By Steven G. Mehta

I thought I would start this week by creating a new feature reflecting the history of mediation.  This feature will discuss mediation as the term has been used in history, and how mediation has worked, not worked or been used in historical terms.   This feature will try to use documents or news from the past to reflect on the history of mediation.

Here is one discussion of mediation in history shortly before world war II starting for the United States.  Here is a piece from Time Magazine on February 10, 1941

Far East: Mediation: It’s Wonderful

The war between Thailand and French Indo-China ended last week. The victor was Japan. Nobody had asked Japan to mediate the quarrel, which had gone on intermittently in the swampy jungles along the Mekong River since October, but fortnight ago Tokyo offered its services. When the offer was not immediately accepted, Japan became insistent, threatening. Nipponese warlords insisted that, as “the most stabilizing power in the Far East,” Japan alone had the right to settle Oriental differences. Under duress Vichy, then Thailand, accepted.

Last week the stage was set for mediation, Nipponese style. The Japanese cruiser Natori steamed into Saigon harbor. Off the southeast Indo-Chinese coast appeared two Japanese aircraft carriers, two cruisers and two torpedo boats. Planes from the carriers cruised low over the city. At an appointed hour six French and six Thai delegates were taken aboard the Natori, where seven white-uniformed Japanese officers headed by Chief of the Japanese Military Mission in Indo-China Major General Raishiro Sumita received them with bows and toothy smiles.

Tea was served; then the delegates prepared to mediate. Before either Thailand or Indo-China could present a claim or grievance, Japan handed both a bill for her services as mediator — to be paid in advance. She demanded: a virtual monopoly over Indo-China’s production of rice, rubber and coal; a free hand to exploit Indo-China’s natural resources; military garrisons along the Chinese frontier; Japanese inspectors at all Indo-Chinese customs houses ; a naval base at strategic Camranh Bay and defense concessions at Saigon; air bases throughout Indo-China. From Thailand she demanded a naval base in the Gulf of Siam for a fleet of 15 battleships, cruisers and auxiliary craft. Unless the terms were accepted on the spot, it was intimated, naval units would go into action and invasion of both countries would follow. The delegates signed.

To read more: click here

To be honest, I am not sure that society historically has used the term mediation properly.  The problem with using the term mediation in all areas of conflict resolution is that the term gets blurred.   This is especially true when the public is asked about mediation.  Invariably I ask plaintiffs in mediation if they know what mediation is.  They always tell me that it is when a third party listens to the evidence and makes a decision.  Other variations of that answer often follow.  Or people will tell me they don’t know the difference between an arbitrator and a mediator.  Historical references as these above do not, unfortunately, help the process of understanding mediation.

That is why the ABA’s program to try and educate about the concept of mediation is a good one.

This is a day in mediation history.