Carrie Chapman Catt

The Problem Stated - 1924

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1924
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“Carthage must be destroyed”, said Cato every day as he rose to address the Roman senate. Today we are faced by an enemy more cruel than Carthage, more lustful of power than Napoleon, more tyrannical than Prussianism, more bloodthirsty than Moloch, an enemy of which, like Cato, we should declare every day “it must be destroyed”, until we have finally extirpated it forever. If not destroyed, it will destroy us. I speak of war. War must be outlawed if humanity is to survive.

I believe the thinking world subscribed to this statement, but the thinking world says, “How are we to enforce the abolition of war?” And among our various solutions, all of which stop short of abolishing war as a recognized institution, we limp, choosing neither God nor Baal, but because we choose not God, compelled to leave the mastery to Baal.

War today is a recognized institution like marriage. Marriage is recognized by law and by the church – and so is war. War is the legal and sanctioned method of settling international disputes.

I suggest the abolition of war as a recognized method of settling international disputes, to be accomplished by one simple step. This step constitutes in my opinion the essential prerequisite, the step which must be taken, whatever other steps we take, or machinery we adopt, if war is to be eliminated. It is:

That war be outlawed and declared a crime under the law of nations and that its use as a means of settlement of international disputes be abolished.

I do not claim that a declaration that war is illegal will of itself abolish ware. We cannot abolish crime by legislation. Making a law against murder will not of itself eliminate murder. But murder cannot be repressed so long as it is sanctioned by law. Neither can war be destroyed so long as it is sanctioned by law. No court, no league, no association of nations, no peace plan, can secure and establish world peace so long as war is legal and sanctioned. Peace is the condition of not having war. In order not to have war we must take away its sanction – make it illegal and disreputable. In order to make war illegal and disreputable, it must be declared against the law. I do not say that Peace will be established through outlawing war alone, but I say that lasting peace cannot be established unless and until war is outlawed.

And this is true because we cannot in general stop a man or a nation from doing what the man or the nation has a legal right to do.

I do not propose to eliminate war that is really defensive. Defensive war cannot at present be nor should it at present be eliminated. Henceforth, when I speak of eliminating war I mean by that phrase the elimination of aggressive war. But after all the question of really defensive war is academic. If there were no aggressive war, there would be no defensive war.

Some men say, however, that we cannot abolish aggressive war, because war is always said to be in self-defense. But in individual law the law of self-defense is made so plain that a man must prove self-defense in order to justify a killing. That is, if I claim in an individual trial, that I killed a man in self-defense, if I can establish that I in good faith believed and had reasonable grounds to believe that I was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at the hands of the man I killed, under the law I am justified in the killing. But I cannot set up that the man I killed was a mean and brutal man whom I expected to kill me and that I shot him first on general grounds only, without offering some testimony that I was in imminent danger upon the particular occasion of the killing. Under the criminal law I have to prove self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence, and the fact that I say I killed in self-defense does not avail me without proof. When an international code is written condemning war as murder, nations claiming self-defense will have to come within that law and will have to establish self-defense in order to justify making war.

The declaration that war is illegal is not the only step which must be taken to establish peace. Many other steps must eventually follow. Some of these steps can now be taken. This declaration, however, is so much more fundamental than any other step, so much more indispensable a prerequisite toward peace, and at the same time so immediately feasible , that I intend here to discuss this one proposition only.

And the proposition simply put is that we cannot stop a man nor a nation from doing what the man or nation has a legal right to do. Therefore, in order to repress war we must first take away the right to make war.

This plan is not in opposition to other plans. It is necessary the fulfillment of other peace plans, but it roots deeper than them all. It is basic. We cannot disarm unless we outlaw war, unless war be outlawed, nations must be armed, just as men must carry arms wherever murder is the rule.

We cannot abolish the manufacturing of munitions for profit except by outlawing war, when war ceases and powder is used for the peaceful pursuits of commerce and the fields, dollars will not flow so readily from the shedding of blood. In a word, machinery for international co-operation cannot achieve peace in a world which sanctions war.

And I am not speaking as a dreamer, but out of my own experience. I have tried and heard many criminal cases and am aware of the fact that there is an irreducible minimum of criminal activity. There will always be some crime and some violence. How do \we handle it? Do we say, "Let it run riot – it always has been and always will be? “Abolish the law against killing and shooting, because some men are criminal at heart?" No, we erect a standard of not shooting and not killing, and we enact that standard into law and make shooting and killing disreputable. Society does not in private law condone crime; it stigmatizes and penalizes crime.

There will for some time be an irreducible minimum of criminal activity among nations. I intend to call it by its name: Lust of territory, lust of dominion, desire for empire, willingness to kill the inhabitants of other nations is criminal. Why let this criminality run riot, and say: "It always has been, it always will be." We did not wait for men to become perfect before we enacted individual law; we cannot afford to wait for nations to become perfect before we enact international law. When they become perfect no law will be necessary.

We must enact international law, and that law must declare that war is a crime against civilization.

