On July 4, USIP President Richard H. Solomon spoke at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall about the legacy of Senator "Spark" Matsunaga. Solomon and former Senate staffer Suzanne Day, who worked for the late Senator "Spark" Masayuki Matsunaga of Hawaii, talked about his role in establishing the United States Institute of Peace.

Richard Solomon at the Smithsonian Folklife FestivalSen. Matsunaga was a World War II veteran-- twice wounded and decorated as a member of the U.S. Army's all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- and a member of the U.S. House and Senate. He believed that international peace was America’s most pressing national priority, and from that conviction, and over a decade of work, he played a leading role in founding the Institute.  After Suzanne Day described Matsunaga’s personality, biography and legislative work, Solomon detailed Matsunaga’s leadership in the late 1970s of a Senate-funded "Commission On Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution." His Commission analyzed over 100 proposed laws, held 11 town hall meetings held across the country, Senate hearings, and ultimately was able to pass a law creating the United States Institute of Peace.

"Senator Matsunaga was ahead of his time," said Solomon. "He wanted a peacemaking institution in the middle of the Cold War. He recognized the need to defend our country in war, but also demonstrated his commitment to peace. Who wants peace," Solomon pointed out, "more than the soldiers on the front lines of war?"

Adding a personal view, Solomon said, “I see ‘peace’ as an unstable condition.  Conflict is an inevitable part of the human condition.  Peacemaking is a dynamic process."  He said, "Matsunaga noted that we have military academies to train and teach doctrines of warfare.  He asked the Senate, why don’t we have an academy to teach peacemaking?" 

Matsunaga envisioned a four-year, degree-granting institution that would be called the United States Academy of Peace.  His Commission, when it reported its findings to Congress, even drafted the law they proposed to establish the Academy.  While, word for word, much of the law creating the U.S. Institute of Peace comes straight from the Commission’s report, Congress did make a few significant changes. 

Solomon pointed out, "Congress passed the law creating the "Institute" of Peace, downgrading the "Academy" idea a bit.  Instead of a four-year undergraduate educational institution, The Institute got a more modest mandate that is only now coming to fruition in the form of USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. Currently, USIP’s Academy offers 17 courses twice per year to groups of professionals with experience working in conflict zones around the world. The courses are hands-on, designed to bridge academic knowledge with lessons learned on the ground.  USIP’s Academy is intended to be a counterpoint to and a collaborator with our nation’s military organizations.

One more example of Sen. Matsunaga’s foresight: USIP’s new headquarters building.  In the bill his Commission drafted, Sen. Matsunaga included a provision setting aside funds for USIP to be housed in a facility in the Washington area.  That provision did not make it into the law creating USIP.  But, next year, USIP will open its permanent headquarters facility at the northwest corner of the National Mall.  The building will stand as a symbol of its mission.  Its undulating white glass roof evokes the wings of a dove, of America’s commitment to peace.  It will be a workspace for both Americans and people from around the world to find better ways to prevent, manage and end violent international conflicts. 

Learn more about USIP’s new headquarters project at http://www.usip.org/building/index.html.