The Public Interest

The pseudo-science of “peace”

Donald Kagan

Winter 1985

IN THE MIDDLE of October 1984, in the midst of the rush to adjourn and get home for the serious business of campaigning, the United States Congress considered a bill providing for the establishment of the “United States Institute for Peace.” Though many were suspicious and critical of the idea, it was attached to a vastly complicated and crucial money bill. The issue being—or seeming to be—“peace,” Congressmen voted for it as light-heartedly as they do for resolutions in favor of motherhood and apple pie; the White House raised no meaningful objection; and so the bill became law. This brought success to a movement that goes back as far as 1793, when a critic of the newly-adopted Constitution of the United States complained of the absence of a Department of Peace to offset the Department of War. Between 1935 and the late 1960s at least 140 bills on the subject were introduced in Congress, without success. In recent years the problems inherent in the idea of a Department of Peace—what would it do, for instance—led to a shift in emphasis toward the idea of some kind of “Peace Academy.” Bills to support such an establishment were proposed, and in 1977 a Commission to study the idea of a “National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution” was appointed.

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