By Willem Post.
They called him a dreamer. The Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie built his way up from humble origins to becoming a steel magnate. The American Dream in a nutshell. But for Carnegie it was not a dream about materialism. The richest man on earth, the Bill Gates of his era, gave away a fortune to build libraries and other useful institutes, in order to educate people about world peace. He funded the building of the PeacePalace in The Hague. In utopian way Carnegie called the new building ‘The Temple of Peace’. He was convinced that the dedication on the 28th of August 1913 was one of the most important events in world history.
But was he naive? A year later the First World War broke out, creating misery on an immense scale.
My answer to the question is ‘NO’ with capital letters. This so called ‘first modern war’ was from a moral and realistic perspective a disaster. Literally the destruction of almost a generation in several countries. And an enormous waste of money and capital goods in the newly industrialized world. In Carnegie’s days the consensus in diplomatic circles was to talk about peace after a war. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles can be placed in this tradition.
In our times there is a vivid, intelectual discussion, influenced also by the withdrawal of the military from Iraq and Afganistan, to implement the principles of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ as adopted by the United Nations in 2005. One of the key principles of this very human doctrine is that we have to invest more in averting war. So the PeacePalace with its courts is a very modern phenomenon. The peaceful settlement of disputes, the core ‘business’ of the Palace is nowadays more important than ever.
Therefore, this Mr Carnegie is a true ‘The Hague world icon’. A man we still have to thank for his inspiration and foresight.
Willem Post is a senior fellow on international affairs at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague and a commentator for several European, American and Australian media