Bertha von Suttner

Address at the 13th Meeting of the Universal Peace Congress - Oct. 5, 1904

Bertha von Suttner
October 05, 1904— Boston, Massachusetts
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Mrs. President, and my dear American Sisters and Brothers ; I have been requested to speak of the responsibilities and duties of women in this cause. I have been very deeply impressed by various things that I have heard and seen in the short stay that I have had in America very short, for I arrived only this morning after a journey of twelve days from my own country. Still, what I have heard and seen has so deeply impressed me that I cannot restrain the desire of giving some expression to it.

This country is the cradle of the peace movement. I knew it long ago, but what I begin to realize now is to what depth and height it has grown among you, to what breadth it is expanding. Its work is fervently done on moral grounds and on scientific grounds by prominent men and earnest women. The women, especially, form a feature peculiar to you, for on the European continent the work of the women in the peace movement is not so strong as here. It is often, I might say, very weak. I have not found that on the platform where women unite to fight for their rights and for their ideals, the peace cause has been made so prominent as it has here. The International Council of Women have made this the chief subject of their propaganda, but that Council was founded in America and by an American woman. I am sorry the president of the Council, who was to have been here, is absent, and I wish to send her, from our assembly, the expression of our regret not to have her here and of our esteem for her work.

At the great congress in Berlin last June, a whole session was devoted to the peace cause, but this was not the work of the European society. It was the work, again, of our dear Mrs. Sewall. You know by the reports what a great sensation -she produced, owing to her peculiar charm and the eloquence with which she pleaded for the noble cause that ought to be the bond between our sex over the whole world, ought to be but is not, I am sorry to say, nor can we well expect it to be. Women represent the half of mankind, and certainly are quite as divided in their opinions and in their abilities as the other half, though women, certainly more than men, are prone to detest war and to be afraid of it. But there is a great deal between the detesting of a thing and the wish and endeavor to eradicate it.

Then there is the belief that the thing must be, that war is a necessity, though a dire necessity, that it is founded in the struggle of nature. This belief, which is an error, is very widely extended. Those who think thus declare that war cannot be eradicated by human will. I have heard it remarked that Christian men and women are prone to this belief, that everything must remain as it is ; and for that reason we find so few Christian men among the champions of the peace movement. The leaders are rather scientists, poets, etc. At least, that is the case in Europe.

Still we do not find a large number of men ready to take a leading part in this movement. It is not a matter of sentiment ; it is a matter of scientific knowledge. Only those who believe in the progress of the world, the evolution of human society, will give themselves to such a movement as ours. When they become imbued with these convictions women will join the peace movement, and do so effectively. As long as the error remains that war is a necessity, women will not join. On the contrary, they will continue to countenance war. They will stifle their maternal feelings and try to enkindle in their husbands the warlike spirit. In the hour of national conflict, they will give moral encouragement. They will even give their personal assistance and consider themselves heroines for doing so. There is a statue erected in the Public Square of an Austrian town to a young peasant girl who, ninety years ago, when the French were storming the city, hurled down some dozen Frenchmen by stabbing them with a fork.

We are of those who consider that war is not necessary ; then, not being so, that it is a crime. We consider murder a sin, and we consider war as wholesale murder, although making allowance for the great error that is in the mind of the murderer. We do not condemn as murderers the soldiers who do what they are taught.

But now, speaking to women who, by study or by intuition, do know that war is a relic of barbarism, and that men by their misguided judgment will make it continue, I want to speak to the women about their responsibility and their duty. In the contention against war women have some chance. In some spheres we have great influence and power, and if we fail to use this influence and this power in the service of what we consider the most glorious cause in the world, we commit a great sin of omission. As mothers, we have the power to lead the next generation to peace, not only by banishing out of the nursery the tin soldier and out of the schoolroom the bloody stories of warfare, but by lifting the minds of our growing sons to the realization that we live in a time where a higher and nobler civilization is being wrought out, and that theirs will be the opportunity to hasten the realization of this idea.

Now, mothers, sisters, you have another advantage over men. It is this : While a certain roughness and hardness is excusable, perhaps even desirable, in the composition of a strong man's character, the chief virtues of woman are declared to be gentleness, kindheartedness, charity and pity. It is our privilege to show these feelings without restraint and to make them the mainspring of our actions. Let us use this privilege in the struggle against warfare. War, being the cause of the vastest sufferings, it is also the occasion for the vastest pity. Only read the reports from Port Arthur. Try to realize the depths of these horrors and your hearts must melt. While such wars are being waged, while such miseries and such cruelty are staining our earthly home, every woman should be clad in deep mourning ; no woman should be seen to smile. Only imagine that nine days' battle, where fifty thousand bodies covered the ground, and where the wounded had been lying nine days without help! Only think of the men and the horses caught in the tangled wires and hanging there, as an eye witness described it, hanging there like rats caught in a trap! Think of the whole regiment blown into the air by an exploding mine, again I quote my eye witness, the sky darkened by the falling limbs! Imagine the heaps of twenty thousand bodies under the walls of Port Arthur, those bodies covered with chalk that they may not pollute the air! Are you sure, quite sure, that they were all corpses? In some of those miserable and wretched creatures the vestiges of life still remained.

If you read and think of those things, if you try to realize them, hatred against war must inflame your hearts and pity must pervade your souls. Fortunately human imagination is not strong enough to realize all these horrors. We can only grasp what is seen. If we could but grasp all those things I think it would make us mad. And our great pity must not be allowed to weaken our reason ; it must be our strength. We can never undo what has been done, and we cannot stop what is going on, but what we can do is to help to prepare a new order in which these things will never occur again. And as we can do it, so let us do it.

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