A LETTER OF HOPE FROM DEN HAAG (THE HAGUE), NETHERLANDS
28th July 1899, Den Haag, Netherlands
My Darling Alix,
I hope you are keeping well in my absence, and that our new arrival, Maria Nikolaevna is not giving you sleepless nights. I long to be back with you and our girls in the Motherland and write with good news: tomorrow the conference will end with the signing of the treaties we have been able to agree on and I will be free to return to be by your side and meet our new royal princess.
I must judge the Peace Conference as a success and something that I am proud to have achieved. If I cannot use my position to engender peace between our nation and others around the world, then what is the point of ruling the most powerful country in the world? Next year will be the start of a new century and we can look forward to it with the promise of peace and prosperity for years to come.
To think that a hundred years ago Europe was in the grip of the Napoleonic wars and that tyrant threatened to invade and conquer our great nation. The hardships and crimes committed by his invading army, and the cruelty enacted upon our ancestors, will never be repeated thanks to the conventions agreed in the last few weeks here in Den Haag.
I know you do not wish to be encumbered with all the political machinations I am subjected to, but the treaties we have agreed between ourselves and the attending nations will interest you. They represent my profoundest hopes and dreams that our children will be able to live in a world where the horror of war that we have witnessed in the past will be eradicated.
Firstly, and most importantly, all the major powers and smaller nations have agreed to establish a Permanent Court of Arbitration which will act as a mediator between all nations on issues such as territorial and maritime boundaries and sovereignty. Issues of disagreement will be debated, cases presented and the court’s ruling will be legally binding. In this way all disputes may be resolved in law. The downside is that some countries, most prominently Germany, have vetoed making this court compulsory and it will only exist on a voluntary basis. Still, I feel it is a major and significant step.
Secondly, two conventions were signed by all attendees that will outline the agreed behaviour of combatants in wartime. Obviously, my dear, my sincere hope is that through the first treaty, established diplomacy and closer bonds between all the powers, there will no longer be the unnecessary wars that have plagued all nations since the beginning of time. However, I must be realistic, there will always be hostility between neighbours and on occasion it will lead to conflict that no arbitration will avoid. Here though, we have established fundamental laws that will diminish the cruelty and worst excesses of war including the humane treatment of prisoners and wounded, banning the use of poisons, forbidding the killing of surrendered enemy combatants and bombing or looting undefended habitations. Hospital ships at sea will be protected under their flag and will be required to tend all shipwrecked and wounded soldiers, no matter their country of origin.
These are the main achievements. We have also gained agreement in three declarations on the type of armaments that are acceptable in wartime conflict, but unfortunately the United States refused to sign up to any of these, which will greatly damage their legitimacy among the other nations. However, it will now be a crime to use projectiles that spread asphyxiating poisonous gases, to drop explosive projectiles from the air and use ammunition bullets altered to deliberately expand or flatten inside the human body.
I know that you do not wish to think of things such as war and death, but they are a necessary part of our existence at the moment. It is my firm belief that the small achievements here in Den Haag will serve to strengthen our resolve to never again fall into the horror of war again. Imagine our daughters being able to live in a world that is no longer ruled by the threat and expectation of conflict.
I leave the Netherlands with hope that I have made a small start from which greater strides can follow in the years ahead. We leave tomorrow night after the signing ceremony and it will be a matter of days until I will be reunited with you, my love, and Olga, Tatiana and baby Maria. Tell them their father has helped to make the world a safer place for them to sleep in tonight.
Until I see you again soon,
Letter from Tsar Nikolai II of Russia to his wife Alexandra at the end of the first International Conference of Peace held in The Hague in 1899. A further conference in 1907 built on the conventions established here.
In 1918, twenty years after this letter, the Tsar, his wife and their 5 children were murdered in the October Revolution in Russia. The conflict of World War 1, drawing to a close across Europe, had ignored and abused many of the conventions established in the Hague Conferences.
Den Haag suffered severe damage during the 2nd World War, but was rebuilt and to this day contains many International Courts and headquarters for International organisations, including the International Criminal Court, where war crimes from around the world are tried.
The Hague Conventions, later added to with the Geneva Conventions, still provide the basis for the laws of war and war crimes in international law.
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today it’s a fictional correspondence based on historical facts from The Hague in the Netherlands – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
For a full list of all the stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.
The Hague Conventions: Wikipedia.