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A Peace Surge in the First 100 days

by Rep. Major Owens (ret.)
Originally published in The Huffington Post July 15, 2008

Ending combat in Iraq is only step one.

There is no need to force the youth of America to wait for visible change. Structures are already in place which make it possible to mobilize thousands of peacemakers in a short period of time. Change for peace can begin to flow like a mighty stream within a few months.

Real change on the peace front requires launching a massive mobilization for peace. Counteracting the existing militarized culture we must, without delay, commence building a culture of peace.

To facilitate movement in the first 100 days with maximum speed and a broad inspiring momentum there is a dormant federal agency free of partisan blister and scars waiting in place. The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, non-partisan, national agency established and funded by Congress. The Board Members are appointed by the President and the leadership of the House and Senate. It operates under the jurisdiction of the Education and Labor Committee. It is a near perfect instrument for promoting a non-partisan permanent campaign for peace. To lead the "Peace Surge" this is an Institute whose time has come.

Actions by the new president during the first 100 days should include the following:

  • The long neglected United States Institute of Peace ( should be fully energized, highlighted and promoted
  • The new president should propose assigning a new overall coordinating role to the Institute of Peace, authorizing it to serve as the lead agency for creating an expanded American human resources infrastructure to support building a Culture for Peace.
  • Propose legislation for expanding the size and increasing the budgets of the Peace Corps and VISTA and placing these two entities under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Peace.
  • Propose legislation to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to provide engagement opportunities for school dropouts and disconnected youth who would be trained to assist with domestic and international emergencies. This corps should be placed under the jurisdiction of the Institute and Corps members should be afforded opportunities to graduate into the Peace Corps or VISTA.
  • Propose legislation to remove the United States Information Agency functions from the State Department to the Institute of Peace.
  • By executive order the new president should appoint a Commission to develop a plan for creating a National Peace University with Regional Academies to operate under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Peace.

For the long haul we are projecting Peace Academies comparable to West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, Officer Training Schools, etc.; and a Peace University comparable to the War College. Our Civilization of the future requires a massive number of trained professional peacemakers on the government payroll. We need peace professionals comparable to five star generals, admirals, captains, sergeants, privates, etc.

Americans were trailblazers in creating the first constitutional democracy. In this 21st Century let our nation be the first to create a standing body of professional peace personnel. Making and keeping the peace can be as complex as the wiring in a nuclear submarine. Conflict management, reduction, elimination should no longer be conducted on an ad hoc, improvised basis. Our best and our brightest are ready to be trained as engineers for peace.

Military values and protocols presently have a disproportionate and overwhelming impact on American culture and society. Vital checks and balances are not in place to counteract the huge investment taxpayers traditionally make in training and maintaining our war-making professionals. Yes, West Point graduates can apply their learning to other pursuits. But the primary purpose of military academies and war colleges is the development of expertise in the use of force.

A new American military command in Africa staffed by a Black general should not be rationalized with films and anecdotes about its assistance in distributing mosquito nets and digging wells for water. Federally financed Peace Corps workers could do as good a job, while at the same time employing other skills developed through focused training for peaceful purposes: group organization, conflict resolution, grass roots economic development, environmental awareness, etc. The foreign recipients of such aid would never confuse their American peacemaking friends with occupying troops. Military forces are designed and developed to project intimidation. In the minds of the citizens of nations that have only recently gained their independence troops will be perceived as the new colonialist masters. On the other hand, it is highly probable that Peace Corps members will gradually be accepted as partners who achieve invaluable levels of trust.

As we draw down combatants in Iraq we should ratchet up the size of the Peace Corps and VISTA. A complementary new Urban Conservation Corp for homeland emergencies could reach out to the dropouts and the disconnected as raw material to be prepared for graduation into VISTA and the Peace Corps or employment in the expanding infrastructure-building workforce. A curriculum and training program for civilian regimentation with discipline development and nurturing a zeal for compassionate causes would serve as a bedrock philosophical grounding for all levels within this structure of peace forces. No apologies should be made for a great emphasis on patriotism as reflected in the best ideals of the Constitution, of Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, etc. In concert with the nation's peace building mission each participant will be expected to exhibit a devotion to democracy and to perform as an advocate for democracy.

This practical approach for an immediate "Peace Surge" will allow one promise of fundamental change to begin to bloom without delay.

Major Owens retired from the U. S. House of Representatives in January 2007. He represented New York's 11th District from 1983–2007.