Select Page

The Revolt Against War

July 9, 1915 — Carnegie Hall, New York City

 

It is difficult to formulate your experience when brought face to face with so much genuine emotion and high patriotism as Europe exhibits at the present moment. You become very much afraid of generalizing. The situation is so confused, so many wild and weird things are said about it, that you are afraid to add one word that is not founded upon absolutely first-hand impressions and careful experience; because, for the world, you would not add a bit to this already overwhelming confusion. And you do not come back, — at least I do not, — from these various warring countries with any desire to let loose any more emotion upon the world. You feel that what is needed above all else is some careful understanding, — some human touch, if you please, in this over-involved and over-talked-of situation in which so much of the world finds itself in dire confusion and bloodshed. You get afraid of tall talk; you do not know where words may lead the people to whom you are speaking. They seem to have acquainted such a fearful significance and seem to have power over the very issues of life and death itself.

And so I should like, if I might, for a few moments, to tell as simply as I can, the experiences which we had at The Hague. Some have been much too kind to call me the leader of that movement, for I was not, in any sense of the word. It was convened and called together by a group of European women, and only after all the arrangements were made did we know about it in America, and consent to go. They were anxious to have a woman from a neutral country to serve as president, and it was safer to have the neutral country as far away as possible, and America was the furthest away. Therefore, I think America was chosen.

The women who called the congress were sure that, although during this last year none of the great international congresses, in science and arts or the most abstract subjects, had dared to meet; they were quite sure that the women who had been meeting during many years, in such conventions as Dr. Shaw has described, that at least a few of them could come together and in all sobriety and in all friendliness discuss their common aims and the terrible stake which they all had together in this war. That faith as you know, was well grounded, and for three days and a half with much less friction than is usual in the ordinary meetings of men or women, as far as I know them, the women met there at The Hague and formulated their series of resolutions. I will confess that the first day we were a little cautious. We skated, as it were, more or less on thin ice, because we did not know how far we dared venture in freedom of expression. One of the Dutch committee came to me and whispered almost in a stage whisper: “I think you ought to know that the hall is full of police, not only those supplied by The Hague, but some of them supplied by the government itself because they fear trouble.” We told them we should be happy to have the police there to listen to our deliberations, and to call upon them if needed! It seemed as if every one was nervous, and I will admit that there was an element of risk if you please, in asking women to come; but they did come from twelve different countries, in the midst of the strain under which Europe is now laboring.

One the last day of that conference it was suggested that the resolutions be carried by committees to the various governments of Europe, and to the President of the United States. Some of us felt that the congress had ended very happily, that we had proceeded day by day in good will and understanding, and that it was perhaps unfortunate to venture further. Bu the resolution was passed, and two committees set forth. One committee to the north, consisting of a woman from the side of the allies, and a woman from the side of the Germans, and also two women from the neutral nations, have visited the Scandinavian countries and Russia. We have had cables form them from time to time. They were received by the prime ministers and members of Parliament in all of the countries as well as by the ministers of foreign affairs. They have ben reported in Italy and Holland, and will arrive in America we hope within a week or two. You cannot tell how long it may take to cross the ocean now because you may quite easily be held up in the English channel or some other crucial trade route for some ten or twelve days.

The other committee consisting of the vice-president and the president of the congress, women from the two neutral nations, from Holland and from America, set forth to visit the other countries.

We were received in each of the capitals, in London, in Berlin, in Budapest, in Rome, in Paris and in Havre, where the Belgian government is now established. We took in also Switzerland and Holland, although they are neutral, and Rome should be counted twice for we visited the Vatican; or nine visits in all. We were received in each case by the minister of foreign affairs, and by the chancellor or prime minister, and in all of the countries we saw members of Parliament and other men who are responsible for governmental policies.

It is too much to hope to reach the mind of everyone in a huge audience like this, but I should like to reproduce in the minds of some of you some of the impressions made by this pilgrimage of ours, if you choose to call it so, going to and fro from one government to another, as we did to nine governments in the space of five weeks.

The first thing which was striking is this, that the same causes and reasons for the war were heard everywhere. Each warring nation solemnly assured you it is fighting under the impulse of self-defense. Each of the warring nations I assure you feels it is fighting to preserve its own traditions and its own ideals from those who would come in an disturb and destroy those high traditions and those ideals. And in one tongue or another, or translated into English, we heard the identical phrases. Going as rapidly as we did, from one country to another, I almost knew what to expect and what phrases were coming next, after a foreign minister had begun.

