Patriotism and Pacifists, Spring 1917

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(Jane Addams)

The position of the Pacifist in time of war is most difficult, and necessarily he must abandon the perfectly legitimate propaganda he maintained before war was declared. When he, with his fellow countrymen, is caught up by a wave of tremendous enthusiasm and is carried out into a high sea of patriotic feeling, he realizes that the virtues which he extols are brought into unhappy contrast to those which war, with its keen sense of a separate national existence, places in the foreground.

Nevertheless, the modern peace movement, since it was inaugurated three hundred years ago, has been kept alive throughout many great wars.

During the present war some sort of peace organization has been maintained in all of the belligerent nations. Our Woman's International Committee for Permanent Peace, of which I have the honor to be chairman, is in constant communication with our branches organized since this war began in such fighting nations and colonies as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Hungary, British India, Italy, France, Poland and Russia, not to mention the neutral countries of Europe and one or two of South America.

Surely the United States will be equally tolerant to Pacifists in war time as these countries have been, some of which are fighting for their very existence.

If patriotic women from Belgium could in May 1915 sit on the same platform with German women, surely the membership of this great club, however divided in opinion, can meet together to discuss those aspects of patriotism which endure through all vicissitudes. [page 2]

Before taking up the subject of this paper, it may be well to state that there are many types of Pacifists, from the extreme left, composed of non-resistants, through the middle-of-the-road groups, to the extreme right, who can barely be distinguished from mild militarists; and that in our movement, as well as in many others, we must occasionally remind ourselves of Emerson's saying, that the test of a real reformer is his ability to put up with the other reformers.

In the stir of the heroic moment when a nation enters war, men's minds are driven back to the earliest obligations of patriotism, and almost without volition the emotions move along the worn grooves of blind admiration for the soldier and of unspeakable contempt for him who, in the hour of danger, declares that fighting is unnecessary. We pacifists are not surprised, therefore, when apparently striking across and reversing this popular conception of patriotism, we are called traitors and cowards. It makes it all the more incumbent upon us however to demonstrate, if we can, that our former advocacy of the alternative to war did not necessarily imply lack of patriotism or cowardice. In addition, we would, if possible, make clear our position, which we must hold at all times, even after war has been declared; that war, [although] exhibiting some of the noblest qualities of the human spirit, yet affords no solution for vexed international problems; and that, moreover, after war has been resorted to, its very existence, in spite of its superb heroism and sacrifices which we also greatly admire, but obscures and confuses those faculties which might otherwise find a solution.

The similarity of sound between the words passive and pacifism is often misleading, for most pacifists agree with such statements as that made by Mr. Brailsford in The New Republic of March 17 -- that wonderful journal, The New Republic, from which so many preachers are now taking their texts in preference to the New [page 3] Testament -- Mr. Brailsford, an Englishman, said: "This was an act of insurgence against the death in life which acquiesces in hampered conditions and unsolved problems. There was in this concerted rush to ruin and death the force of a rebellious and unconquerable life. It was bent on a change, for it knew that the real denial and surrender of life is not physical death but the refusal to move and progress." Agreeing substantially with this analysis of the causes of the present war, we pacifists, so far from passively wishing nothing to be done, contend on the contrary that this great world crisis should be utilized for the creation of international government able to make the necessary political and economic changes when they are due; we feel that it is unspeakably stupid that the nations should have failed to create an international organization through which each one, without danger to itself, might recognize and even encourage the impulse toward growth in other nations.

Pacifists believe that in the Europe of 1914 certain tendencies were steadily pushing towards large changes which in the end made war because the system of peace had no way of effecting those changes without war, no adequate international organization which could cope with the situation. The conception of peace founded upon the balance of power or the undisturbed status quo, was so negative that frustrated national impulses and suppressed vital forces led to war, because no method of orderly expression had been devised.

This very breakdown exhibited by the present war reinforces the pacifists' contention that there is need of an international charter -- a Magna [Charter] indeed -- of international rights, to be issued to the nations great and small, with large provisions for economic treaty.

Pacifists believe -- if I may go back to those days before the war which already [seems] so far away -- that the United States was especially qualified by her own political experience to take the leadership in a [page 4] peaceful organization of the world. We ventured to remind our fellow citizens that when the founders of this Republic adopted the federal constitution and established the Supreme Court, they were entering upon a great political experiment of whose outcome they were by no means certain. The [thirteen] colonies somewhat slowly came into the federation, and some of them consented very reluctantly to the use of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless the great political experiment of the United States was so well established by the middle of the 19th century, that thousands of American citizens shed their blood for the principle of federal government and for the contention that the decisions of the supreme tribunal were binding upon sovereign states.

