White Poppies and Peace Museums

White Poppies and Peace Museums

“A space to make peace” www.daytonpeacemuseum.com

By Siegrid Raible

In September, Pasos Peace Museum commemorated International Peace Day by celebrating the publication of the new book by Joyce Apsel entitled Introducing Peace Museums. Guests at the event held at Five Myles Gallery on St. John’s Place in Brooklyn, New York, met with the author over crudités. We were then treated to a short presentation on what a peace museum is and where some of these institutions can be found. An educator in the Global and Liberal Studies Programs at New York University and a Pasos advisory board member, Ms. Apsel has a long history of involvement in issues of peace and humanitarianism.  

Ms. Apsel explained that she found it difficult to almost impossible to find a publisher until Routledge Taylor & Francis agreed to publish her work in hardcover. As some may find the cost of the book prohibitive, I thought I would share with you a short summary of both the presentation and what is covered in more detail in the book.  

Although founding and then funding peace museums or centers can be challenging, they exist in many cities around the world. Ms. Apsel’s book describes peace museums she has visited, often more than once, and she urged those in attendance to visit these unique institutions whenever their travels take them to any of the host cities. Her sampler of peace museums is centered on those institutions that foster peace education. The presentation, part history lesson and part travelogue, followed the contour of her book. She begins with the first modern peace museum built in Switzerland in the early twentieth century.

That museum, The International Museum of War and Peace, opened in Lucerne, Switzerland, on June 7, 1902. Jan Bloch, a Polish industrialist founded the museum.  Opened before the Great War (World War I), its purpose was to show the futility of war to the public – nations were spending vast amounts of money on armaments leading to greater and greater destruction. Bloch hoped that by putting on display the weaponry, photographs and battlefield models, these artifacts of war could be made to testify against war itself. Ironically, the museum dedicated to ending war closed shortly after World War I.

The Peace Palace at The Hague in the Netherlands opened in 1913 as a “temple to peace” and international justice. Andrew Carnegie, one of America’s first millionaire industrialists, contributed to this cause.  Through his charities, the Carnegie Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he contributed $2.5 million to the construction of the palace and to funding a range of educational and cultural projects, including the establishment of thousands of libraries. The ornate Palace currently houses the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the oldest intergovernmental organization for dispute resolution, and is also the home to the United Nations International Court of Justice. A building once established as a museum is now a living institution engaged in international law.

In the book, Apsel also includes the Kyoto Museum for World Peace in Kyoto, Japan, and the Gernika Peace Museum in Gernika-Lumo, Spain. The Kyoto museum is housed in a Ritsumeikan University, a private university, which frees it from the reliance on state funding. But as leadership at the museum changes, it may find its direction and purpose changing as well. The Gernika Museum should be known to most individuals because of where it is situated and Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica.  Picasso’s Guernica, however, is not located at Peace Museum, it is located in Madrid at the Reina Sofia. Painted in 1937 in stark black, white and grays it is composed of disjointed animals and human body parts. It was painted in protest to the unrelenting two-hour bombing of the city during the Spanish Civil War. It conveys the suffering of people in ways that words cannot.  

Both museums explore not just the atrocities of war but the intertwined history and stories of both perpetrator and victim. The Kyoto museum explores Japan’s role as both the perpetrator and victim of indescribable acts of violence during World War II – when as perpetrator, it invaded Korea and China and amongst other crimes, enslaved women and forced them into prostitution (euphemistically called “comfort” women) and when as victim, the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities inhabited by mostly women, children and the elderly, became targets for the first atomic bombs. The Gernika museum explores the conflicted history of who was responsible for the bombing of this central Basque city and the ways a community goes about attaining reconciliation and a path to healing.  

In England, you will find the small Bradford Peace Museum, named after the city. Located two hundred miles from its larger cousin, the Imperial War Museum in London, it is situated in a struggling region with many economic and social challenges. Reflective of its community, it is dedicated to bringing together individuals from different backgrounds to address local and global conflict. It is also home to a wide range of peace-related items including copies of the iconic peace symbol designed by Gerald Hotom and artifacts relating to conscientious objectors, individuals who refuse to participate in the military on moral grounds. The Bradford, England’s only peace museum, unlike its larger cousin the Imperial War Museum, exists on limited funding and faces ongoing financial challenges.  

The two peace centers included in this book are the Oslo Nobel Peace Center in Norway and Casa per la Pace La Filanda in Bologna, Italy. The Oslo Nobel Peace Center focuses on the lives of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. La Filanda houses over five thousand posters and serves as a community center.

The United States is host to the Dayton International Peace Museum, founded in 2004 and located in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is most famously known for the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the war in Bosnia in 1996. The museum is housed in the Isaac Pollack House, a three-story structure built in 1876 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It houses artifacts, a library, varying exhibit rooms and acts as a community center hosting ongoing artistic and musical events.  All of these activities could not occur without the work of hundreds of volunteers.  

Last but not least, there is the newest peace museum, Pasos Peace Museum. It was founded in 2006 by Nitza Escalera, a lawyer and educator, and exists at this point in time as a virtual museum.  It also hosts in-person art and educational programs and events. You can travel to its site by clicking on the following link: www.pasospeacemuseum.org.

Ms. Apsel’s book pays homage to those individuals and institutions engaged in positive peacebuilding, an ongoing process evolving over time. The cover of the book is graced with the image of a white poppy, a symbol of the peace movement. After the Great War and before the second world war, the red poppy came to symbolize the blood sacrifice of the men who died in that “war to end all wars.”  After World War II, the red poppy came to symbolize the tragedies of all wars. Later on, individuals involved in the peace movement realized that peacebuilding is a continuous process and the white poppy evolved to represent the ongoing work needed to prevent future violence. So, just as the symbols of peace evolve, peace institutions will evolve to face new challenges. Today many American cities are confronted with violence toward African American communities by the police officers sworn to protect them. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in response to these acts of violence and seeks to bring about change in the way communities are policed.

I would like to close with my thoughts as to why we need peace museums/centers. Ms. Apsel, an authority on genocide, recalled an event where in one of her classes she was astonished to find that almost all of her students could define or knew what genocide was, but few could give an example of altruism. I thank Ms. Apsel for this book because it gives voice to those altruistic individuals and institutions who strove in the past and who live and strive today to “make peace.” For as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *