The Peace Majority

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Tony Blair told it like it was the other day — well, almost. What he did was demonstrate that the echo of truth often drowns out even its most shameless evasions.

“There’s a deliberate strategy,” he told David Frost, “… to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.”

Of course, he was talking about Iraq, where “al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other,” were strangling democracy in its cradle, turning a nice invasion ugly. He wasn’t talking about Great Britain or the United States, where a cabal of liars and fanatics fobbed off a high-tech war on a public that assented only because they believed it would be easy and cheap. But he could have been.

The Bush administration, despite its repudiation in the midterm elections, is now preparing to ask Congress for another $127 billion or so to feed that failed war. And they’ll probably get it, even as the opposition tepidly debates timetables for withdrawal and agonizes over the fate of our “mission.”

The acknowledged cost of the war is now pushing $600 billion, making it, according to USA Today, our most expensive conflict since World War II. And that figure, of course, doesn’t reflect the war’s true costs, such as lifetime care for brain-injured, psychologically shattered and immune-system-compromised vets. A year ago, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated that such hidden costs could push the price tag for Bush’s folly up to $2 trillion.

And even that estimate doesn’t look at costs from the Iraqi point of view. Not only has that country’s infrastructure been destroyed and its economy wrecked, but its soil has been poisoned for generations by the toxic detritus of war, such as depleted uranium dust, which causes, among other health disasters, birth defects and cancer. We’ve unleashed a moral horror on Iraq, and ourselves, that benefits only the war profiteers. Yet we’re stuck with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that we’ve been preparing for war for the past 6,000 years or so. It’s what humanity seems to know best — our default response to fear. The unlearned lesson of the 21st century is that we’ve gotten far too good at it. The structure of our society — government, industry, the media – can gear up for war at a moment’s notice, on half a pretext, no matter how abhorrent the idea may be in the souls of ordinary men and women. “The will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.” History has bequeathed us a built-in suicide machine.

All of which brings me to last week’s action by the Chicago City Council. My fair city recently joined communities large and small across the country — Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Oakland, along with Silver City, N.M., Sebastopol, Calif., Hamtramck, Mich., Fairmont, Minn., and many others — in passing a resolution urging Congress to implement a cabinet-level Department of Peace.

In the context of a pending war appropriations bill that will get consideration in Congress long before the Department of Peace legislation (HR 3760 and S 1756), cynics will see such non-binding resolutions in remote city councils as futility incarnate: the smallest of small potatoes.

I beg to differ, if only because these resolutions in themselves represent huge organizing efforts on behalf of peace. In Chicago, members of the City Council Resolution Action Committee, chaired by Jeannette Kravitz and Scott Roos, worked on the project for nearly a year before reaping success on Nov. 15, when the city’s 50 aldermen passed the resolution unanimously. Such efforts inevitably create what one might call collateral benefits: They educate us and wake us up.

They also plant seeds. “We recognize that the world is interconnected and that everything influences the whole. As a consequence, there is no ‘them and us.’ There is only us, and the welfare of others, indeed of all life, is our own welfare.”

So the Peace Alliance states on its Web site (, articulating a principle that absolutely must find manifestation in our politics, economy and social infrastructure if we are to have a future. The proposed Department of Peace would be a work in progress: a center for the study and implementation of peaceful conflict-resolution techniques as well as a symbol that stands against the momentum of war.

In conservative Fairmont, Minn., an online poll conducted by the local paper, the Fairmont Sentinel, was running, as of a few days ago, approximately four-to-one in favor of the Department of Peace resolution. Such numbers belied the naysayers’ colorful dismissals of the resolution, in the comment section, as “feel-good liberal crap,” “increased promiscuity rights for all people” and “all about ramming the gay agenda down the throats of people.”

Such flailing nonsense reflects the terror that herds a population into war. I believe we’re witnessing its last gasp. If the majority of us begin actively working for what we want, peace will be inevitable.

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