Berry accepts Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award

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By Brad Bowman

Wendell Berry was honored as the 2013 winner of the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award as part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Sunday, Nov. 9.

Berry joins other distinguished writers like Elie Wiesel, who wrote about his experience in German concentration camps, Barbara Kingsolver and Studs Terkel.

“In a time that spends so many words and dollars upon conflict, it is encouraging to be noticed for having said a few words in favor of peace,” Berry said during his acceptance speech.

“Violence against our world and our fellow beings finally cannot be disassociated from the violence of untruth. How can we continue to insist that our land destroying, water and air polluting agriculture is the only way to feed the world? Moreover, why should we continue to believe that our government is uniquely to be trusted with our weapons of mass destruction.”

Berry paralleled the violence of war with the violence of an industrial society to the land and environment. Irresponsible land use that caused soil erosion is no different than coal companies that use mountain top removal as an aggressive means to mine resources, according to Berry.

Violence in our present society also extends to our freedom and Berry drew the line from an irresponsible culture of violence that eventually attacked it’s freedom under the guise of security.

“We speak of freedom, of our God-given freedom, of defending, using and destroying freedom as of something memorized in grade school and never thought of again,” he said.

“We might as well be talking in our sleep. We have been so thoughtless and so careless of our freedom for so long that by now we cannot see that our assumed right to be limitlessly violent would finally bring us to violence against freedom that may destroy it and it will be extremely difficult to oppose.

“I am speaking of our present massive effort of so called national security, comprised of an immense force of secret police regulated by processes and persons equally secret and possessing a gigantic technology of surveillance also secret which it has used to intrude into the private communications of every citizen of our own country and evidently every citizen in the world who has the misfortune of a computer or telephone. And all of this with no hint of probable cause and without a sham or shadow of due process. “

The over-extended actions of national security were a legal insult to the constitution and personally to ourselves, Berry said. The public compromise in the name of national security seems dumbfounding.

“Almost as dismaying as this secretive and tyrannous security is the talk among people reputably intelligent of the need to balance freedom and security. Balance is an unfortunate word here. For it raises two extremely perilous questions: Who is to load the scales and who is to position the fulcrum,” Berry asked.

“In our customary glibness about freedom, are we now supposing that it is a substantial commodity some of which can be portioned off and exchanged for another commodity called security? But there can be no balance between freedom and secret police, freedom and universal suspicion, freedom and tyranny, there is only choice.”

If Americans have courage, we will choose freedom, Berry said. And by choosing freedom we will use it.

“We will use it to oppose our government’s frivolous and dangerous secrecy, which it imposes upon us under the claim of security, but really to hide its abusive power and its shame, “ Berry said. “Peace comes from freedom, real freedom. It comes from responsibility real acceptance of responsibility. Freedom is not simple. For it always is involved with responsibility. The relation between freedom and responsibility is not a balance to be expediently adjusted by governments or citizens who without both can have neither.”