Bertha von Suttner

Peace and Arbitration – July 12, 1912

Bertha von Suttner
July 12, 1912— Chicago, Illinois
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I should like to ask the question whether education is merely or especially a matter of schools and universities and has to deal only with childhood and youth. It seems to me that education must be continuous and that the greatest educators are life and experience. Every grown man or woman who wishes to deal with one of the great problems of the time must practically and unceasingly educate himself or herself in order to grasp its multifarious aspects. And since every progress consists in the victory of a new thought over old prejudices, it cannot be thru the knowledge of past facts and data, laid down by former generations into textbooks, that the new ethical and political and social systems can vanquish the old ones.

But there is one thing that in modem times can be taught and is being taught to our young, namely, that the world is moving onward and upward; and that therefore the student mind must be prepared to open to the new lights which are continually breaking forth from life and science. This domain is the future and it has hitherto been a great error of educational systems to nurture a sort of idolatry for the past, as if all wisdom, all heroism, all religion had attained perfection in the foregone centuries. I do not speak of America, which is young itself and which forecasts all its ideals into the future. I speak of the educational systems in my country which breed the adoration of the past, the conservation of the present, and the dread of everything that is new.

You know that the subject of my discourse is universal peace and that certainly is a question of the coming times, for the old war system is still in force in our days, in spite of the fact that the ideals of peace have already been introduced into practice by existing institutions. I mean The Hague conferences, the arbitration treaties, etc. On this field appears most conspicuously the difference between the spirit that reigns in your American educational practice and the spirit prevailing in the schools of middle Europe.

With great gratification I see that in your programs the peace movement with its history, its principles, and its aims has been given a broad place, that contests and prizes on the subject are introduced into the school-play and that Peace Day is celebrated in the schools and cosmopolitan clubs founded in the universities.

In our country it would be out of the question; no such thing exists. There, the instruction of youth is entirely based on the military regime. The widest space in history is given to the description of battles and the glorification of warriors; the whole system tends to the training of obedient servants to the throne, the altar, and the army – a narrow-minded patriotism consisting of pride in the armed world-power of one's own nation, and the contempt of other nations, and unquestioning readiness to fight at the first sign of the war-lord and to sacrifice any sums for the demands of the war department. Such is the highest virtue which the official school methods tend to implant in the mind of the growing generation.

Lately rifle shooting has been introduced in our schools. The Austrian minister of public instruction visited a college to assist in the shooting exercises of the boys and pathetically expressed his satisfaction thus:

I am very glad to see that in spite of the protestations of some mothers and some masters, the healthy and useful branch of rifle shooting has been introduced into the school plan: but do not think, my boys, that this merely means healthy exercise or the acquisition of dexterity. You must look higher, you must elevate your thoughts to the ideal aim of which you never must lose sight, the aim to defend your fatherland at the call of our most high sovereign to whom you must ever be ready to sacrifice your goods and your blood.

If one approaches such a high functionary with the proposal to prepare youth for the new order of things which, thru the Hague Tribunal, the arbitration treaties, and the common demands of democracy shall be able to avert the dangers of war, then they will answer you:

In our seriously conducted institutions there is no room for such dreams. Nay, we consider it as dangerous to the necessary military spirit and patriotic feelings that such Utopian matters should be mentioned in the schools.

Now see the difference: last year your Secretary of the Interior issued a circular recommending that all the teachers of the state should be supplied with programs for the celebration of May 18, Peace Day, and in this edict the statesman said:

Whatever we want to have in the nation for tomorrow, we must put into the schools of today, these workshops of humanity. Among the many movements of modem times for the advancement of civilization and the relief of humanity from unnecessary burdens of expenditure and paralyzing fear, none is more significant than that for arbitration and world-wide peace.

So here, the fundamental, principles of peace are fully recognized as that which is wanted in the nation of tomorrow, and I deeply rejoice to find it so. It corroborates my confident hope that these feelings and these methods of the New World will spread and conquer the ancient traditions and stagnant spirit of the Old World. Do not reproach me for lacking in patriotism in bringing before you accusations of my own country. It is love for my country and for humanity which spurs me to confide to you my bitter grief and to tell you the wretched truth. You must know how things stand in middle Europe and then you will be more eager to help us with your example and with your acts. You must send peace emissaries across the sea from your universities to ours; you must try to missionize our youth and our teachers. If you could but realize it, this is necessary to you in self-defense. The interrelation of the nations is now so close that the progress which is attained in one country must modify the others or nothing is permanently gained.