Another thing which we found very striking was that in practically all of the foreign offices including those two foreign offices, one of which I suppose to be leading one side and one the other side of this conflict, the men said — again in very similar phrases, — that a nation at war cannot make negotiations and that a nation at war cannot even express willingness to receive negotiations, for if it does either, the enemy will at once construe it as a symptom of weakness; and when the terms are made the side which first suggests negotiations will suffer as being construed the side that was weaker and was suing for peace.

But they said, in all of these foreign offices, that if some other power presented propositions, — if neutral people, however they might be gotten together, people who would command the respect of the foreign offices to whom their propositions would be presented — if a small conference were willing to get together to study the situation seriously and to make propositions, one, two, three — even if they were turned down over and over again until something were found upon which negotiations might commence, there is none of the warring nations that would not be glad to receive such service. Now that came to us unequivocally.

We presented to each of the chancelleries our resolutions, but we talked for the most part about the possibility of substituting negotiations for military processes. Now, it is very easy for a minister to say: “This country will never receive negotiations; we are going to drive the enemy out inch by inch,” but it is pretty hard for him to say it to one or two or three or four women who are sitting there, and asking: “If a proposition were presented to you, which seemed to you feasible, — if something were presented to you which might mean the beginning of further negotiations between yourselves and your enemies, would you decline such a proposition? Would you feel justified to go on sacrificing the young men of your country in order to obtain through bloodshed what might be obtained through negotiations, — the very thing for which your foreign office was established?” No minister, of course, is willing to say that he would. No minister would be willing, of course, to commit himself for a moment to such a policy. That we found everywhere.

There was another thing which was impressed upon us all of the time, and in all of the countries which we visited. Although each is tremendously united at the present moment, although there is no break that can be seen or heard anywhere on the part of the people fighting together — that they wish the war to cease or that they are going to divide into parties; one party to oppose the other — while they are thus united in this tremendous national consciousness, there was manifested in every country two general lines of approach. One finds expression in the military party which believes that the matter can be settled only upon a military basis; the other, a civil party, which very much deprecates this exaltation of militarism, which says that the longer the war runs on, the more the military parties are being established as censors of the press and in all sorts of other places which they ordinarily do not occupy; that the longer the war goes on the more the military power is breaking down all of the safeguards of civil life and of civil government, and that consequently the harder will it be for civil life and for the rights of civil  life to re-establish themselves over the rights and power of the military. The more desperately they cling to their army, the more absolute is the power and the glory of that army. The people who represent the civil view of life, in the midst of this patriotic fervor, in the midst of this devotion to the army, see that and long for some other form of settlement, — for some other form of approach to this terrible, confused situation, — long for it one month more than they did the month before.

As you go from one country to another, you can only say for yourself and say it to the citizens as you have opportunity, that if this war is every to be settled through negotiations, — and sometime it must be, heaven knows when, — but sometime men must stop fighting and return to their normal existence — you say to these men: “Why not begin now when you still have enough power to hold them to their own statements, to hold them to their own purposes, and not allow them to rule and control the absolute destinies of the nation?”

Now, I am quite aware that in every country we met, broadly speaking, the civil people and not the military people. I am quite aware that it was natural for us to see the pacifists, if you please, — although they are hardly known under that name; — that it was more natural for us to meet and know the people ho were on that side of life, instead of the military side of life. But because we did meet dozens of them, I am willing to believe that there must be many more of the same type of mind in every country; quite as loyal as the military people, quite as eager for the growth and development of their own ideals and their own standard of living; but believing with all their hearts that the military message is a wrong message, which cannot in the end establish those things which are so dear to their hearts.

Now, that is something to work upon. When peace comes, it must come through the people within those countries having some sort of claim to the same type of mind and the same type of people who are dwelling in other countries.

At present they have no means of communication. They say that under the censorship of the press one man cannot tell how many other men are feeling as he does or believing as he does. Although he is a comrade in mind, and may be living in the next street, or in the next town, he does not know how many there are. He cannot get them together. In our modern cities with their huge agglomeration of human beings, we communicate largely through the daily press. We cannot find out public opinion in any other way. Poor method as it seems, it is, after all, all that we have worked out as yet. And in the warring countries nothing goes into the press except those things which the military censors deem fit and proper.

