Pacifist speech berates Obama

Saturday, February 13, 2010 | 5:36 p.m. CST; updated 11:57 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — While President Barack Obama can outline goals to peace effectively, he's fallen short of reaching them yet, said Hedy Epstein, a Jewish holocaust survivor, who spoke at MU Friday night.

The lecture addressed Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize he received in Oslo, Norway, in October 2009.

Epstein, an outspoken pacifist and critic of Israel’s policy regarding Palestine, gives frequent speeches on both her experiences during the holocaust, during which time she lost her parent, and her experiences of taking part in protests of Israel.

The petite 85-year-old stood confidently in front of a crowd of about 45 listeners.

“Obama correctly identified paths to peace,” she said. “But he acknowledges them only in rhetoric.”

She said Obama’s defense of the institution of warfare, which is the most violent of all human institutions, makes him pale in comparison to someone who truly deserves the prize.

One such deserving example in the eyes of Epstein was Martin Luther King Jr., who said in his own acceptance speech that the prize was actually a commission to work even harder to spread peace.

“(Obama) is a frighteningly arrogant nationalist,” Epstein said. “He claims that his ideologies justify military force, but the dead don’t concern themselves with ideology used to kill them.”

After concluding her lecture she allowed attendees to ask questions or challenge heron any topic they felt she was wrong.

One attendee raised concern with her views on a governmental level. If an official such as President Obama is elected into a situation that already includes a war, how is he then supposed to cease all military action in the middle of a war? Epstein chuckled and said she is glad that she will never be in that office and have to make that decision. A slight murmur ran through the crowd as individuals stirred with apparent discontent in her answer.

Despite this, Nick Totten, an MU student, said he enjoyed hearing Epstein deconstruct Obama’s speech.

“To never stay silent in order to be non-violent is something I would prefer in all cases,” Totten said. “She was expressive and forthright about her views.”

Upon conclusion of the event, Bill Wickersham, a professor of peace studies at MU, led the crowd in singing the first verse of “We Shall Overcome” before sparkling grape juice was served in a toast to the institution of the Nobel peace prize.

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