Saterday, June 21, 2014, marked the Centenary of the death of Austrian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Bertha von Suttner. The Peace Palace Library, the Carnegie Foundation and the Bertha von Suttner Project, organized a week of commemorative activities to celebrate her life and accomplishments. Professor Hope Elizabeth May of Central Michigan University and six of her students played a key role in organizing all of the activities that took place in the Peace Palace. These are their insightful reflections of those events.
Dr. Hope Elizabeth May, professor of Philosophy and Religion at Central Michigan University
Bertha von Suttner lived by the motto 'Hail to the Future!'. June 21, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of her death and a number of partners worked together in The Hague to create a commemorative 'Bertha von Suttner week' this past June in which audiences were exposed to facets of the fascinating life and lessons of The Baroness. Among the events were a commemorative lecture in The Great Hall of Justice, a film screening of the 1914 movie version of Bertha's most famous book, "Die Waffen Nieder!" and an interdisciplinary 'Master Class' (forwardintolight.com). Participants in the Master Class comprised an intergenerational and international group of students who had the privilege of learning about Bertha von Suttner and the Peace through Law movement within the historic setting of the Peace Palace. This 2014 commemorative week - designed by the Peace Palace Library and The Bertha von Suttner Project (berthavonsuttner.com) - is a direct result of the Carnegie Foundation's decision to memorialize Bertha von Suttner with a bust in the Peace Palace. That moment signaled a commitment to a process of education and remembrance - a process that did not end with the unveiling of that bust, but continued into this year, and must continue into the future if we are to fully appreciate the value of Bertha von Suttner and the Peace through Law movement of which she was an integral part.
I had the honor of sharing this commemorative Bertha von Suttner week with a group of six students from Central Michigan University. The early leaders of this public university in the heartland of the United States have a special connection to the Peace through Law movement because of their involvement with the American School Peace League -a network of teachers committed to education about International Law and The Hague Tradition. Indeed, this League was so committed to this education that they even celebrated May 18 (the day on which the 1899 Hague Peace Conference opened) as 'Hague Day' or 'Peace Day'. Unfortunately, the U.S. entry into World War 1 ultimately caused the League's demise. But the work of the League stands as a beacon for those of us who care about the vision of Peace through Law, "Global Citizenship" and the proper pedagogy through which our most noble sentiments can be properly awakened.
The education that our delegation received (and I think I can speak for all of us from Central Michigan University) was poignant and powerful. In addition to our time in The Hague, we had the privilege of journeying to Vienna and Harmannsdorf (Bertha's former residence) and participating in the commemorative activities being held by committed individuals in Austria. Throughout it all, I kept remembering some of the things that Bertha said: "Hail to the Future!", "Persist, Persist and Continue to Persist!", "Doubts arose in me, but I chased those doubts away" - and, especially resonant "we are called to hasten the development of a higher and more fortunate type of human being".
Bertha was not only commemorated in The Hague, Vienna and Harmannsdorf. Several cities in Germany had commemorative events, and Prague did as well. That fact that this range of commemorative activity occurred and the fact that we were a part of it, is reassuring. Connections are being made and new audiences are being educated and the story is alive and growing. At Harmannsdorf, The International Bertha von Suttner Society (berthavonsuttner.at) which was the sponsor of a commemorative event welcomed us and was excited to learn that Bertha's memory is alive not only at the Peace Palace, but also at our university in the United States. I am struck by the fact that the memory of Bertha is not fading away but gaining in strength. The dimension of interconnectivity afforded by the World Wide Web helps to facilitate this strengthening. Sharing this rich educational experience not only with my students, but with many other committed individuals has been an incredible gift that helps me to understand the deep wisdom behind Bertha's favorite motto: "Hail to the Future!".
Gerrit Elenbaas, student of Philosophy at Central Michigan University
My studies in the Peace Palace Library have been a humbling experience. Drs. Jeroen Vervliet (President of the Netherlands Committee of the Blue Shield and Director of the Peace Palace Library) personally shed light on the trans-generational project of maintaining cultural heritage in the face of armed conflict. During a private lecture, Drs. Vervliet spoke of the loss of the monastery at Casino Hill (1943), where allied forces bombed the historic structure in an attempt to minimize casualties.Such events are far removed from my everyday experiences, while analogous situations happen today without recourse or justice. Dr. Vervliet emphasized the need to spread awareness and to defend (whether through indirect means or through formal legal practice) the material manifestations of the progress of the peace movement. The spreading of the awareness and education is, in the spirit Andrew Carnegie, an expression of the prominence of the aesthetic, the intellectual and moral aspects of culture. I can only hope that after being instructed in the history and the symbolism of the Peace through Law movement that I may, in some small part, add to or maintain the existing edifice of humanity's cultural heritage.
Randall Olson, student of Philosophy at Central Michigan University
Studying inside the Peace Palace opened my eyes to America’s critical role in the peace movement, both historically and currently. Our last actual day of class inside the Peace Palace was on July 4th, where we were greeted by Lady Justice (formally titled “Peace Through Justice") staring down at us from atop the Grand Staircase. As the honorary donation made to the Peace Palace by the United States, Peace Through Law is a magnificent statue of a visibly strong-bodied female who symbolically represents the moral component of law. I learned that the placement of Peace through Law in such a prominent position was no accident. The Carnegie Foundation of the Netherlands reserved a position of prominence for the United States before the Peace Palace was actually built. This space was explicitly chosen to represent America’s contribution to the project of Peace through Law. Without Andrew Carnegie’s donation to humanity, the deep historic roots of America’s involvement in the Peace through Law movement would still be a mystery to me.
Faith Swanberg, student of Philosophy at Central Michigan University
One hundred years after its opening, Bertha von Suttner was the first woman to have her bust placed in the Peace Palace. While this signals and a tremendous step forward, it also shows how much more work needs to be done. The formal recognition of the commitment of women to the peace movement begins with Bertha von Suttner. But there are many other women who have committed their lives to this movement who have yet to be properly recognized. Without the history of these women we are missing nearly half of the history and thus half of the truth. The presence of Bertha von Suttner's bust is a tangible symbol of the beginning of this process.
Going into the Peace Palace and witnessing the bust of Bertha von Suttner and other heroes of the peace movement brought history alive for me. The Peace Palace did more to spark my interest in learning more than any other place that I have been. Encountering these monuments compels me to learn more about the people who are immortalized there. No matter where they are from and no matter how old or young, human beings can only benefit from being exposed to and learning more about this historic Temple of Peace.
Anthony Warren, student of Philosophy at Central Michigan University
During my time in The Hague and studying at the Peace Palace Library I found myself working in the wake of great individuals in the history of peace and international law. Throughout the Palace and Library there are physical reminders: statues, pictures, etc. of people like Hugo Grotius and Bertha von Suttner. But the special people of the Peace Palace Library are not limited to the ones immortalized in these physical symbols. The living energy of the library comes from its vibrant staff - from the library director Dr. Jeroen Vervliet to the members of the Reading Room staff: Niels van Tol and Ronnie Jagroep, every person brings a unique touch. The staff is not there just to help find niche articles or topics, but can also inspire you to seek further. Dr. Vervliet's own knowledge of the history of Nicholas Roerich and how the Roerich Pact was a precursor to the 1954 Hague Convention of Cultural Property enlightened me about the tradition of protecting important pieces of cultural heritage and aided me in my search for a tradition of protecting natural resources as the heritage of all mankind. This sort of work by the Peace Palace Library staff is what makes the library a beautiful place in the Hague where one can encounter the great work left by great individuals (Grotius, Roerich and von Suttner) in the presence of great people today.