The danger of expansion of the war spirit in Europe is so intense at the present hour that if it is not counteracted a general conflagration of the whole mass may be expected and would retard even your civilization.

In all the civic and social complications with which you are wrestling in this country, you are handicapped by mid-European problems and vices. The educational body today is forced to confront most of the social and economic questions.

The child without the breakfast is the doorway into a vista of social wrongs. We may procure his breakfast for him – but we hesitate to open the doors even for a glimpse. In our informed imagination we catch the swift picture of the sweatshop, the impossible tenement, with its child laborers of delinquents, starvelings, degenerates, tuberculosis, helpless motherhood, the shop girl, the white slave, and so on ad infinitum. Without discussing the remedies, let me ask what is the cause, the farthest-lying cause? In Europe mother and child have for centuries labored while war and army demands father and son. Some of our oldest architecture proves that the sunless tenement has long been occupied by the impossible poor; also it was a sort of communal defense in time of attack. The white slave and the illegitimate are a war-evil in a military nation.

In a nutshell: these problems have been the creation of militarism and sent to you full-fledged by the shipload, and in your country with a federal government spending 70 per cent of its income for war measures you are not financially competent to cope with these important problems. Your purse strings are pulled by the armament trust first and not by the educator and conservationist.

I give these suggestions knowing after all that your educator, in the last analysis, is the agency which shall solve these complications, as he teaches history, social science, physiology, and the rest.

And now to return to the narrower confines of my theme, peace and its relationship to the teaching of the young, I should say:

Teach them the high faith in the right.

Teach them to stand by this faith when they vote some day.

Teach them that your federation does not stand alone for justice to each other, but for justice to every other.

Teach them the ideal of the brotherhood of the world from ocean to ocean, thru the great canals, across the Pacific Isles, into the heart of the colored races. Teach it as a standard and example to every other power. Teach them that the ideal of their nation is not to give history another "world-power" to overshadow the rest, but to be a nation brave enough to unfold universal brotherhood, the final religion, to all the rest.

Teach them the courage to refuse to be conquerors. Teach them good will to every race and tongue.

Teach them to aim to keep their nation as the leader for movements for righteousness and peace among men.

Teach them that pure patriotism means world-welfare.

Teach them that the greatest protection to their nation is in its moral courage.

Teach them that good will is a stronger protection than armies and navies.

Give them the vision of a united congress of all states, working for a new international federation, and international ethical co-operation.

Teach your youth that they are the real Peace League of the present and of the future; that upon them as an army, not of scouts, but of lovers, the future ideal of this race and all races depends.

Teach them to be interpatriotic, international, interracial.

And while you teach these all-consuming ideals to your boys and girls, you must watch that you do not co-operate with the enemy without knowing it.

Oppose all legislation which appropriates your money for armaments instead of development.

Oppose the fortifying of your great seaports and your canal which are destined to be the bridge between the races.

Oppose all plans to put rifles into your schools.

Awake from the illusion that the Boy Scouts movement is for manly development and character. It was designed by great war captains as the forerunner of conscription to make it easy for your boys to be forced into the army.

Question closely your military schools and your Red Cross movement. Know that the gun merchants are lobbying to sell their wares for sheer profit and are always busy in working up scares to rush thru the appropriations they covet.

And now in closing, let me say to my fellow-workers this:

The explorations of the astronomer have already given us the hope of the interworld relationships – relationships which we can never hope to enjoy save thru our science-illuminated vision.

But we know that the same law of harmony which controls the cosmos also controls our social progress. We must unfold for our local star, this sphere, the glory and the realization of the interpax ideal for every atom of humanity.

von Suttner, Bertha. 1912. "Peace and Arbitration." Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Fiftieth Annual Meeting (National Education Association of the United States), 316-319. Google Scholar.