7
Jan

by Graham Allison

Precisely a hundred years ago today, the richest man in the world sent New Year’s greetings to a thousand of the most influential leaders in the U.S. and Europe announcing: mission accomplished. “International Peace,” he proclaimed, “is to prevail through the Great Powers agreeing to settle their disputes by International Law, the pen thus proving mightier than the sword.”

Having immigrated to the US penniless, created the steel industry as a pillar of America’s rise to preeminence, and become fabulously wealthy in the process, Andrew Carnegie had the confidence of a man who had achieved the impossible. When he turned from making money to spending it for public purposes, his goals were universal literacy at home (funding public libraries in cities and towns across America), and perpetual peace abroad, starting with the great powers of Europe and the US.

Events in the year that had just ended convinced Carnegie that 1914 would be the decisive turning point towards peace. Just six months earlier, his decade-long campaign culminated in the inauguration of the Peace Palace at the Hague, which he believed would become the Supreme Court of nations. The Palace was built to house the new International Court of Arbitration that would now arbitrate disputes among nations that had historically been settled by war. As theEconomist noted, “the Palace of Peace embodies the great idea that gradually law will take the place of war.”

Carnegie’s Peace Palace captured the zeitgeist of the era. The most celebrated book of the decade, The Great Illusion, published in 1910, sold over two million copies. In it, Norman Angell exposed the long-held belief that nations could advance their interests by war as an “illusion.” His analysis showed that conquest was “futile” because “the war-like do not inherit the earth.”

However inspiring his hopes, Carnegie’s vision proved the illusion. Six months after his New Year’s greeting, a Serbian terrorist assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke. Nine months on, the guns of August began a slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: “World War.” By 1918, Europe lay devastated, and a millennium in which it had been the creative center of the world was over. Read more…

Graham Allison is Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  Published on Jan. 1,  2014

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