History

At Green Acre, the first "modern" peace treaty is commemorated

ELIOT, Maine, USA — According to some historians, the 1905 Russo-Japanese War was the first truly modern war, involving as it did both the telegraph and the telephone, along with machine guns, barbed wire, illuminating star shells, mine fields, advanced torpedoes, and armored battleships.

The war's resolution might also be called the world's first modern “peace,” inasmuch as its end came about through perhaps the first use of so-called multi-track diplomacy, involving not only the belligerents but also the United States and, significantly, input from civil society.

Were it not for US diplomacy and the military restraint displayed by the other European nations, the Russo-Japanese war might have become the first world war. For his role in the so-called Portsmouth Peace Treaty, US President Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it was the contribution of civil society, and in particular the activities of a far-sighted and influential woman — Sarah Jane Farmer — that were honored in a commemoration here at the Green Acre Bahá'í School in September 2005.

That commemoration drew the Japanese Ambassador to the United States , who spoke at Green Acre on the topic of “Peace in the 21st Century” on 4 September 2005. In particular, the Honorable Ryozo Kato spoke about Japan 's growing role in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts around the world.

“ Japan is working around the world for the conservation of the environment, for disarmament, and for the eradication of poverty and disease,” said Ambassador Kato.

His speech, before some 175 people, capped a week of activities that celebrated the role played 100 years ago by Ms. Farmer, who was an early member of the Bahá'í Faith in the United States and the founder of Green Acre, which had established itself as a key meeting point for leaders of nascent interfaith and peace movements at the start of the 20th century.

The Portsmouth Peace Treaty was signed at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, just down the Piscataqua River from Green Acre. And at one point during the negotiations, diplomats could reportedly see a huge “peace” flag that was flown by Ms. Farmer on the grounds of Green Acre.

More importantly, Ms. Farmer had, in the years preceding the Treaty negotiations, sponsored a well-known series of summer conferences about peace and inter-religious harmony.

In 1904, for example, the annual Green Acre conference closed with a program dedicated to the resolution of the Russo-Japanese war. The following year, when delegations from Russia and Japan were meeting in Portsmouth to negotiate an end to the war, Ms. Farmer obtained a pass to the ceremonial signing of the Treaty — the only woman to attend the event.

Charles Doleac, co-chair of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Anniversary Committee, said at the 4 September commemoration that Ms. Farmer and other early Bahá'ís in the greater Portsmouth area played a critical role in pushing government delegations towards a settlement.

“The Bahá'ís in 1905 were really trying, through the work of Sarah Farmer, to resolve this dispute,” said Mr. Doleac, who has done extensive research on the Portsmouth Treaty process and history.

Mr. Doleac added that other local civil society groups, including many churches in the area, likewise pushed for peace, all helping to “create the atmosphere” that kept the delegations at the negotiating table “until peace was achieved.”

Foad Katirai, who represented the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Japan at the event, said that the Portsmouth Peace Treaty process can be understood as among the first “multi-track” efforts at diplomacy, one that included not only various governments but also a civil society component.

“Many associations, many people, seek peace,” said Dr. Katirai, who is also author of a book, Global Governance and the Lesser Peace. “The Bahá'í vision is perhaps unique in that we regard world peace as already having been born in the 20th century. What remains for us in the 21st century is to take the newborn peace and to see that it grows and develops into a mature and lasting system of global governance.”

Erica Toussaint, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, noted in her remarks that ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, had given a talk in London about the prerequisites for universal peace at about the same time as the Portsmouth Treaty was being signed.

“In that talk, he said: ‘In the days of old an instinct for warfare was developed in the struggle with wild animals; this is no longer necessary; nay, rather, co-operation and mutual understanding are seen to produce the greatest welfare of mankind,' ” said Ms. Toussaint.

In his remarks, Ambassador Kato spoke of the close alliance between Japan and the United States in efforts to promote peace and freedom around the world.

He said that today Japan is the world's second largest democracy, second largest donor of foreign aid, and second largest contributor to the United Nations.

Ambassador Kato also expressed “deep, deep admiration for the effort” that Bahá'ís have played in “attending to world peace and human harmony.”

The week-long commemoration included a talk by Suheil Bushrui, who holds the Bahá'í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland . On 26 August 2005, Dr. Bushrui spoke on “A Step Towards a Culture of Peace: Reflections on the Treaty of Portsmouth.”

Prof. Bushrui's talk was followed by five days of diverse educational activities exploring the cultural, economic, educational, political, and spiritual foundations of the creation of lasting peace.

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