Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The U.S. Department of Peace: A Brief History and Bright Future
by Antony Adolf

George washingtonJohn F. Kennedy, that great orator if not practitioner of peace, once said: "Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures."

But what most Americans don't realize is that this gradualness as manifested in the initiative to create such "new structures," a federal U.S. Department of Peace to coordinate and fund peace work nationally, has been part of the American Dream since the country was founded.

I was recently invited to speak on peace activism, peace professionalism and peace journalism (no, the three aren't mutually exclusive) at the Midwest U.S. Department of Peace Conference in Detroit. The experienced vitality of the attendees who came in from six states and dozens of cities re-energized me, and I returned home reminded that there are a lot of people who work proudly and effectively for peace despite still being in the shadows of most media. To be among them, sharing stories and ideas, was a privilege I am unlikely to forget, and with a bright future ahead, neither will the history of which we are a part.

Not only are there a lot of Americans working for peace right now, there has been ever since there has been Americans. Peace isn't just a fad that came and went with hippies in the 60s; it is part of the very fabric of this country, if also one we often forget or are made to. In a powerful presentation by the charismatic President of Citizens for Peace, Colleen Mills, our host along with sponsor The Peace Alliance, a perhaps surprising brief history of the U.S. Department of Peace initiative was given.

1783: George Washington called for a proper “Peace Establishment”.
1792: Benjamin Banneker and Dr. Benjamin Rush call for an “Office of Peace” with peace education in all schools.
1936: Dr. Frederick Kettner publishes essay “The Need for a Secretary of Peace”.
1943 -1968: Eighty-eight Congressional bills are introduced calling for a Department of Peace in the House or Senate.
1961: President John F. Kennedy launches the Peace Corps.
1969: Senator Vance Hartke (IL), and Rep. Seymour Halpern (NY), introduce a Bill for a Department of Peace with a Peace Academy.
1984: The U.S. Institute of Peace created (its beautiful new building is currently under construction).
1993: President Bill Clinton launches Americorps.
2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), and Sen. Mark Dayton (MN) introduce Bills calling for a Department of Peace.
2010: The U.S. Department of Peace is named in Change.org's "Ideas for Change in America."

Of particular note is that peace has always been a bipartisan issue insofar as both Republicans and Democrats have been involved in the U.S. Department of Peace initiative throughout its long and distinguished history. The initiative is also global, and with successes in a few countries already. Will Americans lead or follow when it comes to peace in the 21st century?

As campaigning for the November elections picks up steam, we can each do our part to make some of it push the gears of the U.S. Department of Peace forward. We're in good company, there's lots of us if you look, and it's part of our and peace history, too.

Antony Adolf is the author of Peace: A World History