We pacifists hoped that the United States might perform a similar service in the international field, by demonstrating that the same principles of federation and of an interstate tribunal may be extended among widely separated nations as they have already been established between contiguous states. Stirred by enthusiasm over the great historical experiment of the United States, it seemed to us that American patriotism might rise to a supreme effort. We hoped that the United States might refuse to follow the beaten paths of upholding the rights of a separate nationalism by war, because her own experience for more than a century has so thoroughly committed her to federation and to peaceful adjudication as [everyday] methods of government. The President's speech before the Senate embodied such a masterly restatement of these early American principles that thousands of his fellow citizens dedicated themselves anew to finding a method for applying them in the wider and more difficult field of international relationships.

We also counted upon the fact that this great war had challenged the validity of the existing status as it had never been questioned before, and that radical changes are being proposed by the most conservative of men and of nations. [page 5]

As conceived by the pacifist, the constructive task laid upon the United States in this recent crisis called for something more than diplomacy and the old type of statesmanship. It demanded a penetration which might discover a more adequate moral basis for the relationship between nations and the sustained energy to translate the discovery into political action. The exercise of the highest political intelligence we hoped might not only establish a new scale of moral values but might hasten to a speedy completion for immediate use, that international organization which has been so long discussed and so ardently anticipated. For there is another similarity between the end of the 18th century and the present time; [illegible] quite as the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution had been preceded by much philosophical writing on the essential equality of all men and on the possibility of establishing [self-government] among them, so the new internationalism has long had its thinkers who have laid a foundation of abstract principle. Then as now, however, the great need was not for more writing nor even for able propaganda, but for a sober attempt to put them into practice, to translate them into concrete acts.

We were more hopeful of this from the fact that the test of experience had already been applied by the United States to such a course of action. Four times before now has our country become involved in the fringe of European wars, and in three instances the difficulties were peacefully adjudicated.

In 1798 when the French Revolution had pulled most of Europe into war, George Washington who was then President -- perhaps because he was so enthusiastic over our Supreme Court -- refused to yield to the clamor of his countrymen to go to war on the side of France, our recent friend, against Great Britain, our recent enemy, and sent Chief Justice John Jay over to London to adjust the difficulties which had arisen in connection with our shipping. Because John Jay was successful in his mission George Washington became for the time so unpopular that he publicly [page 6] expressed the wish that had never been born -- [although] he does not seem to have permanently lost his place in the hearts of his countrymen.

Four years later, when France violated our neutral rights on the seas, John Adams, as President, sent commissioners to Paris who adjudicated the matter. [Although] keeping the peace made Adams so unpopular that he failed of his second term, twenty years later as an old man he suggested that his tombstone be inscribed with the words: "He kept the peace with France."

Adams' successor, Thomas Jefferson, encountered the same difficulty, and in spite of grave mistakes succeeded in keeping the country out of war. He was finally rewarded by the peace acquisition of the vast Louisiana territory.

The War of 1812 was the result of a disregard of neutral rights incident to a [Napoleonic] upheaval, and made the first break in the chain of international adjudications instituted by Chief Justice Jay, which had become known as the American plan.

With such a national history back of us, as pacifists we are thrown into despair over our inability to make our position clear when we are accused of wishing to isolate the United States and to keep our country out of world politics. We are of course urging exactly the reverse, that this country should lead the nations of the world into a wider life of coordinated political activity; that the United States should boldly recognize the fact that the vital political problems of our time have become as intrinsically international in character as have the commercial and social problems so closely connected with them; that modern wars are not so much the result of quarrels between nations as the rebellion against international situations inevitably developed through the changing years, which admit of adequate treatment only through an international agency not yet created. The fact that such an agency has been long desired, the necessity for it clearly set forth by statesmen in all the civilized nations, and that [a splendid] beginning had already been [page 7] made at The Hague, makes the situation only more acute.

We had also hoped much from the varied population of the United States, for whether we will or not, our very composition would make it easier for us than for any other nation to establish an international organization founded upon understanding and good will, did we but possess the requisite courage and intelligence to utilize it.

There are in this country thousands of emigrants from the Central Powers, to whom a war between the United States and the Fatherland means exquisite torture. They and their inheritances are part of the situation which faces us. They are a source of great strength in an international venture, as they are undoubtedly a source of weakness in a purely nationalistic position of the old fashioned sort. These ties of blood, binding us to all the nations of the earth, afford a unique equipment for a great international task if the United States could push forward into the shifting area of internationalism.

