Forum touts Department of Peace
VENICE -- Illustrating a grassroots backlash to what organizers called the country's current climate of "hysteria" and militarism, the Florida Southwest Peace Education Coalition met Thursday afternoon to outline alternatives to tackling the terrorists that shocked the nation on Sept. 11.
Approximately 30 people attended the event and listened to a number of speakers who examined options for combating terrorism and decried high defense spending at the expense of social programs and education.
One key element receiving support from the group was the creation of a Department of Peace, a notion first brought up in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This idea has since received more popular favor and in July of last year, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to establish a cabinet-level department in the executive branch dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to peace.
One of those speaking at the event was former labor official Bud Aronson, an Englewood winter resident who gave an alternative State of the Union address in contrast with that given by President Bush on Tuesday.
Aronson stated that in a recent "non-scientific" study, he estimated that between 25 to 27 percent of cars on the road are sporting American flags or patriotic decals. Admitting that some may believe this to be a positive thing promoting unity and resolve, Aronson stated that there is also a negative aspect to this heightening of emotions.
Pointing to the example of an unidentified Charlotte County teacher who was relieved from a class for advocating peace, Aronson said that when "emotions are up, thinking is down" and that the "war hysteria" has led to attempts to quash dissent.
Aronson also contrasted the attempts by the executive branch to build alliances with nations overseas while refusing to support an international criminal court or sign a treaty that seeks to ban biological weapons.
"Unity has been the key word, but curiously, it has been anything but unity in their (the government's) other dealings," said Aronson. "Despite the terror of the anthrax attacks, the U.S. has not supported a ban on biological weapons."
Aronson said that a key element in the Bush speech was a call for a $50 billion increase in defense spending and countered that these funds could be used instead to support education.
"When the military gets more, other agencies get less," said Aronson. "We've seen this in our schools. Manatee county has announced that they will be canceling summer school."
Local cartoonist Augie Schmidt focused on the contradictions in foreign policy. Noting the support of Afghan freedom fighters in the 1980s that opposed the Soviet Union, Schmidt claimed that one of the intentions of the invading Russian army was to improve women's civil liberties.
Hugh Fincher, a Sarasota resident and former member of the U.S. foreign service, attempted to empathize with those that rejoiced at the attack on Sept. 11.
"They don't associate us with being nice people, they associate us with the military complex," said Fincher. "We've killed innocent people in Iraq and Korea. They were just as innocent as those people in the World Trade Center."
Another speaker, David Cullen, said that the response by the United States has been seized upon by other countries to allow them to deal with their own foes. Cullen pointed to the attack on the Indian parliament by Islamic extremists and the subsequent declaration by the Indian government that it would follow the American lead in their reaction.
"Terrorists are not stubborn negotiators; they are not interested in compromise," said Cullen.
Cullen suggested the changing of societies, through the introduction of democracy, so they do not create terrorists as one method of dealing with those that would propagate terrorism.
The forum was designed as a follow-up to the Englewood Peace Day celebration held Jan. 1 at Englewood United Methodist Church. That event featured speakers of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha'i and Christian faiths, and a visit by Mayor Damir Spancic and his wife, Dubravka, of Pakrac, Croatia.
By DARREN HARRISON
Assistant Englewood Editor
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