Lecture: The Peace Movement Collection and the First World War


The Illusion of Peace Disturbed: The Peace Palace and the First World War

“The Peace Movement Collection of the Peace Palace Library and the First World War”

Lecture by Professor Peter van den Dungen on November 14th, 2014.

Text of the Lecture:

We find ourselves in the library – the famous library – of the Peace Palace. The Peace Palace was built to provide a good home for the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the establishment of which was decided during the First Hague Peace Conference (1899). But the Peace Palace was also built to equip the PCA with a first-class library in order for it to be able to fulfil its tasks. During the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907), the first stone was laid for the building which opened its doors in 1913. The First World War started a year later. The Peace Palace celebrated its centenary last year.

Two books

Books, which are the main components of libraries, can thus be seen as being intimately connected with the origins and objectives of the Peace Palace, and with the nature and construction of the building itself. I would like to focus on two books in particular. If you think, this must concern Grotius and perhaps also Erasmus, then your choice would have been an excellent one. However, I would like to talk about two books written in more recent times, and by authors who were not Dutch.

The war started in 1914. I prefer not to say that the war “broke out” since this reminds us too much of a natural catastrophe in which human agency plays no role. War, however, is man-made, and exclusively so. It is important to make this point since many people regard war as something inevitable that we have to put up with, whether we like it or not. Despite the appeal to avoid another great war that was conveyed with much force and conviction by two books published in the last years of the 19th century, a great war started in 1914 that would last more than four years. Both books are closely linked to the story of the Peace Palace, and why The Hague has become the international city of peace and justice.

So, we are not talking about Grotius or Erasmus, two authors and icons of peace who are of course very well represented in the library of the Peace Palace. As regards Grotius, it should be mentioned that 100 years ago Martinus Nijhoff, the publisher in The Hague, donated a unique and precious collection of 55 old editions of De Jure Belli ac Pacis to the library of the Peace Palace. At a stroke, Grotius became the cornerstone of the collection of books on international law in the Peace Palace.

Not Grotius or Erasmus, but who then? – Bertha von Suttner and Jan Bloch, who met for the first time here in the city, during the First Hague Peace Conference.

Lay Down Your Arms!, the famous novel by the Austrian baroness Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), published in 1889 – 125 years ago – had many repercussions, both direct and indirect. This “disarmament-bestseller” and its author played a central role in the organised peace movement which experienced a rebirth which would continue for the next 25 years, until the start of the World War. Bertha von Suttner was a friend of both Alfred Nobel and Andrew Carnegie. We owe the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize to her, at least to some extent (See Fredrik S. Heffermehl, The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel Really Wanted. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2010). Her involvement in the pre-history of the Hague peace conferences, as well as in the conferences themselves (albeit in an unofficial capacity), is such that it was wholly appropriate that a statue of her (the first of a woman) was unveiled in the entrance hall of the Peace Palace as part of its centenary celebrations last year.

Lay Down Your Arms! – but 25 years later, a war began that ignored its warnings and pleadings, and we know at what cost, in the first place in human lives: close to 10 million soldiers lost their lives and many more survived badly maimed and injured, physically as well as psychologically.

The other book, no less important although far less known, is The War of the Future by the Polish-Russian entrepreneur Jan Bloch (1836-1902). This work, in six stout volumes, appeared in St. Petersburg in the summer of 1898, at the same time that Tsar Nicholas II issued his rescript proposing an international peace conference to halt the costly and dangerous arms race and avert a calamitous war. His manifesto resulted in the First Hague Peace Conference the following year (1899). It is no coincidence that Bloch’s book and the Tsar’s appeal appeared at the same time: the author and the ruler of all Russians were no strangers, having met several times in preceding years (See Peter van den Dungen, The Making of Peace: Jean de Bloch and the First Hague Peace Conference. Los Angeles, California: California State University, Center for the Study of Armament and Disarmament, 1983). The Dutch ambassador wrote to his minister in The Hague that in St. Petersburg, Bloch was called “the spiritual father” of the conference.

