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The History of an Idea: U.S. Department of Peace

When people hear about the campaign to create a U.S. Department of Peace, they often laugh, raise their eyebrows or smirk.

In fact, the idea dates back to the birth of the nation. Benjamin Rush, one of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, wrote a famous and controversial essay, "A Plan for a Peace Office for the United States."

Rush, who was widely viewed as a gadfly, argued that a secretary of peace would help balance the impulses of the War Office (renamed the Department of Defense in 1949).

Then, between the 1930s and 1960s, dozens of members of Congress revived the idea; most were Democrats, but some prominent Republicans, including Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen –- who was a strong backer of the Vietnam War — supported the concept, too.

And now, more than 60 Democrats in Congress have co-sponsored the idea's latest incarnation, a bill to create a Department of Peace and Non-Violence.

As the bill describes it, the department would be part of the president's Cabinet, funded at 2 percent of the Defense Department's budget.

It would research and develop sophisticated approaches to "conflict resolution," and recommend ways to use these strategies to try to reduce violence, both in the United States and around the world.

Judi Poulson, a member of the women's Peace Club in Fairmont, Minn., says one of her favorite parts of the bill is the section that would create a counterpart to West Point. But the new "Peace Academy" would train armies of mediators.

"Peace is strategy, just like war," says Poulson. "But it takes a lot of hard work and skillful people that have been trained. This is not a Pollyanna idea. It's a great idea."

It turns out that many local-government officials across the nation agree. The city councils in nearly 20 communities — including Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Newark, N.J. — have passed resolutions supporting the Department of Peace.

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