Carrie Chapman Catt

Peace or War: What Shall We Do About It? - 1923

Carrie Chapman Catt
November 15, 1923
Print friendly

The following are excerpts from a speech that Catt presented numerous times.

Curiously four proposals for ending war have been made and all of them are American. The first was proposed by Benjamin Franklin. After thirteen kicking, pounding, rebelious American colonies, proud, jealous and all affected more or less with big head, had succumbed to their combined reason and joined in a constitution of the United States, he protested that the nations on the other side of the Atlantic should form a United States of Europe and thus avoid war among themselves.

The second is the League of Nations. The idea did not originate here, but the active intention to put it into practice did. The propaganda began with the League to Enforce Peace of which the Republicans, Mr. Taft and President Lowell of Harvard, were the leaders. It continued with the Democrat, Mr. Wilson, making the fight of his life for it in Paris and it ended when the Republican senators refused to endorse it without reservations and the Democratic senators refused to ratify it with reserverations and there were not enough of either party in the Senate to do it there way. This happened in a Senate, the overwhelming majority of which believed in the League. Had the constitution provided the same method of ratifiying a treaty of peace that is required to ratify a declaration of war, the United State would now be a member. As it is, this American idea is an established fact, a going concern with fifty-four nations in it doing their best to end war. Ten nations are on the outside; one, Afganistan; two, the Dominican Republic; three, Equador; four, the Hedjes; five, Tibet; six, Turkey; seven, Mexico; eight, Russia; nine, Germany. The tenth nation on the outside, the sixty-forth to be accounted for, is the United States of America, the nation that proposed the League. Fifty-four nations, many of them paying the costs of the great war, are also paying the bills for the first world attempt to attain and to maintain peace. This nation, with half of the gold of the world in its coffers, is only paying the costs of ware and preparing for another. Democratic governments make bewildering blunders at times, but never was there a more stupifying one than this. We are a great folk for giving advice, but pretty poor hands at taking it. A new hall is being prepared for the League at Geneva and it is planned for sixty-four sittings, one for the delegation of each nation in the world. How long one of them remains a vacant chair iin the family of nations depends not upon Washington, but upon "we the people."

The third proposal is the World Court. This is strictly an American idea. The Czar called a world conference in 1899. The outstanding result was the "Hague Tribunal" called the American plan. It is an arbitration court. The Second Hague Conference was suggested by the United States and a permanent Court of Justic was proposed by our delegates. There was no agreement upon the method of electing the judges and it was therefore never set up. The covenent of the League of Nations provided for such a court as part of the machinery for abolishing war. It is a child of the League. Elihu Root was called upon to help frame its constitution or protocol and this American idea has also become a going concern with an eminent American jurist, John Bassett Moore, on its bench and meeting regularly held in a peace palace erected by the American, Mr. Carnegie. Having proposed it of course we are not in it. That isn't our way. Mr. Harding proposed that we join and the proposal is pending in the Senate. It is the only question concerning peace actually before our people. By all means let us join. If we cannot cooperate in a world movement to this small degree, God have pity on us. Let no one misunderstand however. It is a necessary, useful step toward peace, but at this time it is not a strong or bold step. The Court can neither go out and bring litigants before its bar nor enforce its decisions. It cannot make law. It can only interpret it. Some nations have agreed to enter a compulsory list and to pledge themselves to submit their questions to this Court, but others have made no such pledge. It has not as yet been proposed that this nation enter the compulsory list. We should be merely a member, pledged to support the Court and to use it when and if we choose. The immediate question before the Senate and hence the country is, shall this country affiliated with the Court? The question is neither Democratic or Republican, but it is certain that anti-peace people will make all the propaganda possible against the Court upon the charge that it is partisan. The perennial duty of an intelligent voter, and always the most trying duty to perform, is never to allow himself to be befoozled by propaganda so camouflaged that its origin and its nature are concealed. He is never more surrounded by befoozling befoolments as when any constructive proposal is made for peace. There seems to be a very general sentiment for the Court, but a group of very stubborn irreconcilables control the Foreign Relations Committee. The Court will need your letters and telegrams and your constant prayer.

