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28 June 2009


Terry Mason

There may be some parts of the movement to create a Department of Peace that aren't clear. Reading the legislation may help clarify (http://www.thepeacealliance.org/content/view/658/23/), and I will try to offer some thoughts here.

The legislation as is currently written appropriates $10 Billion, 85% of which will be used to support and expand proven programs domestically to reduce violence in our communities. In 2004, The World Health organization estimated we spend $300 Billion annually on the costs of interpersonal violence, excluding the cost of war.

The approach is prevention. Just as with medical care, prevention costs less and is more effective than reacting to violence after it occurs. We had to learn about prevention in medical care -- we had to learn to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and drugs were developed to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure for more extreme cases. Insurance companies now pay for preventive measure, such as mammograms, where 20 years ago they did not.

We need to get to the violence at the root cause, and work to prevent it before it happens. We need more effective approaches to ameliorate the effects after it does occur.

The good news is that there exist hundreds of programs that are metrically proven to radically reduce violence at the root cause, which cost far less than dealing with the violence after it occurs. These programs need to be supported and expanded. This is what a Department of Peace will do. A short list of just a few:
- Challenge Day, a program that addresses the rifts and conflicts in high school, identifying loneliness and isolation as the root cause of so many problems that high school kids face (take a look at the video on the website) http://www.challengeday.org
- Tariq Khamisa Foundation - Azim Khamisa lost his son, Tariq, in a gang initiation shooting when he was a 20-year old college student delivering pizza part time, and has forgiven the 15-year old boy, Tony, who killed his son. He worked with Tony's grandfather/guardian to create a program to keep kids out of gangs, teaching them mediation and non-violent communication skills that is 95% effective for about $225 per kid, when incarcerating a youth costs on average $100K/year in CA - http://www.tkf.org
- Ari Cowan developed a program in the state of Washington with astonishing results, working with a maximum security facility. Check out the video... About 96% of these prisoners are going to be released back to society, and Ari's program actually reduced their violent behavior 100%. http://www.aricowan.net/pgs/par/01par.html

This concept is not anti-military or anti-war, per se. The idea is to complement and support our military and local law enforcement with alternative methods. Back to the medical comparison, if I'm hit by a truck and am bleeding in the street, please call 911, and get me to the emergency room: the parallel here would be military intervention.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said, "I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use "soft" power and for better integrating it with "hard" power... Military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more of these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success."

Back in the 1960's, President Kennedy stated the intention to be on the moon in ten years. At the time, it seemed like a pretty fantastic idea. From that stated intention, NASA was created, and the science -- which already existed but wasn't coordinated -- came together. We were on the moon in ten years.

What better intention could we set than to leave the world safer for future generations?

What we're doing today isn't working. We need a new approach. If not a Department of Peace, what then?

The Peace Alliance also supports HR 1064, S. 435, for the Youth PROMISE Act. This legislation is aligned with the same principles as the Department of Peace bill, but focuses attention on our youth. http://www.thepeacealliance.org/content/view/688/23/. With bi-partisan support on both houses of congress, this legislation is on track to succeed.

mikey mcd

Pass the "Mary Jane" it's 4:20, man. I think this bill was originally written by Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame). I have received several emails about the legislation, until now I thought it was a joke. Though it is not a joke, I am still laughing to the point of exhaustion. I think it was Rodney King who said, "can't we all get along"; maybe he can be the chairman after his next rehab graduation? Here's our tax dollars hardly at work. Atlas Shrugged anyone?

Mikey McD

How will the edicts of DOP by enforced? Tickling campaigns, pillow fights or the dreaded "time out chair"?

Functions served by the DOP:
1- Fulfilling BO's campaign promises to increase the stealing from the wealth generators (ie progressive tax system)
2- Fulfilling BO's campaign promise to enlarge the size of government/decrease personal liberties

Ted N.

Terry Mason makes several good points in favor of a Department of Peace. Perhaps the best argument is that what we've been doing isn't working, and it's time to try a new approach. Having the largest military budget in the world did not prevent 9/11. Continuing to throw billions upon billions of tax dollars into systems of violence will not prevent the next terrorist attack. Peacebuilding techniques have come a long way in the past 30-40 years, but our government structures have not kept up with the advances. The Department of Peace would save tax dollars by addressing the root causes of violence.

