“Is the word “peace’’ disappearing from our national conversation?”
Armies of talking heads, bloggers, and op-ed opinionators assault us daily on every subject . . . but rarely on peace. When was the last time we heard a national leader of either party, especially one running for president, put the goal of peace at the center of a political platform or place it among our highest national aspirations?
Lamenting the absence of discussion about peace by current candidates for the Republican nomination and the lack of focus by President Obama, Burns shares what he considers among the best of presidential calls for peace:
In perhaps the most eloquent evocation of peace by an American president, John F. Kennedy described it this way to students at American University in 1963: “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children . . . not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.’’
Taking a step back, our reaction to 9/11 and the meaning of the term “homeland security” itself can be a bit jarring:
Contrast FDR and Truman’s sheer optimism in launching the United Nations and Marshall Plan after World War II with the principal monuments we have built since 9/11: the Department of Homeland Security and its legions of security personnel at airports. We now deploy the words “defense,’’ “protect,’’ and “security’’ to illustrate the national purpose. Is this sufficient? Peace is often unattainable, but has the 9/11 decade made us so fearful that we no longer believe it can be the guiding star that makes us a better nation.”
That last question is likely the most important. It is popular in homeland security-related fields to throw around terms such as “resilience,” “need to share,” and “whole of _________ (insert term-of-the-moment here).” These speak to concepts of inclusion and confidence. However, the policy and funding choices tell a different story–Citizen Corps and other related concepts are underfunded and likely soon to lose all support, while a pilot project involving radiation detectors ringing the New York City metropolitan area is likely to continue. The vaguest of reports are stamped “For Official Use Only” while private citizens, like those in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami, are left to determine the best source of information in the aftermath of a disaster themselves. Basing post-disaster planning on the fact that the affected community may actually do something instead of simply waiting for instructions from authorities is an important recognition of reality, but the lack of threat information or after-action reports from previous government exercises available to the general public leads one to believe that ingrained culture and SOPs will be very hard to change.
I am hopeful yet pessimistic. The lack of engagement with homeland security issues by the candidates is likely a negative, yet could positively allow the enterprise to mature unimpeded by political posturing. The cuts in funding at all levels of government will lead to a degradation of capacity and capability, but could also spur creative thinking and true engagement of communities out of necessity. But anyway one looks at it if peace is not deemed an appropriate alternative to the use of force, this year may be worse than the last.