Carrie Chapman Catt

Who Can Answer - Dec. 8, 1939

Carrie Chapman Catt
December 08, 1939
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An address by Catt at the 44th Congress of American Industry.

The gravest question ever asked of the Human Race is this: WAR, how can we get rid of it? It is no new question. It bas been in the headlines ever since there were newspapers; it has dodged in and out among the members ever since there were Parliaments; it scares at us from the pages of the Bible or any history of nations. Men, listening, have heard the question and tried to answer. Said the prophet Micah long ago: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." No noble thought was ever more nobly expressed, but war moved on. In every century thereafter, other men said other brave and equally admirable things, but none made answer to the question; HOW ?

When, nearly three thousand years later, the hopes and aspirations of the famous Big Four at Versailles were appearing daily in the press, and you and I really thought that the end of war might be at hand, Lloyd George, now the only one of that four remaining, said: "Let ours be the generation that manfully, courageously, resolutely, eliminates war from among the tragedies of human life." Again, it was a noble thought, nobly said, and I, for one, believe that those four men sincerely tried to transform that vision into reality, but now, looking backward, we know that all they were able to do was to tinker with the overpowering institution of war.

It is not the war in Europe nor the war in Asia, iniquitous as both are, that should demand most attention. War is not and never has been a fairly stated dispute between two or more peoples, nor was a decision ever made to settle a dispute by a draw between two killing forces. Once that method was used. It happened between tribes living respectively in Java and Sumatra. The era was in the matriarchate and the heads of the tribes were queens. They agreed to settle a dispute by a battle between two bullocks. It was done. The Sumatra bullock won and the event is commemorated, but all have forgotten the nature of the dispute. Had people who thought themselves more civilized than these agreed to settle all disputes arising by bullocks, tigers, lions, rattlesnakes, or even by two men who might volunteer for the purpose, what a different world history ours would have been. Instead, the most highly civilized and the most religious peoples of the world have made of war an enormous and all-powerful octopus that holds every human being fast and terrified, in the squeeze of its tentacles.

Evidently war began when the first group of human beings set foot upon this earth. Anthropologists say that may have been four millions of years ago. Since that time, war has been the chief human adventure. It has never stopped and only paused for breath; and unless something is done more drastic, more honest, and more resolutely determined than any plan yet proposed, war will continue until the last human signifies that the human race, like that of the dinosaurs, has become extinct.

An episode may have taken place some two or three millions of years before Christ which may have given MAN a wrong start and he may never have the courage to correct the mistake.

Suppose on one bright spring morning, some men were climbing down out of their trees where all men then lived. There being no newspapers, they did not yet know that the saber-toothed tiger which had driven them into the trees had become extinct and they were timid and apprehensive. Hearing a rustle of leaves, they paused and were astounded to see strange men coming down out of other trees. They had never seen these men before although they were first cousins and closely resembled each ocher. They trembled, they snorted, and doubled their crude fists as they went forward. The other group did the same and, directly, they were engaged in a pitched battle, all screaming, slamming, pounding, punching, kicking, and biting each other.

They had nothing to fight about. There were trees enough for all; land and food enough for all. Clothes had not yet come into fashion. They had no weapons to try out. There were no haves and have-nots. They were all nots. All materials were raw and nothing had yet been sold or bartered. Of course, those ancestors of ours, we must confess, were mere morons. They had small brains and did not use what they had. From the tree tops, MAN had seen gigantic beasts eating each other alive and they merely followed their example. The history of MAN shows completely that he has always been short on original ideas and long on imitation. Indeed, he has burned his fellow-man at the stake, because he dared to have a new idea and he has followed WAR with devoted loyalty from that day to this, because his father and his great grandfather did.

When war began, MAN had never had a real idea in his head. He was a moron and nothing more, but when he emerged from those ages of oblivion into one of history, his head was filled with ideas. Most of them were neither brilliant nor practical and all were tainted with superstition, but upon three outstanding ideas world history was built.

FIRST. Morality had been discovered and had already been put into a moral code before MAN emerged from the twilight of a possible hundred centuries. The most import.ant rules were three.

  1. Thou shalt not lie.
  2. Thou shalt not steal.
  3. Thou shalt not kill.

Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Christian, Mohammedan, all had these rules, and all said they had them from God, but these rules were also found among the most primitive of men and they said they also had had them from gods. The Magna Charta, the Rights of Mao, Constitutions, Democracy, Codes of Law, Government, Judicial Systems, and all religious, charity, and friendly relations have evolved from the Moral Code. Indeed, all the good within any of us, and all the good within any nation has sprung from the Moral Code.

SECOND. There has also been a Counter Code as old and as universal as the Moral Code, but no one ever said it came from God. It has never been put in print: No part of it has been framed into a law. Yet it is believed and taught everywhere. It has been the creed of all nations and has been practiced by all men. We might call it the Immoral Code. It has a single rule:

Whatever we do is right; whatever our neighbor does is wrong. All men within our frontiers are good men and any harm done to them by outsiders is justifiably punishable. To lie to a stranger or to break a pact or treaty with another nation in such way that it redounds to our advantage is a patriotic Virtue spelled with a large V. God always rewards such acts, but if an outsider lies to us, or breaks a treaty with our nation, that nation becomes a Vicious people, also spelled with a large V. To steal from an enemy and bring the loot home, or to capture territory for our benefit is sterling honesty. God rewards such noble acts and monuments are built by all nations to such heroes. However, should the enemy take our territory, he is a skunk and a traitor. We are free to forget the injunction about killing and may hang him to the nearest tree without trial.