So as we went about, people would say to us, in regard to the press, if you see So and So, say a word about lessening the censorship. And we said, No, we can talk about but this one thing. We cannot carry messages from the citizens to their governments. But over and over again this request was made. And as we got back to one country from another, they would say: “Are people talking like that there? That is just the way we are talking here.” But they do not know each other from one country to another. And the individuals cannot find each other within the country itself.

In each of the warring nations there is this other point of similarity. Generally speaking, we heard everywhere that this war was an old man’s war; that the young men who were doing the fighting, were not the men who wanted the war, and were not the men who believed in the war; that somewhere in church and state, somewhere in the high places of society, the elderly people, the middle-aged people, had established themselves and had convinced themselves that this was s righteous war, that this war must be fought out, and the young men must do the fighting.

Now, this is a terrible indictment, and I admit that I cannot substantiate it. I can only give it to you as an impression, but I should like to bring one or two details before you to back it up, so to speak.

I thought when I got up I shouldn’t mention the word German or the word allies, but perhaps if I give an example from Germany and then an example from the allies, I will not get into trouble.

We met a young man in Switzerland. He had been in the trenches for  three months, had ben wounded and had been sent to Switzerland to be cured. He had developed tuberculosis and the physician among us though he would scarcely live three months. But he thought he was being  cured, and he was speaking his mind before he went back to the trenches. He was, I suppose, what one would call a fine young man, but not an exceptional young man. He had had a gymnasium education. He had ben in business with his father, had traveled in South Africa; had traveled in France, England, and Holland, in the line of business. He had come to know men as mensch, that gute menschen were to be found in every land. And now here he was, at twenty-eight, facing death because he was quite sure when he went back to the trenches that death awaited him. This is what he said: Never during the three months and a half had he once shot his gun in a way that could possibly hit another man. He said that nothing in the world could make him kill another man. He could be ordered into the trenches; he could be ordered to go through the motions, but the final act was in his own hands and with his own conscience. And he said: “My brother is an officer.” (He gave the name of his brother, gave his title; he wasn’t concealing anything; he was quite too near death’s door to have nay shifting and concealing). “He never shoots anything; he never shoots in a way that will kill. And I know dozens and dozens of young men who do not.”

We had a list given to us by the woman at the head of a hospital in one German city of five young Germans who had bene cured and were ready to be sent back to the trenches, when they committed suicide, not because they were afraid of being killed, but because they were afraid they might be put into a position where they would have to kill someone else.

We heard stories of that sort from Frances. We talked with nurses in hospitals; we talked with convalescent soldiers; we talked to the mothers of soldiers who had come back on furlough and had gone into the trenches; and in all of these countries we learned that there are surprising numbers of young men and old men who will not do any fatal shooting because they think that no one has the right to command them to do that thing.

In order to be quite fair and square, I shall next give my testimony from England. I quote a letter published in the Cambridge Magazine at Cambridge University and written by a young man who had gone to the front. I didn’t visit Cambridge, but I did visit Oxford. The universities are almost depleted of young men. The great majority of them have gone into the war. This is what this young man wrote:

“The greatest trial that this war has brought is that it has released the old men from all restraining influences, and has let them loose upon the world. The city editors, the retired majors, the amazons [women are included, you see] and last, but I fear, not least, the venerable archdeacons, have never been so free from contradiction. Just when the younger generation was beginning to rake its share in the affairs of the world, and was hoping to counteract the Victorian influences of the older generation, this war has come to silence us, — permanently or temporarily as the case may be. Meanwhile, the old men are having field days on their own. In our name, and for our sakes as they pathetically imagine, they are doing their very utmost, it would seem, to perpetuate, by their appeals to hate, intolerance and revenge, those very follies which have produced the present conflagration.”

I am not going to tell of many things that wee said because I think there have ben, for the present, too many thing said: but the mothers would say to us: “It was hard to see that boy go because he did not believe in war; he did not belong to a generation that believes in war.”

