Disarmament and Life, September 18, 1921


Disarmament and Life.


(President of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom).

Delivered at Eccleston Guildhouse, London, on Sunday evening, September 18th, 1921.

I am going to speak for a short time giving, if I may, an outline of the movement in the United States for disarmament. As you know, during the last few months, a call has been issued by the President of the U.S. to various other nations, five in all, to take part in a Disarmament Conference. The call has come as the result of a great deal of pressure brought to bear upon the Members of Congress as well as upon the Members of the Executive Government. Such pressure comes from various directions, which perhaps makes the situation all the more hopeful; for we got Prohibition in America as a result of movements from many directions, no one of which alone could have brought it about. The business man saw the condition of many workmen on Monday morning; the man in the South dreaded the power which liquor seemed to be gaining among the [colored] people; the people in the churches felt it was a moral issue; and a dozen other causes finally converged to bring about Prohibition, which of course could only have come about in a time of war. And so we feel that if the demand for disarmament comes from many sources, it has a certain validity and a certain promise of success.


First of all there are the business men who objected to the high taxes. They used to say we were having war taxes without a war and income taxes without an income. Then there was published during the last few months of 1920 a very startling picture or diagram of the expenditure of our Federal taxes, and this diagram, which was got out with great care by a Bureau of Statistical Information of the Government, divulged that 92 [percent] of all the Federal taxes were being expended, as they put it, for the past wars and future wars. Under this heading they put into a very large black section of the round wheel which represented the total expenditure, the money that was paid on war debts, the money that went into all the soldiers' pensions, and the money which was to be expended for the very large naval [program] which is now being projected in the United States. Education had something like 1 1/2 [percent], and the research departments, the saving of life, both in the agricultural and humanitarian senses, had about 2 [percent], and so forth. This calculation was perhaps not quite fair, because it was based on estimates to carry out a naval [program] projected in 1916, before the United States came into the war, and when our shipping was suffering from the ravages of war. It was dropped when the United States entered the war, because it was impossible to carry it out with the other huge expenses which the war involved; but after the war was over, to everyone's surprise, it was resuscitated and set into motion. President Wilson had predicted that unless the United States entered the League of Nations, the only logical position was to make full preparations for war; but although that was said we did not believe we should really go to work to build the largest navy in the world. But we are setting to work in that fashion. We are laying down the keels for sixteen battleships, more I believe than have ever been projected for any one nation at one time. When finished we shall still be less than the British Navy, but the British Navy has never in its history built so many ships at once. There are many reasons why this [program] is objectionable at the present moment. In the first place the United States has become the creditor nation, and it seems very mean to take advantage of that fact when the other nations at the moment cannot have these navies if they would; it is both ungenerous and lacking in magnanimity to utilize this moment for building a large navy.


Secondly, it uses money which is very much needed for other purposes. At this time in the United States we are suffering from unemployment. There is a slump in our financial and industrial life, largely because there is a lack of credit which might be given to the other nations who are ready to buy from us if they had the money with which to buy. If an international credit, for instance, could be given to certain European nations who are now unable to buy the wheat, wool and cotton which we have in the United States, a circle of trade might be reinstituted and reinvigorated. At this very moment to say on the one hand that there is no money with which to guarantee these international credits, and on the other hand to spend preposterous sums on a navy without which we have gotten on very well hitherto, is obviously inconsistent.


Then there is the belief that it is a very useless and foolish thing to be carrying out a naval [program] at this moment, for no one knows what the coming methods of warfare are going to be. The use of gases and other new methods of warfare which are being evolved may render useless many of the armaments which are now being projected. Professor Rose, of Cambridge, has lately said that the enormous battleships which were so slow to come to grips even during the late war, because they are so precious and so costly and so cumbersome, are becoming less and less valuable for fighting as time goes on, and as the newer inventions which are to be managed from the air and from the shores by wireless, are being developed.


Thirdly, there is the point of view which is being put forward very largely by women. All over the United States there are large [organizations] of women, some of them mounting up to the millions in their membership, who have taken a very strong stand at last against the increase of armaments so far as the United States is concerned, and they are coming out very strong and without any qualification for the disarmament [program]; first, the checking of armaments, stopping where we are now; then, so quickly as may be, a diminution which shall be as proportioned, as well as carried out as between the nations; then, we hope, finally, an extinction of the whole wretched business. [page 2]


This problem can be approached from many directions. Personally, I believe we will not be able to quench war, the lust of battle, until we arouse other primitive and powerful human motives, which we all possess, but which during the last few years have been inhibited, suppressed as it were during the very years that the combative side has been so very much stressed. After all, mankind did not fight for a great many thousands of years. Man has been on the earth in some shape or another for about a million and a half years, we are told, but masses of men fighting against other masses of men is only about twenty thousands of years old. For a long time men lived in communities, in a gregarious and friendly fashion, and developed their skill more in the use of the tool than of the weapon; the weapon was long only useful when they went out in search of food. During those remote times, two things were developed. One was, a great desire for a sense of security, and that is a thing which war stresses; the other was a great desire to be assured against death by starvation. The tribe became responsible, then, for those two things: to guard its members form dangers outside and later from other tribes, and also to secure for its members freedom from the fear of starvation. Each member of the tribe came to have an equal share in the sense of security and the sense of preservation. Those two things, then, are very old, the desire for protection which a man has when he comes together with his fellows, and which is very largely at the basis of primitive national life, and the desire for continuation of life, that the single member of the tribe shall share such food and such care as the other members of the tribe are able to secure for all.


