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What Washington Needs Now

Let a monument to peace join all the war memorials

During the last 10 years, four monuments have found their way through the Washington bureaucratic process, raised their million-dollar budgets, and taken their place in Washington's monumental core. They are monuments to the service of our citizens in war: the Vietnam and Korean war memorials, Women in the Armed Services, and Nurses in Vietnam. Another addresses the violence suffered at home - a memorial to police officers slain in the line of duty.

It is our duty to recognize the mortal sacrifices made by our men and women in war. However, this century's wars have brought home the truth that warfare has grown beyond guns, bombs, and armies. New weapons endanger all the earth's population as well as threaten irreversible damage to our environment. The 20th century has taught that international problems must be solved before the battle lines are drawn and the missiles with their devastating cargos put in place.

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Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is the opposite of violence and the presence of justice. This generation is watching the increase in violence and the compromise of justice, along with disillusionment in old solutions.

What are we to do?

Our forefathers left symbols of what they believed in: Jefferson's words praise freedom of ideas and courage to change institutions that would destroy the human spirit; the magnificent ideas quoted in Lincoln's memorial remind us to dedicate ourselves to justice for everyone; the Statue of Liberty inspires us to keep our land free of tyranny and to welcome others to our shores.

We find ourselves within four years of the 21st century. I believe that our generation's legacy should be a monument that inspires in our children the determination to work for peace.

Such a monument has already won the approval of Congress, the National Park Service, and critical national commissions. It is currently seeking national funding.

To 'intrude' on the mainstream

The founders' intention for the proposed peace monument is to "intrude" peace considerations into the mainstream of America, believing that the more of us who consider peace as an accessible goal, the more seriously we will define the circumstances that will lead us there and the stronger will be our commitment to work for it.

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Unlike the memorials to the past, the National Peace Garden Monument will look to the future. Like the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson memorials, it will be an act of aspiration, of purpose, of future direction.

I want to tell you the story of the National Peace Garden Monument and how it grew out of one woman's inspiration. In times like these, when we see so much that is negative about the world, it is heartening to find an individual who has the heart and tenacity to want to do something for us all.

Grandmother saw something missing

In the spring of 1986, Elizabeth Ratcliff, a grandmother and retired schoolteacher from Berkeley, Calif., went to Washington to visit friends. After seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the graves of John and Robert Kennedy, and the Iwo Jima memorial, she was struck by the idea that many monuments in the capital express the sacrifice but not the hope of American democracy - that nowhere is there a monument to the ideal of peace that lies at the base of our democracy or to the heroic people who struggle to achieve it.

And so she conceived the idea of building a national monument that would honor America's commitment to peace and, more important, would inspire future generations of peacemakers.

Over the past 10 years, Ms. Ratcliff's enthusiasm has engaged thousands of people throughout the country and overcome many obstacles. She won the support of Rep. George Miller (D) of California and Sen. Dale Bumpers (D) of Arkansas, and in 1987 Congress passed legislation granting her organization 10 acres of National Park Service land at the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, east of the Jefferson Memorial.

I have joined a committed board composed in part of former Peace Corps volunteers in the effort to build the National Peace Garden Monument. I see it as an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world our commitment to the potential for peace. It will encourage thinking and actions that produce solutions to threats of violence at home as well as abroad.

The Olympic example

During the Olympic Games, billions of people from around the world turned their attention to the dedication, talent, and energy of the Olympic athletes. Their example of peaceful competition and brotherhood gave us a glimpse of what we as a global society are capable of. We must not let this positive energy slip away. Instead we should work to find solutions that will reverse the trend of negativism and violence.

Our tradition is to define problems, seize opportunities, and work for change. The National Peace Garden Monument will enlist the positive energy of the American character to work for the preservation of all we hold most dear.

On the eve of the 21st century, we have a chance to build one of the last major memorials in Washington, one dedicated to our belief in the possibility of peace on earth. It will be our gift to the future.

*Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh is president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame.

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