One of the leading men of Europe, whose name you would instantly recognize if I felt at liberty to give it, said: “If this war could have been postponed for ten years — perhaps,” he said, “I will be safe and say, twenty years, — war would have been impossible in Europe, because of the tremendous revolt against it in the schools and the universities.”

I am quite sure when I say that, that is a partial view. I am quite sure that there are thousands of young men in the trenches feeling that they are performing the highest possible duties. I am quite sure that the spirit of righteousness is in the hearts of  most of them, at least of many o f them; but that throughout there are to be found these other men who are doing violence to the highest teachings which they know.

It seemed to me at times as if the difference between the older generation and the new, is something we apprehended dimly in  each country, — that the older me believed more in abstractions, shall I say; that when they talked of patriotism, when they used certain theological or nationalistic words, these meant more to them than they did to the young men; that the young men had come to take life much more from the point of view of experience; that they were much more — pragmatic (I suppose I could have said in Boston: I don’t know how well it will go in New York) — that they had come to take life more more empirically; and when they wen tot the trenches and tested int out, they concluded that it did not pay, that it was not what they wanted to do with their lives.

I saw an old Quaker in England who said: “My sons are not fighting, they are sweeping mines.” The Quakers are very clever in distinguishing between what the will or will not do. This Quaker explained to me that his sons allow themselves to sweep mines but they do not allow themselves to fire mines. They are doing this, that and the other thing. “It is strange to me,” he said, “because they never went to Quaker meetings, but they are awfully keen now on being consistent.” Now, there you are. I think it was the difference again between the older generation and the new. This again may be a superficial impression, but such as it is, we had it in every single country, one after the other.

Let me say just a word about the women in the various countries. They belief that a woman is against war simply and only because she is a woman and not a man, does not, of course, hold. In every country there are many, many women who believe that the war is inevitable and righteous, and that the highest possible service is being performed by their sons who go into the army; just as there are thousands of men believing that in every country; the majority of women and men doubles believe that.

But the women do have a sort of pang about it. Let us take the case of an artists, an artists who is in an artillery corps, let us say, and is commanded to fire upon a wonderful thing, say St. Mark’s at Venice, or the duomo at Florence, or any other great architectural and beautiful thing. I am sure he would have just a little more compunction than the man who had never given himself to creating beauty and did not know the cost of it. There is certainly that deterrent on the part of the women, who have nurtured these soldiers from the time they were little things, who brought them into the world and brought them up to the age of fighting, and how see them destroyed. That curious revolt comes out again and again, even in the women who are most patriotic and who say: “I have five sons and a son-in-law in the trenches. I wish I had more sons to give.” Even those women, when they are taken off their guard, give a certain protest, a certain plaint against the whole situation which very few men I think re able to formulate.

Now, what is it that these women do in the hospitals? They  nurse the men back to health and send them to the trenches, and the soldiers say to them: “You are so good to use when we are wounded, you do everything in the world to make life possible and to restore us;  why do you not have a little pity for us when we are in the trenches? Why do you not put forth a little of this same effort and this same tenderness to see what might be done to pull us out of those miserable places?”

That testimony came to us, not from the nurses of one country, and not form the nurses who were taking care of the soldiers on one side, but from those who were taking care of them upon every side.

And it seems to make it quite clear that whether we are able to recognize it or not, there has grown up a generation in Europe, as there has doubtless grown up a generation in America, who have revolted against war. It is a god they know not of, that they are not wiling to serve; because all of their sensibilities and their training upon which their highest ideals depend, revolt against the whole situation.

Now it seems to me this: — and bear in mind that the papers were much too kind when they said that I was going to advise the President. I ever dreamed of advising him or of formulating plans. That last will have to be done when the others have returned — I should never venture alone to do anything of the sort. But this, it seems to me, broadly speaking, might be true, that a set of people could be gotten together who are international, out of their own experience. You know, of course, that the law is the least international thing we have! We have an international body of science; a man takes the knowledge of the science to which he is devoted, and deals with that knowledge, and he doesn’t ask whether it was gathered together by Englishmen or Germans. We have an international postal system, a tremendous international commerce, and a tremendous international finance; internationalism in all sorts of fields. But the law lags behind, and perhaps will lag behind for a long time, quite as many of our most settled customs have never been embodied in law at all.

