Thursday, September 26, 2013

Give (The Department of) Peace a Chance (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojouners' God's Politics blog, the Patheos Progressive Christian Faith Forward blog, and the Chaplains blog of Gustavus Adolphus College.

The International Day of Peace was recently observed on the 21st of September. Among other things, this annual commemoration is dedicated to the promotion of world peace, and more specifically, the elimination of killing violence across the globe. The day was first celebrated in 1982 and is currently recognized by an assortment of nation states, political groups, and various individuals of diverse ideological and religious persuasions.

In honor of the recently remembered International Day of Peace, one proposal worth exploring is the implementation of a U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence into the U.S. federal budget.
In February of 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives heard H.R. 808 (first introduced in July of 2001, just months before the Twin Towers fell in New York on September 11th) to create a Cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence that embodies a broad-approach to peaceful, non-violent conflict resolution at both domestic and international levels. Among other things, the Department of Peace and Nonviolence would serve to promote non-violence as an organizing principle of life, and help to create the conditions for a more peaceful world. In light of our continued national discernment in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and in the broader context of violent conflict in various regions around the world, such a department would be valuable for the advancement of peace in future generations.

The following are some highlights from the proposed legislation:

·         Establish a cabinet-level department in the executive branch of the federal government, headed by a Secretary of Peace and Nonviolence, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Department of Peace and Nonviolence would be dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace.
·         The mission of the Department of Peace and Nonviolence shall be: to hold peace as an organizing principle of life; endeavor to promote justice and the expansion of human rights; strengthen non-military means of peacemaking; promote the development of human potential; work to create peace, prevent violence, divert from armed conflict and develop new structures in nonviolent dispute resolution; and take a proactive, strategic approach in the development of policies that promote national and international conflict prevention, nonviolent intervention, mediation, peaceful resolution of conflict and structured mediation of conflict.
·         The Department will create and establish a Peace Academy, modeled after the military service academies, which will provide a 4-year concentration in peace education. Graduates will be required to serve five years in public service through programs dedicated to domestic or international nonviolent conflict resolution.

While the specifics of H.R. 808 require detailed analysis and sustained input from U.S. citizens, one would like to believe that the core idea of a Department of Peace and Nonviolence would receive significant bipartisan support, especially among military veterans with firsthand experience of warfare. However, the U.S. has resisted this peacemaking policy for generations, for even as far back as 1792, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, along with Benjamin Banneker, suggested the blueprint for an Office of Peace (intended to counter what was then known as the Department of War). President George Washington stated that his first wish was “to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth”, yet legislation for a Department of Peace was not introduced until 1935, which, by 1969 was followed by ninety additional bills. And so, while many U.S. citizens state a longing for peace and nonviolence, we seem to lack the political will and public motivation to make it a reality, and the result is a continued state of destruction. For example:

·         According to Milton Leitenberg in “Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century”, during the past century the U.S. fielded soldiers in battle during sixty-four years of those years, and 231 million people died as a direct result of war and conflict – most of whom were civilians.
·         The United States currently ranks 100th in the Global Peace Index of peaceful nations.
·         According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, homicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. citizens between the ages of 10-24.
·         According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world – greater than Iran, Iraq and China combined.

The culture of violence in our nation – as well as across the world – is unacceptable, and while the total removal of human brutality is unimaginable for most, we recognize that the reduction of violence anywhere will do something for the reduction of violence everywhere. The time is upon us to recognize that peace is not merely a destination, but a journey, and not merely a noun, but a verb, for we can be people of peace even in the midst of a violent world. As a result, instead of only spending billions of dollars each year defending ourselves from our neighbors, perhaps the time is also upon us to invest more fully in methods of making peace alongside our neighbors. It may all be a lofty dream, but for the world to truly be as one, we must be willing to give peace a chance, and the Department of Peace and Nonviolence may be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Obama, Seacrest, and our War against Indifference (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojourners' God's Politics blog on September 11, 2013, and can be found at http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/11/obama-seacrest-and-our-war-against-indifference

As President Obama prepared to address the nation and articulate a plan for military intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, “The Million Second Quiz”, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the National Broadcast Company,  the President would speak about the international conflict for only fifteen minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirely of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was a great deal of suspense as to whether or not NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the Presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.
 
In the mean time, all is not well in the world. If there is such a thing as hell on earth, one could find it within the borders of Syria, as each day seems to be worse than the one that came before it. The state of affairs under President Bashar al-Assad continues to decline, and the loss of human life is beyond staggering. Since its recent civil war began, Syria has become dramatically fragmented and its national identity has all but disappeared. As a result, it would seem that citizens either align with the government or with the resistance, the Alawhites, the Sunni’s, or the Shiites, Aleppo residents, or Damascus dwellers. Through it all, according to the United Nations over 100,000 people have died, and due in part to the reluctance of foreign nations to fully intervene, it remains likely that death tolls – especially among women and children – will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

While some in the U.S. are passionately committed to exploring peaceful methods of engagement in Syria, far too many are neutral in the face of injustice by way of disinterest and distraction, to the point that we would rather be privately entertained than publicly engaged. In what can be described as a heartbreaking state of affairs, instead of contributing to the international peace process on behalf of the most poor and vulnerable members of our global society, we seem to be far too drunk with distraction, diversion, and delusion. In other words, rather than loving our neighbors as we would wish to be loved ourselves, we make countless excuses not to care, and the result is an increased loss in life through dreadful acts of brutality. In many ways we seem to have forgotten who we are and lost track of what truly matters, for if we cannot come to the aid of the most vulnerable among us, then what do we stand for?

As President Obama continues to make the case for military strikes in Syria, and as the death tolls in the region continue to rise, perhaps the most important battle to be won is the fight against our collective indifference. In other words, as we consider how to engage, perhaps the most important point is to stay fully engaged, for the stakes are far too high, the costs of mistakes are far too deep, and the value of human life is beyond priceless. In the words of Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

As citizens of a global superpower we have the unique opportunity – and the sacred responsibility – to do what is required for peace in our world. And so, as we consider the full range of options surrounding intervention, the time is upon us to resist the temptation of isolation, as there is no greater priority than the process of peacemaking, the situation in Syria is not hopeless, and we in the United States are by no means helpless. There are far too many Syrians trying to survive in an earthly hell, and in the face of such gross injustices, neutrality and inaction cannot be acceptable options. The time is upon us to seek solutions and spark action, and the first enemy to conquer is not standing on foreign soil, but rather, it is the collective indifference that threatens to kill our souls. And so, may we meet this moment in time to engage fully for the sake of peace, not merely because we could, but because we can.