The Pace Peace Center

Benjamin B. Ferencz

Above a portal in the Harvard Law School library is an inscription that has become my credo, “Make us effective and useful in the cause of peace and justice and liberty in the world.” The words came from Elihu Root, a very distinguished U.S. Secretary of State and War and the founder of the American Society of International Law. It seemed an appropriate theme for a Pace Peace Center (PPC) at the Pace University School of Law. After all, the word “Pace” in Latin or Italian means “Peace.” Its clearly stated goal was to engage in scholarly interdisciplinary studies and activities designed to enhance understanding of what was needed to move toward a just international society under law. Regrettably, neither the University nor the Law School showed any interest in being associated with such a strange institution.

Most faculty members could see no connection between law and peace. The PPC was accepted with great hesitation only after I gave assurances that all activities would be subject to supervisory control of tenured Professors, and it would cost the school nothing. The Peace Center undertook to raise whatever funds were required for its operations. The entire staff of the Peace Center consisted of an unpaid Executive Director, whose name happened to be identical with my own, and an Executive Assistant who happened to be my unpaid wife. The main office happened to be at the same address as my home. My able Assistant had an extra room built on the house. I managed, through correspondence and former contacts, to be able to list at least a dozen other peace groups throughout the world as collaborators with the PPC. In many minds and in many countries, an impression was created that Pace Law School was located in our home.

The first problem, obviously, was fundraising. I perused all the publications that listed foundations and others that made donations for peace-related causes. I sent letters or spoke to everyone I could think of, informing them that I was embarking on a noble new endeavor that needed financing. It was made unmistakably clear that none of the money would go to me personally in any form. Most of my solicitations were not even acknowledged. A few former clients sent me checks of small denominations. Many foundations and institutions sent me their regrets and nothing more. Many more sent me their best wishes. It seemed that money could be raised aplenty to erect a building or a pavilion or even “a chair,” to glorify the name of the charitable donor. I never quite understood how one sat on an invisible “chair.” “Peace” seemed too unattainable to justify any cash investment. I deserved a new title as “The world’s worst fundraiser.”

The strange thought entered my mind that perhaps the U.S. government might be interested in contributing to world peace. Each military branch of the United States has its own “Academy.” Presumably, each such Academy teaches their recruits how to wage war. But there has never been a U.S. Peace Academy to teach them how to avoid war—which is undoubtedly the most effective way to protect them. In the 1980’s, a young man from Washington, named Milton Mapes, took the lead in trying to correct this shortcoming. I joined his team. The Pentagon and the State Department didn’t like the idea of a new institution muscling into their turf.

Eventually, Congress, in a common way to avoid action, appointed a Commission that held hearings across the nation. It confirmed the obvious conclusion that the American public was in favor of peace. In 1984, Congress approved the creation of a research institute to study the question. The U.S. Institute of Peace was dependent upon Senate approval of its members and Congressional approval of its annual budget of about $10 million. Having testified at a public hearing in support of the law, and having been present at its first public meeting, I lost no time in submitting a request for a grant on behalf of the Pace Peace Center.

We proposed to assemble leading legal experts to examine the pros and cons of specific proposals put forth in several books and speeches by Soviet Premier Michael Gorbachev, who was trying to end the cold war. In our nation’s capitol, Gorbachev’s initiative was not greeted with the jubilation it should have evoked. Instead, it met with official skepticism, derision, and scorn. At the UN, the American representative, a retired General who boasted that he spoke seven languages, called Gorbachev “a Trojan horse,” and demanded that nations “defang the pernicious Soviet attempt to undermine the Charter.” There is, or should be, an adage: “If a fool can say foolish things in seven languages that doesn’t make him a wise man.” The Pace Peace Center request for a grant from the U.S. Institute of Peace to explore Gorbachev’s peace proposals was rejected. When I phoned the Institute for an explanation, I was told that it was too contentious. They did approve a grant of $10,000, which paid for a bibliography of law books on peace that was done by a student of mine. It became obvious that the Pace Peace Center could not count on financial support of the politically sensitive U.S. Institute of Peace.

Of the limited amounts collected by the PPC, the first thousand dollars went to the Pace Law library to buy books on peace and law. Liaison was established with other branches of the University and with similar institutions around the world. A luncheon, to which the entire law faculty was invited, was attended only by the two criminal law teachers, who seemed to enjoy the meal and conversing with each other. In June 1990, we invited half a dozen experts from the Soviet Union to attend a week-long colloquium at the Pace campus in Pleasantville, New York. Other participants included authorities from the UN and some prominent peace advocates. A Pace law graduate, on a trip to Russia, volunteered to recruit the suitable experts and greet them at the airport. When the plane landed, none of the expected guests was on board. We learned that seats on Soviet planes would only be provided on a space available basis. But they couldn’t determine if there was space until the doors were shut, by which time it was too late to seat any new passengers. It wasn’t exactly a very auspicious beginning.

The next day, a member of the Soviet Lawyers Association in Moscow, Professor Rais Touzmohammad of Uzbekistan, arrived. Since he was alone, we put him up in our home in New Rochelle. He frightened the neighbors when, at the break of dawn, he went galloping around the garden in scanty bathing trunks. He was the best of the bunch. After breakfast, I put a cheap recording machine in the center of the dining room table and we began to talk about how we could reconcile our two governments. After a few hours, we sent our son to Connecticut to pick up another lawyer who had arrived from the Institute of State and Law in Moscow. Dr. Galina Shinkaretskaya, who had flown in via Washington, was waiting at the train station in Stamford. By nightfall, three other birds flew in from Kiev. They had all written books related to law but, at dinner, they seemed more interested in getting drunk.

The show then moved out to Pleasantville where the format of recorded conversations continued for several days. When the sessions were ended, our Soviet guests were taken to a roundup session at the UN and given some spending money to see New York. PPC paid all costs. If we solved any problems, it escaped my notice. I had to dash off to Europe. I asked my wife to have the tapes transcribed for review upon my return.

When I got back, the unpaid “Special Assistant to the Executive Director,” reported that she had been unable to find anyone who could comprehend the heavily accented Russian-English. I asked her not to tell anyone of my return and went into seclusion with a recently acquired computer and about 20 reels of unintelligible gibberish. When I emerged a few weeks later, I took the edited manuscript to my publisher who produced a 200 page book World Security for the 21st Century. It received a bad review in the American Journal of International Law. I agreed with the reviewer. Conferences among persons with no authority, with other people who have no authority, might be a way to pursue peace, but not to attain it. Besides, the Peace Center was running out of money and my benevolence was feeling the strain.

I hated to ask for donations and was not prepared to spend my time as a beggar. I had sent monthly financial statements and reports of activities to the Pace Law School administration where they were dutifully filed by a gentle nun properly named Sister Felicitas. She always gave me her kind blessings. That’s the most I ever received from the School. I don’t think anyone else at the School ever looked at those reports. Gradually, I allowed the Pace Peace Center to become moribund, which means it was put to sleep. The Peace Center is resting peacefully. I doubt if anyone in the Pace Law School noticed.