It would not be worth while to urge a step so revolutionary as this, if the people were not through with war. The peoples of the world are hungering and thirsting for peace. In our own country business men, farmers, church groups, organized women's clubs, have repeatedly demanded the abolition of war, A remarkable compilation of Isabelle Kendig-Gill, called "The Public and Peace" giving resolutions of national organizations urging the substitution of law for war in world affairs, includes resolutions passed by the American Bankers Association, the Chambers of Commerce of the United States, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Federated American Engineering Societies, the International Association of Rotary Clubs, the National Association of Credit Men, the National Association of Manufacturers, the World Free Masons, and many others. Space forbids us to quite these resolutions in full, but all with one accord, in different words, express the craving for peace or the conviction that war must be abolished. The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America in its declaration of principles adopted December, 1921, declares "We believe in a warless world and dedicate ourselves to its achievement.” The Committee on Legislature of the American Federation of Teachers in 1923 recommended legislation empowering the President to call a world conference composed of representatives of the people, to consider economic and military matters of vital concern to all, "to the end that imperialistic conflicts may be avoided or outlawed," The American Farm Bureau Federation, in a resolution passed in November, 1921, pledged to our government and its representatives at the Arms Limitations Conference, its utmost support "to the end that armed conflict between nations may be forever abolished from the face of the earth," The editors of the American Railroad Labor Publications, in a resolution passed March, 1923, recorded itself as "giving its wholehearted support to this and every other movement to outlaw and abolish war," The National Trade Women's League, in 1922, demanded that "we outlaw aggressive war". The International Federation of Working Women, in 1923, proposed to declare "war to be a crime under the law of nations". The American Unit Association of University Women, in 1923, declared that "it favors the outlawry of war by international agreement”. The Council of Jewish Women, in 1922 , declared it to be their conviction that "war should be abolished and should be outlawed by international agreement. The General Federation of Women's Clubs, in 1922, declared "we believe that war is the supreme folly of the earth". The National Federation of Business and Professional women's Clubs, in 1923, affirmed their conviction that "war cannot be prevented while it is legal and sanctioned". The National League of Girls Clubs, in 1922, declared that "war should be outlawed and abolished". The National League of Women Voters, in 1923, urged our government to take further steps “to eliminate causes of war and to abolish war itself". The National Women's Christian Temperance Union, in 1922, urged "the outlawry of war by international law", The Service Star Legion, in 1923, demanded "the promotion of an international code for the maintenance of permanent peace, thereby substituting law for war". The Young Women's Christian Association, in 1922, declared that "the further use of war as an instrument for the settlement of disputes should be abolished, and that war between nations should be declared to be a public crime and should be outlawed." The Inter-Allied Federation of the Veterans of the World War, (FIDAC) in October, 1922, demanded that "an international court be established to outlaw war". And any one familiar with the public mind will agree that that this is the one subject upon which humanity unites – in desiring the abolition of war. Only those classes which have a special vested interest in war raise their voice in its defense, and these classes are numerically small. Republicans and Democrats members of every political party, demand peace. Men and women of all walks of life alike view war with common hatred. In fact, President Harding probably made as true a statement as was ever uttered by the nation's leader, when he spoke at Arlington before the Disarmament Conference, and said, "If I catch the conscience of America we'll lead the world to outlaw war."

The people are through with war but the right to war is still written in the law of nations. We must crystallize the people’s conviction into law and make mass-killing in law what it is in morals – international murder, against the law branded with shame.


There is now no law, nor any declaration made by the nations forbidding war in general, unlimited terms. War, that is the killing of men in mass, has not been declared a crime. Fighting between individuals, except in self-defense, is criminal; purposeful and malicious killing, except in self-defense, is murder. But war is not a crime. The only aggressive wars which now lack sanction of law are wars of liberation, like our own revolution of 1776. Now wars of liberation against intolerable oppression have something of self-defense about them and in so far are justifiable, but these wars are not legal. Did you ever stop to think that if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and all the patriots – our forefathers – who stood barefoot and bleeding in the snow at Valley Forge, had taken part in an unsuccessful war, – if they had lost, they all could have been strung on gibbets as high as Haman, because they were traitors to King George and they were fighting the only kind of aggressive warfare which is illegal.

There was some talk after the war of 1914, of trying the Kaiser for starting the war. That talk was pure political bluff. There never has been and there is not now any law under which a man can be tried for starting such a war. War itself is legal and sanctioned, and therefore the man who starts a war is entirely within his rights. And so it comes to this, that if I kill one man with deliberation and premeditation, I can be electrocuted; but if I lay in train the plans that lead to the killing of ten million men in war, no matter with what deliberate disregard of human rights, I go scot free. No punishment can be meted out to me. And that is because war is still legal and sanctioned. Mass killing is not a crime.

The covenant of the League of Nations does not outlaw war. The article which comes the nearest to declaring war illegal is Article X, which reads as follows:

“1. The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression, the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.”

