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March 31, 2003
Baker Peace Conference the legacy of activism and influence
By Leesa Brown

When former Ohio University President John C. Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, created the Baker Peace Studies Fund in 1982, nuclear war and the arms race dominated the news. Their rationale, scarcely twenty years later, has the vertiginous effect of being both prescient and dated.

In an inaugural lecture given at the first Baker Peace Conference in November of 1982, Baker said that the proliferation of atomic weapons and the seeming inevitability of atomic war created a "desperate situation" which led him and his wife "to decide to devote the balance of our lives to this crusade against atomic war."

Video - Click to PlayBaker said: "The fact that we invented the bomb -- that we got there first -- and became a great world power can distort our perspectives, our world relationships. It is dangerous to us as a nation to have the power of life or death over other nations. We must not become arrogant in our dealings, either with friends or enemies. We have been, since the end of World War II, and still are, by far the most powerful military and economic nation in the world. Such power tends to destroy tolerance for different points of view as well as concern for weaker states. We, a great power, must behave like a mature power."

Baker, who was 87 at the time, was no stranger to war and devastation, having witnessed both the first and second world wars. He was also no stranger to peace, being raised in the Church of the Brethern. In 1917, when Baker graduated from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., he joined the Quaker American Friends Service Committee team and for two years did relief work in France, which had been devastated by World War I.

In 1921, he was asked to join a mediation and fact-finding team, Americans for Relief in Ireland, which addressed the civil violence erupting in that country. Baker then earned his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and eventually became its assistant dean. By the outbreak of World War II, Baker was associate dean of Harvard University. The federal government in 1944 asked him to conduct a confidential study of the pilot training program of the Second U.S. Air Force in Colorado Springs -- work that eventually won honors for Baker in Washington, D.C.

In 1945, Baker became president of Ohio University and was instrumental in creating classes and housing for G.I's returning to higher education. During the 1950's he served for three years as the first chief American representative to the newly created United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO). He later worked for the U.S. State Department on assignments to Southeast Asia, Columbia and Nigeria.

Elizabeth Baker was, if possible, an even more devoted peace activist, dedicating the last 50 years of her life to work in the peace movement, particularly in the emerging field of peace education. As part of the carefully considered objectives leading to the Bakers' decision to create a Peace Studies Fund at Ohio University, she wrote "Thoughts On Peace Studies and Why We Give Money For Them" in January 1982:

"I believe that the majority of people have goodwill towards each other," she said. "If only they were not continually being scared to death by their leaders who use this fear for their own purposes. Knowledge, study of the facts, and causes and consequences are badly needed. Courses of study on how to keep the peace should be tough, practical, and broadly related to other departments, such as history, philosophy, government, labor relations, and religion. It should become a respected discipline."

Toward that end, the Bakers endowed not only Ohio University's annual Peace Conference, but also the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Juniata College, which is also home of the outdoors Elizabeth Evans Baker Peace Chapel, designed by Maya Lin; and programs at the Bethany Theological Seminary and Dartmouth College.

They supported peace education programs at places like Marymount College in Manhattan; Manchester College; Notre Dame University; Bridgewater College in Virginia; and the International Peace Research Association, the Peace Studies Association and the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development. They gave not just their money and support, but a considerable amount of their own time and energy, particularly later in their lives -- for example, joining the 1982 Peace March in New York when John was 86 years old and Elizabeth was 80.

Since then, students and faculty have heard experts discuss Chaos Theory; Peace and Technology; Resolving Soviet-American Differences: How the Cold War Might End; The Social and Economic Costs of Defense; Politics, Peace and the Selection of the President; Non-Traditional Approaches to the Problem of Peace and War; Global Environment, Global Security; Will There Be A Peace Dividend -- Social and Economic Alternatives to Military Spending; Nationalism in Post-Communist Europe; War Crimes, Justice and Peace; 1968 Revisited; The European Union; and Making War and Keeping Peace: What Should Television Report? The programs are designed by the Contemporary History Institute and another academic partner in keeping with the multi-disciplinary approach requested by the Bakers, and are free and open to the public.

This year's conference, "U.S. Energy Consumption and the Environment," is sponsored by CHI and the Environmental Studies Program with Michael Grow and Gene Mapes as coordinators. Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will open the conference with a keynote speech on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium. Three panels will be conducted throughout the next day in the Baker Ballroom, beginning at 9:30 in the morning. For more detailed information about this year's conference, visit

Leesa Brown is the assistant vice president for communications for University Communications and Marketing


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