Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum
— Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, c. 400 A.D.
Back in the bad old days, when I was young and foolish (comments about only one of those conditions having changed may be appended below), I used to tell pacifists that I, too, was so committed to the cause of peace that I had joined the nation’s largest peace group.
The group, I would continue, had more than a million activists ready to mobilize and march on a moment’s notice to carry its multicolored peace banner to the farthest corners of the globe.
In fact, I would add, this group had brought peace to several areas of conflict over a period spanning many decades.
By this point, many of my hearers had caught on, but some had not. That is when I would respond to the query, “What is this wonderful group?” with the correct and proper answer: “Why, the U.S. Army, of course.”
So it was with some bemusement that I read a story in the D.C. political webzine The Hill this week that was headlined, “Dems pitch Department of Peacebuilding.”
Here’s how it started out: “House Democrats led by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., have introduced legislation that would create a federal Department of Peacebuilding, which would be tasked with everything from finding ways to scale back U.S. military actions to ending bullying at schools.”
That’s somewhat odd phrasing. “Peacebuilding” (as opposed to “peacemaking,” which is apparently different) somehow involves reining in the U.S. military, instead of directly dealing with the aggressors who make its existence and deployment necessary? Oh, well, searching for too much coherent thought is often a waste of effort with these folks.
The story continued, “Under (Lee’s) bill, H.R. 808, the new department would be led by a Cabinet-level Secretary of Peacebuilding, who would have a seat on the National Security Council. The department would be ‘dedicated to peacebuilding, peacemaking, and the study and promotion of conditions conducive to both domestic and international peace and a culture of peace.'”
Where to start? Yes, peace is better than war, except when it isn’t. It is a myth that “it takes two to make an argument,” especially at the international level. Poland wasn’t going to attack Germany in 1939, but Germany had no such compunctions.
And, while Winston Churchill was perfectly correct to say, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” he knew, just as well as the badly outgunned Poles did, that there were times when jawing wasn’t enough to keep opposing armies at bay.
Nations that are mutually committed not to fight each other don’t need such a department, and nations that are inclined to fight will likely ignore its outstretched hand — unless they are pressured not to.
And what kind of pressure do we possess that we have not yet applied to keep, say, Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons or North Korea, which already has them, from building missiles with enough range to reduce Los Angeles to ashes?
If talking is enough to prevent fighting, then we have a State Department full of willing talkers (some of whom, unlike their new leader, even know there is no such nation as “Kyrzakhstan”) to meet our national needs for decades to come.
And if it comes to fighting, well, the current Department of Peacebuilding, headquartered in the Pentagon, is presumably adequate to the task.
(Although several recent moves by the Obama administration, most specifically including introducing women to direct combat roles and naming a defense secretary who rejects our nuclear deterrent, are the furthest thing from confidence-building).
Such a Cabinet department is not a new idea. Former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has gone from left-wing congressman to the ranks of Fox News commentators, has long proposed a “Department of Peace.”
And as The Hill’s account put it, “The new department would be charged with pushing peace-building as a “strategic national policy objective” that would have components both at home and abroad. Domestically, the department would be tasked with finding ways to reduce gun violence, violence against animals, gang and ethnic violence, and even bullying at schools. Internationally, the department would monitor global conflicts and propose ways to end them.”
But there’s more. The idea resurrects the goal of creating a “peace academy,” modeled on the U.S. military service academies, while “the secretary would also create ‘Peace Days,’ and would encourage people to ‘”observe and celebrate the blessings of peace and endeavor to create peace on Peace Days.'”
Sigh. “Violence against animals”? “Peace Days”? “Bullying at schools”? As goals of a Cabinet-level department? Folks, this is the Nanny State at its most intrusive and its silliest. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If the mayor of New York thinks it’s government’s job to regulate the size of soft drinks, there is nothing that is out of bounds for the overweening state to be a buttinski about.
But what if all that doesn’t prove enough to work? Hey, we can always throw money at the problem.
The Hill earlier this month printed a column by Brent Budowsky, an international law expert and former congressional aide, who wants to counter “war-war” not with “jaw-jaw” but with “spend-spend.”
That is, we ought to want peace in the Middle East enough to buy it, at a cost he estimates at $1 trillion in aid collected from major world governments (including China and Russia), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and private groups. The money would be given to nations willing to sign peace accords with each other, including Israel, Palestine and Iran.
He writes, “President Obama might ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lead the private-sector initiative for this future Middle East Marshall Plan and rally business leaders and women around the world to stand with those who battle for Mideast peace.”
Now, it’s understandable that people of good heart might find the prospect of war (especially in an area as covered with blood as the Mideast) so distressing that they grasp at any hope of improvement there.
But these schemes fail at the same critical point. Because their sponsors hold peace as their highest value, they believe that such desires are universal within the human heart and that all that is needed to achieve it is just a bit more persuasion, either by sweet-sounding words or cash-funneling deeds.
Still, what if the parties involved have something they value more than peace, at least as it is defined as “the absence of conflict”?
What if their idea of peace is “that condition that follows after those I consider my enemies are completely subjugated or destroyed, so that I and my people (family, tribe, race, nation, ethnic group, religion, etc.) reign supreme”?
In order to think that a Department of Peacebuilding or a Mideast Marshall Fund would work by themselves, you are required to think that the human heart desires peace above all else.
We have a promise that peacemakers will be blessed. But the same book that contains it also teaches (as do countless historic examples) that the human heart, left to its own desires, wants many things much more than peace — domination and conquest ranking very high among them.
Or, to put it another way, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
If we become a nation that abandons the military strength that once assured the world’s peace as best it could, many nations will come to regret our decision.
It may take us longer to get to that point, but get to it we most assuredly will, and our regret will be the deepest of all.
Or, as the Latin motto cited at the top of this column notes, “Therefore, let him who desires peace, prepare for war.”
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speakers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org