US Peace Memorial Foundation
ENDING U.S. WARS
by Honoring Americans Who Work for Peace
Michael D. Knox, PhD
I travel frequently and have seen the many monuments to soldiers and to wars that occupy our city squares and parks. In the summer of 2005 my son James and I visited Washington, DC, after he finished his first year of college. We made the standard tour of the city, visiting museums, the White House, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the newly dedicated World War II Memorial. These memorials exist to reinforce the notion that war efforts or activities are highly valued by our society. In this and other visits to the National Mall, I encountered dozens of war veterans discussing their experiences with their children, grandchildren, and other relatives and friends. I imagine that most of the listeners are proud of the speaker’s military record and some view the war veteran as a role model.
Suddenly, with my son present, I realized that all of my own personal memories and stories in this realm were of antiwar activities. I was immediately struck by the fact that there are no national monuments here to convey a message that our society also values peace and recognizes those who took action to oppose one or more U.S. wars. There is no public validation of antiwar activities and no memorial to serve as a catalyst for discussion regarding courageous peace efforts by Americans over the past centuries. This realization led to the organization of the US Peace Memorial Foundation in 2005 and my retirement in 2011 so that I could devote the remainder of my life to creating this monument to peacemakers, initially online and later as a physical structure in our nation’s capital.
It is time to dedicate a national monument to peace and those who work for it. Our society should be as proud of those who strive for alternatives to war that save innocent lives as it is of those who fight wars and often take innocent lives. Demonstrating this national pride in peacemakers in some tangible way may encourage others to explore peace advocacy during times when only the voices of war are being heard. By presenting the antiwar sentiments of many American leaders—views that history has often ignored—and by documenting contemporary U.S. peace activism, the US Peace Memorial will send a clear message to our citizens that advocating for peaceful solutions to international problems and opposing war are honorable and socially acceptable activities in our democracy.
War is part of our culture. Because war has historically featured both personal and collective acts of valor and sacrifice amidst hellish violence and tragedy, it is understandable that memorials are erected to acknowledge war’s momentous impacts and honor the participants’ dedication to causes that were deemed to be in our national interests. In this sense, war memorials honor the ultimate inability to resolve conflict and differences through nonviolent means. These memorials recognize the horrific, deadly, and sometimes heroic results of that failure, results that are starkly tangible.
By contrast, Americans who oppose war(s) and who advocate instead for alternate, nonviolent solutions to conflict help to prevent or end wars. They engage in prevention of war and create life-saving results that gain little public attention. Unlike wars, successful peace actions do not create the kind of visceral and emotional foundation on which war memorials are instinctively built. A similar dynamic happens in healthcare where disease prevention (which saves many more lives) is poorly funded and often unrecognized, whereas medicine and surgery that have a tangible life-saving impact on people and their families is gratefully acknowledged and well- funded.
Fortunately, the horror and tragedy that mark war are not usually components of working for peace. Yet like war, peace advocacy does include dedication to cause, bravery, serving honorably, and making personal sacrifices, such as being shunned and vilified, losing friends, a job or promotion, putting oneself on the line in communities and in society, and even being arrested and jailed for antiwar actions. The honor that antiwar activists merit is long overdue. So too is a healthy respect for the cause of peacemaking.
In April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. condemned U.S. militarism, referring to “a society gone mad on war.” He labeled the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Nothing has changed since then, except for the focus of our unbridled and incessant aggression. We continue to unleash the horror of our war-making toward persons living in devastating poverty in other parts of the world.
The need to end our culture of
war is more urgent than ever. In 2019 the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the
historic Iran nuclear deal and Congress passed the largest war budget ever in
the history of United States, giving
the military $738 billion for the 2020 fiscal year. That’s over $84 million an hour for war. And, this figure may be grossly inaccurate. At $1.21 trillion, the actual national security budget is much larger than what the Pentagon reports.2 Also consider the costs associated with C.I.A. clandestine wars— expenditures that are kept secret from the American people.