If men could be brought together who have had international experience, who have had it so long and so unconsciously that they have come to think not merely in internationalistic terms, but in the realities of the generation in which they have been doing the thing — whether business or labor or any other thing which has become so tremendously international — if they could be brought together, they could be asked to try to put the very best mind they have not as representing one country or another country, but as representing human life and human experience as it has been lived during the last ten years in Europe.

They could be asked what is it that has brought about this situation. Does Servia need a seaport? Is that what is the matter with Servia? I won’t mention any of the other warring countries because I might get into difficulties; but is this thing or that thing needed? What is it form the human standpoint, from the social standpoint? Is it necessary to feed the people of Europe — we are, as you know, so underfed in all the southern portions of Europe — is it necessary, in order to feed them to get the wheat out of Russia? Then in heaven’s name, let us have warm water harbors in order to get that wheat out of Russia.

Let us not consider it from the point of view of the claims of Russia, or of the counterclaims of someone else; but consider it form the point of view of the needs of Europe. If men with that temper, and that experience, and that sort of understanding of life were to begin to make propositions to the various governments, men who would not placate the claims of one government and set them over against the claims of another government, but would look at the situation from a humane standpoint, — I am sure, at the least (from my knowledge of dozens of men in all of the countries who talked with me about the situation) that that sort of negotiation would be received. Now that does not seem an impossible thing.

Perhaps the shocking impression left upon one’s mind is this, that in the various countries the temper necessary for continuing the war is worked up and fed largely by the things which have occurred in the war itself. Germany has done this; the allies have done that; somebody tried to do this and somebody else tried to do that, and we foiled them by doing that. Now, I submit that no, shall I say, plain mother who found two children fighting, — not for any cause which they stated, but because “he did that” and “I did this, and therefore he did that to me,” — that such a woman would say “this can’t go on.” It leads to nothing but continuous hatred and quarreling.

Let us say that there are two groups of boys in a boys’ club, and I have much experience of that sort in boys’ clubs to draw upon. If one says, “We did this because the other fellows did that,” you will simply have to say, “I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of this, but this thing must stop, because it leads nowhere and gets nowhere.” And so with larger groups. We all know the strikes that have gone on for weeks, with the original cause quite lost sight of. I submit that something of the same sort is happening in Europe now.

They are going on because of the things which have been doing in the war; but that certainly is a very curious  cause for continuing the war. And what it needs, it seems to me, and to many of us, is a certain touch of human nature. The human nature in the trenches would heal them over; the kindly people in the various countries would not support the war longer, and the foreign offices themselves would resume their own business, — that of negotiation versus that of military affairs, ‑If human nature can be released instead of being kept at the boiling pitch as it is all the time by      outrages here and there and somewhere else. I do not know how that is to be brought about, and I admit that this is a very simple analysis of a very serious and complex situation. But when you go about and see the same sort of sorrow everywhere, see the tremendous loss of life in these countries, when you find that you can’t talk to a woman on any subject, however remote form the war, without finding at once that she is in the deepest perplexity, —  that while she is carrying herself bravely and going on with her accustomed activities because she thinks thereby that she is serving her country, her heart is being torn all the time, — is is borne in upon you that at last human nature must revolt. The fanatical feeling which is so high in every country, and which is so fine in every country, cannot last. The wave will come down. The crest cannot be held indefinitely. Then men must see the horrible things which have happened; they will have to soberly count up the loss of life, and the debt they have settled upon themselves for years to come.

I could go on and tell many things that we saw. The Pope himself gave us an audience of half an hour. The men with religious responsibility feel keenly what has happened in Europe — that whild the various countries see in the war a throwback of civilization, the church sees it as a throwback to religion — breeding animosities and tearing and rending the work of years. And yet we are all apparently powerless to do the one thing which might end it. I do not say end it. We did not talk peace as we went about. It would merely confuse the issue. (And, in truth, isn’t it hideous that whole nations find the word peace intolerable?) We said: “Why not see what can be done to arrive at some form of coming together _ to discover what might be done — in the place of the settlement which is now being fought out through military processes?” And that was as far as we were able to go with clearness and safety, and upon that platform we were met with the greatest — someone said courtesy — it was to my mind more than courtesy. It was received, as one Englishman expressed it, like a breath of fresh air, this coming in at last of someone to talk of something that was not of war. We went into the room of one of the prime ministers of Europe, a large, grizzled, formidable man. We told him our little story and he said nothing. I never have a great deal of self-confidence — I am never so dead sure I am doing the right thing, and I said to him:

“This perhaps seems to you very foolish, to have women going about in this way; but after all, the world itself is so strange in this new war situation that our mission may be no more strange or foolish than the rest.”

