A Revelation of the Spirit of a True Pacifist, May 11, 1922


A Revelation of the Spirit of a True Pacifist

Miss Jane Addams Reviews Again Tenets to Which She Has Clung.


To the average person pacifism during the war is an inexplicable phenomenon. The fighting instinct is so basic and so pervasive that ordinary modes of thought seem to be intolerable while a people are warring against their enemies. This is a curious fact, since the modern nations which are most aggressive are almost without exception professing Christians, and since Christianity is the fountain source of modern pacifism. For all its illogic, however, it is true, and good Americans who in 1914 delighted to sing "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" could not understand their fellow citizens who expressed the same sentiments three years later.

During the recent war there were, of course, pacifists of many kinds. Many who pretended to be pacifists were not pacifists at all. They were merely opposed to that particular war for reasons worthy and unworthy. The pseudo pacifists were in reality partisans of Germany, or, upon occasion, merely enemies of England. But in addition to those who used pacifism as a cloak there were real followers of the doctrines which [Tolstoy] preached in our times and to which Christ gave His name during an earlier era. Of these last, Miss Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, was a conspicuous spokesman. During the war Miss Addams continued to hold the pacifist principles which she had long before espoused. As the heat of the conflict became more intense she and those who were faithful to her ideals found themselves increasingly cut off from the great mass of their fellow-countrymen.

Enough time has passed to give what happened during those terrible years the aspect of history. It is in that vein that Miss Addams has written her chronicle of “Peace and Bread,” which the Macmillan Company has published. William James said, in attempting to express his appreciation of an earlier book by the same author, that while others sought in various ways to find the truth Miss Addams was herself the truth. She has shown that quality of genius which in religious writers is called revelation. For that reason especially, this reviewer turned with unusual interest to see what kind of an argument the famous leader of Hull House could make in support of a pacifist position which, although conceivably ideally right, had seemed very impracticable at a time when the Hohenzollern dynasty was fighting for hegemony of the world.

The Most Serious Charge.

Miss Addams has written as one of a minority of disillusioned but unconquered idealists. In behalf of her little band she quotes the saying, “We do not possess our ideas; they possess us, and force us into the arena to fight for them.” She adds immediately, “It would be more fitting for our group to say ‘to be martyred for them,’ but candor compels the confession that no such dignified fate was permitted us. Our portion was the odium accorded those who, because they are not allowed to state their own cause, suffer constantly from inimical misrepresentation and are often placed in the position of seeming to [defend] what is a mere travesty of their convictions.”

The most serious charge [leveled] against such a pacifist as Miss Addams is that the claims of justice are ignored. Most of the world, outside the central empires, believed that without fighting peace could be obtained only on Germany’s terms. That implied injustice and unfreedom for all the rest of the world. Miss Addams and her group differed with the majority on the essentially practical question of whether or not a peace just to the allies and to the United States could be obtained without the defeat of Germany. Miss Addams had her own favorable opportunity of arriving at a judgment. She actually talked to the premiers and foreign ministers of most of the belligerent countries during the early stages of the war. Those interviewed left with her the conviction that peace with honor and justice was obtainable. Very few people, however, accepted the soundness of her judgment at that time, and Miss Addams has been able to adduce no new facts or arguments to persuade this reader that she was wiser than was Woodrow Wilson during those cataclysmic years. Historians of the future may discover documents which will support her position as against that of the majority, but on the ground of practicability alone the verdict of most readers will go against the pacifist view.

Principles Suspended.

It is possible, however, to approach the question from an entirely different angle. One may concede, for example, that Miss Addams’s ideals were impracticable at the time and then proceed to examine them for their intrinsic worth. Her book affords abundant opportunity for this procedure, and if one keeps in mind the political principles which the American people acknowledge and the religious tenets which we profess to [practice] it is difficult to gainsay what she has to offer. It is also entirely true, as she observes, that after the start of the conflict it was considered unpatriotic to talk about the issues for which the war was being fought. There was neither philosophical reason nor right in that attitude. Religious principles were, too, suspended with alacrity.

Miss Addams observes that she heard no preachers urging their followers to love their enemies or to feed them during the war. She did not, however, fail to comprehend the meaning of her experience. Years before, Richard Cobden, the great English liberal leader, had said, "I made up my mind during the Crimean War that if I ever lived in the time of another war of a similar kind between England and another power I would not, as a public man, open my mouth on the subject, so convinced am I that appeals to reason, conscience, or interest have no force whatever on parties engaged in war, and that exhaustion on one or both sides can alone bring a contest of physical force to an end."

Gandhi, the Indian leader, is at the present time the most conspicuous representative of [nonresistance] as a political principle. Gandhi hopes to achieve Indian freedom by virtue of an opposition which stops short of violence. It is difficult, however, to believe that the picturesque Indian saint will be able to persuade his followers permanently to apply that political philosophy. The drift of affairs in India is certainly toward the more familiar forms of revolution. India, moreover, is the country which gave birth to the idea of [nonresistance]. The conditions of life in that tropical region seem to dominate the spirit of man and a religion of submissiveness was created. The western ideal has in contrast been that of triumphant conquest rather than of submission. The Indians have found it impracticable to apply in their political affairs their doctrine of [nonresistance], and it is hardly probable that western nations which have accepted [nonresistance] as a part of Christianity, a religion delivered in a region where climate and geographical environment were not unlike those of India, will find it feasible to turn one cheek to a national enemy who has smitten the other.

Confusions of Peace.

In this book Miss Addams travels around the edge of this ultimate variety of pacifism without emphatically avowing the doctrine. Her attention is rather devoted to showing that it would have been possible to attain the result sought through war by other and less cruel means. The injustices and the bitterness which have lingered as a consequence of peace give a force to her statements which they did not seem to possess so long as a war to end war was in progress. The confusions of peace are so numerous and the injustices threatened by military and imperialistic groups are so many that it is increasingly easy to defend the pacifist interpretation. Yet bad as was the peace of Versailles, the results of a victory by the German militarist would have been worse. War still seems to have afforded the only real alternative to the Pax Germanica.

Still, one turns with intense interest to this personal record of the thinking and of the conduct of a great woman during an agonizing period of the world's history. Miss Addams did not counsel the course which commended itself to the judgment of the mass of men, but she stood unequivocally by a faith which is still the unforgettable dream of a large section of mankind. Because she did this with the remorselessness of spiritual leadership she has composed a book which may be long and affectionately remembered.