It isn't enough to talk about peace, one must believe it.
And it isn't enough to believe in it, one must work for it.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
It is right and proper that our nation sets aside days to honor the men and women who have fought in the service of our country. They fully merit our collective thanks and admiration for their bravery and sacrifice.
But our nation fails to honor the peacemakers. Americans can serve their country not only by fighting its wars, but also by struggling to avoid war and promote peace. No president or general orders the peacemakers into action. They expect no glory for their deeds. Yet it is well past time that we set aside a day to honor the peacemakers. As Americans, we rarely equate honor, loyalty, and courage with actions on behalf of peace. Too often, we make the tragic mistake of equating advocacy for peace with disloyalty or subversion, when for the peacemakers it is their patriotic duty.
The late Robert McNamara said, "we were wrong, terribly wrong" about the war in Vietnam. Yet we not do today celebrate those who were right about Vietnam, the millions of ordinary men and women who put themselves on the line by taking to the streets to protest the war. To the contrary, in 2004, John Kerry's anti-war protests were turned against him as akin to near treason against the United States. Yet, had McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson listened to the peacemakers when it mattered, they might have saved many tens of thousands of American lives and perhaps millions of Asian lives.
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Who today remembers the struggles of American Friends Service Committee, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the World Council of Churches in the 1950s to end the horrific testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and oceans? Their efforts ultimately contributed to the Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which rescued humanity from deadly nuclear fallout, with unpredictable effects on the future of the human race.
The litany of peacemakers who were right in their time goes on. However, we honor all our soldiers regardless of whether we believe they fought in just or unjust wars. So too we should honor all those who fought for peace, whether we now believe they were right or wrong. Their dedication still deserves our recognition.
We should respect as well the groups that today are protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were scorned during the early fervor for these wars, but now the majority of Americans are in accord with their views.
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" says the gospel of Matthew. It is time to make this blessing a reality with a national peacemaker's day.
Allan J. Lichtman is Professor of History at American University. His latest book is, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement.