On any given whim, our country has destructive power profound enough to obliterate any nation in the world. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. With all of the power the U.S. holds, would it be wise to devote some of it to making and keeping peace?
Bernard K. Doyle, Jr., a retired U.S. Army officer, would agree. He served 27 years as an infantryman and although he gives his full support to the military and sympathizes with the men overseas, Doyle said he no longer condones war as a solution. “I am aware of lobbying and movements at present and in the past that have been developed to end war, something that will not catch on quickly in this nation and other nation states,” said Doyle. “However, it appears to me that the loss of women, children, old people and institutions such as churches, museums, power plants, water sources and the like make the people of a country suffer beyond the aims of war.”
We as Americans are protected by the most powerful military on the planet, but is this still a comforting thought? Many are beginning to disagree. Throughout MSU and across the nation, Americans are crying out to the U.S. government for an alternative method for handling conflict – many Americans are crying out for peace. [hillquote2]
The state of Michigan has become one of several focal points for the peace mission and the suggested Department of Peace. Gwen Hill, the Department of Peace’s Congressional Team Leader for the 9th district of Michigan, does her part every day to spread the word about what the proposed organization would, and does, stand for.
“This is legislation that is meant to last longer than any one war or administration,” said Hill. “We live at a time when we all see the level of violence that permeates our lives and our communities. One glance at the headline stories on TV news reports is enough to understand that violence threatens to overtake our intentions. It\’s wearing us out.”
And the movement isn’t about just the war overseas. “Many people believe that the movement for a Department of Peace is a response to the war in Iraq,” said Hill. “This is incorrect.”
Hypothetically, the war serves as an arena for the Department of Peace movement itself. What would it do to help the situation? While the proposed department’s attention span certainly isn’t limited to war situations, including the controversial one in Iraq, it gives a good launching pad for discussion on just how the Department of Peace would respond.
Doyle, having served his country, expressed his concerns about the current situation. “I believe that now, deeply ensconced in a war, we are extending ourselves beyond our means and dollars,” the veteran said. “People are now beginning to question the validity of this war and its toll of more than 2,000 of our young men and women. People are unsure of the outcome – withdrawal when and how, the timing – when will it stop?”
Some wonder if a Department of Peace could have kept the war from escalating. “If a Secretary of Peace had been a part of the Cabinet prior to the Iraq war, we might never have entered a war of these proportions,” said Hill. “We might have had a clear exit strategy that promoted peace between our nations. We might not be creating four new terrorists in the families of every one terrorist that we kill. There might be fewer people in the world who hate us for our disrespect of cultural norms and our violent aggression toward countries whose cultures are not westernized to our liking.”
Despite the lack of anything that resembles a peace department in our nation’s contemporary government, this is not the first time a concept of this nature has been suggested. In fact, propositions of a governmental peace agency date back to discussions among framers of the Constitution. Throughout American history, the notion of having something on this scale has been brought up several times, resurging in the minds of revolutionary officials but having no real momentum. That is, until now.
Dissipating poll numbers are beginning to show a growing unrest regarding the war in Iraq, while peace protests and anti-war demonstrations litter the nation each year. More importantly, the rest of the world grumbles with a critical tongue and glares with a disparaging eye. When did America become the evil empire?
The first formal proposal for the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peace dates to 1792, when architect/publisher Benjamin Banneker and physician/educator Dr. Benjamin Rush proposed the idea. The initiative was for a “Peace Office” that was to be equal with the “War Office,” but the concept never received sufficient footing.
On July 11, 2001, congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced legislation to create a cabinet level agency dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions conducive to peace. Hill said progress was being made in getting the bill passed through congress. She further explained there are now 60 congressional co-sponsors of this legislation. There is a bill on the floor of the House (House Bill # H.R. 3760) and within the past few weeks, a similar bill was introduced on the floor of the Senate (Senate Bill # S.1756) by Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota. There are activist groups in more than 280 congressional districts in 48 states and now activist groups in every congressional district in Michigan.
This is the potential Department of Peace: a theoretical executive branch cabinet that would handle all matters in foreign and domestic conflict resolution. The bill also provides for a Peace Academy that would train people in peace and peacemaking strategies, just as our military academies train students in military strategies.
With conflicts and crisis around the world, the proposed organization would act as an alternate solution for the loss of American lives in a wartime situation. Many are wondering why America, the world’s foremost “superpower,” does not already have a peaceful organization to avoid or resolve conflict? [cooganquote]
“At the international level, the bill provides for a Secretary of Peace on par with the Secretary of Defense,” said Hill. “When cabinet members meet to respond to an international conflict, the peace secretary would put peace options on the table for discussion and make recommendations to the president.”
