Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God….
– The Beatitudes, Matthew 6
I grew up loving a gentle, funny, talented man who was also a highly-decorated war hero and career military man—my father. Many long nights I lay awake listening to the sad bugled tones of “Taps” floating through the quiet night air of the far-flung military stations where we were posted, worrying and wondering about whether my darling Dad might be called away again at any moment, to fight, to suffer, maybe even to die. My deep respect and affection for this dear man made my lifelong fascination with war and my search for alternative paths to peace inevitable.
But war itself no longer seems inevitable to me. I’ve come to believe that, while human conflict is completely natural, and while our many differences and disagreements offer the necessary challenges leading to growth, learning, and change, violent responses to conflict only complicate issues, making them that much more difficult to resolve. In fact, I’ve come to believe that violence itself, and the fear which begets it, is the greatest threat both to our nation and to mankind.
Rather than a religious or utopian ideal, cooperative harmonious relationships are a very practical goal, critical to our national security. Peaceful responses to conflict can be learned and taught as easily as destructive ones.
The enormous costs of domestic and international violence—to our children, to American society and the world—are unsustainable. The World Health Organization estimates that the effects of domestic violence in the U.S. alone annually cost us over $300 billion. Annual defense expenditures in the U.S. top $500 billion. Roughly 100 million lives were lost during the 20th century to war. We can sustain neither a desirable standard of living nor our well-loved freedoms at such levels of spending; yet the problems we face in a violent, unstable world relentlessly compound.
We can no longer kid ourselves that America can shoot its way out of a world full of angry, well-armed enemies and criminals. Growing cycles of hatred, injustice, and violence increasingly threaten the very survival of mankind, while other serious problems on our fast-shrinking planet go unaddressed.
Establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peace would be a huge step toward solving our nation’s biggest and most costly problem—domestic and international violence—because despite our many prisons, laws, and police forces, despite our huge nuclear and conventional arsenals, our vast military, and our seemingly limitless expenditures for espionage, we are becoming less safe with each passing day.
Department of Peace legislation would be a unifying, groundbreaking, even visionary legacy for the Bush presidency, because it is in essence a conservative idea, conserving lives, resources, good will, money, health, principles, and values, our American ideals and traditional way of life, our environment and talents, our time, energy, and property.
If we the people don't stand up for peace and against violence, what do we stand for? Peace and stability, both within and among nations, has matured to be a practical mainstream political goal for generations of Americans. What better way could we find to show our troops our appreciation and support for their past and future service than to express our debt of gratitude to them by giving them a Department of Peace charged with partnering with our defense and diplomatic leadership to insure that American soldiers never again march into an ill-planned or unnecessary war?
The common goal of Defense, State, Homeland, and Peace departments alike is to insure peace and stability, even if each has a different strategy for achieving this common goal. A strong military force is considered by many to be a deterrent to war, but without a cabinet-level Department of Peace, political leaders turn too quickly to military forces to resolve political problems, and too easily allow war profiteers to manipulate them into wars of aggression, greed, and domination. A Department of Peace offers a strong counterweight to such commonplace misuse of military might.
Our present approach to national defense is not working. We’re strong in conventional military operations, but weak in alliance-building (win-win negotiations and diplomacy) and very weak in the use of the many innovative, well-tested non-violent peace-building technologies used so successfully by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and other peaceful non-violent activists around the world.
A Secretary of Peace can nurture a growing culture of peace both nationally and internationally, partnering with the President and his cabinet to provide necessary alternative non-violent conflict-resolution strategies for every possible conflict area in the world, asking hard questions when war seems inevitable, and preventing, reducing, ameliorating, and de-escalating conflicts before they boil over into deadly violence.
Domestically, a Department of Peace can support and strongly disseminate best practices originating in neighborhood and faith-based programs, addressing drug and alcohol problems, crime, incarceration and recidivism, the spread of weapons, school bullying and violence, gangs, racism, ethnic and homophobic intolerance, child, elder, and spousal abuse, and other pressing domestic violence problems, through proven programs of peer mediation, violence-prevention counseling, restorative justice, and other successful non-violent approaches.
Like other past social grass-roots protest movements (e.g., civil rights, women’s suffrage, emancipation of slaves, etc.) non-violent peace-building may not have seemed obvious at first. But there is no reason why the long-held American dream of “peace in our time” should not be the business of a government charged with insuring domestic tranquility, a more perfect union, justice, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty.
We no longer live in our fathers’ world. We cannot find solutions to tomorrow’s problems using the same approaches that got us into trouble in the first place. In today’s small, interconnected world, what we do to others comes back quickly to help us or to harm us, as we have chosen. As in WWII, we cannot avoid suffering some injustices, but we canavoid adding to their sum. We no longer have a choice of changing or not changing. Our only choice now is whether to change for the better, or for the worse. Our fathers once risked war; it is time for us to risk peace.
(Please read about H.R. #808, establishing a Department of Peace, at www.dopcampaign.org, and let your members of Congress know where you stand.)
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