Commentary: Obama has a peace opportunity during World War I centennial

The Kansas City StarMarch 10, 2013 

DIUGUID LEWIS KC

Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — MCT

President Barack Obama finally has a chance to live up to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, and he can do it next year in Kansas City.

The occasion is the centennial of World War I, which will be observed worldwide. But instead of a commemoration to the 1914 to 1918 war of planetary suffering, the celebration should be the first step on the path to a lasting global peace.

Obama spoke to thousands at Liberty Memorial when he was campaigning for president in 2008. He could make several return trips to the National World War I Museum to take part in the planning by the new centennial commission.

By 2014, the war in Afghanistan is expected to be over. The nation’s first black president then could turn his attention to a lasting world peace.

Kansas City in the nation’s heartland could become ground zero for that initiative. Planning for the World War I centennial is to take place here.

Liberty Memorial expects representatives from around the world to attend a conference this month. Obama could choose to be among them.

The museum has a lot to show visitors about the history of the buildup to the War to End All Wars, including the then-new weaponry of airplanes and tanks. Exhibits show places in Europe devastated by the fighting.

It gives visitors a personal look at some of the soldiers and what they sacrificed. Often forgotten in any war are the posters and ads that rev up the population with propaganda that feeds the war machinery.

More than 1,200 posters also speak about the enemy and how the war effort (pushed on both sides) is just and good. In reality, war is never just or good. The museum features battle maps, and guests can walk through trenches to get a feel for what soldiers endured.

Black soldiers — treated like heroes in Europe during World War I — faced lynchings, whites rioting in black neighborhoods and other violence in whites’ efforts to keep blacks “in their place.”

Great Americans served in World War I, including Harry S. Truman, who became this country’s 33rd president, the only Missourian in the White House. Obama can connect to Truman with visits to Truman’s presidential museum.

Obama could draw attention to Truman’s efforts to integrate the armed forces with a 1948 executive order. Truman also brought needed attention and helped quell the violence against returning African-American soldiers from World War II.

Without Truman’s giant step in the African-Americans’ civil rights struggles, Obama might not have stood a chance of being elected president. Obama could give voice to the courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice projected by the 1926 Liberty Memorial.

The president also could use the long centennial commemoration as an opportunity to invest a lot of political capital in pushing for a U.S. Department of Peace Cabinet post. It was a favorite cause of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat of Ohio.

The bill has been introduced in Congress every year since 2001, but never got out of subcommittees.

More money and political capital go into feeding the military-industrial complex than into promoting peace, which Kansas native Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation about as he left the presidency. But for the last decade the U.S. has been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the Iraq war over in 2011 and the Afghanistan war for the United States ending in 2014, creating a department of peace has its best opportunity now.

It wouldn’t be cheap. One estimate calculates it would take $10 billion a year to fund the peace department.

But like the Affordable Care Act, it could be a signature event for Obama, and justify the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him. He could help resurrect the dream of world peace by President Woodrow Wilson, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, and by Truman, who helped start the United Nations in 1945.

Obama only has to invest some political capital to make peace possible and enduring worldwide.

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