The key message of Bloch’s study was the same as that of von Suttner’s book that had appeared almost ten years before: Lay Down Your Arms! However, in all other respects the authors, and their books, could not be more different. To confine ourselves to the latter: von Suttner’s book was an emotional novel, Bloch’s was a strictly social-scientific treatise. Von Suttner described war from a micro-perspective whereas Bloch considered it from a macro standpoint. She dramatized the life of a woman whose existence is devastated by war and who becomes a war-widow, twice over. Also her family and friends suffer greatly because of war. Bloch analysed the likely course of a new war between the powers and came to the conclusion that it would amount to a terrible, unheard of catastrophe which had to be prevented at all costs. He predicted that war would be tantamount to the suicide of European civilization, as proved indeed to be the case.

If it is true that among the factors responsible for the First World War is a lack of imagination, then an exception should be made for Bertha von Suttner and Jan Bloch. The clear vision they had of a future war, and the utter catastrophe that it would be, explains why they were so driven to publicise their message, and did so restlessly until the day they died. Bloch passed away at the start of 1902; von Suttner died 12 years later, on 21st June 1914 – one week before the murders in Sarajevo.

A Painting

At the heart of the international peace movement that was reinvigorated by the publication of Lay Down Your Arms! was the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Bern. Established in 1891, its inspiring leader was another titan of those hopeful years: the Swiss railway director and politician, Elie Ducommun (1833-1906). His commitment and professionalism made him widely admired and respected as the first “civil servant” of the international peace movement. He died in 1906, four years after he became the second Swiss (after Henry Dunant) to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1910, it was the turn of the International Peace Bureau itself, to receive the same honour. This has made it possible for the organisation (now based in Geneva) to survive until the present day.

“Arbitration” was the watchword of the peace movement as it developed throughout the 19th century. It can be no cause for surprise that, at the end of that century, the single most important achievement of the First Hague Peace Conference was the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was therefore most fitting that an exquisite portrait of Elie Ducommun was presented to the secretary of the PCA when the Peace Palace was opened in August 1913. This painting, which had been lost sight of and was forgotten for a very long time, was re-discovered in the storage room of the Peace Palace. In 2002, it was the centre-piece at a conference in Geneva that was held to celebrate the centenary of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to this forgotten champion of peace (See the fascinating account by Arthur Eyffinger, “’A Place in Valhalla’: A Portrait of Elie Ducommun Retraced in The Hague”, pp. 51-91 in Roger Durand et al, Elie Ducommun 1833-1906. Geneva: Association “Geneve: un lieu pour la paix”, 2002).

This last expression (“champion of peace”) applies equally to the maker – and donor – of the work of art. This was the English painter Felix Moscheles (1833-1917), a fervent advocate and propagandist of international arbitration. He was a friend of Elie Ducommun and Bertha von Suttner and, like her, one of the most remarkable personalities whose presence in The Hague in 1899 and 1907 did much to support and enrich the official programme and events. Just like the subject of his portrait, its maker was equally talented, admired and loved in the circle of the peace movement. Throughout  his life, Moscheles campaigned against everything that made for war – such as excessive patriotism, jingoism, militarism, imperialism – and he encouraged everything that promoted peace such as rapprochement between Britain and Germany, disarmament, inter-parliamentary cooperation, Esperanto and, above all, arbitration. This great humanitarian and peace activist died in the middle of the war, in 1917. It is to be hoped that the Permanent Court of Arbitration will want to use the centenary of Elie Ducommun’s death, only a few years away, to commemorate its foremost champion. He deserves to be remembered and honoured in this city where the Court was born as much as in his native city. Given the many, perhaps too many, centenary commemorations of the First World War, it is important to pay attention also to those who devoted their lives to the abolition of war, and to the prevention of that particular war which soon would become known as the Great War.

A Librarian

1914 is also the year that Jacob ter Meulen (1884-1962) received his doctorate from the University of Zurich. He became director of the library of the Peace Palace ten years later, and remained in this position until his retirement in 1952. But also afterwards, until his death in 1962, he wholeheartedly served the cause of peace and of the library that he had so expertly developed during his many years as its director. Because of the war, his dissertation, Beitrag zur Geschichte der Internationalen Organisation, 1300-1700 (Contribution to the History of International Organisation), could not be printed in The Hague until 1916. It was to form the basis of a comprehensive study on the subject, in three volumes, covering the period from 1300 until the end of the 19th century. The first volume of Der Gedanke der Internationalen Organisation in Seiner Entwicklung (The Development of the Idea of International Organisation) was published by Martinus Nijhoff in The Hague in 1917. In a foreword, ter Meulen wrote that his work had been made possible through the assistance he had received from colleagues and libraries from within the country as well as from abroad. He also reflected that, despite the violence and injustice in the world, people were united in a common bond of morality and interest – a bond which in the future would also govern relations between countries. The hopeful perspective of the author was mirrored in the motto of the publisher – “Alles Komt Terecht” (All will be well). We assume that both author and publisher must have been despondent when another World War started, not long after the last part of ter Meulen’s trilogy appeared in 1940.

