On February 5, 2007 Dennis Kucinich introduced bill HR 808 into the House to construct a Department of Peace and Nonviolence, for a fourth time, and though the concept has never been realized, it is anything but a new proposal. The oldest form of it dates back to the beginning of the nation when Benjamin Rush (known as the Father of American Psychiatry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a Treasurer of the National Mint) wrote “A Plan of the Peace-Office for the United States.”
It begins, “Among the defects which have been pointed out in the Federal Constitution by its anti-federal enemies, 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.”
Rush then suggested several things to instill and sustain peace in the nation. The first suggestion was to establish a federal structure for peace—the Department of Peace, headed by a cabinet level Secretary. Then, to cultivate peace in the national consciousness, he prescribed teaching its morality and goodness in schools, banishing capital punishment in order to demonstrate the national veneration of life and condemnation of bloodshed, and doing away with military insignia and the glorification of our defense branches so that the citizens would not come to glorify war.
Rush is not the only one to lament the lack of a federally supported branch of peace. Nearly 100 bills have been presented before the House and Senate calling for such a branch since the cabinet was created, and now Kucinich joins in this lineage of the as-yet unrealized proposal. The latest bill currently has fifty-two co-sponsors on it, and citizen groups from 45 states assembled on February 5 to support the bill and listen to Kucinich speak.
The scope of the bill’s ambitions is broad. HR 808 includes plans not only for developing peace abroad but also addresses domestic abuse, violence in the media, and hate crimes. Other existing peace institutions, such as the Peace Corps and the U.S. Institute of Peace would be organized under the Department, and a Peace Day would be observed.
The funding of the Department of Peace would be intimately linked with that of the Department of Defense in that it would be equal to no less than 2% of the budget of the Department of Defense. If adopted, when the U.S. spends more money on aggressive measures, it would also have to increase spending in support of nonviolent operations.
A Peace Academy would also be started, which would provide four-year courses in peace education and require the graduates to spend five years in public service, participating in programs dedicated to nonviolent conflict resolution. Also, in parternship with the Department of Education, curriculum covering nonviolent movements of the United States and other nations would be developed for grade and high schools.
Kucinich considers a Department of Peace to be the “animation” of the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. Indeed, our nation is ignoring or at least not taking seriously their great message if there is no formal and structured attempt to reach it, if there is no recognized place for peace in the government.
We are not heeding the sober warning of President Eisenhower, who said in his final speech as president, “We must never let the weight of [the military-industrial complex] endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” The Department of Peace is needed to counter our bloated military operations, to produce a real and achievable concept of peace in the national consciousness, to create more diplomatic solutions to conflicts abroad, and to attempt the realization of a higher moral goal in the nation.
There are several ways we can contribute to this effort in Ames. First, we can contact our congress people and ask them to support this bill. Also, we can approach city council members and ask them to support the bill, then alert Congress of their local support. This has been the case in 19 cities across the nation, including Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis. The Ames Progressive staff will be attempting this in the coming weeks, so watch the calendar if you are interested in supporting HR 808 and making this the final attempt and first triumph of this long overdue proposal.