From U.S. doctrine to political reality

A Cabinet-level Department of Peace should be just as urgent as homeland security.

Peace now!

In front of hundreds of delegates gathered at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s Fifth Congressional District Convention on Saturday, Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., shocked the crowd by saying he would support a U.S. House bill that calls for creating a U.S. Department of Peace. The bill, authored by presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and introduced to Congress in July 2001, would establish a Cabinet-level department in the executive branch. The bill also calls for the creation of the Peace Academy for peace education and the designation of the first day of every year as Peace Day in the United States.

If our nation’s elected leaders can craft a Department of Homeland Security in a few months, we can surely create a Department of Peace in the same amount of time. But to make peace a matter of urgency and an indispensable concept in contemporary U.S. life, we need to draw critical wisdom from the Founding Fathers.

In 1792, the blueprint for the Department of Peace was suggested by two highly patriotic humanitarian reformers: Benjamin Banneker, a noted black scientist, surveyor and editor; and Benjamin Rush, a medical doctor and educator who signed the Declaration of Independence and trained Meriwether Lewis prior to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

A friend of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Rush published articles on, among other topics, anti-slavery, anti-capital punishment, education for women and patriotism. In fact, he supplied his friend Thomas Paine with the title to “Common Sense.” Rush served as physician general during the Revolutionary War, but in 1778 he resigned his military office in protest of the treatment of soldiers in hospitals.

Among other contributions, Banneker published Banneker’s Almanac, for which he made all astronomical calculations, tide predictions and weather forecasts. In his 1793 almanac, he included his correspondence with Jefferson, as well as an unsigned document – later attributed to Rush – titled “A Plan of a Peace Office for the United States.”

When Banneker and Rush came together in Philadelphia in 1792, they discussed the extreme drain that war has on a nation, its resources and its people. They were understandably concerned that although the U.S. government had established a Department of War, it made no provisions for a Department of Peace. Their goal to create a new Cabinet post was not some pie-in-the-sky idea. In the text of “A Plan of a Peace Office for the United States,” Rush wrote:

“In order more deeply to affect the minds of the citizens of the United States with the blessings of peace, by contrasting them with the evils of war, let the following inscriptions be painted upon the sign which is placed over the door of the War Office:

“1. An office for butchering the human species. 2. A Widow and Orphan making office. 3. A broken bone making office. 4. A Wooden leg making office. 5. An office for creating public and private vices. 6. An office for creating a public debt. 7. An office for creating speculators, stock Jobbers, and Bankrupts. 8. An office for creating famine. 9. An office for creating pestilential diseases. 10. An office for creating poverty, and the destruction of liberty, and national happiness.”

Rush continued, “In the lobby of this office let there be painted representations of all the common military instruments of death, also human skulls, broken bones, unburied and putrefying dead bodies, hospitals crowded with sick and wounded Soldiers, villages on fire, mothers in besieged towns eating the flesh of their children, ships sinking in the ocean, rivers dyed with blood, and extensive plains without a tree or fence, or any object, but the ruins of deserted farm houses.” The final sentence stated: “Above this group of woeful figures – let the following words be inserted, in red characters to represent human blood, ‘NATIONAL GLORY.’ “

We should be alarmed by the rate at which our military and defense-related budgets are expanding, just as Banneker and Rush were appalled by the conditions created by the warfare state of the post-revolutionary United States. Although their “plan” has been rendered invisible, it is time to transform this U.S. doctrine into concrete political reality and make it central to our everyday life.

Joel T. Helfrich welcomes comments at [email protected]