Speech delivered on January 13, 2014 at “It Began in Boston: Celebrating a Century of Peace Work in Massachusetts,” the Annual World Peace Foundation toast to peace, held in the Edwin Ginn Library at Tufts University’s The Fletcher School.
It is a pleasure to be here tonight for this annual event. I have been a Trustee of the World Peace Foundation for fourteen or fifteen years this time around. It is actually my second time with this Board. I was also a member of the Board back in the 1980’s in between my service in Congress and my election as Attorney General.
I have always been proud to be associated with the World Peace Foundation and its work because even though it is a small organization, it has made a unique contribution in the search for ways to avoid conflict and resolve conflict.
But in the 30 years of my awareness and involvement with the Foundation I have never been more positive than I am today about our ability to make an even bigger contribution. I feel that way for two reasons. The first is because of the unique talents and experience brought to the Foundation by our Executive Director Alex de Waal. Alex is not just a theorist but a practitioner in the effort to bring peace to the world. We know of the pivotal role that he has played and is playing in resolving the conflict in South Sudan and his long list of accomplishments and publications. He brings both a deep commitment to peace and a vigorous intellectual approach to the subject. He is also a superb administrator and has assembled a first class staff to carry out the World Peace Foundation’s work.
The second reason for my optimism about what the World Peace Foundation can accomplish in this next phase is the extraordinary relationship between the Foundation and The Fletcher School. I believe, and I know I speak for the other trustees, that the World Peace Foundation and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy are a perfect fit. While the Foundation, for most of its history, operated without any affiliation with an academic institution, the opportunity to work with the excellent faculty here and to involve so many talented students who not only contribute but challenge our traditional ways of thinking and looking at problems has already had a great affect and I think that will become more evident with the passage of time.
And it is fitting that we are here, in this room, at Tufts University to honor the memory, the vision and the generosity of Edwin Ginn. Ginn was a publisher, a passionate advocate of the power of education to transform humanity, and the founder of the World Peace Foundation.
He was also an alumnus of Tufts University, a member of the class of 1862, graduating in the same summer as some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
While he never wrote or spoke about that war, his generation of Americans was deeply marked by that experience. Much has been written recently about the period leading up to World War I.
Margaret MacMillan, in her book, The War That Ended Peace described the period this way: “The globalization of the world before 1914 has been matched only by our own times since the end of the Cold War. Surely, it was widely believed, this new interdependent world would build new international institutions and see the growing acceptance of universal standards of behavior for nations. International relations were no longer seen, as they had been in the eighteenth century, as a game where if someone won someone else had to lose. Instead, all could win when peace was maintained. The increasing use of arbitration to settle disputes among nations, the frequent occasions when the great powers in Europe worked together to deal with, for example, crises in the decaying Ottoman Empire, the establishment of an international court of arbitration, all seemed to show that, step by step, the foundations were being laid for a new and more efficient way of managing the world. War, it was hoped, would become obsolete.” This was the spirit with which Edwin Ginn founded the World Peace Foundation in 1910.
Edwin Ginn died just about 100 years ago on January 21, 1914, just a few months before the Great War began. In his will he bequeathed one million dollars to the Ginn Trust, with the instruction that the sole beneficiary of the trust would be the World Peace Foundation, recognizing that, “at some time, and I hope not in the far-distant future,” that cause would “achieve such success as to make it unnecessary or unwise” to continue supporting the cause of International Peace.
And indeed every November the members of the Ginn Trust meet to determine whether world peace has indeed been achieved. They have voted ninety-nine times and each time, sadly but predictably, the vote has been that it has not, in fact, been achieved.
Ginn was the first man to give $1 million to the cause of peace, and it is his gift that is still providing for the World Peace Foundation today.
1914 was an inauspicious year for the cause of peace. A year in which Europe and much of the world was plunged into an extraordinarily destructive war, that directly killed ten million people, and unleashed a series of other cataclysms over time, including Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany.
Historians are still puzzled by the outbreak of that war. Many of them agree that it was a monumental error. Perhaps in fact the greatest error of the age. If we recognize the fundamental pointlessness of World War One, then we must also recognize the wisdom of those who saw it at the time to be a tragic blunder.
Among those was, of course, Edwin Ginn.
It is appropriate that we are celebrating his gift here, because this library was established when the Fletcher School purchased for a nominal sum the collection of books, journals and other publications, belonging to the World Peace Foundation.
Austin Barclay Fletcher and the founders of this school eighty one years ago were all inspired by the vision of international peace, articulated by Edwin Ginn.
That was in 1933, in fact in the same month that Adolf Hitler came to power. Another inauspicious date.
But the foundation of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is also another reminder that, during the depths of bloodshed and destruction of the twentieth century, men and women who were both principled and supremely practical, sincerely believed that world peace was not only something worth struggling for, but also something that was eminently achievable.
We are here, in particular, to mark a century of efforts in support of world peace that have been centered in and around this city. A hundred years ago, Greater Boston was the hub of activities in North America to promote an end to war as a means of resolving disputes. There was an element of idealism, for sure – just as there was an element of idealism in the foundation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony several centuries earlier and indeed also an element of principled idealism in a rebellion against English colonial power.
But the people of Massachusetts are also nothing if not practical. Their project was not one of starry-eyed dreamy idealism, but of the practical steps – in education, in international law and policy, in commerce and in the regulation of armaments – that would reduce and eliminate war and its appalling destruction.
And so it is that the World Peace Foundation has, for a hundred years, been dedicated to the most practical of activities: educating the people of America and the world as to the horrors and evils of war, and how it can be brought to an end.