Three years ago, on a trip down to Washington, I noticed, on a bus taking me near the Lincoln Memorial, a large, gleaming building: the U.S. Institute of Peace. I had never heard of this structure, but resolved to research it when I went home.
And then I forgot more or less about it. That is, until a couple of months ago, when Michael Kinsley’s scathing piece appeared in Vanity Fair.
About the only point of agreement with Kinsley is that the building, by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, is “gorgeous.” Thereafter, he pours ridicule on its establishment (signed into law in 1984 by Ronald Reagan, as a “sop” to the growing anti-nuclear movement) and its initial board (neocons such as Father Richard John Neuhaus, W. Scott Thompson, and Evron Kirkpatrick).
But the main theme of the piece can be boiled down to a few sentences:
“So what is so terrible about spending $35 million a year and supporting a staff of 173 people in a $111 million building just to see if this kind of thinking can work? Answer: nothing is wrong with it, except that all of human history suggests that it cannot work.”
I’m really not sure that’s a sufficient critique of the building or its mission, though. Many worthwhile organizations spring from some not-so-pure individuals and motives, and even the best-intentioned organizations can get hijacked by a new administration, as the Environmental Protection Agency under the new administration seems set on doing.
From what I can see, the mission of the Institute of Peace, as stated on its Web site, seems more urgent than ever: “To prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflicts around the world by engaging directly in conflict zones and providing analysis, education and resources to those working for peace.”