Oslo’s overcast skies did little to temper the excitement accompanying the arrival of President Barack Obama in Norway. His helicopter landed on the roof of Norway’s Oslo Opera House. Traffic stopped. Police cars filled the streets. Usually staid Norwegians rushed to their windows to witness Obama’s descent into Scandinavia with its history of Vikings and sea travel. Over 92 million kroner was spent on security alone for the latest Nobel Prize winner. With his arrival, the flurry of excitement heightened, as did the questions and controversy surrounding the award.
A recognized political superstar, Barack Obama would remain in the city for only 24 short hours–long enough to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and deliver the speech to explain why he should receive it.
The evening before the ceremony, African-Americans who traveled from Baltimore, New York City, Texas, Oklahoma and Hawaii for the ceremony mingled with African-American residents of Oslo, who were joined by African-Scandinavians at a restaurant in downtown Oslo. It was a gathering of the tribe. Invitations had come by word of mouth, e-mail and chance. The beat of traditional drums blended with guitar as new friendships were made. Every conversation went back to Barack Obama. Viewpoints were unanimous regarding pride in a Black American president, but mixed concerning his selection for the coveted award.
“It was a political decision,” said Carl Proctor, an artist with dreadlocks originally from New York City, who has lived in Norway for over 20 years. “The [Nobel] committee wanted to bring him here, and that’s why they chose him for the award.”
Pat Davis, a real estate agent from Maryland disagreed. “This is the right time and he is the right person for this award,” said Davis. Their debate is more like a discussion among relatives around a Sunday dinner table.
Some viewed Obama’s selection as premature, but a motivation to continue a path toward peace. Others criticized the Nobel committee for selecting the commander in chief of a country currently involved in two wars for the Peace Prize. Few examine whether the criticism is racially motivated.
However, the fact remains that American is involved in wars with Iraq and Afghanistan; these are not traditional conflicts. Both countries are working with their American “enemy” to defeat an insurgent force within their borders.
Alfred Nobel was one of the wealthiest men in the world and gained his massive wealth from war. He created explosives–dynamite. Yet, his will called for the creation of a prize for peace to be bestowed on a person who increases fraternity between nations. Given this, Barack Obama is the first sitting American president to travel to meet with the leaders of the Arab world while orchestrating the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama is also the proponent of a promising health care initiative–the progress of which is being watched around the world. Under Barack Obama’s stewardship, America’s domestic financial meltdown, which threatened to devastate economies globally, has slowed. Obama has met with leaders in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Oslo’s City Hall holds the ceremonial room where the prize was given. The room has marble floors with walls over 100 feet high covered in murals depicting the history of Norway in bright pastel colors. Trumpeters dressed in traditional velvet outfits heralded the entry of Barack Obama, accompanied by King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his wife. Obama moved among royalty with his traditional athletic gait and calm composure.
Thorbjorn Jagland, chair of the Nobel Prize committee, explained in Norwegian and English the process for selecting a recipient and the reasoning behind Barack Obama’s selection. President Obama sat listening intently, legs crossed, wearing a black suit, white shirt and stormy gray tie.
Finally, the introductions ended. Musical selections, both classical and contemporary, came to a close. Michelle Obama sat on the front row, concern etched across her face. Barack Obama approached the podium. At first, his speech was stilted. His hands shook slightly as he spoke of a “just” war, more attainable peace and the recognized sense of self-defense. Then, he became centered and that internationally recognized cadence returned.
It is clear that Obama does not strive to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. His speech provided a further glimpse into the man behind the presidency. He is a traditionalist who refuses to follow a predetermined path unless he believes in it. The ceremony concluded.
A noticeably relieved President Obama and Michelle walked side by side behind the royal entourage surrounded by applause. That evening, the couple stood on the balcony of the Grand Hotel, as have all Nobel Laureates in past years. The crowd of thousands, holding fiery torches and shouting blessings and praise, was the largest in Norway’s history. Beautifully dressed and smiling, the Obamas waved to the joyous crowd, albeit from behind bulletproof glass. Then they returned to other tasks and the reality of being the president of the United States.