Statement before the US House Committee
In Support of Disarmament
January 13, 1916 – Washington DC
Mr. Chairman, I am speaking this morning as president of the Woman’s Peace Party, and while I realize that it is more or less absurd for women to appear before the Committee on Military Affairs in connection with a bill concerning the Army, I also realize that the general policies of the United States are very largely determined by committees of this sort, and that women in time of war, as in peace, are very much affected by the national policies of the country. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, we are glad to avail ourselves of your kind permission to come before you this morning representing women all over the United States, for our society has branches in almost every State in the Union. And I speak not only for the members of our organization, but for many women in all parts of the country, who feel that the talk so general throughout the country, urging a very marked increase of the Navy and the Army, is simply the result of what is happening in Europe; that the sentiment of the United States is unconsciously affected by the conditions on the other side of the Atlantic.
Our war contagion is a good deal like the case of a man living in the middle of Kansas who, hearing that there were a great many burglaries in New York City, thereupon immediately armed himself against the advent of burglars, although there were none in Kansas. His panic would be purely subjective and the result of what he read was happening elsewhere.
Mr. Chairman, there are two lines of presentation I would like to put forward in support of our contention. The first is that among many experience people in England and in Germany in and in other countries there is the belief that one of the results of this war will be a proportional reduction of armaments. Even before the war Germany and England were beginning to consider the increases in their navies in relation to maintaining a certain proportion. If such a thing as that could be done before the war started, when the finances of all the nations were in a good condition, it certainly would be easier to do such a thing after the war, when most of the nations now engaged in war are going to be bankrupt and we hope more or less convinced of the folly of attempting to settle any international difficulties through warfare.
It seems to the Woman’s Peace Party, therefore, that the United States ought to wait until after the war is over before it adopts a new policy, for if there is a chance for pushing the matter of proportional disarmament the United States would be the natural nation to suggest it.
We are further away from the likelihood of war than any other nation; our traditions are against a large standing Army, and if the United States were at least to postpone this proposed policy of military expansion, we could go in for such an international program with clean hands. We could do that very easily if we had not previously increased our own Army and Navy, but if we had adopted that policy of increasing the Army and Navy which is being urged, it would be difficult for us to say to the countries of Europe, “We would like to take up with you the reasonableness of proportional disarmament.”
Gentlemen of the committee, we suggest that you at least postpone this plan for a large increase of the Army and Navy until the war is over. If we proceed at this time to adopt this proposed policy of increase in the Army and Navy, the result will be that other nations will feel that they must copy us. We have heard already that Japan is discussing an increase in her navy because we are discussing an increase in ours. There is no doubt that the South American republics and other countries will feel that if the United States is going to set the pace for an increase in the Army and Navy that they, too, must follow. Such a policy, it goes without saying, increases the burdens of taxation for every country.
Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, at the close of this war we will have arrived at a turning point in the world’s history. The nations must decide whether the world is going through another lengthy series of years of armed peace, or whether the world is going to make a sharp turn as a result of the lessons learned in this war, and evolve some kind of agreement for international adjudication.
At this particular moment, therefore, the Woman’s Peace Party feels that it would be a great mistake if the United States did not take advantage of the opportunity which presents itself to turn the world, not toward a continuation of the policy of armed peace, but toward the beginning of an era of disarmament and the cessation of warfare.
I live in the city of Chicago in a section occupied by working people, many of whom are immigrants. I believe the diversity of immigrants is a source of great strength to this country in regard to keeping peace and averting war. We do not fear the so-called hyphenated Americans in that section of the city of Chicago. Immigrants, simply because they represent all the nations, and simply because they are a cosmopolitan population, have already achieved an international understanding. I lived among the Greeks and Bulgarians and other Balkan nationalities during both Balkan wars, and there was no serious trouble among them; they lived altogether as law-abiding citizens.
Many of the immigrants have come to America, of course, for economic reasons, but also, deep down in their hearts, they have come to America because they want to get away from military service; fathers and sons who dread the militarism of the European nations. They have come believing in the doctrine that in America the Government rests upon the consent of the governed and does not have to be backed up by military force, and they are utterly bewildered by all this sudden talk of the citizens arming and training for war. It upsets their notion of what America is and what they thought, before they came to this country, America was going to be.
It seems to us that many American citizens have come to their present viewpoint in a moment of panic, resulting from the state of affairs in Europe, and that if we increase our military preparation at this time of war contagion, it is quite likely the Nation will live to regret it.
