08/30/2007 - 22:00

The Vietnam corollary

I was also struck by Lawrence Wittner's comment about the Iraq War. His remark reminds me of the challenges that the Department of Peace campaign faced during the Vietnam War.

The quagmire in Vietnam revealed that we lacked the necessary infrastructure to build peace, supporting the belief that a Department of Peace was needed. But despite this, the bill to create a Department of Peace never became law. In a January 1971 newsletter, Council for a Department of Peace (CODEP) founder Mary Liebman wrote of the campaign's struggles: "The volunteers of the peace brigade had their hands full fighting their own fires; campus concern took a totally different direction." She added, "[Efforts] were vastly complicated by the pace of events in these 'interesting times.'" After CODEP's efforts subsided, the National Peace Academy Campaign (NPAC) formed in 1976, building upon CODEP's foundation and network. NPAC's efforts resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which opened in 1986 and is viewed as a stepping-stone toward a Department of Peace.

Today, the Department of Peace campaign is in a similar situation. The Iraq War has once again exposed our failure to put structures in place that will promote civil societies and peaceful cultures. Worse yet, the war remains polarizing, leading many who hear of the campaign to automatically assume it's "antiwar." But being pro-peace is not the same as being antiwar, and despite these challenges, the campaign continues to grow. The Iraq War is a front-page example of how the use of force doesn't resolve conflict. We've "won the war," but we haven't won the peace. Sadly, this situation isn't unique, as the despair and violence in Iraq is reflective of a systemic epidemic of violence we face globally.

We're often asked, "If a Department of Peace existed, how would it respond to the situation in Iraq?" First, during the pre-war phase, the department would've worked to prevent war by researching, analyzing, and recommending nonviolent solutions and strategies to resolve the conflict. Then, during the war, it would've provided peace builders to assist the military in maintaining order. Finally, during the post-war phase, a Department of Peace would've assisted in reconstruction and reconciliation, proactively working to quell disputes before they reached a violent climax.

The movement for a Department of Peace is broad-based, and by no means populated by those simply frustrated with the war. We're school teachers who understand how conflict-management programs create safer schools. We're social workers who know how initiatives such as nurse-family programs reduce child abuse. We're citizens who recognize that it's time to prioritize peace--both internationally and domestically.

The first funeral I ever attended was for a U.S. soldier from my community who was killed in Iraq. Like most of my generation, the war on terror has greatly impacted my life. However, it's just one example of how we're under-equipped to wage peace. It's that consciousness that fuels our growing movement for a Department of Peace.