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Time for a Department of Peace
I’m honored to have accepted the position of Secretary of Peace in the newly formed Green Shadow Cabinet. Of course, I cannot contrast my positions with those of the actual Secretary of Peace, as the United States has no such position.
There is a Secretary of War, although that title was changed to Secretary of Defense 66 years ago. It was changed the same year George Orwell wrote his masterpiece, 1984, in which he suggested that language is sometimes used as a disguise. In fact, ever since the War Department became the Defense Department, its business has had less than ever to do with defense and more than ever to do with promoting the use of war-making as an instrument of national policy. President Dwight Eisenhower observed and warned of this worsening situation 52 years ago in one of the most prescient but least heeded (even by Eisenhower) warnings since Cassandra told the Trojans to be wary of giant horses.
There is a Secretary of State, but the State Department has come to work arm-in-arm with the Defense Department, marketing weaponry to foreign governments, building coalitions for wars, imposing deadly sanctions as preludes to wars, presenting bogus arguments for wars at the United Nations, and holding the world’s governments accountable for human rights abuses based less on the extent of the abuses than on the governments’ relationships with the Pentagon. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Israel don’t have greater civil liberties and popular democratic rule than Iran; the State Department just acts as if they do.
Our entire government claims to be for peace, but it has become common to state one’s support for peace, and then qualify it with the assurance that one is not against any wars. This is usually meant to convey understanding or affection for members of the U.S. military. But you can respect people while condemning what they do. If our understanding and affection are broadened to include Afghans and Pakistanis and Yemenis, then we are obliged to oppose what the War Department is doing to them. Supporting “peace on earth” in December, or peace in our hearts, or peace through war is not enough. We need to be working for peace — the absence of war — year round.
We invest roughly a trillion dollars in war preparations every year, roughly half of federal discretionary spending, roughly half of world military spending. With no credible enemy in sight, and with no beneficial war observable in our history, great quantities of fear-mongering and much beautification of history are required to get us to tolerate this. The Pentagon is investing $65 million of our money in a Vietnam Commemoration Project aimed at making that war look less horrible than it was.
A University of Massachusetts study found that investment in education or infrastructure or green energy or even in tax cuts for working people produces significantly more jobs than does the same investment in the military. As tiny and much-exaggerated cuts to the military may soon actually materialize, we should take the opportunity to begin a conversion process. We can retool and retrain and convert from a war industry to a peace industry without anyone having to suffer in the process, and with money to spare.
And if we take away the idea of justifiable killing in war, and if we continue to eliminate the death penalty from additional states, we may begin to move our culture in a direction that helps bring our epidemic of violence at home under control as well. That could be a project for a Department of Peace. It’s not that some other department couldn’t do it. But thus far, none is.
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.