There are other aspects of the situation, Mr. Chairman, which I should like to present to the committee. Not only that we are not now in danger of being attacked, but that the lessons of the European war are not yet learned. We know that the great battleships called dreadnaughts have not proven to be of much use. In such a case, it would seem to be foolish to go ahead and spend a lot of money in building dreadnaughts, as is being urged. If there should be a prolonged naval battle between the fleets of England and Germany it is possible that they would both be destroyed; if they destroyed each other, that would relieve us of the necessity of spending our money for ships, as the United States would automatically be raised from the third naval power to the first. At any rate, no harm could come to us immediately from an exhausted Europe, and it seems a great pity that we cannot wait until the time when something is going to happen before we start to prepare for a hypothetical enemy who does not exist now and who many never exist. I do not like to say that men are more emotional than women, but whenever I go to a national political convention and hear men cheering for a candidate for 1 hour and 15 minutes, it seems to me that perhaps men are somewhat emotional. I think the same thing is true in regard to this war; men feel the responsibility of defending the country and they feel that it is “up to them” to protect the women and children, and therefore they are much more likely to catch this war spirit and respond to this panic. They think they must prepare to defend the country, even when there is no enemy to prepare against, because men in Europe have been called upon to defend their countries.
Women are not quite so easily excited. They go on performing their daily tasks, in spite of hypothetical enemies, and they are not so easily alarmed. I venture to say this in face of the fact that some women are organizing themselves into defense leagues. A woman in the midst of household duties, occupied with the great affairs of birth and death, does not so quickly have her apprehensions aroused because possibly sometime, somewhere, somebody might attack the shores of the American Republic.
In response to the statement that the preparation urged is for defense and not for attack, I can only say that every war is a defensive war. The world has reached a point in its development where no nation can make an aggressive war, because the people will not back up the Government in making an aggressive war.
When we were in Germany, people on every hand said to us, “Don’t forget that Russia started this war; Russia mobilized and therefore it was necessary for Germany to defend herself against Russia and her allies.” We heard in France, of course, that France is fighting for self-defense, and you hear in England that England is fighting in self-defense.
When a proposition is made in this country to increase the military forces it must of necessity be based upon the ground of self-defense. When the preparedness people say they are arming the county for defense, they are arming it under the only plea under which it could be armed. Preparedness for defense is the only possible reason men can adduce which would be accepted by the people of the country; the plea of self-defense is the only plea which the country would receive and act upon.
There is one other thing that the Woman’s Peace Party would like to suggest, Mr. Chairman, and that is a commission appointed by Congress to investigate the present expenditure for the Army and Navy, to see whether the money is absolutely efficiently expended; that this commission have six months for its investigation and that during that time the members have the power to call before them anyone whom they deem necessary in order that they may make an intelligent analysis of present expenditures, an amount, by the way, which is by no means trifling. Thirty one per cent of the entire Federal income goes into the upkeep of the Army and Navy at the present time. We suggest that this proposed commission have power to bring before it the people who are asking most loudly for this increase in the Army and Navy. Let the commission find out what their motives are for this agitation. Doubtless many of these people would come with clean hands; doubtless some of them are inspired by self-interest. Let this commission find out in addition whether the Army and Navy are in good condition, and whether it is really an increase in the Army and Navy which is needed, because merely increasing the amount of money spent and the number of vessels and the number of men docs not make an Army or a Navy more effective, if it is not being efficiently managed.
If the commission has six months in which to make its investigation, possibly before the end of that time this panic which exists in the country to-day will have subsided. Indeed, it seems to be subsiding, even now. The papers are a little less vociferous about the necessity for the increase in the Army and Navy than they were six weeks ago. Let us have six months in which to soberly take up this matter before the nation decides whether it is necessary to abandon its traditional policy and to embark upon a period of great military expansion.
I think these are the suggestions which we desire to present to you this morning. I beg you, gentlemen, to believe that I am speaking not for myself alone, not even for the large membership of the Woman’s Peace Party alone, but I am speaking for those women all over the country who cannot understand what has so suddenly turned public opinion in the direction of an increase for the Army and Navy when even our hypothetical enemies are across the ocean, and nobody knows really that we have any enemies. These women cannot understand why the Government should want to “prepare” before there is need to contemplate any war.
Perhaps our attitude indicates a survival of the old difference between the woman surrounded by a group of helpless children, who in case of supposed danger wants to move a little more slowly than the man who rushes out as soon as the bushes begin to move, quite convinced that an enemy is in ambush.
I think there is something of that antithesis in this situation, the conservation, calmer element of the community versus those who are quickly paralyzed with fear and rush into danger before they are quite sure that the danger is there. I am saying this in regard to men in general, and I want to assure you, of course, that I am not addressing myself to the gentlemen of this committee whom, I am sure, are exceptions to any such unbalanced tendency. I shall be glad to answer any questions which any members of the committee may desire to ask.
Source: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session, on the Bill to Increase the Efficiency of the Military Establishment of the United States, Thursday, January 13, 1916 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1916): 201-213.