Bertha von Suttner

Speech addressed to pacifists in San Francisco - 1912

Bertha von Suttner
June 01, 1912— San Francisco, California
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Ladies and Gentlemen, Voters of California:

Very often people put the question to me "Do you believe in the possibility of Universal Peace?" It might be taken as a personal slight to be asked if one believes in the thing one and works for. But I will not consider the question from the stand point of faith, because we Pacifists have learned to consider it from the higher stand point of Science and Law.

Universal Peace is not a question of possibility, but of necessity. It is not only the aim, but the normal condition of civilization. We must not think we have attained civilization while we are still loaded with the barbarities of war. The higher organization of the world must be based on Universal Peace.

All this could be proved by arguments, political, economical and social. These arguments would fill volumes, so I cannot attempt to develop them here. Let me condense my conviction in two sentences.

First. "The development of the doctrine of international arbitration considered from the standpoint of its ultimate benefits to the human race is the most vital movement of modern times."

This sentence is not my own. I quote it from William Howard Taft.

Another sentence from the same source:

"If the United States have a mission, it is to develop. The Principle of the Brotherhood of Man into a living palpable force."

The one half of humanity that has never borne arms is today ready to blaze into this living palpable force. Perhaps the Universal Sisterhood is necessary before the Universal Brotherhood is possible.

Everything in America can start right. With us Europeans we are eternally busy shaking off the horrors of the past. You are full of strength and courage, and daring, while we grow old struggling for truth.

The strides you have made for peace and suffrage since I was over here eight years ago, in 1904, are unmeasurable. You are organizing the whole country and federating all the branch societies, and your executive head is the chief apostle of the movement.

If I tell this to a European audience they not only disbelieve it, but laugh with derision. When people speak to me of the future, I tell them "Go to America and look at the future, for there it has already arrived. They are fifty years in advance of us ethically."

We read in the prophets, "The lion and the lamb shall lie down together and a little child shall lead them. America is the young nation which shall as a regenerated race lead the lion of European militarism and the bleeding Iamb of the people to a resting place, a stoppage of these barbarities of armament. The United States must missionize darkest mid-Europe as they have Africa, the in the former the greater dangers are looming. On my war to America through Europe, I was shocked to meet, everywhere, the cry of war, and great military manoeuvreing going on in every station and capital.

In Paris, the populace was celebrating a religious holiday with shouts of "vive l'armee". "Down with the Prussian", and the papers were blazing with passionate editorials. English journalism too was recommending conscription and fanning afresh, patriotic flames. Alarm is general everywhere and no one can give a rational cause.

In America, the reverse is the truth, you are busy with welfare missions, child-saving, the religious forward movement is reinstilling some of the puritanic ideal; a renaissance of the spirit as it were. Your religious denominations are redoubling their energies to counteract the present day tendancies toward a lowering of standards. Your reformers and settlement workers are fighting slum evils and labor unrighteousness. In my city they are putting guns into the public schools and making the curriculum less and less liberal, more and more militant.

I am over in America to catch a new breath, to take a hold higher up, to see if I cannot enlist your rank and file to help us.

Hail to the future! American is the Future embodied so far as my generation shall see it realized! The American people can well afford to glorify their founders and their leaders for what they have wrought for them. Our founders died in the battles for pillage, and our leaders, to our sorrow, are busy planning still other campaigns, while the people hopelessly ask "Who is our enemy; we know no cause for war!

I have been asked to cross the water by the American women. They wrote me what can we do to help. I have taken them seriously. I have a definite plan to put before them. I must have their cooperation or yield reluctantly to the up-hill struggle which anti-war ideal is bound to have in a military power. There is but one help and that is an unmuzzled press – a press in the hands of trained independent peace workers who can tell the truth to the enslaved masses, which today are not permitted by the ruling institution to think but only to shoot, and to shoot each other to uphold their master's prestige.

Our State Church is not an avenue for free discussion. The press is the tool of the War Department. The school gives our boys rifles along with their books.

While the woman in California are glorying in their suffrage our men in Hungary are rioting for theirs. We need the enlightment of truth to know our rights before we can attain them, and we can only get that through an honest press. We have already a large body ready to blaze the response to such a voice.

The Peace Movement takes on three distinct aspects.

We consider it a Religion, as Science, and as a Warfare.

As a Religion it deals with our duties toward God and Man, and appeals through our noblest feelings of Love and Mercy to all that is divine in our souls.

