Carrie Chapman Catt

Opening Address at the Second Conference on the Cause and Cure of War

Carrie Chapman Catt
December 06, 1926— Washington, D.C.
Second Conference on the Cause and Cure of War
Print friendly

OPENING ADDRESS OF MRS. CARRIE CHAPMAN CATT AT THE SECOND CONFERENCE ON THE CAUSE AND CURE OF WAR HELD IN WASHINGTON, D.C., ON DECEMBER 6, 1926.

It is the custom for the President to give a little opening address in which she shall make a sort of survey of what has happened and what she recommends to be considered by the organization. So it prepared a speech which would be a survey and a recommendation. We have had our report printed, our speeches have been heretofore printed, and the delegates have been provided with those printed reports. My idea was that the Chairman should make a little speech that would be a good foreword for that report to explain what we were and why we were doing this thing, and perhaps the conclusions in reference to recommendations. But we are going to have that report printed in an entirely new way, and I am not going to announce it now. It won’t need any foreword, so my speech that I made is in the wastebasket. Instead I am going to make these recommendations.

I recommend for discussion and decision, you the conference to decide whether you wish to consider them, and if so, when:

First: Do you wish to take any further action with reference to the World Court?

Second: Do you wish to hold another conference on the cause and cure of war, and if so, when, where and of what nature?

Third: Is there any way in which the cooperating organizations can more effectively support the organization of this conference?

Fourth: Do you wish to take any action concerning calumnies circulated concerning all advocates of peaceful disputes by the nation?

I am not going to make any comment upon these recommendations, with one exception. I have had a strange feeling which perhaps is silly and perhaps none of you would quite understand. I feel that there may be many of you who have not had the experience of being called names and of being misrepresented, and that perhaps it hurt your feelings. Perhaps it might frighten you so that you would wish to be a little less active in this work. But I care rather more for those that are not here. I don’t think you are much affrighted, or you would not be here. But for those who are not here and who come to you with questions in reference to this or that person and with gossip which they have heard and which may be a little unnerving to you, I wouldn’t like to have you wasting your time having to give me a character, and I don’t want you to waste mine giving you a character. The other day I had a letter from some one asking whether Dr. James F. Shotwell, who is going to speak to us this morning was a real respectable person, and it just so happened that I had a telephone conversation with him shortly after and he said he had just returned from Chicago, and that there a Colonel had been making an investigation of his status. He happened to meet the Colonel and the Colonel was persuaded to allow him to see his findings. The worst thing he had charged him with was having addressed a conference on the cause and cure of war.

Then I had another letter from Georgia asking whether Mrs. Lucia Ames Meade was a person of trustworthy character. I gave her a character. Yet in spite of that fact I see they had some trouble down in Georgia, so my was not sufficient. The effect of this case in Georgia is that we of the north and northeast who know Mrs. Meade and have known her for twenty-five or thirty years; who know she is a woman of the highest character, the most patriotic in nature and service, a woman who knows more about war that any other woman in this or any other country, a woman who in every sense is the highest product of civilization; we who know here, what is the effect? The effect is that we condemn and pity the locality in Georgia that had no more intelligence that to act as they did.

Nevertheless they are a long way from the center of Mrs, Meade’s activities and they probably may feel as a Dutch meeting I once addressed in English and they interpreted. They had some questions they interpreted and I answered and finally a woman arose who stirred that meeting into resentment, I could see, but didn’t know what it was about. They didn’t translate that question. I insisted. They were very evasive, but finally said that she had told them, “This woman is a long way from home; how do we know she is telling the truth?” That, of course, is possible. What I would like to say to you that I, who have lived so much longer than any of you, and who have had a good deal of experience of various, have had all that experience and it has passed so that now I am past any remarks about my status and so on. It doesn’t disturb me usually any more than a fly on my nose. But once in a while it has disturbed me a little, but more am I disturbed on your account, because you have not had that experience and it may hurt your feelings and you may not know just how to act. There was one Major General who went about the country making speeches, the most terrible ones anybody has made – one actually predicting that in five years we should be at war in Japan. I think he has been a great embarrassment to the Government and the Department of State. He has been stating everywhere that everybody who believed that war might be some time abolished was a traitor to his country. That man did irritate me. He was so absolutely unreasonable in what he said. But one day it happened that I was in a meeting where that man was, and I saw him and I heard him, and I went home in a feeling of perfect forgiveness because I realized that man could no more help saying and believing and doing what he was doing than you can help being a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Catholic, a Republican or a Democrat. He was born to it.

