Carrie Chapman Catt

Ideals and Aspirations of the United States – July 17, 1927

Carrie Chapman Catt
July 17, 1927— Honolulu, Hawaii
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Catt delivered this address to the general session of the Institute of Pacific Relations as the chairman of the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War.

A glorified code of ideals and aspirations, soothing to home pride and patriotism, might be claimed for the United States, were it not that the Institute discourages rhetoric. A strict adherence to fact compels me to say that no citizen of the United States, however exalted, could formulate a statement of the ideals and aspirations of his country without suffering an immediate challenge from a great many other citizens.

Not long since, a well-read ambassador of the United States took the occasion of his first important speech in the land to which he was deputized, to set forth the ideals and aspirations of his nation. Much to his embarrassment, two days later, a very large and influential section of the home press rejected in vigorous and uncomplimentary terms both his ideals and his aspirations. The incident developed an irritated and painful state of political nerves in at least two countries.

Later, the President and two members of his cabinet made speeches at different functions on a patriotic holiday. Correspondents selected for release to national and international press that part of his speech dealing with the nation's ideals and aspirations. Each speech was in conflict with each of the other two. In fact, there appeared to be a trinity of ideals and a trinity of aspirations. Political storm clouds gathered and rolled all around the world, during which the three high officials maintained a discreet and absolute silence.

In fact, ideals and aspirations have never been a "political issue" in the United States, to be debated, resolved and voted upon, therefore, any citizen may claim as national any ideal he approves, but with equal authority any other citizen may contradict him.

Ideals in the United States are not as nebulous as these illustrations indicate. Very insistent ideals and very urgent aspirations exist. You want to know how they may be applied in present and future problems in inter-relations among peoples in the Pacific area. I may assure you without hesitation that in all problems of research, science, health, resources, business facilities, economic statistics or any field wherein the aim is general information, the cooperation will be generous and complete, friendly and helpful. You probably know that.

When and if, however, the problem concerns dollars, I must tell you that the nation is sensitive, and it is in this particular sphere that ideals are shaky and uncertain. There is no national aspiration to acquire wealth. There are, however, among our citizens a considerable number of alert and able men who possess a conquering lust for dollars and who are urged on by overpowering predatory ambitions. The big money game of today is comparatively new. It appears to be what Professor James called the "moral equivalent" of the war instinct. If any object to the use of the word ''moral'' in this connection, it may be called a substitute for the war instinct. It is the work and the play, the business and the recreation, the aim and the entire possibility of life to many men. They do not make money because they need it or want it. They make money because they like the strategy, the gamble, the conquering spirit of the game, the distinction and the power it brings. Were these men all dangerous foes of better things, they might be restrained in the interest of society; but very many are not only gentlemen of a high cultured order but they give freely of their surplus to churches, missions, many good causes, and especially to political party funds. Doubtless, some of them have made this Institute of Pacific Relations possible. These are the reasons why ideals wax dim and foreign policies grow timid at times.

Powerful groups in the United States are economic imperialists without apology. Gigantic investments in foreign lands, composed of money secured from many widely scattered constituents, when and if endangered by unstable governments, may make such men desperate. These forces can wield an inestimable influence over any government, any party and most men. Gunboats and marines will be certain to follow. This is a franker, a cruder and a truer statement than a diplomat would make. The United States is not the only habitat of big money gamesters, but just now fear of our particular players of the game has been aroused. What defense have smaller or weaker peoples against exploitation by this power? The most certain security is lack of resources and opportunity. Self-determination, home rule, independence, will be sponsored with practical unanimity in the United States for any land or peoples who possess no dollar prospects. All others are likely to be found wanting in qualities for self-government.

The chief defense, however, is public opinion in the United States. Monied interests do not own or control the United States. Ours is a self-governing country where men and women citizens vote. That electorate is a continuous source of all ideals and all power. Other nations, wishing to do business with the United States, must deal with Mr. Coolidge, the Congress, and the Republican party now in power, just as, not long ago, they dealt with Mr. Wilson and the Democratic party; but presidents and parties come and go—the people alone keep on forever. The machinery is slow, but it is there. The people are often ignorant and are usually indifferent, but they are capable of understanding and they can be aroused. The people, in endless procession, marching generation after generation through schoolhouses to their places in the world, reading daily newspapers, books and magazines, listening to pleas of many movements in lecture-halls, sitting in churches, labor unions and women's clubs, coming under the enlightening influences of modern times, a diverse, restless, stirring, never­ pausing mass-the people are the United States. A general said, "The people are not always right, but give them time and they will wobble right." Governments must not be permitted to wobble, but because the people may, there always lies among them new hope. Governments may not, but the people may change their minds.

At this moment the people are confused and hesitant as to ideals in international relations. Large numbers of them are thinking and worrying over this fact. Forums, schools, conference, commissions, and every other conceivable form of getting people to talk problems through, have become the order of the day. Progress is being made in understanding, but as yet, the kind of amended foreign policies which can guarantee justice to all, freedom of action to all capable of receiving it, without too much emphasis on the capability, and at the same time keep dollars enough flowing to make all peoples prosperous, has not been discovered. It is still locked in the brains of men.

This is a new time with new possibilities. ''When in the course of human events'' has a country feeling wronged and oppressed been invited to present every complaint to an international body as China did on Saturday, receiving in return a dignified promise of concession from Great Britain alleged to be its chief oppressor, with never a bitter word on either side T When has any other conquering land generously urged that the conquered should have its hearing between an international group of judges and who would have dreamed that a Korean Portia would have come to make the eloquent plea?

I plead with this Institute not to confine its future efforts to the safe and secure realms of research and academic achievements, but to face the really fundamental problem of the world. Intensity of international suspicion creates unrest and innumerable problems. Relief can only be found in changed standards and systems of international relations. The measure and the method will be political and controversial. But why should brave people hesitate on that account?

  1. The way must be found to protect the life, property and liberty of nationals without gunboats, and the world must be educated to change systems.
  2. The principles of international relationship that will guarantee justice to all parties concerned must be found and the thought of nations elevated to that standard of decent international manner.
  3. The way for nations to give their honorable word not to war over disputes, whatever happens, but to find a more civilized method of settling them must be found and made popular.

These are exceedingly difficult things to do. No nation in the world today will boldly lead these undertakings. Within every nation, however, there are people who already see the need and glimpse some step forward on the way. What some people think today, the entire nation may think tomorrow, and the whole world the day after.

What is required is a sort of multiplication table of principles. All things are possible to those not afraid to think. Surely of such is the Institute of Pacific Relations composed.

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