Rep. Keith Ellison has a plan to make our troubled world a safer place. Lord knows we could use one. Iran threatens an apocalyptic end to Israel, Kenyans bludgeon each other to death over ancient tribal hatreds, and Al-Qaida jihadists everywhere yearn for another 9/11.
In the face of such threats, Ellison is pushing for ... a Cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence. After a recent taxpayer-financed trip to Norway to study peacemaking, says Ellison, his zeal for the bill he's cosponsoring that would establish the peace bureaucracy is stronger than ever.
The new-age vision behind the bill is set forth in its preamble. In this "new millennium," it states, we should conceive of peace as "the active presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of the human awareness ... wherein we all may tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness" and "a commitment to compassion and love."
Now, we all want a more peaceful world. But at a time when bullies and violent fanatics are increasingly armed with devastating weapons, a "new consciousness" based on "compassion and love" doesn't seem like an altogether tough-minded approach.
Geopolitical savvy doesn't seem to be the strong suit of many of the most vocal supporters of the Department of Peace. At a 2007 conference promoting the new department, Ellison shared the podium with folks like Michael Bernard Beckwith, "a world leader and teacher in the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom tradition of spirituality;" Deepak Chopra, president of the Alliance for a New Humanity; and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson, who describes peacemaking as "a field of light," that holds "a space for the miraculous unfolding of peace on earth."
Not surprisingly, folks who take this view of the world see Norway -- a country of under 5 million citizens -- as a model peacemaker. While Norway does have lessons to teach about war and peace, they may not be what many in the Peace Department crowd have in mind.
Norway's culture of peace
Norway's commitment to what Ellison calls a "culture of peace" dates back to its founding in 1905, according to a 2006 report by Col. Karl Hanevik of the Norwegian Army. For decades, writes Hanevik, the country's foreign policy was based on a firm belief that "international disputes should be solved via arbitration and international law."
After World War I, Norway's leaders placed their hopes for peace in the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, and let their military go to seed.
Norway declared neutrality when Hitler threatened in 1939.
The country was wholly unprepared when Germany invaded on April 9, 1940. On average, coastal forts were only 50 percent garrisoned. "The attack came as a complete surprise and almost a century of Norwegian isolationism and stated neutrality failed," according to Hanevik. The German blitzkrieg rolled through Norway, and the king and government fled to England for safety. The brutal Nazi occupation lasted five years.
Pretty thoughts didn't work
No one would maintain that the Norwegian military could have repulsed the German war machine. But pretty thoughts didn't work, either.
Hitler rolled over Europe because, in the 1920s and '30s, many other nations shared Norway's wishful thinking. The world learned the hard way that aggressors have only contempt for dreams of peace.
This point rarely gets much attention at conferences about peace. That's because folks who put their faith in transforming human awareness, or view the lack of commitment to love as the major cause of conflict, often have little interest in the actual history of war and peace.
Ellison acknowledged in an interview that "not everybody is peaceful and we must be ready for those who aren't." But the danger is that when faced with violent enemies, we'll wait too long to take military action, as the Allies did before World War II.
Folks in small, peripheral countries like Norway, protected by stronger allies, have the luxury of taking the moral high ground and focusing on love and compassion as avenues to peace.
Meanwhile, the tough work of grappling head-on with the bullies of the world is largely left to the United States.