The fourth method proposed by a Chicago lawyer, is the Outlawry of War. The idea is a bold, strong one as an auxiliary policy.

Mr. Borah would outlaw war, set up another court and codify international law. A third Court couldn't be harmful. Indeed a row of Courts all around the world, each inviting quarreling nations to come and arbitrate here, might be useful and they wouldn't cost as much as one army. But until the first World Court finds its feet, why have a second? The League of Nations is codifying international law—why have two codes? A resolution to outlaw war, it is announced, will be introduced in the next meeting of the League at Geneva. Should it pass those fifty-four nations, it too will become a going concern before our nation has taken action. The last arrow in the American peace quiver will have been shot, but none of them by us. All of these proposals are practical and helpful.

No other courses lie before the advocate of peace. To find fault and do nothing is clearly rank cowardice. To stay outside in the hope that the League will fail, while doing all we can to make it fail, is such arrant presumption that it is not worthy of a self-respecting people. By elimination there is nothing among present proposals left but to enter the League.

I beg you who want peace to put yourself in the place of the men and women of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia and ask yourself in that capacity what they say, that the other nations cannot limit the traffic in arms unless and until all nations that are producers of arms join in the compact and therefore this country has directly frustrated one of the most important steps toward peace.

I want to say something about the 1920 election, but no one need be alarmed. What I have to say is hardly controversial. The only outstanding certainty about that election is that the Republicans had won before they started. If the Republicans had had the presidency and Congress during the war, the Democrats would have won. All the world parties have been put out the world around.

Indeed the man doesn't live, who could figure out in the midst of that wild scramble just what the real Americans did vote in 1920.

If, however, the entire sixteen Republican millions voted against the League as stated in the Democratic platform, then they as certainly voted for an Association of Nations promised in the Republican platform and thus the nations stand pledged by both parties as did the Senate to some kind of a League of Nations.

If any World League is formed now, it will have to be composed of the kind of nationsl that exist in this, our day. These nations are made up of the kind of people who live at this time. The average of all people in the world is not very clear thinking and not very intelligent. They are provincial, extremely nationalistic and narrowly selfish. Nations take on the characteristics of their people.

Being composed of ordinary humans, the League will not be perfect. It will be timid and cautious. It will doubt and hesitate. It will be confused and divided. Men are so. It will creep and crawl and only now and then be bold. But then if it only creeps toward the abolition of war, isn't that better than to make no progress at all in that direction?

Although I believe in outlawing war, in the World Court and in the League, I do not think our national duty ends when and if all three of these proposals have been adopted. I believe this nation should join an international commission to estimate Germany's possibilities of paying her reparations, whether France agrees or not. I believe this country should release England and France, Belgium and Italy from that portion of their debt to us that went to pay our own contractors on condition that they, to the same extent, will release Germany and the Central Powers. It should be a further condition that France agrees to retire from the Ruhr and that Germany give guarantees, satisfactory to France, for the remainder of her reparations and a final condition should be an agreement to the reduction of armies and armament. The United States could bring peace to Europe, demonstrate that she wante peace and re-establish her leadership by this policy. The United States should not stop here. She should call or join in the Economic Congress, proposed by Secretaries Hughes and Hoover, for the purpose of meeting some of the well nigh insurmountable obstacles to the resumption of trade and commerce by which along can the people of the world be fed. Lastly, this Republic should officially define the Monroe Doctrine or stop talking about it. It is the chief menace to good relations with our Southern neighbors. If I could have my wish, I'd have this government adopt that saying of one of its greatest and bravest soldiers, General John F. O'Ryan, "The American people can end war in our time if they get on the job."

PDF version