He banged his fist on the table. “Foolish?” he said, “Not at all. These are the first sensible words that have been uttered in this room for ten months.”

He said: “That door opens from time to time, and people come in to say, ‘Mr. Minister, we must have more men, we must have more ammunition, we must have more money. We cannot go on with this war without more of something else.’ At last the door opens and two people walk in and say, ‘Mr. Minister, why not settle by means of negotiations instead of by fighting?’ They are the sensible ones.”

Other people, of course, said he was an old man, this prime minister, that he was without power. Yet he was an officer of the government in a high place, and that is what he said. I give it to you for what it is worth. And there are other testimonials of the same sort from all kinds of people in office and out of office; they are part of the peoples who are at war, and unable to speak for themselves.

There is one more thing I should like to say and I will close’ and that is that one feels that the talk against militarism, and the belief that it can be crushed by a counter-militarism is, as has been uttered so many times, one of the greatest illusions, which can possibly seize the human mind. England likes to talk and does talk sharply against what it calls militarism, but if they have conscription in England, then the militarism which they thin they are fighting will, at least for the moment, have conquered Britain itself, which has always been so proud that it had a free army and not a conscripted army. And if all of the young men of France between certain ages come to their deaths in their effort to move people out of trenches from which they cannot be moved (because they are absolutely built in of concrete on both sides, and even military men say you cannot budge them without tremendous loss of life) — if these young men are convinced that France must arm as never before, that she must turn herself into a military camp, as they are fond of saying, then, of course, the militaristic idea has conquered France.

The old notion that you can drive a belief into a man at the point of a bayonet is in force once more. It is quite as foolish to think that if militarism is an idea and an ideal, it can be changed and crushed by counter-militarism or by a bayonet charge. And the young men in these various countries say of the bayonet charges: “That is what we cannot think of.” We heard in all countries similar statements in regard to the necessity for the use of stimulants before men would engage in bayonet charges — that they have a regular formula in Germany, that they give them rum in England and absinthe in France; that they all have to give them the “dope” before the bayonet charge is possible. Well, now, think of that.

No one knows who is responsible for the war; all the warring nations are responsible, and they indict themselves. But in the end human nature must reassert itself. The old elements of human understanding and human kindliness among them must come to the fore, and then it may well be that they will reproach the neutral nations and will say: “What was the matter with the rest of the world that you kept quiet while this horrible thing was happening, and our men for a moment had lost their sense in this fanaticism of national feeling all over Europe?” They may well say: “You were far enough away from it not to share in it, and yet you wavered until we lost the flower of the youth of all Europe.”

That is what the women said in various tongues and according to their various temperaments at The Hague, and that is what enabled them to leave there countries when they were at war, believing as they did in the causes for which they were fighting. The women who came to the congress were women who were impelled by a genuine feeling for life itself.

Please do not think we are overestimating a very slight achievement or taking too seriously the kindness with which we were received abroad. We do wish to record ourselves as being quite sure that the peoples in these various countries were grateful for the effort, trifling as it was. The people say they do not want this war, they say that the governments are making this war. And the governments say they do not want this war. They say, “We will be grateful to anybody who would help us to stop the war.” We did not reach the military, but we did talk to a few military men, some of whom said they were sick to death of the war, and I have no doubt there were many others who, if they spoke freely, would say the same thing.

“Without abandoning your causes, and without lowering, if you please, the real quality of your patriotism,” — the women’s resolutions, which we carried, said to these various nations, and we said it to their representatives as long as they permitted us to talk — “whatever it is you want, and whatever it is you feel you ought to have in honor, why in the world can’t you submit your case to a tribunal of fair-minded men? If your case is as good as you are sure it is, certainly those men will find the righteousness which adheres within it.”

And they all say that if the right medium can be found, the cause will be submitted.

 

 

Source: Addams, Jane, “The Revolt Against War,” The Survey, Volume 34, 1915, pp. 355-359.