Treaty still offers valuable lessons

On Sept. 5, 1905, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a document was signed with great fanfare and greeted with glee by President Teddy Roosevelt.

Nearly forgotten now, that document was The Treaty of Portsmouth. It officially ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned Roosevelt the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt got the two nations to agree to talks in the United States.

But it was the people of New Hampshire who played an equally important, and impressive, role. This is from the Portsmouth Peace Treaty web page:

“Only now is it becoming apparent that the hospitality of the State of New Hampshire and the residents of Portsmouth and vicinity played a significant informal role in creating an atmosphere that made the formal peaceful settlement possible.”

The president had placed his trust in New Hampshire Gov. John McLane, of Milford, and the people of this state.

To acknowledge the treaty, the first international treaty to be signed in the United States, and the state’s part in its success, students of Milford’s Heron Pond Elementary School and the Milford Historical Society planted a cherry tree this month.

These tree planting events have been going on since 2005, when the 100th anniversary of the treaty was celebrated. And New Hampshire has celebrated the importance of citizen diplomacy by making Sept. 5 Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day, planting cherry trees throughout the state and hosting programs through the New Hampshire Humanities Council that perpetuate the history of the treaty.

While New Hampshire’s prominence in this event is remarkable, perhaps what is more so is the hospitality shown by people of the Granite State. It certainly is possible that the treaty would have been signed anyway, but likely not in a convivial atmosphere.

Despite the current atmosphere in our international relations, hospitality and goodwill can help diplomats reach an understanding. It worked 112 years ago. Is there any reason to think it can’t work today? Before it can, though, someone in high office has to be willing to give it a try.