During these last years, and the years when war was being waged, we all know the tremendous pressure which was laid upon the sense of security. It is almost impossible to get a modern nation to fight unless it can first be persuaded that it is doing so in the interest of self-preservation, in common language, of [self-defense]. In one sense all wars are wars of [defense], because a war must be so construed before you can get the whole nation interested in it. That sense of security is very primitive and very deeply implanted in the human constitution, in human society as such, and perhaps it is inevitable that it should be so. But at the same time there is the other desire, to feed the world, to keep alive those people with whom you are associated in a family and a nation and even in larger groups. The war itself finally brought that out. During the war we used to hear great many accounts of the battles, military engagements which were taking place on the fields of France, and we turned sick with apprehension and with fear, as these reports came; but in the midst of them we gradually began to have other reports. There came tales from Belgium and Northern France that ten thousand people were being fed through the kindliness and help of those from the outside. Right in the midst of the war reports, would appear purely scientific phrases about standards of nutrition and the physiological value of certain foods as against certain other foods; and gradually there came together throughout the world groups of people whose business it was to feed first the soldiers, and later huge civilian populations who would have perished unless the food sources had been [organized] and placed at their disposal. And right in the midst of this desire for security, which was in a sense responsible for the war, there arose ever stronger this other, this nutritive side, this feeding of the people of Europe, which also began to assert itself and became stronger from day to day.


I have just come from the City of Vienna. There I found people from every nation in Europe, with their little groups of workers who are trying to keep alive the children in that desolate city. The children were being brought back, some of them even from northern Sweden, where they had spent some weeks or months of vacation -- little groups of welfare workers from every nation in Europe, doing what they could to keep alive the children of a devastated country, who had been brought to such a low ebb of life through the long war, and if I may be permitted to say so, through the terms of the peace.

Another chord had been struck, something more primitive, more normal than war itself, had been appealed to in the desire to keep children alive. You know the wonderful [organizations] for food administration which were formed between the Allied nations. You know all the things that happened, that seemed as if they never would happen, under the pressure of this great desire to feed the world. Personally, I believe there is in it a great moral challenge, that it could quench the lust of war at its very source if we really trusted it and [realized] that it is quite as important as the other thing.


Take the situation in Russia at the present moment. At the Assembly of the League of Nations last week, Dr. Nansen pressed his claim. He made a wonderful address, begging that he be given the resources with which to carry out his plans for feeding millions of people who would otherwise perish off the face of the earth. Quite irrespective of their political affiliations, and of the political difficulties in the way, there was this human appeal, which was more urgent, more penetrating, and more genuine than any of the political difficulties which were raised and brought up against him. I believe it would save not only millions of Russians peasants from dying, but save the League of Nations itself, if it could thus endear itself to thousands of men and women of every nation who as yet understand it so little.

We have over a hundred millions of people in the United States -- it takes a long time to convince them one by one of the value of the League of Nations. We have had some difficulties about the League of Nations, but when you can make the man in the street, the woman whose primitive obligation and whose object of life is to keep her children fed; when you can make them see that the League has done a great piece of humanitarian work which could not have been done by any one nation, that millions of people would have died had there not been a sort of International League which could come to their assistance, you would get the confidence of the common people, to use Abraham Lincoln's phrase. You would get it so completely that nothing in the world could keep the United States out of the League. After all, no nation can endure unless it has the understanding and support of the bulk of the people who compose that nation. Something of that sort must be done with the League of Nations, it must get the understanding and affection of the simple men and women who would be enormously interested in that which would keep alive people who would otherwise die. One nation after another is tormented almost as by an unappeased thirst to come to closer relations with its [neighbors]. That tendency of man to widen the circle of his interests and sympathy is a normal and natural thing which has been largely responsible for his development.

To bring into this new international relationship the bulk of all the people and all the nations can only be done by appealing to something more primitive than war itself. I think we have a clue in our hands, if we respond to this great desire for feeding the world, for keeping the children alive, for preserving those bases of life without which all other things are valueless. Personally, I think we shall quench war and the desire for war, and we shall get disarmament, if we arouse other motives and believe in them enough, and fill them with such courage and sense of validity that they will count. There are many ways of approaching disarmament and I have not troubled you with a certain number of facts and figures which I might have quoted, because after all they are going to be published more and more widely and we are all going to become familiar with them. By means of propaganda and the spreading of all the information we can gather together we must get to the affection and the [cooperation] of all people of goodwill.