As a Science it bases its arguments on History, on Statistics, on Political Economy, on the natural laws of Harmony and Progress.

As a Warfare it rouses in our hearts the energy for contest, the resolution for victory, the passion of contempt for the lies and the follies and the cruelties of the other side.

As a Religion we preach it; as a Science we teach it; as a Warfare we fight for it.

At the present hour it seems most necessary that we fight for it, for the enemy, I mean the war party, is most vigorously at work just now. Not only rumors of wars, but war itself is upon us, actual strife is being carried on between Italy and Turkey. Along side the fact of this war which carries so many sparks of danger to bring about a general conflagration, we see the unremitting preparations going on !or other wars to come.

We see the spreading of this folly, the epidemic of the age, the contest of armaments on Land, on the Seas and in the Air. So it seems that of the two great unseen powers which are struggling for supremacy the greater chance at this moment is on the side of the evil power.

Those who scoff at the peace movement assume a triumphant attitude, the skeptics lose all courage, and some of the Pacifists themselves prophecy the direst catastrophes for the near future.

The true and convinced peace workers are always optimists. They are optimists by nature. They not only wish, they not merely hope, they are certain that the world is progressing, and progressing upwards. They indeed know it. To them the coming peaceful organizations of the world is not merely possible, it is inevitable.

But our optimism does not make us blind to the events of the hour and the dangers of the future. We are not dull to the popular success of our opponents. And because just now, our adversary seems so in the ascendency, because they have been able to paralyze popular opinion with their threats and their scares, and actually have already loaded their cannons, therefore I believe that it is our task now to fight rather than to teach or to preach.

Certainly their ammunitions seem much stronger than ours. Our public treasuries are their loot; they have the money. They have the men. They have behind them the ambitions of the mighty, the speculations of the greedy, the wild instincts of the ignorant. But never mind. We have behind us the Faith, the Laws of Progress, the Laws of Nature, the Laws of Evolution, the Demands of Humanity; in one word, the Divine Plan has outlined our warfare, and we know the final victory is ours.

I want to draw your attention to one of the enemies' weapons which is most vital now. l mean the daily press. It is quite certain that the Italian-Turkish war has been forced upon the government by the public opinion of the country, which in its turn has been swayed by the vigorous campaign of some influential papers. These papers in their turn have been influenced by combined commercial and military powers.

I know in my own country that the War Department has a bureau which furnished to the daily papers not only information, but leading articles, which perhaps are not intended to push for war, but certainly work to prepare the voters and the parliament to consent to fresh appropriations for the army and the navy and the air fleet.

In passing through Paris I found the strongest war movement on foot. Chauvinism is flooding France. What fans this flame and wakes this voice of war? One need only examine the current press and the answer is clear. In every column there is an essay or an anecdote, or a rumor which either insinuates or openly speaks for war with Germany, and is kindling the military firebrand.

I noted the contents of one paper out of many. Listen to the headings of the articles and judge for yourself.

The leading editorial was signed by one of the most eloquent members of the French Parliament, of the Clerical Party, Monsieur de Mun. He pleads for a military alliance with England in view of the supremacy of the two countries in the Mediterranean, and speaks as strongly against any conciliation between England and Germany. In the next column is a questionnaire by a French officer. He asks "How will true French women salute their national flag?" The answers of the women are overflowing with patriotic and nationalistic sentiments. The writers seem to think that the only hope of their country is symbolized by the colors, and some express their eagerness to sacrifice their sons.

Next comes the report of a banquet which is given in rejoicing that the downfall of a certain Prefect has been accomplished. The man had been found guilty of protesting against a subscription instigated by military officials for purchasing airships.

Another column has the heading, "Artillery and Areoplanes "

Now if a war should come about between France and Germany the largest credit of it would certainly be due to the efforts of the daily press. This instrument is evidently the most efficient to mould the public spirit. After the long experience I have had as to the results of propaganda work I have come to the conclusion that the one thing needful to make a sentiment prevail is the daily paper.

Yet, let me emphasize that on our continent too, in spite of the reactionary forces which work to uphold the old barbaric order, other forces are mightily pushing forward to bring in the new order of Peace and Justice.

So the labor parties and all the Socialists firmly oppose every war and every increase of armaments (but alas, in official circles they are not listened to).

