Giving Peace Equal Time

It’s been many weeks that Mr. Obama has been trying to make up his mind what to do in Afghanistan. The occupation is not going well there, and every day that goes by, more and more Americans join the ranks of those who want us out. The President just sent back the latest slate of options to the DOD, and little wonder, since all of them involved escalating the war in some way and increasing troop levels.

It’s no surprise that when a nation has a superior, highly trained and equipped fighting force, it’s first response in any conflict is to use it. When you’re sitting around a table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff– who are undoubtedly patriotic men but trained from adolescence to blow things up or drop things on people– it’s no mystery why peace remains so elusive. If you consult a surgeon, of course, he’s going to suggest surgery. If you consult a military expert, he will naturally suggest a military solution. But what about a country like Afghanistan, where, historically, the problems have never yielded to military solutions?

How about giving peace a seat at the table? How about actually offering peace a voice in the discussion? Better yet, how about establishing a Department of Peace which would balance the DOD (formerly called the War Department) and whose raison d’etre would be to promote peaceful alternatives to war (such as, say, dialogue, diplomacy, negotiation, and humanitarian assistance)?

Lest conservatives and hawks cynically roll their eyes and assume the idea to have been hatched by some left-wing peacenik wearing love beads and wreaking of cannabis or some “America-hating” liberal think tank dedicated to depriving this country of her martial superiority, it ought to be pointed out that a plan for an “Office of Peace” to counterbalance the Department of War was first proposed in 1792 during the administration of our Founding Father George Washington. It was the brainchild of Dr. Benjamin Rush, renown physician, humanitarian, devout Christian, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and intimate friend of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Among the defects which have been pointed out in the Federal Constitution by its antifederal enemies,” Rush wrote,

“it is much to be lamented that no person has taken notice of its total silence upon the subject of an office of the utmost importance to the welfare of the United States, that is, an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country.

“It is to be hoped that no objection will be made to the establishment of such an office, while we are engaged in a war with the Indians, for as the War-Office of the United States was established in time of peace, it is equally reasonable that a Peace-Office should be established in the time of war.

Known as the Father of American Medicine and Psychiatry, Rush authored many textbooks on the subjects and advocated reform in the care of the mentally ill. He was also an ardent abolitionist and an early proponent of equal education rights for women (he founded the first college for women in the country). As a Christian he believed the Bible to be the only true foundation for peace and desired that a copy be placed in every home.

As a physician Rush served as a Surgeon General in the Continental Army, so he had seen close up the grim realities of war. Perhaps that is why in his proposal he submitted that the following words be inscribed over every state and court house in the land: THE SON OF MAN CAME INTO THE WORLD, NOT TO DESTROY MEN’S LIVES, BUT TO SAVE THEM. By contrast, he desired that this sign be placed over the entrance to the War Office:

“1. An office for butchering the human species. 2. A Widow and Orphan making office. 3. A broken bone making office. 4. A Wooden leg making office. 5. An office for the creating of public and private vices. 6. An office for creating a public debt. 7. An office for creating speculators, stock Jobbers, and Bankrupts. 8. An office for creating famine. 9. An office for creating pestilential diseases. 10. An office for creating poverty, and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness.

Apparently, the idea of such an office was not new, since it had been kicked around as early as the Constitutional debates of 1787. And despite Rush’s sometimes eccentric language, Washington himself was impressed enough with the concept that he even went so far as to propose such legislation to Congress in 1793. 216 years later, the idea is still not dead. In fact, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) made it an integral part of his campaigns for the Presidency in 2004 and 2008, and he continues to introduce the bill (HR.808) each year. Far from being just a crank piece of legislation, the current bill has 70 co-sponsors in the House.

War hasn’t worked very well. Shouldn’t we give peace a chance?


1 Comment

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  1. As always, Steve, I concur. A Department of Peace? As Mork would say, "What a concept."

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