Modern warfare is an intimately social and domestic affair. The civilian suffering and in certain regions, the civilian mortality, is as great as that endured by the soldiers. There are thousands of our fellow citizens who cannot tear their minds away from Poland, Galicia, Syria, Armenia, Serbia, [Romania], Greece where their own relatives are dying from disease super induced by hardship and hunger. To such sore and troubled minds, war had come to be a hideousness which belonged to Europe alone and was part of that privation and depression which they had left behind them when they came to America. Newly immigrated Austrian subjects of a dozen nationalities came to their American friends during the weeks of suspense utterly bewildered by the prospect of war. They had heard not three months before that the President of the United States did not believe in war -- for so the Senate speech had been interpreted by many simple minds -- and they had concluded that whatever happened, some more American way would be found. [page 8]

The multitude of German subjects who have settled and developed certain parts of the United States had, it seems to me, every right to be considered as an important factor in the situation, before war was declared. President Wilson himself said, in February, after the U-boat campaign had been announced, that he was giving due weight to the legitimate rights of the American citizens of German descent. The men of '48 are as truly responsible for our national ideals as the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, or the Russian revolutionists of the '90s. How valuable that gallant spirit of '48, spreading as it did from one European country to another, could be made in an international venture, it is difficult to estimate.

It has been said that this great war "will prove the bloody angle at which mankind turns from centuries of warfare to the age of peace." But certainly this will not happen automatically nor without leadership founded upon clear thinking and international sympathies.

Pacifists hoped that the revolution of international relationship which has been steadily approaching for three hundred years and is long [overdue], might have been obtained without our participation in the war; but we also believe that it may be obtained through the war if the United States succeeded in keeping the international point of view.

Pacifists recognize and rejoice in the large element of national unselfishness, and in the recognition of international obligation set forth by President [illegible] Wilson as reasons for our participation in the great war. We feel that the exalted sense of patriotism in which each loses himself in the consciousness of a national existence has been enlarged by an alliance with nations across the Atlantic and across the Pacific with whom we are united in a common purpose. Let the United States by all means send a governmental commission to Russia; plans for a better fiscal system [for] bewildered China; food to all nations wherever little children are starving; but let us never forget that the inspiring and overwhelming sense of a common purpose, which an alliance with fifteen [page 9] or sixteen nations gives us, is but a forecast of what might be experienced if the genuine international alliance were achieved, including all the nations of the earth.

In so far as we and our allies are held together by the consciousness of a common enemy and the fear of a common danger, there is a chance for the growth of the animosity and hatred which may yet overwhelm the attempt at international organization to be undertaken after the war, as it has defeated so many high-hearted attempts in the past.

May we not say in all sincerity that for thirty-three months Europe has been earnestly striving to obtain through patriotic wars, that which can finally be secured only through international organization? Millions of men, loyal to one international alliance, are gallantly fighting millions of men loyal to another international alliance because [of] Europe's inability to make an alliance including them all. Can the United States discharge her duty in this situation save as she finally makes possible the establishment of a genuine government?

Ever since the great European war began, the United States has been conscious of a failure to respond to a moral demand; she has vaguely felt that she was shirking her share in the world effort toward the higher good; she has had black moments of compunction and shame for her own immunity and safety. Can she hope through war to assuage the feverish thirst for action she has felt during all those three years? There is no doubt that she has made the correct diagnosis of her case, of her weariness with a selfish materialistic life, and of her need for concerted, self-forgetting action. But is [bloodletting] a sufficiently modern remedy in such a diagnosis? Will she lose her sense of futility and her consciousness of moral failure, when thousands of her young men are facing the dangers of war? Will she not at the end of this war still feel her inadequacy and sense of failure unless she is able to embody in a permanent organization the cosmopolitanism which is the [page 10] essence of her spirit? Will she be content, even in war time, to organize food supplies of one group of nations and to leave the women and children of any nation still starving?

Is not the government of the United States somewhat in the position of those of us who will have lived for many years among immigrants? It is quite impossible for us to ask just now whether the parents of a child who needs food are Italians, and therefore now are allies, or Dalmatians, and therefore now our "alien enemies." Such a question is as remote as if during the Balkan war we had anxiously inquired whether the parents were Macedonians or Montenegrins, [although] that was then a distinction of paramount importance to thousands of people.