The 1899 and 1907 peace conferences in The Hague, ter Meulen’s native city, proved to be decisive for his life and career. During the second conference, he was much impressed by Max Huber, the Swiss diplomat. Following his urgings, and then under his supervision, ter Meulen began his studies in 1910. After he had been appointed librarian of the Peace Palace, he would have had many opportunities to meet his “Doktorvater” there. Huber was a judge in the Permanent Court of International Justice from 1921 until 1930 (being at various times its President, and Vice-President). For many years, he was also a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (1923-1940). Dr. Jacob ter Meulen is especially known for his bibliographical studies concerning Grotius but he was also greatly interested in the peace movement. In fact, his first scholarly publication is titled, “On the significance of Alfred H. Fried for the peace movement”, in Vrede door Recht (1912). Several letters from ter Meulen to Fried are preserved in the Suttner-Fried archives in the library of the UN in Geneva.

Fried was the close collaborator and friend of Bertha von Suttner whom she appointed executor of her testament, and to whom she entrusted her archive. But Geneva does not have it all: the library of the Peace Palace possesses a collection of 17 letters from Fried to von Suttner, covering the period 1892-1908. I do not know when and how this collection came to The Hague. Possibly this happened in the 1930s when Therese Fried, his widow, donated and sold rare issues of periodicals to the library of the Peace Palace. Ter Meulen writes about this in his annual library report for 1931 (These annual reports that ter Meulen compiled from 1924 until 1950 are a rich source of information concerning his activities, and developments affecting the library). This week, Fried is much in the news in Vienna, where he was born on 11th November (!), 1864 – 150 years ago. He was a prominent figure in the pre-World War One peace movement. He was the first peace journalist, and the pioneer of peace research in the German-speaking area. The award to him of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1911 (shared with Tobias Asser) was wholly deserved, as was the award two years later of an honorary doctorate by Leiden University. The library of the Peace Palace possesses his many publications, including the outstanding and rare periodicals that he edited, Die Waffen nieder! and its successor, Die Friedens-Warte.

Another indication of ter Meulen’s passion for peace and the literature relating to it is to be found in the large international project that he started in 1929 and that resulted in the 1930s in the compilation of two bibliographies about the peace movement before 1899 (1480-1776; 1776-1898). Much original and still important material is preserved in the archives of the library here; it shows that the project was an ambitious one. Although it was not fully realised, the preparatory work resulted in two printed bibliographies, distributed amongst a limited readership of mainly fellow librarians. They remain invaluable and represent the most extensive bibliographies on the subject (They were made more widely available through their publication in From Erasmus to Tolstoy: The Peace Literature of Four Centuries; Jacob ter Meulen’s Bibliographies of the Peace Movement before 1899. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990). The devotion of ter Meulen is also evident from the fact that to some extent he personally bore the financial costs associated with this and similar projects. In the same period, beyond his scholarly and library work, he became active in the Mennonite Brotherhood and was co-founder of the International Mennonite Peace Committee, established here in The Hague in 1937.

