Roosevelt’s way in 1905 shows way to end war in Ukraine in 2022

President Theodore Roosevelt and his diplomatic team had to guide Russia and Japan away from the passions of war and toward reason, to avert the destruction of both nations.

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People carry a wounded woman during the evacuation by civilians of the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine on Mar. 8.

People carry a wounded woman during the evacuation by civilians of the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine on Mar. 8.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

As we watch the horror unfold in Ukraine from the Russian invasion, the question we’re all asking is how to stop it. The tragic scenes of refugees fleeing, the damage to cities, and the prospect of a larger war terrorizes us all.

President Theodore Roosevelt would understand our fears about the war in Ukraine. When Roosevelt was in office there was a major war that developed overseas between Russia and Japan.

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The Russo-Japanese War began in 1904 when Japan attacked the Russians at Port Arthur, their naval base on the coast of China. The war shocked the world because of advanced technology, including the machine gun, with battles taking place in China and the Korean Peninsula.

Roosevelt wrote “The strain on the civilized world caused by the Russo-Japanese War became serious. The losses of life and of treasure were frightful.”

Roosevelt could see the destruction of both nations, with casualties and heavy expense. Much like anyone watching the war today can see the destruction of Ukraine, and also the unraveling of Russia. The economic devastation to Russia is fast becoming enormous due to sanctions and the cost of the fighting.

A continued war will ruin both Ukraine and Russia. Everybody knows it, but it appears Russian President Vladimir Putin does not, or does not care. A rational leader would be interested in peace because the alternative is continued chaos, suffering and massive expense. Ukraine’s heroic president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has challenged Putin to meet with him to end the war.

To end the Russo-Japanese war. Roosevelt had to bring the two sides together for peace talks. Roosevelt brought the Japanese and Russian diplomats far away from their conflict to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There, the Portsmouth peace conference took place in August 1905. The negotiations were held at the nearby naval yard in Kittery, Maine.

The atmosphere of the Portsmouth area was filled with peace. The world’s first known giant peace flag flew above the property of activist Sarah Farmer near the negotiations.

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Roosevelt and his diplomatic team had to guide Russia and Japan away from the passions of war, and toward reason. Continued fighting would so deplete each nation of resources that it would be a disaster. The war did, in fact, lead to a major hunger crisis for Russia and Japan. 

Likewise, the war in Ukraine is destroying the food supply chain. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is warning that the crisis in Ukraine will increase the cost of food globally. WFP is already struggling to get enough resources to meet massive hunger emergencies in Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries.

In September of 1905, a treaty was signed in Portsmouth ending the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt won a Nobel Prize for his efforts at helping end what some people now call “World War Zero” because it was a preview of the two global conflicts to come.

Today, we desperately need peace between Ukraine and Russia. The “Portsmouth peace model” just might work. The United States, or another country, could take on the role of Roosevelt and mediate. Diplomacy must happen one way or another.

The death toll is rising. There are already over one million refugees from Ukraine. Some estimates have this refugee figure reaching as high as 10 million. The Russian people detest this war and want it to stop at once. They too are seeing their county fall apart economically.

“If the war continues, nothing will be left. It is a bloody war, a monstrous war,” says Kotove, a 45-year-old mother who fled from Ukraine to Poland with her 12-year-old daughter. Kotove, as her daughter was crying, told the charity CARE that the grandmother remained behind in Ukraine. Will they ever see her again? Where will they go next? How long will this nightmare last.

Roosevelt put an end to the nightmare of war in 1905. Someone must step forward to lead with diplomacy to end this brutal war in Ukraine. 

William Lambers is the author of “The Road to Peace” and partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” 

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