Carrie Chapman Catt

Men, Women, and War (New York Society of Ethical Culture) - 1925

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1925
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By Carrie Chapman Catt

When one reads the casual reports of historians about ancient people, usually the historian speaks of them as men. He speaks as if the race were of one sex; he speaks of it as “he.” Consequently we have been trained to think that all the things in the world were brought into it by man. But from the modern investigations of scientists we learn that, on the contrary, women invented all those primitive industries which in later days have grown into great things, upon which the commerce of the world is founded. So we have learned that in the very beginning women invented work and man invented war. Women invented those processes which were constructive of the foundation upon which civilization was to be based, and men invented the destructive activities.

But there came a time when between wars men have become interested in constructive process, and took up the work of women, and enlarged it often, and later on founded trade and commerce – which in the beginning was largely the disposal of either food or the products of the women in the home. As time passed on further and the ages replaced other ages, we find woman no longer free, in the open, doing her part of the work of the world, contributing her share in the division of labor. Instead, under the influence of war, there came a time when men began to steal the women of other tribes. Or perhaps, as in the Hungarian legend, when they were marching forward, eventually to find their way into Europe, they deserted their women, leaving them at home somewhere – and nobody knows whatever became of them. And then they captured or conquered another tribe or tribes and took their women with them. Whether this was true concerning the Hungarians or not, it certainly has been true of the early tribes, so that eventually women became the actual slaves of conquerors and were obliged to do their bidding.

Somewhere in the early days there was a time when women and men were equally free to go their own way and to make their own contribution, when there was no confusion between the work of the one and the work of the other. It was my privilege once to visit a people which, like the relics that are being revealed by investigations and archaeological explorations going on everywhere round the world, lives as an example of what once was. I traveled half way round the world to visit this people in order that I might study them at first hand. But when I arrived on the island of Sumatra I found that the Dutch, to whom that island belongs – and who have many educated and highly cultured people living there – I found the people surrounding this primitive tribe were entirely unaware of the institution that existed among them. They had never noticed that they were particularly different from any other kind of people. There were about a million and a quarter of them, and their conditions are exactly the reverse of those we find under the British common law, or under the Napoleonic Code, or the laws that have grown out of them. There the female names pass down the line from the mother. There the women own all the property, and every man is obliged to ask his wife for every quarter he has. There the trade is in the hands of the women, and weekly markets are held and all the merchants are women. And while the women are selling the products of their little farms or of their hands, and they make many beautiful things in the way of textile fabrics or embroideries, as well as raising a large variety of food, the men gather on the outside of the market, sit in the shade of the trees, where they engage in cockfights while the women work. I might tell you a long story about these people, but it is not necessary. The main point is that they do exhibit what supposedly once was general. But war masculinized civilization, which had been feminized before, and we have had masculine leadership of ideas and ideals for many ages past.

It is recorded of Augustus Caesar that he never wore any garments except those that were manufactured by the women of his household, and two thousand years later it was recorded of George Washington that he never wore anything but the garments manufactured by the women of the house – that is, he did not until he became President, when he had to have some fancy clothing in order to do honor to the foreign ministers who visited him.

In those two thousand years there had been marvelous and almost indescribable changes in religion and in the work of men. But the women had gone on doing the same thing, conserving what they had, enlarging only upon that which had been given them by their mothers and grandmothers. And the division of labor continued so perfectly that one historian makes the announcement that out of thirty-five hundred years of authenticated history there had been but three hundred and thirty-four years of peace. I suppose that if we rely upon that statement, even with a grain of salt, we may say that men kept up their business of war during all the time that women were continuing their work in the home.

But about a hundred years ago there came a great change, and one may notice, as William James has said, that when men have differentiated their work in the world it has been largely by finding moral equivalents for war. They invented the bullfight and the cockfight and athletic contests. They have also put into finance the spirit of war. They have put into commerce and trade and business the spirit of war – the kind of organization, the kind of "Forward, March," that one finds in war. In this trade struggle against each other men reached into the home and began taking away from women that which they had invented and that which they had done for a million years. And they took away, first of all, the making of cloth, and they put it into factories. And the result was that women went out of the home and themselves into the factory to work. They turned away the making of rugs and curtains and bed coverings from the home and put it into factories. And later on they began to encroach upon the most sacred and the most primitive of women's contributions to civilization, and that was the feeding of people. The other night it was my privilege to speak to the Business and Professional Women's League-and they certainly stand as a curious mark of this change. Here were women who had gone out into the big world, many of them earning great salaries, others in business for themselves. The dinner was cooked by men and served by men. The changes have been great, and in this time the confusion between the offices of men and women according to the old division of labor is amusing and interesting.