It has been officially declared that we are entering this war to make the world safe for democracy. While we are still free to make terms with our allies, are we not under obligation to assert that the United States owes too much to all the nations of the earth whose sons have developed our raw prairies into fertile [illegible] fields, to allow the women and children of any of them to starve? Could we not insist upon an international commission sitting at Athens during the rest of this war, as an international commission sat in London during the Balkan wars? Such a commission might at once insist upon a more humane prosecution of the war, at least so far as civilian populations are concerned, a more merciful administration of the lands occupied, and distribution of foodstuffs to all conquered and besieged peoples.

The United States has to her credit a long account of the spread of democratic institutions in time of peace. Her own experiment as a republic was quickly followed by France, and later by Switzerland, and to the south of her a vast continent contains no nation which fails -- through many vicissitudes [though] it be -- to maintain a republican form of government. [page 11]

In the perilous undertaking of establishing democracy in the world through warfare, let us not forget this record achieved through the slower processes of peace. Indeed, one of the dangers of war is an undue admiration for the quick and efficient methods of coercion.

I have been much impressed recently with the number of people interested in the war from the point of view of securing worthy ends of which a state of war may afford a quick method -- a short cut, as it were: -- control of the railroads in war time may easily lead to governmental ownership; conscripting men for work on the land and in the mines, may lead to conscripting the land itself and the natural resources under it; employers hope that the governmental control of labor in the munitions plants will lead to the abolition of strikes in all industries; the prohibitionists are eager for national laws as a war measure; the suffragists hope to secure a constitutional amendment in recognition of women's service in war time; men discouraged over the unsystematic production and distribution of our food supply, are sure that a food dictator would forevermore bring order out of chaos.

The processes of social control by which these matters are slowly being remedied are all cast aside for the quicker processes of coercion, sometimes by the very people who have worked hard to get rid of coercive measures in the education of little children, or even in the care of convicted criminals confined in penitentiaries. Some of them once dreamed that the international inhabitants of this great nation might at least become united in a vast common endeavor for social ends without first being welded together in opposition to a common enemy. If this for the moment is impossible, let us at least keep our spirits free from hatred or bitterness, and remember the wide distinction between social control and a military coercion.

With visions of international justice filling our minds, pacifists are always a little startled when those who insist that justice can only be established by war, [accuse] us of [caring] for peace [page 12] irrespective of justice. Many of the pacifists in their individual and corporate capacity have long striven for social and political justice with a fervor perhaps equal to that employed by the advocates of force, and we realize that a sense of justice has become the keynote to the best political and social activity [illegible] in this generation. [Although] this ruling passion for juster relations between man and man, group and group, or between nation and nation, is not without its sterner aspects, among those who dream of a wider social justice throughout the world, there has developed a conviction that justice between men or between nations cannot be achieved save through understanding and fellowship, and that a finely tempered sense of justice, which alone is of any service in modern civilization, cannot be secured in the storm and stress of war. This is not only because war inevitably arouses the more primitive antagonisms, but because the spirit of fighting burns away all of those impulses, certainly towards the enemy, which foster the will to justice.

When as pacifists we thus urge a courageous venture into international ethics which will require a fine valor as well as a high intelligence, we experience a sense of [anticlimax] when we are told that because we do not want war we are so cowardly as to care for mere safety, that we place human life, physical life, above the great ideals of national righteousness.

But sure that man is not without course who, seeing that which is invisible to the majority of his fellow countrymen, still asserts his conviction and is ready to vindicate its spiritual value over against the world. Each advance in the zigzag line of human progress has traditionally been embodied in small groups of individuals who have ceased to be in harmony with the status quo and have demanded modifications. Such modifications did not always prove to be in the line of progress, but whether they were or not, they always excited opposition, which from the nature of the case was never so determined as when the [page 13] proposed changes touched moral achievements which were greatly praised and had been secured with much difficulty.

Bearing in mind the long struggle to secure and maintain national unity, the pacifist easily understands why his theories seem particularly obnoxious just now, [although] in point of fact our national unity [is not] threatened, and would be finely consummated in an international organization.

We believe that the ardor and [self-sacrifice] so characteristic of youth could be enlisted for the vitally energetic role which we hope our beloved country will inaugurate in the international life of the world. We realize that it is only the ardent spirits, the lovers of mankind, who will be able to break down the suspicion and lack of understanding which has so long stood in the way of the necessary changes upon which international good order depends, and who will create a political organization enabling nations to obtain without war those high ends which they now seek to obtain upon the battle field.