Making Peace Normal

Also published on http://www.buzzflash.com

March 11, 2004

The marches and demonstrations against the Iraq war have apparently not yet altered the course of that war. I plan to march on March 20th in hopes that we finally can change the behavior of the U.S. government. But marching alone will not do it.

Already we have, of course, impacted the content of the U.S. mass media, in particular through the positions taken by various presidential campaigns, including to some extent those of candidates who had voted for the war. But what’s needed now if we are going to save lives this year or in the future is for us and the Democratic nominee to turn the anti-war protests into pro-peace initiatives.

As long as war is the norm and peace is radical, Democratic candidates will be put on the defensive, for example by being falsely accused of voting to slash major sections of the military. If we can make peace normal, we will be able to force our candidates to propose initiatives that put them on the offensive against public officials who do the bidding of the weapons makers.

But what sort of proactive positive proposal could there be? If you’re against war you’re against war, right? Isn’t it just semantics to call that a negative position?

Well, how many of us have heard what’s going on in Britain? A group is working to establish an arm of the British government dedicated to the active promotion of peace. When John McDonnell, MP, introduced a Bill for a first reading last October to begin the process of creating a governmental Ministry of Peace, he said:

“”With cross party support for this Bill we could commence the process of transforming the modern world’s first imperial power into the world’s leading peace power.”

This would be a remarkable shift. In the last thousand years, England has been at war for 56 years out of every hundred.

“The Ministry,” McDonnell said, “would provide within Government an expertise in non-violent conflict resolution, through which Government could be advised on how policies can be developed to reduce the potential for conflict. Secondly, it would provide and co-ordinate Government resources to foster greater understanding in Britain and the world of how war can be avoided and peace achieved.”

The Bill, which passed unopposed, had been initiated by Diana Basterfield, who chairs the steering committee promoting the Ministry of Peace. She credits the huge public demonstrations of the past year as a source of inspiration.

The idea has also been taken up by the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby, which has called on the European Union Commission to create the post of Commissioner for Peace.

Those of us in the United States would not just be following Europe were we to pick up this idea and run with it. In fact, Basterfield and McDonnell credit an American with originating the idea of a branch of government for peace promotion, and they have worked closely with this American on their proposal. If you are a serious news hound and have dug deeply into the hidden corners of reporting on the current presidential campaign, you’ll know that I’m speaking of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Kucinich has promoted the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace for years and has made this effort a focus of his presidential campaign.

Elizabeth Sullivan, foreign affairs columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer – that tireless foe of Kucinich for 30 years – has this to say:

“Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been talking about a Department of Peace for nearly four years now, long before he started running for president. When the Cleveland congressman reintroduced his bill last April to create this Peace Department, to be paid for by an amount equal to 2 percent of the defense budget, he had 49 co-sponsors.

“It’s easy to wave off a Cabinet-level peace office as pie-in-the-sky kookiness, on a par with vegan lifestyles or 1960s flower power. But it’s far from kooky. Peace is the wave of the future. The sooner we embrace it, the better off we’ll be.

“America has fallen into the trap of empire, the allure of power. We are so mighty militarily it’s hard to conceive of a philosophy that puts peace first. Our military budget exceeds the next 10 nations’ combined. Our soldiers are the best equipped, best trained in the world. They will go where no one else will go. They can accomplish what no other soldiers, aid workers or peaceniks can do in the most hostile and unforgiving landscapes. It’s easy to rely on them. Seductively easy.

“But our troops are trained to fight wars, not to become nation-builders, road-builders or security guards. It’s wrong to remake them as aid workers, cops, domestic relations judges and political mediators. Yet that’s what we’ve been doing, in conflict after conflict, stretching back more than a decade. We can’t sustain the effort, so when our troops leave, the project dies. Witness Haiti