Women no longer have in the home any of the things left that once belonged in the family which they learned from our grandmothers, whether it was in the Garden of Eden or came down from the tree tops. So that women have emerged from their special fields of labor; they are now a part of the world. They are in politics as well – to be sure, none of us thinks they are really in politics – not yet. They are standing on the fringe, as it were, but men and women are learning better how to understand each other and how to work together.

But the old "woman's work" has gone. She has entered into the man's business world, into commerce, into all the things that he has been doing – and she has entered there without the war spirit. She has brought the old instinct of home conservation into the business world.

Now, if men have destroyed that division of labor that lasted for millions of years, and for the good of the world, let us hope, it is only fair that women should retaliate now and destroy the immemorial occupation of men, which was war. It is only fair that we should make a start in the new world upon the basis of equality of responsibility. Wherever there is talent let it be manifest. Wherever there is the opportunity and the quality of a contribution to civilization let it be made.

We have come through a great war, and when that war came to an end it seemed as though the thinking people of the entire world united in one cry, that such a war must never be permitted to happen again. And yet as time passes the talk grows more and more plentiful that we must be prepared for the next war. Wars have always been, it is said, and therefore always must be; war is inevitable, and it is trivial nonsense to think that it will ever stop.

But many of us women, and many men, too, say that this is not true – that when the common sense of the world is put upon the problem it will lay aside war, because it is barbarism, an anachronism that does not belong to this century. But, after all, I wonder if what is really back of all this trouble about war may not be the very simplest of instincts. You know that if two ant-hills of different kinds of ants are brought together they immediately begin to fight, and that the strongest of them will destroy the ants of the other. Now those ants did not know anything about national honor. Those ants did not know why they were fighting the other ones. It is instinct that leads them to fight, that finds in the other an imagined enemy, and so they attempt to kill each other. When the Apaches and the Arapahoes have danced their war dance of preparation why do they fight? It is instinct. Often it is because they have not had a war for a long time, and they cook up some sort of offence which they had not received in order to have the privilege of marching out against the others. And I wonder if these days it is not the instinct of the ant and the Apaches that is oppressing the minds of some men, those who are oftentimes in high places, and that what they really thirst for is the satisfaction of this instinct. There is an instinctive desire for the game of war, a game they have always enjoyed. Some men find in college athletics, and others in cockfighting, and others in a bullfight, an outlet – in different ways it is this game of war. So, as one ant-hill thinks that it can whip the other hill of ants, one nation comes to think it can whip another nation.

Now here there is something for women to do. Not long ago a retired admiral was very much disturbed over the talk of peace in this country. He said that war was the one thing that women knew least about. That was what he said, and I agree with him, and yet, said he, women persist in talking about a thing of which they know nothing. Yes; and we are going to continue to talk about it, because there are three very distinct reasons why a woman has a right to meddle in war.

We have had many rights given to us in the last few years, and among the rights which have come have been some privileges, and one of the privileges conferred is that of paying an income tax. Every woman that pays an income tax (and every one else, of course) ought to know that out of every dollar she pays in taxes eighty-six cents goes for wars – past, present or future. Now she may well ask herself whether she is pleased to pay her income tax – and who ever met anybody who was satisfied that the income tax was small enough? – she may well ask herself whether she approves of the fact that eighty-six cents out of every dollar should go to pay for war. To be sure, we have the great war to pay for, and it will take some sixty years to do it. We are not talking about repudiating our debts. But the curious thing is that though the cost of war maintenance, the cost of modern wars in actual operation and the cost of preparation have enormously increased, and while we pay a larger tax the percentage which goes out for war has not really perceptibly changed. Of the sixty-seven billions of dollars which this nation has collected in its treasury and expended since the revolution, fifty-eight billions have gone for war. And we are a peaceful people, we think – and yet we have only had nine billion out of sixty-seven billions that we have been permitted to expend on the construction of what we call civilization. And so I say there is the first reason why women have the right to meddle in war.

And then the second is: In the long ago women were captured and put into harems and kept there, and protected there. And in those days there began to grow up a kind of ethics among the nations as to the conduct of armies toward women. There developed the impression that non-combatants – these were women, old men and children – should not be molested in war, and such a law was incorporated into treaties. And while no army ever entirely observed that rule, it was more or less understood to be a fundamental of the rules of war.

But in the great war there was a change, and in the controversy men versed in the theories said that when war comes it means that one nation is fighting for its life against the other nation, just as one ant-hill is fighting against another ant-hill, and therefore every source of life which it destroys in the other nation gives advantage to its own, opportunity to save itself. It was boldly contended by many in the controversy that, since women are potential mothers, it is a good thing for the attacking nation to destroy the women in order to destroy that race. Still, that was controverted. But by and by there came the use of poison gases. And when the war was over it was announced that many chemicals had been discovered that had not been used, and that the laboratories had not forgotten the recipes for them. And the chemists have been going on working.

