Our tradition of honoring soldiers and military veterans above all others feeds a war culture that has infiltrated our schools, police, workplaces, stores, sports, concerts and media. It’s hard to attend an event or use a public service without seeing and hearing symbols of militarism.
For example, my hometown, Dunedin, has a massive metal arch spanning a downtown shopping district street at the most prominent intersection, proclaiming “Defending Freedom; Honoring U.S. Military.” Across the road is the Purple Heart Park with its American Legion monument. A block away is a prominent Veterans of Foreign Wars memorial. There are no signs anywhere in this quaint community to demonstrate that peacemakers are valued.
These symbols reinforce a culture that has permitted our government to bomb 30 countries since the end of World War II. We kill innocent civilians in poverty-stricken countries that have never invaded or threatened to attack the United States or its allies. Since 1946, no other country has killed and injured more people living outside its borders.
President Joe Biden’s 2022 Pentagon budget proposal is $753 billion. Our government prioritizes funding for war and weapons over spending on education, disease prevention, health care, the environment and everything else that could improve our citizens’ lives and the planet. Our aggressive war-making and nuclear weapons put the entire world at grave risk.
To move toward a culture of peace, we must ask ourselves why we don’t more often recognize and honor teachers, health care providers, volunteers, farmers, tradespeople, truckers and other essential workers? After all, they make indispensable contributions to our community. Why is it that expressions of public praise are mostly reserved for soldiers, military veterans and occasionally first responders?
Our nation has a long, but largely unrecognized, history of courageous Americans who have opposed U.S. aggression, violence and war. Shouldn’t we honor individuals and organizations who make valiant efforts to maintain global peace? What if we asked all people who have worked to end war to stand and be recognized during public events? What if we called them heroes for their courage and bravery, and then the audience applauded to thank them for their service?
We should be as proud of those who search for alternatives to war as we are of warriors. Yet, there are no national monuments in the United States to show that our society values those who took action to oppose wars. This realization led me to establish the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Our goal is to create a monument to peacemakers in our nation’s capital — the U.S. Peace Memorial — and the foundation is raising funds toward this goal.
The monument will recognize peace leadership by displaying antiwar statements of famous Americans from all walks of life. It will include electronic documentation of the activities of thousands of citizens who have publicly opposed war and militarism. By documenting contemporary U.S. peace activism, the Peace Memorial will send the message that working for peaceful solutions and opposing war are honorable, and essential, efforts. When more of us speak out for peace, it will eventually lead to fewer wars and the reallocation of military funding to human needs.
The memorial will serve as a shared public symbol to remind everyone who visits that many Americans value peace, and that opposing war is socially acceptable in our country. In addition to planning for the U.S. Peace Memorial, the foundation awards the annual U.S. Peace Prize and publishes the U.S. Peace Registry, which documents hundreds of role models for peace.
Michael D. Knox is the founder and chair of the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida. He is the author of “Ending U.S. Wars by Honoring Americans Who Work for Peace” uspeacememorial.org/Book.htm. His book discusses the U.S. culture of war and presents a strategy for creating a culture of peace.