THIRD: This represents a much more advanced thought. No Moron could have proposed it. A very long time after the first battle was fought between the tree men and when all the race felt like doing something heroic, a man said: "Ha, Ha, if I only bad a longer arm than my enemy, I could reach over and whack him on the head before he could reach me and I would be the greatest man in all the world." The listeners understood this new idea and adopted it on the spot. From that moment, the most important and all-absorbing ambition of the human race was to find the means whereby one of our men could kill one of their men while remaining safe himself from attack. This searching for the longer arm became the chief motive of the race. Through the centuries men went from fists to stones and sticks and on to stone axes; then to spears, javelins, daggers, and later to swords—short swords, long swords, on to bows and arrows, short bows, long bows, cross bows, with arrows feathered and poisoned. Men built walls around cities and other men produced the battering ram to knock them down. They built great ladders to climb over them and the Greeks brought fire baskets to throw over and set the cities afire. Gunpowder and consequent guns and cannon came next and filled some centuries with their developments. The American Revolutionary soldier, carrying a horn full of powder and loading his gun with balls his wife had made from their pewter teapot and jamming them into place with a ramrod is now replaced by the machine gun. Our own nation boasts one such gun wherewith thirty-six men may wipe out an entire regiment in one attack. Soon there will be another capable of wiping out two regiments. Every nation boasts that it now has bigger and better cannon than was the Big Bertha.

The crude dugout, rowed with sticks, of the long ago, has developed into a modem supersteel warship, proudly pacroling the sea Here, hidden far below the surface, a man, by merely pushing a button on a chart, can shoot a cannon and hit a ship, neither of which he can see—a marvelous achievement. That was yesterday. Today that proud warship is surrounded by floating, explosive mines while submarines are stealthily creeping up, each loaded with powerful torpedoes, all set to blow a hole just where the man sits so calmly with his steady finger on the cannon shooting device. The blue sky overhead is dotted with dark clouds, each a flight of airplanes, loaded with bombs, which, when skillfully dropped may destroy a city, or a nation, or even the entire human race. This IS the climax achieved by strict adherence to the search for the longer arm. There we stand today. Let us paint a wee picture and call it THE EVOLUTION OF MAN. Beneath the picture, it is written : THIS WAS THE KING OF MEN IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1939. HE HAD THE LARGEST BRAIN EVER DISCOVERED, THE MOST EDUCATION POSSIBLE FOR ANY MAN TO RECEIVE; LOOK, HIS BREAST IS COVERED WITH THE RECORD OF SUPER-DEGREES FROM UNIVERSITIES. HE WEARS THE KEY. Solomon, in all his glory, knew little compared with this, wisest of all men, the climax of a million of years of human evolution. Look again; this man wears a gas mask. He is followed by a woman and a baby, a dog and a cat, and all four wear gas masks. He shepherds them into a dark hole and scuttles in after them in the hope that he may escape the effects of the war neither he nor any man knows how to stop. Shall we acknowledge that picture as the final climax of our evolution, or do something about it?

It is true that MAN has done other things, great things, besides making WAR. He has built schools and universities, printed newspapers and books to enlighten his fellow-men, but the point never to be forgotten is that the military machine of a neighbor might blow all the collective creations of MAN into dust and ashes.

Said a calm-minded, practical business man: "Dispassionately now, and merely as a cash register proposition, can any one deny that war is the most futile, expensive, and fantastically unproductive enterprise that ever engaged the energy of men?" Certainly, we admit it.

Lee the cash register continue. Is it not true that all wars have been based upon violations of the moral code; that is, upon lies, theft, and murder? Is it not true that each nation relies upon the possession of the deadliest weapons for success in establishing the justice of its cause? Was any really important dispute ever justly settled by any war? Are we not inclined to regard war with the cart before the horse? Thus, economic disturbances certainly are the result of past wars and not proper causes of wars to come. Reason and patience can settle all affairs out of joint and gunpowder settles nothing. The truth is that every war is followed by exhaustion, exhaustion of man-power, food, material, health, money, hope, incellectual and moral standards. A war does to civilization exactly what a hard frost does to a blooming garden. Before a nation repairs its losses, another war comes. This is why we are unable to think straight.

Let us go on to less obvious questions. Is it not true that men and nations like the squeeze of war's tentacles when not too threatening? Do we not all, more or less, enjoy apprehension and dote on the delightful gossip it presents? When apprehension gets too pokey, is there not always some one to stir it into new activity and that, much to our sacisfaccion? When a nation wishes to keep out of war, and there is much excited talk of neutrality, is it not due less to an exhuberance of virtue than a desire to save skins when there is likely to be small returns?

The only way to end war is through public opinion. Nations which have shut off free speech, parliamentary bodies, and private agitation, be they Fascists or Communists, are only arsenals of canned tradition and are consequently the chief maintainers of the war system. Ours is a government where the people, more or less, rule. Here, we may think, speak, and agitate. It is therefore a suitable place in which to begin. The United States of America, when it sees and thinks straight, can answer the question HOW? The Manufacturers Association, which has bravely made an amazingly fine demonstration of its faith, can lead the nation if it so wills. Any proposal to end war, however, must be based upon the understanding that war is a very old and world-around institution with its feet still deep in the primeval era. War will not cease until destroyed, root and branch. It cannot be destroyed without the cooperation of many nations. Those who would lead, therefore, must dig deep into the debris of war find the truth and, finding it, must hold it up to public view without apologies. Heroics of ancient poetry must be dropped and the plain, unvarnished truth told—alas, the world still likes war; it is still our pet institution. When we learn to hate war because it is so abominable and thoroughly uncivilized it will go. The people will arise and drive it out.

Published by the National Association of Manufacturers, New York.