George Rebane

Thank you Terry for that comprehensive and well written comment.

“What we're doing today isn't working. We need a new approach. If not a Department of Peace, what then?”

Agreed that today’s approach is not working. But it can be argued that today’s approach is the shambles and chaos that has come after years of government imposed mandates that destroyed a public culture that was more cohesive and assimilative. Now we are heading pell mell into a world that seeks to regain order and civility through culture-neutral state diktaats. In the longer run, this path will most likely result in the ‘moral orders’ that Stalin, then Hitler, then Mao introduced in their countries. Indeed crime and levels of violence among the people did drop, the government gained a monopoly in violence and used it to ‘keep the peace’. I have witnessed this type of peace keeping and still thank the Lord that my parents had the wisdom and good fortune to get us all out of there. Here the naïve – who believe our s**t doesn’t smell - answer these arguments with ‘Never in America’.

Today the easy-to-grasp yet simplistic idealism of the collective still enchants people ignorant of how the world and its governments work. Our Founders were an extremely unlikely and unique collection of great minds and intellects that good fortune brought together. They fashioned for us the legacy of a Constitution amplified by their voluminous writings. In a singular manner on this earth, this document, to the extent that we have adhered to it, has attracted multitudes and preserved their liberties. But it is now crumbling as witnessed by our body politic, and the ever more detailed rules that this nation’s governments, at all levels, write and enforce to curtail the behaviors of law-abiding citizens into ever-narrowing circles. The result promotes growth of the lawless, those who have never been and will not be persuaded by any bureaucratic solution imposed from on high, save for the ‘peace’ imposed by totalitarianism.

“… what then?” How about taking a lesson from history as abetted by the six o’clock news? Multi-cultural societies have been an historical disaster. Today, every small cohort of people in this world – each with a little real estate, a common language, and culture - yearns the freedom to practice and pass on that culture unabridged. And, as we see, most are willing to repeat the awful sacrifice of our own Founding Generation to regain and express that freedom.

So let’s start going back toward the kind of American culture that in decades past we learned in schools and homes, an assimilative culture that we all want to and can practice in the public arena as the visible hallmark of our unity and uniqueness. In this land we have always had the opportunity to celebrate our multi-cultural roots among those who share them, or would like to learn about them. Even though I was born in Estonia and grew up in a bi-cultural environment, there was never any doubt that I am an American. There are millions of us naturalized citizens who don’t look upon ourselves as hyphenated Americans, and we would never dream of parading in public under any flag but Old Glory.

What then indeed? Why not work to bring back an environment in which a coherent American culture and strong social contract can again grow and thrive?

Russ Steele

Well said George! It is rare that more government solves a problem, more government may cover it up or delayed a solution until the root cause was overcome by events, but history has shown that more government is the problem, not the solution. The Energy Department was created to solve the energy crisis in the late 70s, here we are almost 40 years latter the energy crisis is still with us. Now we have Cap and Trade to being us energy independence. Hey wait, that is what the Department of Energy was supposed to do. The have over 16,000 federal employees and 100,000 contractors working on the problem, but have not solved it yet.

If the Department of Peace get its nose under the tax payers tent, 40 years from now it will be larger than the Department of Energy and it will still be trying to solve the same set of problems.

Wendy G.

I guess for me the biggest issue here is do we have the skills, systems and structures needed to do what is demanded by our changing world? Going back to the way things were seems impossible simply because the world is not what it once was, and the threats to stability--both domestically and internationally--are much greater and more varied than ever before.

I recently heard an Army officer who is an expert on Africa speak to this issue. He kept challenging the audience to ask "What is security in the 21st Century" and asserted that our current government structures and foreign affairs approach don't satisfactorily ask, answer or address that question. You can see his remarks online at http://blip.tv/file/2047598 (he's the third and last major speaker and is in uniform, so you’ll know it's him).

If we don't learn and teach the skills to resolve conflict nonviolently, we condemn ourselves to a world of violence. As I've heard it said, why are we violent and not illiterate? Because we teach our children to read.

