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War and Peace: The choice is ours

Betty Firth
Posted 2/23/22

I’ve hung out a lot with peace-loving people, so I’ve been aware for a long time of efforts to create a Department of Peace at the cabinet level. It makes total sense. We NEED one. …

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War and Peace: The choice is ours

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I’ve hung out a lot with peace-loving people, so I’ve been aware for a long time of efforts to create a Department of Peace at the cabinet level. It makes total sense. We NEED one.
However, I haven’t helped to get one created nor even dug very deeply to find out what has been happening with the idea, so, here’s a little digging, and I’ll share that info with you, because you probably don’t know much about it either. As often happens, my intention to cover the topic in depth is not supported by the space available to me, but I can offer a beginning.
I have heard it said that one difficulty with promoting the concept of peace is that it doesn’t come with hard-hitting images, so it is often defined by what it is not, as in “not at war,” rather than by what it really means, such as living in safe neighborhoods, working cooperatively with others, enjoying a country where people have food, shelter, and health care as basic human rights. Although I use the word “peace” here, it must be understood that unless you automatically think “peace and justice,” the term is quite meaningless.
I’m going to pause here just to clarify that I am not completely naïve about this. I recognize that we live in the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about in the ‘50s. His nightmare vision has come true in spades. Our country is addicted to war, and we have seldom been free of conflicts throughout our history, often manipulating the politics and economies of other countries for our benefit. Remember the bumper sticker from the Iraq War: “What’s our oil doing under your sand?”
The war machine keeps the factories humming, the miners mining, the research labs producing, and the power and money flowing to the owners of capital without benefitting the rest of us quite so much. That’s not to mention the 1,305,000 American deaths and an exponentially larger number of mental and physical injuries from 1775 to 2022.
Those who benefit from the status quo are not likely the ones who will support a Department of Peace. Is it pie in the sky to think it’s possible? Perhaps, but many things we have accomplished were once considered impossible and change usually comes when the will of the people gathers as an unstoppable force to make things happen, like the nationalization of same-sex marriage. I think it took most of us by surprise that it happened when it did, but behind the scenes many determined people were taking lots of small actions on a grassroots level.
What will it take for us to have enough of the violence in the streets or the bullying in the schools, some by parents aimed at teachers and board members these days? When will we realize that we could actually live with civility and even kindness with our neighbors?
I’m sure most of you are aware that an obscene percentage of our national budget is spent on the military with current active military, debt on previous expenses, pensions, and health care for retired military personnel. It’s over 50 percent and that doesn’t include additional costs hidden in many other parts of the budget. Between 2001 and 2015, 2,788,000 people served in the military, and that’s a lot of paychecks and pensions. (In pointing out this very expensive operation, I mean no dishonor to those who have served in the military.)
A suggestion has been made to take one percent of the military budget to fund a Department of Peace. Just one percent. Many politicians have supported the suggestion. More have not.
When did this idea come about? The first reference I found was in 1793. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote an essay titled “A plan for a Peace-Office for the United States,” calling for equal footing with the Department of War “to promote and preserve perpetual peace in the United States.” The provisions included maintaining free schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as “to cultivate peace and how to forgive, even to love our very enemies.”
He advocated, “To inspire a veneration for human life, and a horror at the shedding of human blood, let all those laws be repealed which authorize juries, judges, sheriffs, or hangmen to assume the resentments of individuals, and to commit murder in cold blood in any case whatever.” He added that “to subdue that passion for war . . . militia laws should everywhere be repealed, and military dresses and military titles should be laid aside.” Mr. Rush leaned heavily on religion, particularly Christianity, to accomplish the right attitude, but a core message of his essay was clear, that we’re better off if we make love, not war, as professed by most religions.
Since 1793 over 100 bills have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in support of a Department of Peace. In 2001, Rep.Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced a bill and a version of it was introduced in each session of Congress until 2011, cosponsored by 76 members of Congress in 2007. Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) has introduced a similar bill in every session of Congress since 2013. She introduced H.R. 1111 to the House on Feb. 18, 2021, which is currently supported by 19 cosponsors.
Isn’t it odd we don’t hear more about it? Here are some key points of the mission statement of the Department of Peace proposed in H.R. 1111:
Cultivate peace and peacebuilding as a strategic national policy objective;
Reduce and prevent violence in the United States and internationally through peacebuilding and effective nonviolent conflict resolution;
Develop best practices and policies that promote local, national and international conflict prevention, nonviolent intervention, mediation, peaceful resolution of conflict, and structured mediation of conflict;
Address the interconnection of all life and the intersectionality of peace and justice, equality, health, healing, national security, education, the economy, rule of law, democracy, planetary survival, and other aspects of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights;
Invest in nongovernmental organizations that have implemented successful initiatives to reduce and prevent violence, both internationally and domestically; and
Consult with other federal agencies to apply and practice the science of peacebuilding in their respective fields of responsibility.
Another tidbit that may surprise you is that Ronald Reagan and Congress created the still-functioning United States Institute of Peace in 1984, a national nonpartisan, independent institute in D.C. “dedicated to the proposition that a world without violent conflict is possible.” More about that in the future.
If you’re now wanting more than a glimpse, there are many excellent resources, but the Peace Alliance is a good place to start, and you can sign a petition of support and find out how to lobby your representatives. go to https://peacealliance.org/issues-advocacy/department-of-peace/.

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