Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

N.H. City Recalls Historic Role In Russian-Japanese Peace Pact

AT the end of the 20th century, when a lot of war memories are fading, this small New Hampshire city is already celebrating the 90th anniversary of the historic event in 1905 that ended the first major war in this century.

Once a thriving New England seaport, Portsmouth helped settle a bloody war between Russia and Japan by hosting delegations from the two nations in August 1905 for negotiations that ended in a peace accord that September.

About these ads

Last March, the city opened the original ``treaty room'' where the talks were held, hoping that the Portsmouth locals as well as tourists might learn what went into the month-long talks between Japan and Russia.

Located in the headquarters of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the room displays photographs of delegations, postcards printed in the confer-ence period, and mahogany furniture and other objects used at the time.

Rising and falling powers

In June the city, along with the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire, also brought together scholars from Japan, Russia, and the United States to discuss the meaning of the war and the treaty. Next year, the anniversary, Portsmouth will host officials from its ``sister city'' of Nichinan in southern Japan, where Baron Jutaro Komura, Japan's chief negotiator at the Ports-mouth talks, was born.

``The immediate result of the war for Japan was to enhance the prestige of the Japanese military,'' said John Perry, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., at the June forum.

The war, which centered on which nation would control Ko-rea and Manchuria, catapulted Japan into an international power, while ``for Russia, the war marked the opening of the revolution,'' Mr. Perry said.

Peace was mediated by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who was later given the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. The peace conference was the first major international negotiation by the US. President Roosevelt chose Portsmouth for the talks because it could provide security and privacy - and because Roosevelt liked New Eng-land's seacoast.

About these ads

Charles Doleac, president of the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire, says the peace process was helped along by ``nonofficial diplo-macy'' of the people in Portsmouth. ``The actual hosts of the conference were the people in Portsmouth,'' he said. During the talks, locals invited members of the delegations to receptions, tennis games, and dances.

Game without losers

Mr. Doleac compares the peace negotiations with a baseball game. ``The Japanese and Rus-sians were two baseball teams and people in Portsmouth wanted both teams to win,'' said Mr. Doleac. ``And the definition of winning is peace.''

Another reason for celebrating the treaty talks, he adds, is the possibility of Portsmouth playing a similar role again.

Since the end of World War II, Tokyo and Moscow have been disputing the ownership of a group of islands off the northern tip of Japan. They are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the southern Kurile Islands by the Russians. Japan claims that the former Soviet Union seized the islands illegally at the end of World War II. Russian officials say the islands were granted to them by the Allies for entering the war against Japan.

``I'm confident that the day will come when we will sign the peace treaty,'' Kyoji Komachi, former head of the Russian Division in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, said in the June forum. ``I look forward to that day.''

``Is it possible for the United States once again to serve as intermediary as it did back in 1905?'' asked Perry.

``I suggest, Mr. Komachi, that Russia and Japan should sign the second Portsmouth Peace Treaty,'' responded Constantine Pleshakov, a Russian scholar at Princeton University. ``I hope that Portsmouth will be as welcoming and hospitable in the future regarding Russian-Japan relations as it was in 1905.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.