, each striving to improve his life by pleasing his customers; and killing customers is really bad for business.