What I want you to understand is: I believe there is a progress of the human race. If you are afraid of the word evolution you need not use it, but we will call it progress. Nobody can read history and not know it. Yet, within my lifetime (you can see how young I am), within my lifetime everybody believed that the human race had always been just what it is now, and that the only mission of change was when we should pass into the beyond, and that we lived for that. But since that day and in my lifetime the proof has become so complete that all intelligent people know that there has been an upward trend of the human race since the beginning, whenever that was. We are more enlightened, more moral, have more comprehension, more tolerance. We have climbed upward and are still climbing. I don’t think anybody has ever been able to point out why this is true or what the aim may be, but I, personally, do not believe this progress has come by chance. I believe it is a part of a great divine scheme of things. I don’t know what that aim is, I don’t believe it is for me to ask, but that is what I believe implicitly. But, believing that we are climbing upward, that it is a part of the divine scheme of things, then I believe further that it is our privilege to aid those causes which are leading humanity higher. Why, then, should we have any feeling of intolerance toward those who do not agree with us, and who cannot, because they are simply incapable of speaking our language, see things as we see them, or comprehend what we comprehend. We, ourselves, should be filled with good will for those who believe differently for another reason, also. God has certainly chosen the opponents quite as much as he has chosen the proponents of a cause to lead it onward. I came to that conclusion many years ago in reference to one cause, then I began to study the effect in other causes and I am perfectly satisfied that it is true. That if we proceeded with a cause like this and the whole world was indifferent and paid no attention we should make progress, but nothing like the progress we make in combatting each other. The method of combat is the thing upon I wish to speak. How are you to do when the opponents of the cause call you bolshevists, reds and traitors and other pretty things? I don’t think it helps at all when those upon our side shout back ‘reactionaries, narrowminded morons’, and all that kind of thing. The spirit is the same. It is only a quarrel of personalities and has nothing to do with the subject under consideration. I believe further that sometimes the opposition is only a boomerang which does no great harm.

The Legion has become rather outspoken in some places in opposition to the Peace Congress. I do not believe they understand what others are trying to do. I do not know enough of the spirit of the Legion or its aims to know how valuable it is, but this I do know: that when they try to break up a meeting here or there, or to so prejudice the public that a school board or some other authority refuses to give a hearing to some perfectly responsible person, that it is a boomerang, and the person or the cause that gets hurt is the Legion, and the cause that is denied a hearing. For since our Nation began we do stand with more or less clarity for that right of people to express their own convictions. I believe they are now hurting the War and the Navy Departments in exactly the same way. They are painting them to the people as timid and weal and defenseless, and against this awful menace that is arising in the country. Now we must have an army and a navy. We are still a war built world. The world has not yet adopted sufficient machinery to replace the old system so that we can get along without them. I do not know that the younger of you will live to see the time when we can get on without them. We must have defenses. We had a whiskey rebellion once, we may have another. There may be other things that will come up. We need that defense, and I think we want to feel secure in the kind of men who are our defenders. We need to respect them and honor them and feel confidence in them. Yet they are being discredited by the same kind of people who are trying to discredit us. We have progressed far enough now to know that it isn’t the army and the navy who are afraid of us. Among them are brave heroes like General Bliss, General Ryan, General Allen, who are on our side, stand with us, and who are heroes enough to do so. They not only have physical courage, they have moral courage which does not always come with physical courage. So it isn’t for us to decide whether there is something we can do collectively, or where we stand and what propose to do. My recommendation is that we are not going to call anybody names, not pronounce them morons or anything of that kind, but we are going to point as always to the liberty, the right of free speech, the right of the world to move forward, and to carry with us those who have those aspirations. I think we ought to do that. I think may be we can do it.

Now I want to add to that that it seems to me, as one of the effects perhaps of the war, perhaps of other causes, it seems to me that we have degenerated as nation in our ideals. That no longer are we as brave as once we were. For instance, any question such as we are interested in here must sooner or later go into politics. And when we turn to politics, to Congress, to the legislators, to the political parties of which these bodies are composed, what do we find? We find that the leaders will not take action concerning anything until the people, the great masses have spoken for that thing in terms of votes. On the other hand we find that the people are afraid to speak until the leaders at the top have pointed out the way. Now when the people are afraid until the leaders have spoken, and the leaders are afraid to speak until the people tell them what to say, silence is the result. That, as you all know, is the present condition of our politics and it has been growing. Perhaps it was always here. I have only noticed it in the last twentyfive or forty years. But it has been growing.

That is one thing. I want to ask you, for organizations are not tied up in precisely the same way, you organizations and other organizations not here came into existence for a purpose other than the one for which we stand. Is it not true that the officers in these organizations desire to keep intact the organizations, and to keep from losing anybody from it? Isn’t it true that organizations tend to gro conservative and are afraid to take action and are not the people who make up the constituency waiting for the leaders as the political parties are waiting. Isn’t is true that we are binding ourselves all up in organization, in red tape, in procedure, so that we are becoming a nation of cowards? I wonder if that is true. I wonder if our procedure has not been so injured by this browth of conservatism that we can not go as rapidly as a nation like ours should move. I would like to see this Nation take a lead; so would you. But it can’t do it because now there seems no place for those bold characters of the early day. You can’t imagine in this day a Garrison, a (Carter?) or a Phillips standing out and fighting the whole world for a great cause. Some way that doesn’t belong to this time. It is a pussyfooting age. It is a question if we are not more or less, every one of us, partners in the business of pussyfooting. That is what I want to call your attention to. I don’t know that we can do anything about it. I don’t know that we can recover from the malady, if it possesses any of us, but I would like to get it to your thought. If any one can think of anything she will speak it out and perhaps some one can do something. I have given all hope up of ever seeing any fighting tremendous courage come into this nation. I haven’t many years before me; my life is behind me, but some of you who are younger ought to contribute to the production of courage. Why not stand? Let those who will call you what they will. If we are conscious that it is unjust, if we have the approval of our own conscience, and just a few friends to stand behind us, that is all we need. The great thing is to go forward, taking our contributions to good will and to help the world to move higher. That is all.

PDF version