Now until the great war there seems to have been the rule – it was the only way that had yet been discovered for waging war – to take life in retail; but the great war discovered the necessity of taking life by wholesale. So that in the next war they tell us that it will go by wholesale. Then it was announced that Professor Lewis of Northwestern University had discovered the most poisonous gas yet made, that nine bombs of this gas could destroy the entire city of Berlin. When Edison was asked if he believed that London could be destroyed in twelve hours, as had been stated, his reply was that it could be done in three. That is what the scientists are now saying.

If we no longer are non-combatants, but are to be accepted as legitimate victims of war, if we are to be conscripted, as most nations have declared we must be, in another war, it is a fair question – it is fair to ask whether we shall allow this old division of men's work to be put upon us, who never chose it for our share of labor? If we have to pay for war and we have to be the victims of war, and if everything we are interested in, the constructive reforms and movements of which women are so large a part – if all of these things are to be stopped by war, it offers still another reason why we have a right to meddle with it.

What are we going to do about it, we women? Well, I say that it belongs largely to us to create the public opinion which must put war out of the world. I think we should begin without asking ourselves the question: Can war be abolished? We begin by saying that war is barbarism, and it will and can and shall be abolished. The only question is to find the way.

In our own country at this time we are hearing much talk from those in high places of the danger of our own individual national rights being violated or in some way injured by any connection whatsoever with other nations. But I have not heard anybody among them ask the question, I have not heard any militarist ask the question what the other nations are thinking about us. We talk about the building of airplanes in Japan and in France, and about the possibilities of Germany not having fulfilled her promise to destroy all of her military equipment. We are aroused to the feeling, the instinctive fear among us, that sometime, somewhere, there will be a war for which we must make ready. We have not asked what those other people are thinking about us. The facts are that the world thinks we are the nation the best prepared for war of any nation in the world.

In other words – if you will put yourself in the place of the men who are making ready for war in other countries, and who observe every other land and every other nation, you will find that they not only think that we have the qualities, the qualifications for another war (if they are in some respects inadequate), but they think that we have no peaceful intentions. Have we not said that we will withdraw within ourselves and have nothing to do with the other nations of the world, except when it is to our advantage as a nation or a people?

But as to the present experiments being made in the world to find out how we can bring war to an end, we are not footing any of the bills. It was this country that presented to the world the idea of a world court. It was to be a replica of the Supreme Court of the United States. It was proposed as far back as 1824, perhaps earlier. We have been presenting that idea to Europe for the last hundred years. It was officially presented to the Hague Conference in 1899, again in that of 1907, and an American is supposed practically to have written its statutes or constitution. The method of election of judges was actually proposed by Mr. Root. It meets in a palace which was built by an American. It has an American sitting among the judges, and when they go to the Court they pass a statue that was made by an American sculptor. We have had everything to do with the Court except getting into it.

When we as a nation declined to enter the League of Nations I think there was a condition created which for many a year we will not be able to overcome. Nevertheless, there is one point that must ever stand out. There are fifty-five nations sitting around a table in conference, trying to find a way to bring the world to perennial peace. And they are paying the expenses of those experiments. We are not sitting there, and we are not even cooperating with that experiment to find a way to abolish war.

I do not say that America must enter the League of Nations, but I found the best description of my feelings about it when I was in this Meeting House recently and read the inscription over your platform: "The place where men meet to seek the highest is holy ground." To me the League is that place. These men may not be the best or the greatest, they may not be supermen, but that is what they are trying to do-to seek the highest, and to my mind it is holy ground. And I ask only that our country shall cooperate with it, shall find a way to join with those men who are trying to find a way to make an end of war.

My message is not what I have been saying by way of illustration. It is this: Of all the great nations of the world ours is the only one that other nations believe is or can be in a short time prepared for war. And yet we have no program for peace; there is no expression of confidence that war may be abolished and peace may come. We have a program for war. We find it in our chemical bureau, in the making of our submarines, in our army, in our navy – which all nations have. It is easy to make war. It is easy to go the old way, to follow the line of least resistance that leads just where all nations have gone about once in every thirty or forty years. On the other hand, we cannot have peace ever without a united program of the nations of the world. We can, in my judgment, never come to a permanent peace unless we are agreed, and agreed in such a way that it may be enforced, until all nations give the word that they will submit every difficulty to compulsory arbitration and abide by the award. When we have come to that point we can and will have peace.

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