Robert Marquand: Treaty of Portsmouth now seen as global turning point

Roundup: Talking About History

For a month 100 years ago, a quiet New England port held the focus of the world.

From Aug. 9 to Sept. 5, diplomats were thrown together with local ladies clubs, and foreign reporters swooped onto picket-fenced streets and called the town a beacon of hope to end the cataclysm between "East" and "West."

In fact, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, fought mostly in Manchuria, was so profound in its effect that some historians now call it "World War 0."

The scale and severity of the clashes, and the possibility that Europe might join in, frightened the entire world. Japan lost 110,000 soldiers in the first year. Russia's great Baltic Navy steamed four months to the Pacific - then lost 16 battleships in 36 hours in the Tsushima Strait. After 18 months Russia didn't win a battle. Its proud image was shattered. Japan destroyed the myth of European invincibility, but was nearly bankrupt. Neither side wanted talks. Neither wanted a mediator.

But President Theodore Roosevelt stepped into the fray, hosting 30 days of negotiations that resulted in a peace pact - and America's first Nobel Peace Prize, awarded partly for a diplomatic approach later called "multtrack."

Today the 1905 war is often little more than a footnote. It has been marginalized and dwarfed by the horrors of World Wars I and II.

Yet a century later historians say the conflict marked a series of crucial global turning points: It opened what historian Herbert Bix calls a "new era of imperial rivalry in Asia and the Pacific." Japan began its rise. The war was unique: Fought between two powers, Russia and Japan, within the boundaries of two neutral countries, China and Korea.

The war showcased modern hardware and tactics. Improbably, the peace was brokered by a third party, the US, in a debut international performance....

comments powered by Disqus