Among the teachers and students the ideals of the Peace movement are fast gaining ground (but alas, the Departments of Public Instruction only pursue the cultivation of local patriotism).

And in wide circles of the intelligent classes, among the learned, the poets, the artists, the peace movement possesses its daily increasing number of adherents and zealous defenders.

Europe is the oracle of the Interparliamentary Union, and the nucleus of the future peace order as a legal institution is to be found on the old continent. l mean the Tribunal of the Hague.

You are fully aware what this Tribunal signifies. You have also heard here, in Los Angeles, one of its great workers, Baron d'Estournelles, report about the history and the results of these remarkable Conferences.

But what Baron d'Estournelles could not tell you – because he would not speak in his own praise – let me add.

I was present at the pillars and saw him at work. He was one of the pillars of the Conference.

He was among the great spirits who saved its work from the hands of the opposition within the camp, which had been sent as representatives by several of the Powers, who had no concept of Peace. He was the author of Article 27, declaring that recourse to Arbitration in cases of quarrel should be considered as a duty on the part of all Governments.

His biggest backing came from the American delegation, which in its turn was encouraged by the demonstrations of the American people. Letters and petitions poured in from the states and were communicated to the entire assembly. Yours was the only Nation that sent in its public opinion to sway the Conferences.

After the establishment of the Hague Tribunal, Baron d'Estournelles achieved another great step. This Tribunal and its laws had been instituted somewhat against the good-will of certain signing Powers, and their desire was, perhaps, to let the infant die which they had helped so weakly to animate. By them the organism was not expected to functionate. Baron d'Estournelles, however, grasped this crisis and he proceeded to the United States. He best knew where help was to be had. He appealed to your President and asked him to put the first case before this Tribunal, that its wheels might be set in motion. Theodore Roosevelt did not hesitate. An old question lying in the State Department with regard to Mexican church funds was taken out of the dusty portfolios and was officially layed before the Hague Tribunal as the first International question to be solved by it. So my friend, Baron d'Estournelles, with the aid of the Americans kept the infant breathing, and you certainly know how many wars have since been averted through this Heaven sent institution. I need only to allude to the Morocco question which can never threaten us again, for all its future details and differences must come before The Hague.

You will be interested in a little personal reminiscence which shows another side of the American keenness to help internationally.

In 1904 I was received at the White House. Your energetic National business manager, the President, Theodore Roosevelt, received me, and knowing what my interests were naturally discussed with me the Peace question. He promised to try to do his best for the cause. We simple mortals are accustomed to such promises from official places, and know how they general end. Men in power usually say, "We shall see what can be done", but they are usually too busy to see, and most of the time nothing is one. But this case was different.

Mr. Roosevelt is not given to making vague statements. He promised me three definite things. He said "I will propose arbitration treaties to every European Power, also to your Austria".

"I will take the initiative and call a second Hague Conference".

"I will try to put a stop to the hateful war between Japan and Russia."

History records that he kept these three promises.

Shaking hands with me at parting, he said these ever remembered words. "Be sure Universal Peace is coming, because it is bound to come, but only step by step."

These steps are left for us to take, and it is for each one of us to ask, what is our share in the divine plan?

To return, let me say, that the agency of the press can above all other agencies help us to take these steps.

The adversaries forces must be counter-balanced by similar methods of warfare.

The adversary also uses the capitalist and banker. We must show to these that it is more profitable to call a halt in our war costs rather than have their government securities bankrupted. The banker must refuse to allow the race to be bankrupted. We must fight through the capitalist to make disarmament more profitable than armament, the enormous cost of which is now almost prohibitory.

War must be put "on its last legs" by areoplanes, not aided by them. And the press must help us to it all. Today it is more of a yellow peril to us than any yellow peril in the little cherry blossoming flower garden of Japan.

The peace movement and the craze for armament seem to keep pace in progressing. The more Hague Conferences, the more war taxes.

The duel between Peace and War is on. They have picked up the glove between them, and have crossed swords in mortal combat.

It will be the great achievement of the 20th Century, and we are sure of the winner. For Might is not meeting Might to prove the victor right, Might must show her century blood-stained hand and come under the judgement of Divine Love, which knows no force or enemy that can defeat it.

And as we fight we need not cease to teach. At least we must teach the young.

Teach them a high faith in the Right.

Source: Von Suttner, B. Speech addressed to Pacifists in San Francisco (1912): Collection Suttner-Fried.