In the daily local, national, and international news, opportunities to improve our body politic are everywhere. Some are small moments that pop up like mushrooms after a hard rain. Others have hazier possibilities in which we see the contours of a possible constructive collaboration down the road, but that “something” is indistinct and will require attention, planning, and foresight.
There are pertinent lessons for us from warfare, in particular, guerilla warfare. Instead of relying on large, slow-moving armies and doctrines of overwhelming force, guerillas depend on invisibility, highly portable weapons, quick ambushes, booby traps, and hundreds of small pressuring tactics that achieve practical offensive or defensive results.
Why can’t we put those in the service of collaboration and constructive engagement, what our colleague Professor John Barkai calls “Undercover Mediation”? Guerilla tactics have been adapted and applied in many non-military areas. Today, we have guerilla marketing, guerilla job finding, guerilla news networks, guerilla bloggers, and guerilla mutual fund investors. There are plenty of larger and smaller lessons to learn from.
On February 6, 1905, Russia and Japan’s simmering competition for control of Manchuria and Korea came to a head. Japan launched a surprise torpedo attack on Russian ships at Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, a precursor of events to come at Pearl Harbor. The battle for Port Arthur was the opening salvo in the Russo-Japan war, a brief, bloody dispute that became the first modern confrontation between Asian and European superpowers and a prelude to coming world wars. One 3-week battle left 100,000 dead or injured.
In their brief but furious war, Russia suffered embarrassing defeats. Faced with escalating unrest from the Bolsheviks at home, they sought a graceful exit as did a financially exhausted and militarily overextended Japan. Enter Teddy Roosevelt. Impetuous, tough, and far more accustomed to wielding authority than influencing it. Roosevelt quietly offered the services of the U.S. as a go-between. The U.S., with no immediate stake in the conflict, was a reasonable choice. Roosevelt could use his good offices to explore a settlement that might end the dispute and save face for the Japanese and Russians even while bootstrapping America onto the world stage.
After preliminary arrangements, Roosevelt invited delegations from both countries to the U.S. and asked them to join him for lunch on his yacht at Oyster Bay. Then he had them delivered to the meeting on separate American warships. During the ensuing roundtable discussions, he treated both sides with dignity, composure, and even-handedness.
More than a passive host, Roosevelt stayed quietly but firmly involved in the proceedings. He lowered each side’s expectations, remained uncharacteristically patient with the usual diplomatic maneuvering, and issued personal pleas to the rulers of both countries to end the conflict. It worked and the peace was secured. For his interventions, Teddy Roosevelt was awarded the first Nobel Prize ever made to a politician for peacemaking.
Whether done by presidents, school principals, business leaders, or favorite uncles and aunts, diplomatic efforts in the center of the cyclone benefit from persistence, empathy, and insight into what hungers people. All of us can do this.
Partners at GUILD Consulting will be happy to talk to you about our work in conflict resolution. Email us at email@example.com or call (808) 729-5850.