Having the ability to resolve conflict nonviolently does not mean different points of view are repressed or oppressed--in fact, it can increase the flow of different ideas (and cultural expression and assimilation) because people are no longer afraid to get into a conflict that otherwise might lead to violence--they know they'll be able to work it out. It also doesn't mean you never use force (just because you can read doesn't mean you have to!). It just increases the options and the possibility for success without violence, which I think everyone can agree is a good thing.

I very much appreciate the healthy dialogue on this topic. Any idea is made better by the contribution of a variety of points of view. What Russ and George describe is in no way what is wanted, needed or intended by a Department of Peace.

What is wanted and needed is a way to strategically address the public health issue that is violence, just as we can address a threat like Swine Flu or any other disease that is passed from person to person, and in the case of violence, from generation to generation. Our founders likely never imagined that one day science would provide the tools to rid the world of the scourge of small pox. We now have new sciences that can be applied to rid the world of violence. Given the destructive capacity of our weapons and their availability, I would offer that it's not utopian; it's practical.

George Rebane

Wendy, you bring up important points that must be covered both for considering the DOP bill, and in the larger sense of what new is required to inform society as it adapts to accelerating technology in the current and foreseeable geo-political environment. Let me respond to 1) “… do we have the skills, systems and structures needed …?”, and 2) the equating of violence in the human species to a “public health issue”.

Our government has literally countless and uncounted number of departments, bureaus, agencies, commissions, … . Introduced into this mix, the DOP is also intended to be a Janus-like organ of the federal government with both domestic and trans-national duties. As such, the DOP today appears as yet another very powerful, new regulatory and enforcement body with functions that traditionally have been assigned to existing government organs like the Departments of State, Defense, HHS, and Interior.

No one seems to address which existing organizations should be sunsetted or repurposed or … to satisfy the objectives of the new DOP – we simply add another huge layer of government. And then what, let things sort themselves out into another infamous Washington mess with new unintended collateral damage? The DOP proponents should make clear what reorganization is intended in the existing structure – adding another overarching ‘coordinating body’ is a well-worn path to more spending and loss of liberties for the rest of us. Although, one readily admits that it will employ another huge cohort of the un-employable.

That violence is a public health problem is a notion which from time to time revisits our attention. The clinical evidence that some domestic (in-country) violence has a psychological dimension is well accepted. However, the residual domestic violence (calculated, coordinated, and purposeful), and most certainly violence on the international scale has other root causes, well-known and historically verified. On the whole and in the aggregate, one has to side with the explanation that violence and/or its threat is used primarily to satisfy personal, group/tribal, and national interests. It is not a disease or malfunction of the human species; violence is simply an extremely effective way of resolving conflicts of interest.

One can also make the case that human-on-human violence over the ages has contributed much to the evolution of our dexterity, endurance, cognitive skills, and social development. The derivatives of such skills have given rise to some of our most beautiful, useful, and celebrated art forms, philosophies, infrastructures, and advances in health care, among many other profitable endeavors. Our propensity for risk and conflict is un/fortunately an innate characteristic – it is truly in our double-helix. And there is no doubt that it must to some extent be controlled, lest society collapses or humanity is destroyed. But I shudder to think what kind of art or architecture we would be capable of, if we were in a perennial condition of enforced peace. We should always remember that which gives rise to the lithe beauty of the lion and grace of the gazelle – they don’t acquire those admirable attributes lying around with each other munching pampas grass.

In the final analysis, prescriptions like DOP to bring world peace have been proposed and implemented in both the small and large. All have ultimately made untenable demands on our faulty altruistic propensities and abilities. All have caused untold misery and death as their practitioners ultimately sought to force on humans what is not in their nature. Only the under-educated of each generation seem to be unaware of this part of human history. And it is also they who, when apprised, return with ‘But this time it will be different.’ DOP supporters should take it upon themselves, as an early burden, to demonstrate why anyone should believe that this time it will indeed be different.

Throughout eons, the ‘natural way’ to control violence in any society of critters has been the emergence/presence of a dominant hegemon or an opposing pair of such. In a democratic republic, this dominant hegemon is government, to which a free people parsimoniously parcel power. When parsimony is lost, so is liberty. The enlightened have always recognized this and sought that delicate balance of power. The ignorant have always traded freedom for promises of security, in the end achieving neither. Thomas Jefferson advised us ‘A nation ignorant and free, that never was and never shall be.’ In America we have spent the last forty years trying to prove Jefferson wrong.

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