Flickering Dreams of Peace

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

Ever try to shift a paradigm? I salute the brave souls scattered around the continent — some of them are in Congress — who are doing just that, who are daring, right now, to challenge the conventional wisdom of war and peace at the highest levels at which the game of geopolitics is played, and are calling for the establishment of a Cabinet-level Department of Peace.

When long-time correspondent Bill Bhaneja, a senior research fellow at the University of Ottawa and retired Canadian diplomat, recently e-mailed me the proposal he co-authored with Saul Arbess for such an addition to Canada’s government — inspired by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s H.R. 3760 — I confess to a queasy skepticism that such a project was just too darn idealistic.

Then I thought about bird flu — and George Bush’s wild musings two months ago about combating it with National Guard troops, that is, by implementing martial law to enforce quarantines. This from the man who has “degraded” (in the words of one high-level health official) the nation’s public health system and underfunded and politicized every branch of government created to deal with national emergencies.

And it hit me with a jolt: The level of public awareness is deteriorating. We’re now whelping leaders who haven’t got a clue how to deal with complex social issues except to start shooting at them. And there’s no adequate challenge to this in the media or from the opposition party, and apparently no public context big enough even to allow for debate.

For instance, there was Hillary Clinton the other day telling potential supporters of her run for the presidency, who I’d wager are against the war by a large margin, that the United States must “finish what it started” in Iraq, as though there’s a consensus what, exactly, we started and what “finishing” it would mean, and how many more dead Iraqis and U.S. servicemen we might expect before we attain our unarticulated goal.

It was sheer politician-speak, in other words, betraying no courageous intelligence, no insight that our brutal occupation might be fueling the insurgency and creating the terrorists we’re obliged to keeping fighting. But the media have already pegged Hillary a frontrunner, which means they’re condemning America’s anti-war majority, once again, to a campaign season without a presidential candidate who represents their ardent hopes.

This is intolerable. This is why I support and heartily endorse what is, in fact, a global movement to raise awareness by challenging the blood-myths of the nation-state and the inevitability of war, and the geopolitical canard extraordinaire that high-tech, high-kill, earth-poisoning modern wars have any chance of achieving controllable ends and do not spew incalculable suffering and future wars in their wake.

“What we seek,” write Bhaneja and Arbess, “is a world in which peaceful relations between states are a systematically pursued norm and that the numerous non-aggression pacts between states become treaties of mutual support and collaboration. We envision a world in which a positive peace prevails as projected most recently in the U.N. International Decade for a Culture of Peace (2001-2010) Programme of Action.”

The establishment of a peace academy, the training of peace workers, the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution at every level of human interaction — there’s no reason why such projects should be nothing more than the flickering dreams of protestors at candlelight vigils. There’s no reason why they should not be the business of government. I have no doubt whatsoever that the public is ready to move beyond the barbarism history has bequeathed us, and would do so in an eye blink if enough respected voices said, “Now is the time.”

And respected voices are saying this, if only we could hear them.

“What is quite clear — and would become clear as you go along with this campaign — is that you are trying, and I consider myself with you on this in every way . . . (to create) not only a massive but a basic change in our culture, in our entire approach to our relationships with other human beings. . . . It’s not a matter of simply getting another department of government. You’re speaking of an entire philosophical revolution.”

This is Walter Cronkite, in conversation with Kucinich last September at a Department of Peace conference in Washington, D.C. Kucinich, the hero of this movement, first introduced Department of Peace legislation in 2001. The bill now has some 60 sponsors in the House and, in September, was introduced in the Senate (S. 1756) by Mark Dayton of Minnesota.

The architects of the war on terror have minds stuck in old paradigms of domination and conquest. Their enemy is always the same: Evil Incarnate. Today’s jihadist was yesterday’s Communist, playing the same game of dominos.

This war is doomed to create nothing but losers, and more and more people — including many who are in or close to the military, such as Jack Murtha — are grasping this. As they wake up, the Department of Peace will be waiting for them.