Address to the Woman’s Peace Party
December 10, 1916 — Address to the Woman’s Peace Party of New York
The creation of the American Union Against Militarism was, in the minds of the organizers, forced upon them. In the midst of the great war with ominous indications of a rising of the militarist spirit in America, the heavily endowed foundations for peace propaganda appeared to be uninterested in the phenomenon of existence of militaristic propaganda cloaked under the reasonable name of “preparedness.”
The members of our organizing committee represented conservatism, Quakerism, socialism, the church, the press, literature, and social work. The unifying factor that brought us together was the sense of crisis [because] extraordinary and unprecedented measures had been taken to promote a public demand for military and naval expansion. [That] cost would not only be to the nation but to the world, since it seemed to us the sinister reversion to the war system would be at the cost of democracy.
The small group that directed this committee, and the enormous number of men and women who have affiliated themselves in one way or another with its propaganda, consider themselves true patriots of America, — patriotism that is borne of the passionate love for the best that is in America, not for rich America nor for successful America, but for the America of democracy, of ideals, and the America that stand for the things essential to a world of love and law and order.
A year ago at this time the evidences of hysteria in the “preparedness” campaign were as ridiculous in some instances as they were ominous for those who stand for the domination of civil authority as opposed to military control The press was almost unanimous in giving expression to the sentiments of militaristic propaganda. It laughed uproariously at the idealism of the Ford Peace Ship, but gave no evidence of its sense of humor as to some of the evidences of the other side. Boston women of standing were asked to register their automobiles, that the maidens might be carried inland when the Germans came. Solemn comment was everywhere made upon the women, who at the very beginning of the European war, bought blankets and placed them in cedar chests for our soldiers and more than a year ago one man who was “seeing things at night’ declared in all seriousness that at two o’clock in the morning he saw a company of Germans drilling in Van Cortlandt Park of New York City. The officials of that great city held conferences and I was present at one of them where it was intimated that strong guards should be immediately placed around the treasury in New York City. Germany, England, Canada, Japan, each in turn was pictures by some scared citizen as landing great armies on our shores, without warning or knowledge on our part, and carry off our gold and our maidens.
The American Union Against Militarism considers itself an emergency committee, and during its year of existence has used all the money and brains that could be commanded to get sane consideration before the country. It sent a flying wedge of informed speakers to the West, hired great halls, addressed huge audiences, and laid the matter before the public to hear the “truth about the preparedness.” Before the coming of the speakers “jingos” paraded the streets and even if our speakers failed to get on the front page the great dinosaur, symbolic of militarism, did appear there.
The Committee sent an ingenious and graphic exhibit, which was handled by the Woman’s Peace Party, into the cities. The exhibitions were largely attended. In New York City from 5,000 to 10,000 people a day came to see it. They not only saw it, but gave evidence of seeing it thoughtfully. It was advertised as “The War Against War Exhibit.”
Next came the Mexican crisis. At the time of the Carrizal incident the committee gathered together hurriedly, met until midnight, and the next morning paid for [full] page advertisements of Captain Morey’s report of the incident. This was followed by an experiment in international publicity and direct action. Believing that the nearer war approached the more formidable it became, we summoned an unofficial joint conference to meet on the border and hold the peace. One Mexican and one American did actually get together at El Paso and the story gave further publicity and enlightenment tot the country. Washington officials might tell of the result of this in the freely expressed opinions of thousands of American citizens upon our relationship to Mexico. The two men who met at El Paso later met in Washington and were joined by other representatives summoned by the American Union. A Mexican-American League was created to act in any future crisis. All of that may seem trifling but it anticipated the more important appointment of the Mexican-American Conference by the President of the United States. Genuine opposition to war with Mexico became front page news and what is much better it became important news in Mexico — where word of our friendship reached the heart of Mexico and page-wide headlines filled the leading columns of some of the Spanish papers in that country.
The American Union Against Militarism believes that it has serious work before it this coming year. It is convinced of its obligation to create nationwide publicity . . . encourage delay on the entire shipbuilding program until the international agreement plans can be tried.
We plan to bring popular pressure to bear on Congress by deputations, public hearings, and t widest publicity in order to get the people to speak concerning the Army law which provides for conscription in case of war; to watch all attempts at militarist legislation, particularly the measures for universal military training. We want to cooperate with local peace societies in their efforts to keep military training out of the public schools; against conscription and compulsory military training in the state laws.
We are working in close affiliation with the Woman’s Peace Party and we intend to continue our own peculiar methods, peculiar they are said to be for “pacifist.” I am told that we are violating the popular conception of this group, and one newspaper which strongly disapproved of our aggressiveness against preparedness hysteria, said that, judging from our belligerency, we were the ones who “put the fist in pacifist.” And editorial comment the other day discussed the demonstration of pacifists [being] so much in earnest, they would fight for their conviction.
The Union believes that it should seriously and patiently construct the machinery for instant mobilization of the people for the prevention of any future war that might threaten this country. A war of simple wanton aggression against the United States is unthinkable. There would always be misunderstanding, false national pride, secret diplomacy, financial interests. At the base our plan for getting the people of the two countries into instant actual contact with an understanding of each other would always prevent this.
A year ago we began with one contributor and 15 members. We closed our year with a record of having spent $35,000 with 6,000 members . . . we have distributed some 600,000 pieces of literature of our own design and publication.
I should like to say that though we are against militarism we are not negative. We feel that we have been and are positive. Militarism is an evil growth which threatens our industrial democracy, our political institutions, our educational ideals and our international relationships. If the good things for which this country stands are to go on, clarion voices must ring out against movements that would destroy those precious possessions. The spirit of militarism has invaded us. It threatens the great constructive up-building, life-saving social work. To stamp it out, to recover the ground we have lost, to build upon them, — that is the task confronting all those who have the true interests of democracy at hear. We believe that militarism is opposed to democracy and that great numbers of citizens everywhere fear not so much an invading army but this other danger so close upon us — militarism. Good and true citizens of the great American Republic are united in this.
Source: The Lillian Wald Papers, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
Also: Lillian Wald: Progressive Activist, ed. Claire Coss (New York: The Feminist Press) 1989, pp. 89-93.