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Heard the One About the Peace Activist on the Titanic?

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Can you even imagine what it would be like if the United States today spent more on education than on armaments?  In such a bizarre world, some of us might have heard of people like William Thomas Stead. 

Stead was most certainly not a pacifist.  He wanted to unite Europe and was in search of an outside enemy against which Europeans might unite.  His chief candidate was Turkey, a nation still to this day not admitted to the European Union, even if included in NATO.  Stead carried the racial and religious bigotry of his day (and, of course, of our own).  He also believed dead people visited him (the topic, unsurprisingly, of those of his books that remain at all popular in 2012).

Stead sought to model Europe on what was best in U.S. history, even if those elements were on the verge of fading into a forgotten past:

"The idea of a large standing army is repugnant to the best men in the United States. And here it may be noted as by no means one of the least of the many advantages resulting from the Imperial Rescript, the powerful influence which it is undoubtedly exerting in the crystallization of American opinion upon the burning question of expansion over sea. As Mr. Cleveland reminded his fellow-citizens last June, 'Never before in our history have we been beset with temptations so dangerous as those which now whisper in our ears alluring words of conquests and expansion, and point out to us fields bright with the glory of war.'"

Stead hoped to hold the United States to its (idealized) past performance.  He was as dismayed as Mark Twain or Andrew Carnegie by the new imperialism that seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, not to mention Hawaii and other territories.  Stead also hoped that the Russian Czar was serious in his proposal for a conference on establishing peace.  Following a trip to Russia and through most of Europe, Stead was confident of the Czar's intentions:

"I know now, as a matter of absolute certainty, no longer to be disputed even by the most cynical and sceptical, that the Peace Rescript summoning the Governments to the Parliament of Peace is no mere flash in the pan, no sudden outburst of an enthusiastic youth. Neither is it the mask covering any deep-laid Macchiavellian design. It is the carefully weighed and long considered expression of a reasoned conviction on the part of the ruler of the greatest military Empire in the world, a conviction which is held and expressed by the Tsar with intense, almost passionate, earnestness, but which is shared to the full by his most experienced and powerful Ministers.  That conviction may be briefly stated as the belief that considerations alike of humanity and of statesmanship imperatively demand a cessation of the present breakneck competition in naval and military armaments, which, proceeding at an ever-accelerating rate, must, if unchecked, land civilization in the abyss. Armaments have already reached such colossal dimensions that they cannot be used without involving the disorganization of society by their mobilization, while the increased deadliness of weapons and enormous havoc of modern war renders it probable that even victory would only be the prelude of the triumph of revolutionary Anarchism.  War every year becomes more and more synonymous with suicide. But the armed peace is only one degree less costly than war. The international game of beggar-my-neighbor can only end in bankruptcy. But no one Power can cry off. Only by a general agreement can the ruinous game be checked. Therefore the Peace Conference has been summoned, and if ever a case was proved beyond all gainsaying, by facts beyond dispute and calculations mathematically verified, it is that which the Tsar will submit to the representatives of the Governments of the world."

One outcome of the conference called by the Czar and held in 1899 in the Hague was the Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes.  Francis Boyle recently pointed out that, "according to article 27 thereof, if a serious dispute threatens to break out between contracting powers, it [is] the DUTY of the other contracting powers to remind them that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is open to them, and such reminder [cannot] be treated as an unfriendly act of intervention by the disputants. Today the world needs one State party to either the 1899 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes or the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes to publicly remind both the United States and Iran that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, together with its International Bureau and the entirety of the 1899 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, are available to the two States in order to resolve their dispute in a peaceful manner." 

In other words, the United States and Iran are parties to a treaty dating back to 1899 that requires them to settle disputes like adults rather than infants. 

That such treaties were ever created has been forgotten. 

That reasonably qualified individuals were once considered as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize is a fact so dated and buried that it might as well rest at the bottom of the Atlantic.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)

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