Labor Review Centennial, 1907-2007
Ahead of his time, Labor Review editor Cramer understood link between pursuing peace abroad, social justice at home
Cramer became early advocate for the creation of a U.S. Department of Peace
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, August 23, 2007
By Karl Meller
During one of the many demonstrations against the war in Iraq, members of the Peace Alliance handed out a flyer advocating a cabinet-level United States Department of Peace. The goal: “non-violent solutions to the problems of domestic and international conflict.” Such legislation is now before the U.S. Congress.
New idea? Not really. In 1952, the Minneapolis Central Labor Union (CLU) passed a resolution urging that year’s Democratic National Convention to include a plank in that party’s platform advocating a federal Department of Peace. And from 1952 to until his retirement in 1963, Minneapolis Labor Review editor Robley Cramer published numerous editorials in support of a peace department and world peace.
Peace and international understanding were longtime beliefs for Cramer. He had advocated for peace in the run-up to both World War I and World War II (then, once U.S. troops were engaged, threw his support to the war effort — while condemning war profiteering and wartime restrictions on labor rights).
As other newspapers observed the 10th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I, the headline of a Labor Review editorial April 15, 1927 asked, “Just What Was The Matter With The Last War?”
The editorial warned just how deadly modern technology would make the next war. “There were deadly machines of destruction employed in the last war, but these have already been improved upon and will be perfected for the next war. In the next war, according to the militarists themselves, there will be no noncombatants [emphasis added]. Airplanes, electricity and powerful rays will bring destruction to every home and hamlet. Death will hover over every woman and child. With the machinery of destruction that will be ready for the next war it should be possible to entirely wipe out all humanity. Thus and thus only will war end war.”
The editorial continued, “there is of course the way of international brotherhood. But in this no munitions would be sold, no millions slaughtered. There is every indication that the dictators of world affairs abhor this method of ending war. They are willing to take the chance of another slaughter, rather than attempt the logical method of international disarmament.”
Fast forward to 1952. War rages on the Korean peninsula. Nuclear warfare threatens. Fear of communism is at its zenith. Dissent among the American public is at its lowest levels since the late 1920s. And a headline unique for its time appeared on the front page of the July 17, 1952 Labor Review.
“CLU Asks Democrats To Propose Peace Department” the headline read. “By unanimous vote,” the accompanying news story reported, the Political Education Committee of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union had passed a resolution urging the Democratic National Convention to put creating a Department of Peace in its 1952 platform. “While all the nations of the world have declared they are in favor of world peace,” the story observed, “there is not a single nation that has a Department of Peace. On the other hand, all nations have Departments of War.”
The news account of the CLU resolution continued: If the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, created a Department of Peace, other nations would follow and do the same.
“With the same energy put into bringing peace through the Peace Departments that too often has been put into making wars by the War Departments, it is believed the world will be on the eve of a golden area of peace and brotherhood.”
The Democratic convention did not endorse the proposed Peace Department.
Cramer, however, continued his advocacy for the idea and his advocacy for peace, even calling for a world referendum on peace.
In a September 18, 1958 editorial, Cramer wrote: “The carelessness with which diplomats and heads of all nations discuss the destruction of the world that looms through nuclear warfare is something to bring neither confidence nor satisfaction to the people of the world.”
“Heads of government shout to each other about their ability to destroy the world with the same bravado as school children playing games,” the editorial continued. “It is something that makes you realize how necessary it is for the people to keep in their own hands the administration of affairs at home and abroad.”
The editorial concluded, “a referendum on peace or war would make so plain the demand of the people for the world wide peace and brotherhood that even rulers and diplomats would be able to comprehend it.”
Cramer understood that conversion to a peace economy would cause displacement and would cost money. “Planning to end war should include plans to create employment for those who would be made jobless by the establishing of world peace,” he wrote March 19, 1959.
In a February 5, 1959, editorial, Cramer also warned of the militarization or domination of space by one nation, an editorial very relevant today almost 50 years later.
In a June 23, 1960 editorial, Cramer showed that his idea for a peace department was quite close to what people are proposing today: “A Department of Peace would call for a Secretary of Peace who would sit in the cabinet. Such a Department would plan and put in motion the change from an economy that depends to a considerable degree on war to an economy that would be based on peace…”
“We can lead and save the world from destruction if we follow the path of peace by putting peace in the hands of the people through a Department of Peace.”
The closest Cramer (or any of us, for that matter) came to seeing a Department of Peace came with President John F. Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps in 1961. While Cramer thought the Peace Corps was a good idea, it still fell far short of a Department of Peace and in an April 6, 1961 editorial, “Great Peace Move Not Made,” he expressed his disappointment.
Cramer understood when President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned about the “military-industrial complex” and its excessive power, which could be a drag both on the welfare of society and democracy itself.
To Cramer, peace was more than just the absence of war. Peace was the absence of war plus a decent job that paid living salary, plus adequate health care, plus security for those too young or too old or unable to work, plus the chance to get all the education a person could consume and a society where every person’s rights were respected and upheld.
All too often the peace movement has been very good about informing on the dangers of war and the labor movement has been very good at pursuing social and economic justice on the domestic level, but neither has done a very good job of linking peace with social justice. Cramer made that connection.
For Cramer, the creation of a federal, cabinet-level, Department of Peace was a key way to ensure both an absence of war and ample attention to human needs not only at home but around the world as well.
At times, Cramer’s writing about peace may seem utopian. But his writing also rings prophetic. Cramer’s legacy as a peace advocate is even more relevant today when leaders so cavalierly think of war as the first or only option rather than an option of last resort.
Robley Cramer was more than an editor of a labor newspaper. He needs to be remembered as an advocate for labor, for social and economic justice, and for peace.
Visit www.thepeacealliance.org to learn more about current proposals for a Department of Peace.
Karl Meller is a former member of AFSCME Local 744. He currently is a volunteer member of the Labor Review 100th Anniversary Planning Committee.
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