I ducked out a few minutes ago to grab a gelato over at Gelazzi on Larimer Square and didn’t realize, as I tried to walk in, that it was reserved temporarily for a private party. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, retreating. But when the woman at the door saw my press pass, she invited me right in. I figured that whoever was hosting, I could take the press packet handed to me in exchange for a cup of chocolate-chocolate chip and coffee Italian-style ice cream.
Turns out it was a gathering to establish a U.S. Department of Peace. That’s the goal of The Peace Alliance, a D.C.-based organization whose mission with such a project is
“to reduce and prevent violence domestically and internationally.”
It sounded a little gimmicky at first. But as I thumbed through the press kit, I started to wonder, why not? We have cabinet entities dedicated to all kinds of essential aims: education, health and human services, diplomatic relations, security abroad and at home, taking care of public lands, even the prosaic task of getting ourselves from place to place.
We no longer have a War Department – it’s been the Department of Defense since 1949, in a post-WWII effort to downplay the suggestion that military preparedness is inherently geared to foment war – but the DOD’s concerns are not generally with finding nonviolent ways to foster peace.
I was reminded, as I contemplated the proposed name – the U.S. Department of Peace – that what we assume to be normal or acceptable is very much a social construction. Why does the official pursuit of peace seem like such an odd notion? As a journalism student, I remember one professor asking students why we thought newspapers had business sections, but no labor sections. Most of us had never stopped to think about it. We were ensconced within the ‘taken-for-grantedness’ that permeates the way we look at and understand the world.
Imagine how differently a Department of Peace would engage with global conflict, versus the Department of Defense. Its stance would be proactive, rather than reactive. It would be focused collectively, rather than just internally. It would seek to understand and correct the roots of violence, rather than merely protect against it. A Peace Department wouldn’t deny the necessity odefense, but its agenda would be larger.
The press kit, which I skimmed in good faith in exchange for my gelato, says, “We live in a world in which military solutions alone are entirely insufficient to ensure national security.” There seems to be plenty of evidence for that, especially if we draw a broad definition of what “national security” means. The World Health Organization estimates that we spend $300 billion annually just on violence and its consequences that occur within our own country – let alone our staggering expenses for the war in Iraq.
Makes me wonder what a Department of Peace might be able to accomplish, for genuine homeland security and as the policy complement The Peace Alliance envisions for our military. They’re not mutually exclusive, proponents contend, who suggest funding it with two percent of the current Defense Department budget — less than we spend in a month on military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Alliance. Heck, they could get a great start with a one-fifth of one percent of the DOD budget, which, based on the Alliance’s numbers, would be a paltry billion dollars. I’d say that’s worth looking into – and not just because I got a free gelato.