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Give Dept. of Peace a chance?

October 16, 2006|AL MARTINEZ

PERHAPS you have noticed that when it comes to excess and empty noise, I am not the most tolerant person in the world. Take the subject of peace, for instance.

On almost any given day, including Sundays, I receive e-mails from near and far that inform me of various peace seminars, peace retreats, peace picnics, peace dances, peace calendars and peace speeches.

Interspersed are requests for volunteers to hold antiwar signs at various intersections and placards that ask for a passing horn-honk to indicate that a motorist is, after all, for peace, even though he is too busy to do more than honk.

Once in a while someone like Cindy Sheehan pops up and there is a flurry of movement centered on her as she challenges war in the name of her war-killed son, but even that fades away, and her advocates disappear like birds scattered into flight. I wrote in the style of an angry dog one day recently that there was no organized peace movement of any consequence in this country and that infrequent instances of placard-carrying protesters chanting "No more war" are the equivalent of using a water gun to fight a firestorm.

Then I heard from Wendy Greene. While there may not be a massive antiwar movement, she informed me, there is indeed a peace movement. She added: "Big difference."

She was talking about an effort to establish a Cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence to achieve harmony between street gangs, spouses, nations, various ethnic and religious groups and others inclined toward maiming or killing one another. Big job.

The idea was so intriguing that I met with Greene one day at Inner-City Arts, located in a large warehouse-like building in the middle of L.A.'s skid row, where she works part time. Greene is also director of outreach for the Peace Alliance, a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to the establishment of a Department of Peace.

Admitting that I had never heard of either the alliance or its goal is certain to bring admonishments for my failure to keep informed. The group, I am told, has a database of about 40,000 supporters and is involved in an effort to have a bill passed in Congress to establish such a department. Now in committee, it is being sponsored by 75 members of the House and two member of the Senate.

"Peace is nonpartisan," Greene declared in the bold manner of a true believer but then was forced to admit that all but one of the sponsors so far, if not all of its 40,000 supporters, are Democrats. The single non-Democrat is an independent. Given the current temper of the nation, that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Greene, though only 40, could have emerged from the streets of 1960s Berkeley marching to end the war in Vietnam, such is her passion for peace. Instead, she was born into a military family. Her father is a retired Air Force colonel, her grandfather was a major general in the Air Force, her brother is a colonel in the Air Force and a cousin serves as a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps.

She laughs at that and says, "I'm a warrior for peace."

Being for peace is like being for apples, in the sense that just about everyone is theoretically in favor of it. But no one wants an apple with a worm in it, and, similarly, many will argue that they don't want just any kind of peace. There is this kind of peace and that kind of peace. A perfect peace, like a golden apple, might not even be possible given the aggressive tendencies of our species.

There is much to be said in favor of a Cabinet-level department dedicated to a kind of ultimate serenity, but one has to wonder exactly how it would pursue its goals, short of disbanding the NRA, shutting down the Pentagon and dragging Donald Rumsfeld off in chains.

Greene replied that it would have a budget roughly 2% the size of the Defense Department's and would act as a clearinghouse, "a beacon on the hill," coordinating the activities of peace workers in the field, who would be scampering about like squirrels, damping brush fires of conflict on the streets, in schools and, one supposes, wherever they would flare up.

A peace academy would be established as a fully accredited university similar to West Point that would train peacekeepers in their jobs of indoctrination, advocation and mediation. As described in a more formal definition in an alliance press release, their mission would be "to research, articulate and facilitate nonviolent solutions to domestic and international conflict."

While I am certainly all for peace and wormless apples, I fear that a new bureaucracy might devolve into spending time and money cranking out press releases to sustain itself through sloganeering, thereby forgetting its initial promise. Institutionalizing efforts once made through riots and sit-ins may be today's more formalized method of attaining the same ends. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Having said all of that, I remain in favor of such a department because at least its pursuit is an organized and passionate effort toward a legitimate and even desirable goal. That's a lot better than picnicking for peace on the lawn of the Federal Building or honking one's horn against a war that isn't listening.

Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at

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