Peace Pole Origins In Japan they have a tradition of putting text on vertical posts to commemorate anything from a traffic accident to a high school graduation. In Japan in 1955 when Masahisa Goi wanted to make a public statement about peace, that was the tradition he followed when he wrote "May peace prevail on earth" in Japanese. Someone saw it and wanted one. Someone saw that one and wanted one. Now there are 200,000 of them around the world and PeacePoles have been planted on sites that include the tomb of Confucius in China, the pyramids of Giza, and the magnetic North Pole in Canada.
American historical context In the United States there also is precedent for erecting a pole to make a statement, the "Liberty Poles" (click on Liberty Poles in FAQ Categories at right) of the Post-Revolutionary War Period that were erected in large numbers to protest a new tax instituted by the newly formed Federal Government. This was people independently erecting posts to make a collective statement and is considered to be the first test of whether the newly formed United States Federal Government could survive.
World History The following information is based on information submitted by David Crockett Williams, Jr., UN 50th Global Peace Walk Coordinator and Global Peace Movement Organizer.
An historical example of the idea of Peace Poles can be seen in the story of King Ashoka, a forgotten sovereign who was one of the most powerful Emperors of India (269-232 BC, capital at Patna). Ashoka had conquered the whole subcontinent through warfare. His empire stretched from Orissa to the Kyber Pass and from the Himalayas to beyond Madras. After the bloodshed and horror of his campaign in Orissa, Ashoka was willing to listen to thoughts about Peace expressed to him by a Buddhist Monk. It is said that he then renounced warfare, embraced Peace, and built columns and pillars, not unlike peace poles, and other peace monuments, many of which were carved and inscribed with words about Peace. It can be hard to separate history from myth, but some say that this lead to over 500 years of peace and even 500 years without crime or violence. To whatever extent that might be true, he is spoken of as a visionary who implemented moral reform on a large scale, not through sacrifice and suffering and persecution, as was common in history, but through conviction and example.
During the 1600s and 1700s, British scholars of Indian culture attributed Ashoka's pillars and columns to Alexander the Great. But then in 1834 monuments in three different locations (Bihar, Delhi, and Allahabad) were discovered to have identical inscriptions. When these were deciphered, Western scholars became more aware of Ashoka's role. They came to regard him as one of the nobler rulers in Indian history. Some say that, like Gandhi, Ashoka's message eventually became one of non-violence, reverence for life in all forms, and tolerance for people of other religions.
Liberty Poles North American history of erecting poles to make a statement
In looking for a way to retire the new federal government's war debt, Alexander Hamilton suggested a tax on whiskey. This became the first test of whether the Federal Government in the United States could rule. Liberty Poles were erected to stop it.
On the frontier, settlers and livestock upstream made water contamination a problem. Whiskey was disease-free and safe to drink. Just pouring it into a glass of water could make the water safe to drink. It was not their only beverage, but was so important that it was used as currency. Even ministers were paid in rye whiskey. Frontiersmen were poor and were lucky to come by twenty dollars of currency in a year. Taking some of that with a tax on whiskey seemed to them like taxing breathing.
They had just fought a war in part to prevent a government far away in England from taxing them without representation. A tax on tea had impelled some Americans to dump tea into a harbor. Now, a new government far away on the east coast, as one of its first acts concerning them, was trying to impose a tax on their primary beverage. In response they erected "Liberty Poles" as statements about wanting liberty from this incursion on their freedom. George Washington marched over 7000 troops to face them. It is said that along the road there was a liberty pole every four or five miles. This was a "make or break" moment for the new federal government of the United States. Either it would be able to rule and tax its citizens or it would not. This act, that was protested with "liberty poles," established that it would.
Their Poles The odds are that their poles were round and made out of green, not seasoned and sawed, timber. Working green wood was standard at the time, and turning it on a lathe to make it round was also. For a couple of thousand years simple foot powered lathes had been made on location in forests for turning green wood. People did that as commonly then as they mow lawns today .