Why would citizens in America's heartland think they could strike a chord for peace in the world? "Peace came to our community, and we thought it a significant enough legacy for the world to continue to make it happen," says Tom Young, chair of the Dayton Peace Prize Committee.
The committee is part of a community planning group called Dayton: A Peace Process (DAPP). It has organized a series of high- profile events this fall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords. The highlight is tonight, when the Dayton Peace Prize will be conferred to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the accords, which ended the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
The accords were a last-ditch all-out effort to stop the ethnic cleansing that had claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced 1 million people. It was "the worst killing ground in Europe since World War II," wrote Mr. Holbrooke in his 1998 book "To End a War."
Holbrooke chose Dayton as the summit site, an unimpressive alternative to opulent settings in Geneva, Paris, or Washington. The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest in the country, provided stark accommodations for the nine participating delegations, sealed off the press, and displayed America's air power. This environment augmented Holbrooke's use of the "Big Bang" strategy - now known in diplomacy circles as a "Dayton" - where negotiators are locked in a room until they reach an agreement.
But even Holbrooke did not anticipate what Dayton had to offer.
Proud that their town had been selected for the summit, Daytonians responded by welcoming the negotiators and then forming human peace chains around the base, holding candlelight vigils, and praying for peace throughout the 21 days of talks. Dayton's ethnic diversity did not escape the notice of the warring Balkan leaders, either.