A Peace Movement Collection

Last but by no means least, mention must be made here of the Peace Movement Collection of the Library of the Peace Palace. The initiative for creating this came, no surprise, from ter Meulen. This is an extensive collection consisting of thousands of publications, such as pamphlets, and issues of journals as well as a great diversity of ephemera such as posters, postcards, letters, etc. The material derives from numerous organisations, the majority Dutch but also of foreign and international origin. This is a rich source of information and documentation about the subject and covers the periods 1899-1940, and 1940-1980. These folders were only made accessible to researchers during the past two decades through the compilation and publication of inventories – for the first period, in 1993, for the later period, in 2011. In the latter year also, a revised edition of the 1993 catalogues was published. The four attractively produced and illustrated volumes, published as a boxed set, are a great help for anyone interested in consulting the Peace Movement Collection (Vredescollectie 1 & 2: Collection of dossiers concerning the Peace Movement. The Hague: Library of the Peace Palace, 2011, 4 vols.). Jacques Haasbeek, the compiler, recalled in his introduction to the 1993 volumes that this collection is a treasure trove for anyone who wants to study the history of the peace movement, and is one of the few collections of its kind in the world. The collection for the earlier period also comprises materials that had been put together by G. J. de Voogd for the Peace Room, subsequently Peace House (“Vredeskamer”; “Vredeshuis”) that existed during the 1930s in Laan van Meerdervoort, near the Peace Palace, until the Second World War.

The folders in the collection comprise material of the peace movement in all its aspects. Campaigns, and groups and organisations cover such subjects as women and peace, youth and peace, education and peace, church and peace, doctors and peace, disarmament, arms trade, anti-militarism, war resistance and conscientious objection to military service, outlawry of war, European union, world federation, League of Nations, etc. Material concerning the peace movement before the First World War is rather limited. There are extensive folders about the annual world peace congresses, organised by the International Peace Bureau, notably about the 20th reunion, held in The Hague in August 1913, just before the opening of the Peace Palace (and which turned out to be the last such congress before the war). The collection also contains letters of leading personalities of the national and international peace movement such as Ernst Friedrich, the founder of the Anti-War Museum in Berlin in 1925, and Otto Lehmann-Russbueldt, author of a best-seller on the international arms industry , War for Profits (1930). Both had to flee Nazi-Germany. The collection contains much material about one of the most important Dutch peace activists of the 20th century, Rev. J. B. Th. Hugenholtz, including an extensive correspondence with Jacob ter Meulen. Hugenholtz was the founder and driving force of several radical peace organisations, such as the Foundation for National Peace Action, No More War Federation, Church and Peace, and the International Union of Antimilitarist Ministers and Clergymen. In his activism, he focused in particular on education and propaganda, and was closely involved in the creation of the Peace House in The Hague mentioned already. He even met with Albert Einstein in the latter’s summer house in Caputh, near Potsdam, in 1932 where he secured the latter’s support (For more details, see my chapter “Exhibiting Peace: Projects and Initiatives in The Netherlands (1900-1930s)”, pp. 143-157 in Ikuro Anzai, Joyce Apsel & Syed Sikander Mehdi, eds., Museums for Peace: Past, Present and Future.  Kyoto: Kyoto Museum for World Peace at Ritsumeikan University, 2008. This chapter is largely based on materials present in the Peace Movement Collection).

Among the curiosities in the same Collection is the Catalogus van het Oorlogsmuseum van J. A. Wilton Van Reede te Goes – Holland (Catalogue of the War Museum of J. A. Wilton Van Reede in Goes, Rotterdam, 1929). The museum originated in the collection of war memorabilia that was started in 1916-1917 by the banker, J. A. Wilton Van Reede, so as to amuse his son who was ill. The museum, comprising four rooms in his large house, was opened to the public in 1918. A prominent visitor, ten years later, was Prince Henrik of The Netherlands, the consort of Queen Wilhelmina. He arranged for the museum to be housed in the headquarters of the Dutch Red Cross in The Hague. In the introduction to the catalogue, Wilton Van Reede explained the significance of the museum: “It is my ardent desire that everyone who reads this, and everyone who visits my museum, will turn against war as much as I have, and will strive for the promotion of peace; then my aim will have been reached”. Some ten years later, the contents of the museum were moved to the Royal Art Galleries Kleykamp, opposite the Peace Palace. The collection was auctioned on this very day in November 1939, 75 years ago. A copy of the auction catalogue is also present in the Peace Movement Collection.

For peace historians and anyone interested in the origins and evolution of the peace idea and the peace movement, the library and Peace Movement Collection of the Peace Palace are a very rich source of information – and inspiration. When we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, it is important not to overlook the ideas and efforts of those who wanted to prevent this war, and who laboured to abolish all war. The work of the legal institutions for which the Peace Palace provides a home, together with that of the numerous other international institutions elsewhere in the city working for peace and justice, continue to bring nearer the great ideal of a world of peace and justice.