Editor’s Note: This article by Raven friend and acclaimed author Frances Fuller, has been abridged from its original and is shared with permission.
Author’s Note: Before you read this article, I want you to know that I wrote with some ignorance and what I have said is inaccurate at one point. Because I want to stand by my conclusion and preserve the truth about how I reached it, I have decided to post the piece as I wrote it and explain its one factual error in a footnote.
The older I get, living through a lot of modern history, the more I see that victories and ceasefires and memorials are not enough; they are just part of an endless cycle. The lack of gunfire never means all is well. In the sweet silence something is happening. All sides are maneuvering, reorganizing, rearming, reloading the guns, and plotting new strategies. The loser of the last battle is nursing wounds, harboring anger, vowing to remember and get revenge.
The more wrinkled and stooped I get, the more I know that today’s injustices will produce tomorrow’s conflict, and my descendants, now precious children, will receive the bill for the evil I am doing and the good I am not doing.
And I am sure now, having suspected it for a long time, that something vital is not getting done, because it is not on anybody’s job description.
The Department of State, according to its own brochures, is responsible for our relationships with other countries and for making national and foreign policy in both peace and war. And we know that the Department of Defense is responsible for our security. Then we have the National War College that gives advanced training to both military and diplomatic personnel. Exactly how the Department of Defense relates to the Department of State in the decision-making process, I don’t know.
The State Department makes public a short document called “The Department of State at Work.” From this article I glean that the department has four main goals: protect the U.S.; advance democracy and human rights; promote understanding of our values; and support U.S. diplomats and other government personnel. The details reported under these four categories give the impression that the first goal, “protect the U.S.,” is where all the activity is directed.
Protecting America, according to the paper, involves four actions: defeating terrorists and their organizations; denying sponsorship and sanctuary to terrorists; diminishing the underlying conditions that terrorists exploit; and defending U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
Most of this sounds like work for the military. The third action is indeed activity that could reduce violence and constitutes a hint that some war might be avoidable. At the same time the organizational structure itself reveals that war is what we train, plan, equip and budget for, while we will also make policies for peace, in case it should happen.
So long as this imbalance is true, we will not have peace.
Our government itself has evolved through the years, adding things as we have realized the need. For years I have been thinking what finally I am saying: We need a Department of Peace. Just as the Department of Defense accomplishes several of the State Department’s goals, the Department of Peace should be responsible for other goals. The body should have a right arm as well as a left!
I am listening for a presidential candidate’s plan to pursue peace. I want to vote for someone who promises to establish a permanent Department of Peace, whose head, the Secretary of Peace, will be a part of the President’s Cabinet. I want the new secretary of this department, before anything else, to gather our best thinkers—generals and peace activists, philosophers, historians, educators, scientists, statesmen and stateswomen, sociologists, grandmothers, psychologists, ministers, executives—and engage them in the study and development of peace strategies. The overarching assignment of this group should be to help the Secretary develop a national plan for creating peace in our country and the world.
The work of this Department of Peace has magnificent possibilities. Just as the Department of Defense assesses security threats and responds to them, the Department of Peace can identify opportunities for creating cooperation and friendship and respond to them with wisdom, or see conflict coming and attack the problem behind it. I imagine a National Peace College to train workers for the department’s programs. The Peace College could utilize our growing number of experienced and competent people who, through writing and speaking and praying and protesting, are already creating a grass roots peace movement. I imagine wonderful innovations in the ways we relate to the world. We could become a country that plans and prepares and acts to create peace. We could bless instead of bullying the world.
I expect objections. Someone will suggest that I have stepped out of bounds and should stick to telling stories about Middle Easterners. Another will claim that a peace department is meaningless, because peace is a fantasy.
These reactions are fair enough. If we needed a peace department, wouldn’t somebody in government be talking about it? And peace in the world really is a fantasy; I am just foolishly idealistic.
On the other hand, our country is already pursuing a fantasy, the evil and destructive, alternative fantasy that we can forever be stronger than everyone else and overcome their violence with our violence. We are traveling, guns in hand, down a hopeless road on which it ALWAYS seems to be too late to think about peace.
Given these two nearly impossible ways of living, I vote for the fantasy of a peaceful world. I know that we can’t have it unless we can dream it, and I am serious that this is the main thing I want from a presidential candidate.
I will support with sweat and tears and my feeble words any viable candidate who has a serious policy for the pursuit of peace.
Footnote: Democratic senator and sometime candidate for nomination to the presidency, Dennis Kucinich actually proposed to the American Congress the creation of a cabinet level Department of Peace in 2001 and has brought it back again several times. In September 2005 Walter Cronkite interviewed him about this proposal and expressed support for the idea. You may see the interview by clicking on this link.
Frances Fuller spent thirty years in the violent Middle East and for twenty-four of those years was the director of a Christian publishing program with offices in Lebanon. She is the author of In Borrowed Houses: A True Story of Love and Faith Amidst War In Lebanon, the 2014 winner of “The Author’s Show: 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” contest. She blogs at www.inborrowedhouseslebanon.com.