Lange Voorhout 5, 2514 EA, The Hague
During the First Hague Peace Conference, this theatre was packed with an audience attending the lectures of the Polish ‘King of the Railroads’ Jan Bloch, illuminated with facts and figures about the devastating consequences of the next war.
“War therefore has become impossible, except at the price of suicide”
– Jan Bloch
The Polish industrialist Jan Bogumil Bloch was the architect of the Russian railway system and founder of a range of new financial institutions. Born as a Polish Jew and converted to Calvinism, Bloch remained an outsider at the court in St.-Petersburg. But he gained a world reputation by using his large economic expertise as a pioneer of modern peace studies.
After ten years of research, his six-volume study The Future of War In its Technical, Economic and Political Relations (1898) appeared in Russian, Polish, German and French (1899). Based on extensive statistical analysis, Bloch predicted that a next war between industrial powers would result in protracted trench warfare, followed by the breakdown of societies and violent revolutions.
This perspective convinced Tsar Nicholas II to take the initiative for the First Hague Peace Conference, as Bloch recalled: “When the Tsar received me in audience, the maps and tables of the book laid spread out on the desks, and he had me carefully explain all the figures and diagrams. ‘So this is the way the next war will develop?’, he asked.”
During the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, Bloch hired the Diligentia Theatre for a series of four evening lectures, illuminated with lanterns, and distributed volumes of his study to all delegates. This failed however to convince the big powers, who had decided already to block the Tsar’s disarmament initiative. Instead, under pressure of the pacifist lobby, the topic of the Permanent Court of Arbitration came on top of the agenda. When the German delegation threatened to leave out of protest, Bloch mediated for a compromise solution.
The failed disarmament proposals were, as Bloch concluded, due to the “steadfastness with which the military caste clings to the memory of a state of things which has already died”. In order to educate public opinion, he established the world’s first war and peace museum in the Swiss city of Lucerne in 1902. After the First World War, which followed the pattern that he had predicted, the museum was closed down. Only in 2002, at the initiative of the International Network of Museums for Peace, the building was rehabilitated as a peace monument.