If the story had been fiction, an editor would have rejected it.
The world tries and fails to stop the worst war in Europe since World War II. Abortive attempts at an arms embargo and on-site talks fail repeatedly. Genocide and random bombing tear Southeastern Europe apart.
Finally, an edgy diplomat insists on bringing warring parties to an Air Force base outside a blue-collar Midwestern city — and they get it done.
In 1995 — the year the Dayton Peace Accords were built — the Los Angeles Times called Dayton “an unlikely place for the complex diplomatic talks.”
Maybe. But Dayton was the right place. This week — Saturday is the accords’ 20th anniversary — we recall that. The accords were signed somewhere else, but they happened here. And no one calls them the “Paris Peace Accords.”
Amy Anderson, executive director of the University of Dayton’s Center for International Programs, is among those involved in arranging a three-day remembrance of the accords in Dayton, while Miami University in Oxford also has its own series of events.
I sat down with Anderson in her Rike Center office to talk about why this matters. This is edited and condensed.
Q: Why is it important to remember the 20th anniversary?
Anderson: “It’s something I’ve come to appreciate even more and more as I’ve worked on this project. The Dayton Peace Accords is one of the few times in history where war has been stopped by dialogue. That in an of itself is something to take note of.
“For the last 20 years, a whole generation of young people haven’t experienced war. That’s not to say that tensions aren’t still present. It’s still a fragile thing. But at the same time, that’s a pretty monumental thing. And it happened right here in Dayton.”
Q: Is there some irony in making peace at a military installation?
Anderson: “That’s really interesting because my understanding is that he (Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. assistant secretary of state in 1995) also felt that these things should be handled diplomatically. They shouldn’t be handled militarily. So this idea, how do you get this into your head, and here is all this weaponry — but finally the importance of talking to each other.
“So that’s really an interesting context. It makes me think him (Holbrooke) even more clever and intelligent.”
Q: So what happens this week?
Anderson: “The delegates start to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, we’ll kick off the official events with the dedication of the Richard Holbrooke Plaza at Salem and Edwin C. Moses Blvd.
“The following day, we’ll kick off a two-day conference. The conference will really be looking at what did we learn, looking back at what happened, what are the untold stories, the lessons that we can take from that. That’s the day (Thursday) that President Clinton will be with us for lunch, the Thursday luncheon at the River Campus.
“The second day we’ll be looking more to the future, what can we take from what we’ve learned and apply to the future. So I think the two days will really be a great opportunity for the community and individuals who really want to get a depth of understanding of what went down.”
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