Hill said, in a war situation, a peace secretary would provide input from peace-building experts on how to begin a war with peaceful outcomes integrated into the strategy. “In this way, we can show the world that a desire for peaceful coexistence is central to American operations abroad,” she said.
The department would not just be an agency on the international level but a worldwide organization that deals with many fronts, including state, local and domestic issues.
Hill explained, on a domestic level, the bill provides for trained peace experts to present options for making and maintaining peace in response to conflicts that occur within our nation and at the local level. And the bill funds a way to coordinate the application of best practices of the many local organizations that respond to violence and conflict in our cities and towns.
”Imagine, for example, local police departments that are burdened with responding to domestic violence complaints would be able to easily initiate a coordinated community response that included family counseling, violence prevention strategies, conflict resolution strategies, etc.,” said Hill. “Families with repeated domestic violence issues could be served in ways that can prevent serious injury, murder or jail time. The savings to our communities would be significant.”
While Hill’s enthusiasm for a more basic solution is understandable, many disagree an organization is required for that purpose. Dave Coogan, second vice chair of the College Republicans and international relations junior, is decidedly skeptical about this affair. “The domestic solutions the Department of Peace is supposed to provide are already handled at the local level,” he said. “The Department of Peace is going to address problems like drug and alcohol abuse, spousal and child abuse, civil rights, sister city programs and animal abuse. I can assure you that your city and state government is going to handle these problems better than the federal government.”
Coogan is also weary of the financial costs the department would bring. “If I remember right, the Department of Peace budget would be almost $10 billion. I don\’t think that the United States government should be spending money on a Department of Peace,” said Coogan. “The problem isn\’t that peace is a bad idea…the problem is the Department of Peace would be completely ineffective.” [hillquote1]
The budget for the Department of Peace is a key issue, and Congress’s ultimate decision could rest solely on this pivotal matter. “The proposed budget for a Department of Peace and Nonviolence would be only 2 percent of the budget of the Department of Defense in any given year,” said Hill. “We know that effective, preventive measures save money. The war in Iraq is costing us approximately $1 billion each week. Without an exit strategy, who knows how long this astronomical drain on our economy will last?”
Aptly named the War Department before 1947, the U.S. Department of Defense’s budget exceeds approximately $425 billion a year (not including the tens of billions more in supplemental expenditures allotted by congress) and since its birth has waged major campaigns in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. The Department of Defense includes the combined powers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as non-combat agencies such as the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Coogan was adamant about his opposition to the proposed organization, stating most of the international issues the Department of Peace will deal with are handled by the Department of State. “The Department of Peace being a counter to the Department of Defense?…not going to happen,” he said. “Even if the Secretary of Peace was on the National Security Council, he or she would still be one of the President\’s supporters. They would not be bringing an alternative policy perspective to the discussion.”
This is another problem facing the proposition, does the U.S. really need a department that could easily be covered by another faction? While this is a major question, Doyle said there are no attempts at issues of peacekeeping at home and abroad. He said it could be to the nation’s ultimate benefit to have one organization in charge of handling conflict decisions. “I do not see the Department of Peace conflicting with the Department of Defense but rather being an alter ego for it and the entire government,” the former soldier said. “Our national constitution is built on equality and fairness. We need to be reminded of that. A Department of Peace would make that more evident. We need to develop peaceful alternatives to conflict.”
With all the praise and opposition, the Department of Peace is either a saving grace for world and domestic issues or a doomed ideological venture – and a costly one at that. “I think it would just be a costly government office that would make people like Martin Luther King Assistant Secretary to Civil Rights,” said Coogan. “He would then be working in the government bureaucracy instead of creating change in the street.”
Expressing what the organization could mean for us as a whole, Hill said, “It\’s you and me and our neighbors being responsible and responsive citizens. This campaign gives rise to a renewed level of good citizenship. Peace is what our citizens want. The Department of Peace and Nonviolence campaign gives ordinary citizens the opportunity to learn about how legislation get passed. It gives us a vehicle to make a meaningful contribution toward the kind of society Americans really want.”
She continued, “What Americans are learning is that our democracy does not work without us. Our democracy is meant to be by the people, of the people and for the people. The ‘people’ is us.”
For more informatino on how to get involved with the program. Go to www.thepeacealliance.org and request to find a point person in your area.