The Attack on War, September 18, 1921


The Attack On War

By Jane Addams

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 United States to various other nations, five in all, to take part in a Disarmament Conference, and that has come after a great deal of talking and a great deal of pressure which has been brought to bear upon the Members of Congress as well as upon the members of the congress as well as upon the members of the government in power. It comes from various directions, which perhaps makes it all the more hopeful; for we got prohibition in America as a result of movements from many directions; no one 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 disarmament movement comes from many sources and directions it has a certain validity and a certain promise of success.


First of all there were 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 the bureau of statistical information of the government, divulged that 92 [percent] of all the federal taxes were being expended, as they put it, for past wars and future wars. They put into this 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 this naval program was proposed and voted. 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. It was the result of what Mr. Wilson said, 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 of the nations, 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 seems very ungenerous and lacking in magnanimity and kindness to take this moment to build a large navy.


Secondly, it uses money which is very much needed for other purposes. At this moment in the United States we are suffering from unemployment. We are suffering from lack of 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 we have in the United States, a round of trade might be reinstituted and reinvigorated; and 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 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 will 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, and all the other new things, are developed.

Thirdly, there is the point of view which is being developed 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 [page 2] as well proportioned and as well carried out as between one country and another as can be arranged. Then, we hope, finally, an extinction of the whole wretched business. This problem can be approached from many directions. Personally, I believe we will not be able to quench war, the lust of battle, unless or until we arouse other primitive and powerful human motives, which we all possess, but which during the last few years have been more or less 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, and the fighting of masses of men 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 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 from dangers outside and from other tribes, and also to secure for its members freedom from the fear of at least immediate starvation. They were raided and they did starve. But each member of the tribe was 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 him.

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 interests of self-preservation, self-defense; and in one sense all wars are wars of defense, because a war must be so construed, more or less, before you can get the whole nation interested in them. That sense of security is very primitive and very deeply implanted in the human constitution, in human society as such, and it is easy 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 in larger groups. The war itself finally brought that out. Before America came into the war we used to hear great many accounts of the battles, the 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 there were being used 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 from 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 who had been so devastated, and 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 as primitive, as normal as 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 simply 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 these 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 [page 3] obligation and whose object of life is to keep her children fed; when you can make such men and women see that the league has done a great piece of humanitarian work which might not have been done by any one nation, that these people would have died had there not been a sort of League of Nations which could come to their assistance, you would get the confidence of the man in the steeet, you would get it so completely that nothing in the world could keep the United States out of the league. After all, no nation, no government can stand 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. It must get the understanding and affection of the 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.

We must bring into this new relationship the bulk of all the people and all the nations, and it 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 will quench war and the desire for war, and we will get disarmament, if we arouse other motives and believe in them enough, and fill them with enough courage and sense of validity, so 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, the goodwill, and the cooperation of all those people who have still the primitive motive to work upon, and who can be best appealed to by addressing ourselves to some such motive.

* This article is an address deliverd by Miss Addams at Eccleston Guildhouse, London, on Sunday evening, September 18, 1921.