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Time for academies to teach U.S. youth to wage peace


From the window of the high school where I taught for three decades, I rarely gave a second look or thought to military recruiters stepping lively into the guidance department to encourage students to make the military their career choice.

Yet, after the Littleton, Colo., disaster, psychologists, educational leaders and media pundits have all rushed to analyze our violent nature with hardly a word said about the military connection to youth violence. It’s as if a taboo was placed on criticizing our obsession with military might.

Obviously, most students don’t accept the recruitment pitch, enter military service and learn to kill. But young men are very aware of how our country often settles disputes. They may not understand (as few of us do) why we bomb, invade or use CIA agents to subvert little countries such as Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Granada, Nicaragua, Chile, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Congo Republic, Sudan, Afghanistan, and so on -- but they watch it on TV, read about it in history texts or current events studies, and learn to accept fire, death and destruction as the American way of conflict resolution. In fact, they learn that our major heroes are not peacemakers but military figures who participated in violent conflict resolution.

It’s time to give our children a new model on which to pattern their behavior. Only minutes after the president of the United States addressed the nation following the Columbine High School disaster and decried the presence of weapons in the hands of youth, he ordered another series of bombing attacks on the people of Yugoslavia and Iraq. Do we really believe that kind of response goes unnoticed in the minds of our children?

Military training is now available in many high schools around the nation. Reserve officer training is offered at hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States with free college tuition provided by a payback with military service. In addition, we have military academies for the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. Beyond all that, we have a War (Defense) College in Washington, an Air War College, Marine War College, Army War College, Navy War College and hundreds of military bases around the nation. United States troops are in over 50 countries around the world. We even have an extensive training program paid by United States taxpayers to train foreign troops here in the United States or in their own countries. And each state has a National Guard supported by federal funds and trained at military camps around the nation.

Where are United States’ academies to wage peace? We do not have one United States federal government academy for war prevention. We desperately need institutions that will illustrate how nonviolence can work. United States Diplomatic Academies should be built, staffed and maintained by the State Department without military staff. Diplomatic academies for studying culture, language, ethnicity, geography, history and contemporary conditions of people outside our country could lead to a real Pax Americana -- a peace resolved, not imposed on the world.

Candidates would be chosen from the brightest, most compassionate young American high school students. Diplomatic recruiters from each academy would visit high schools around the nation to illustrate the benefits of learning about other people and nations and most of all understanding the uniqueness of each ethnic culture.

Cost should not be a serious consideration. If we build six academies to specialize in specific cultural-geographic regions such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, China, Europe and Latin America at a cost of $100 million each and $25 million per year to operate, it would be far less than the cost of one of our 18 Trident submarines presently costing in excess of $2.5 billion a copy.

We need to have the United States Congress and the president commit to waging peace with the vigor we use to promote war. An act of Congress to create diplomatic academies would set the tone for world peace in the coming centuries. The question is, at a time when the United States military-industrial complex seems out of control, do we have the leadership to promote sane, patient, nonviolent answers to problems we so often respond to with force?

Jack Gilroy is the chair of the Broome County (N.Y.) Council of Churches Peace With Justice Committee. His e-mail address is jacelene@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, November 12, 1999