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Another View -- Charles Doleac: When New Hampshire diplomacy helped make peace

September 04. 2017 9:10PM

Every Sept. 5, New Hampshire commemorates Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day, in accordance with legislation passed unanimously in 2010.

Interestingly enough, given the current state of international affairs, the Portsmouth Peace Treaty ended a war fought by Russia and Japan over Manchuria and Korea. It was history’s first modern war, with the largest land and sea battles ever fought between two nations. The war is now known as “World War Zero” for the modern weapons employed, huge armies and navies engaged, and its effect on European colonialism and the international balance of power. Despite winning most of the battles, and sinking the Russian fleet in the Battle of Tsushima Strait, Japan could not decisively defeat the Russian Army. As President of a neutral power not aligned with either warring party, Theodore Roosevelt seized the opportunity to be peacemaker.

Roosevelt’s multi-track diplomacy ended the war and won him the Nobel Peace Prize for orchestrating the treaty — bringing the two sides together in the neutral and welcoming atmosphere that Portsmouth citizens provided, and using back-channel diplomacy to help convince Russia and Japan that peace was a better alternative than continuing the war.

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Kissinger has praised Theodore Roosevelt as one of our nation’s greatest presidential diplomats because he approached the global balance of power with unparalleled sophistication. Only recently, speaking about the modern crisis in Korea, Kissinger observed that, “Diplomacy is not only compatible with, but expressive of, our history and our values” and that “the peace of the world and the future of the world depend on that unique aspect of the American presidency.”

The Nobel Committee awarded the prize, not to the President who was known for “carrying a big stick,” but to the Theodore Roosevelt whose diplomacy achieved the peace in Asia. The Portsmouth Peace Treaty underscores Kissinger’s assertion about American diplomacy: TR brought the United States onto the world stage in 1905 through the moral authority of diplomatic peacemaking in Korea and Manchuria, as well as through the projection of the military might of the Great White Fleet.

The governor’s Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day proclamation encourages New Hampshire citizens “to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities commemorating this important part of New Hampshire history.” The Legislature defined four reasons that the Portsmouth Peace Treaty is important to New Hampshire: TR’s selection of New Hampshire for the peace conference; his reliance on the Navy at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the governor, and citizens of New Hampshire to facilitate the negotiations; the “citizen diplomacy” that helped achieve the outcome that earned Roosevelt his Nobel Prize; and New Hampshire’s example in honoring its citizens for the active role they played in fostering successful international negotiations.

Each Sept. 5, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard offers a memorial salute at 3:47 p.m., the moment the treaty was signed, echoed by the church bells of Portsmouth and local citizens gathered in Market Square to hear a reading of the proclamation. Temple Israel, whose founding Russian Jewish members greeted the diplomats in 1905 in their own language, commemorates the treaty by blowing the traditional ram’s horn.

In the past five years, the celebration of Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day has embraced a new symbol, cherry trees. In 2012, research revealed that Japan gave the iconic Washington, D.C., cherry trees to America to thank Roosevelt for orchestrating the treaty. Since then, the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum has assisted towns celebrating citizen diplomacy by planting cherry trees as a Portsmouth Peace Treaty Living Memorial. Now people in Portsmouth, Dublin, Hanover, Lancaster, Littleton, Manchester, Meredith and Milford commemorate the day by gathering around those trees to ring bells.

Each Living Memorial cherry tree symbolizes New Hampshire citizen diplomacy that helped TR end the war in Asia and earn his Nobel Peace Prize. Local citizens care for their trees and ring bells on Sept. 5 to keep the idea alive that every person can make a difference — especially in New Hampshire where the first-in-the-nation primary helps define the leadership that guides international diplomacy.

Annual Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day commemorations celebrate TR’s diplomacy and citizen diplomacy “in the spirit of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty.” New Hampshire does well to remember the Nobel medal honoring a President who used the diplomacy of our nation, and the diplomatic spirit of the American people to achieve peace.

Charles Doleac is chairman of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum.

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