We saw the release of the Afghanistan Papers,3 which make it clear how much our government lies to us, just as it did when we waged war against the people of Vietnam. A December 2019 State Department report4 found that the U.S. is responsible for 79 percent of the global arms trade, or an average of $143 billion annually, with the United States exporting four times more arms around the globe than the next nine countries combined. As 2019 ended, President Donald Trump signed a bill establishing the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the military. During the signing ceremony he said, “Space is the world’s newest war-fighting domain.” As 2020 began, the president brought the nation to the brink of war with Iran, a country that we have attempted to dominate during most of my lifetime.
After decades of creating police officers and departments with a war mentality, rather than a guardian mentality, the murder of George Floyd ignited months of nationwide demonstrations. The military was brought in and used against our own citizens as they protested widespread police brutality against black people. Today we continue to kill, maim, and make refugees of innocent impoverished people in Africa and the Middle East, to take hostile actions against Latin American countries, and to threaten Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia.
The inadequacies of our healthcare and public health systems and the persistent shortages of equipment, supplies, hospital beds, and timely testing during the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the fact that military related activities are the highest priority of our government. That’s where the tax dollars go and that’s where the resources are; spread around the world to intimidate and do harm, rather than good. It’s interesting to note a recent observation by Jimmy Carter: “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way.”
In July 2020 Democrats and Republicans worked together to defeat a bill that would have cut the Pentagon budget by ten percent ($74 billion) and redistributed the money to fund much needed domestic programs. The nation’s priorities are clear.
In a culture that funds and esteems war-making, the overdue respect for peacemaking must be taught and modeled. A national monument to peacemakers can help do that. The US Peace Memorial can change our cultural mindset so that it will no longer be acceptable to label those who speak out against a U.S. war as un-American, anti-military, disloyal, or unpatriotic. Rather, they will be recognized for their dedication to a noble cause.
The US Peace Memorial Foundation is providing education about living peace activists and thoughts about our nation’s long history of brave citizens and leaders who have actively opposed U.S. wars. The memorial will help decrease the social barriers that Americans must overcome before they publicly oppose a war. Active public opposition to war is crucial to world peace and to ending U.S. war and militarism. If we as Americans don’t end it, other countries might take action. The results of another world war, with current technology, are unthinkable.
It has been seventy-five years since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan. On August 9, 2015, during a ceremony to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, the Foundation awarded the US Peace Prize to the Honorable Kathy Kelly. The event was held on the stage at Ashley Pond, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This is the place, geographically, where the first atom bombs were constructed.
As I prepared my remarks for the award presentation, I realized a personal connection that had never registered before. On August 9, 1945 our military bombed Nagasaki. Exactly nine months later, on May 9, 1946, I was born. I have tried to imagine how my parents, stationed at an Army Air Force base in Texas on that day, must have felt. Perhaps there was real hope for peace; time to get on with their lives, start a family, and conceive their first child.
Unfortunately, peace was not the direction the U.S. chose to take after World War II. I say chose, because war is not a natural phenomenon like a hurricane or pandemic—it is aberrant human behavior. It requires thought, planning, public support, resource allocation, training, and implementation. If people refuse to support, fund, kill, or participate in the process at any level, there can be no war. We have an obligation to change the course that our country has chosen to take during much of its existence. We need to take responsibility, reset, and have a fresh start. I hope that this book will contribute to the discussion.
If you want world peace, your first obligation should be to demand that your own country stop destabilizing, invading, occupying, and bombing other countries. As you will read, there are many peaceful alternatives to aggression, and we must be willing to advocate for them. You will learn about the actions of courageous Americans who have spoken out publicly against war and worked for peace. Follow their lead and example. Significant contributions to peace on earth are within our power.
We hope that you will join us as a Founding Member. Founding Members of the US Peace Memorial Foundation are listed on our website, in my book ENDING U.S. WARS by Honoring Americans Who Work for Peace, and eventually, at the National Monument we will build in Washington, DC. Please donate or join at paypal.com/us/fundraiser/charity/1416309 or go to www.USPeaceMemorial.org/Donors.htm for additional details.
US Peace Memorial Foundation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charity.
Donations to the Foundation are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Copyright 2005-2021, US Peace Memorial Foundation, Inc.