August 29 -
The Colonel makes peace
" We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid.
President Theodore Roosevelt spoke the above words during his inaugural address in 1905. And it was quite a year to talk of peace.
The Russians and Japanese had been fighting for over a year. Referred to as the Russo-Japanese War in its day, some historians consider it World War Zero - as it teetered the balance of power in the world.
Roosevelt felt the need to act. Reflecting in 1913, he said, "During the early part of the year 1905, the strain on the civilized world caused by the Russo-Japanese War became serious. The losses of life and treasure were frightful."
He felt a duty to intervene. In his inaugural, he also stated "Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither."
But after both sides had agreed to come to the harbor town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire to negotiate, talks began to reach a standstill. An end to the war seemed unlikely.
TR takes up the narrative.
A bit more about the war...
The Russo-Japanese War was an approximately 18-month conflict, years in the making. Russia was an empire seeking to expand its reach into the East. Japan was an empire emerging as a more modern industrial state, and hoping to expand its sphere of influence into the Korean peninsula and potentially into China. Russia's expansion efforts, and failed attempts to negotiate a compromise on territorial control, led the Japanese to declare war with Russia on February 8, 1904.
Russia and Tsar Nicholas II underestimated Japan's resolve and military strength, and thus were handed defeat after defeat. But as TR referenced, it was at a great cost. Both countries were being (in his words) "bled white."
The neutrality of America and other nations helped keep this war from escalating into "World War Zero." The potential chaos in the East, and the imbalance of power in the world, spurred TR into action - though unusual action for the Rough Rider himself - calling both powers to the United States for peace negotiations.
In conversation with journalist and travel writer E. Alexander Powell, Roosevelt stated that he had "been blamed by both the Russians and the Japanese for bringing the war in Manchuria to an end prematurely, when neither side had gained a decisive victory and neither was willing to quit."
The Colonel believed that both sides would collapse in population and economy under a continued war. And while he was never in Portsmouth, delegates from both empires were taken by boat to Oyster Bay and Sagamore Hill. There he counseled compromise from both sides. The Russians he advised to seek peace; the Japanese he counseled to stop seeking indemnity [reparations for the cost of the war].
And thankfully, on the morning of August 29th, 1905, both sides listened. It would still take another week for the actual treaty to be finalized, but it was a great step in bringing about the peace that Roosevelt had desired.
Letter to George Kennan, October 15, 1905 (never sent)
My object...was not my own personal credit or even the advancement of this country, but the securing of peace. Peace was secured.