This article, good so far as it goes, does not forbid war. By implication it is an agreement not to resort to war but good only as against the members of the League. Under this article no member of the League could be held to have violated its covenants for committing an act of aggressive war against America. Certain articles in the covenant place deterrent upon the making of war. Opponents of the League ought in fairness to concede that these provisions went further in placing moral deterrents upon many nations than any treaty ever before entered into. But in the end these articles recognize and justify war as the final conclusion.

The treaty of mutual guarantee lately offered to the League of Nations for consideration by the separate governments which can be found in the document called “Reduction of Armaments: Report of the third Committee to the Fourth Assembly. Draft treaty of mutual assistance”, makes a declaration that war is illegal. The first paragraph of Article 1, which contains this declaration reads as follows:

“The high contracting parties solemnly declare that aggressive war is an international crime and severally undertake that no one of them will be guilty of its commission.”

We may indeed congratulate ourselves that this strong statement is included in the treaty. Unfortunately the article contains the following important addendum:

“A war shall not be considered as a war of aggression if waged by a State which is party to a dispute and has accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Council, the verdict of the permanent Court of International Justice, or an arbitral award against a High Contracting Party which has not accepted it, provided, however, that the first State does not intend to violate the political independence or the territorial integrity of the High Contracting Party.”

This second paragraph not only limits the application of the first declaration, but largely destroys the moral value of the declaration itself. That is, war is made illegal – but – and except – in other words, the article as it now stands is not a sweeping outlawry of war.

Moreover, when war is outlawed, although it relates only to aggressive war, the declaration of outlawry ought to make war illegal in general terms. In our laws against murder we do not declare killing illegal and except killing in self-defense we make no exception in our illegal condemnation of killing. We declare killing illegal, and the exception is left to be established under the judicial law. When war is outlawed, by the same analogy, war should be declared illegal, and the justification should be set up as matter of defense, not as an inherent part of the basic law against mass killings.

We have certain laws about war, but none against war. There are laws as to how war shall be made, but they do not forbid war. There are laws that you shall kill this way or that way, but not that you shall not kill in war. There are laws that you may kill cleanly with a smooth bullet, but not roughly with a dum-dum bullet. Just as if the legislature should enact a law that it is not murder to shoot a man so neatly that little blood flows, but that if you cut his throat from end to end that is murder because it is not aesthetic. There are laws that you shall kill certain people and not certain other people, but not that you shall not kill at all in war. There are laws that you shall kill the young and not the old. And I say that the world needs the young more than the old, not because they are better than the old, but because the young have more life to give the world. There are laws that you may kill the men and not the women. I should think every American woman would repudiate that doctrine. Who wants to live when the men of her own flesh and blood are food for cannon?

And when war comes all of these rules are discarded. We kill women with men, the old with the young, little children, the sick with the sound, we fail to regard hospitals, and we use poison gas. And America, the first great nation to live in constant friendship with her neighbors, invents a gas so deadly that the experts say it will destroy whole cities, the old with the young, the women with the men, the babes in arms, and will render the very soil infertile, as if nature in repudiation of so malign an influence refused to reproduce. There are atrocities of war, but they pale into insignificance beside War which is the supreme atrocity.

It is not enough for us to regard war as the incalculable folly and tragedy of all time. We must go further and acknowledge that it is the highest moral wrong which exists in civilization. And even as the ancient code declared “Thou shalt not kill”, so surely must the modern code declare “Thou shalt not war”.


What form the must take is plain. It must declare that war is a crime and outlaw it as such. Who should enact the law is just as plain. It must eventually be enacted by the civilized world. It need not, however, at first be enacted by a legislature or Parliament. It could be enacted by a simple conference of nations as a treaty or by separate nations in separate treaties.

The remarkable thing about this proposition is that it is feasible. It could be accomplished in a number of ways. In whatever way the action is taken, no other peace project would be hampered. It might be done by the League of Nations; the covenant of the League of Nations might outlaw war. It might be done aside from the League of Nations, through other instrumentalities. It could be accomplished by a conference of nations similar to the Disarmament Conference at Washington, or the declaration that war is illegal could be enunciated in simply treaty.

Such a treaty to be completely effective should be signed by all the nations of the world. The first step could be taken, however, not necessarily through universal treaty, but through treaties between single nations or between a few nations of the world. This year America might offer single treaties to Denmark, Holland, Norway, Sweden, China, Brazil, England and France – in a word to every nation of the world, agreeing that henceforth the use of warfare as between ourselves is illegal and abolished.

The treaty might be offered in a form somewhat as follows:

The High Contracting Parties being desirous of establishing Peace, which end can be secured only by the elimination of war, agree to the following provisions:


The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare that war is an international crime and severally covenant that neither of them will resort to war as a means of settling international disputes.


The present treaty shall come into force as soon as it shall have been ratified by the State to which it is offered.


The present treaty shall remain in force for a period of fifteen years from the date of its entry into force. After this period it will be prolonged automatically unless denounced by one or the other of the High Contracting Powers.

Suppose we made this offer. Would America have changed her international policy? Would she not rather be repeating her old belief in friendship between nations and her old hatred of aggressive warfare? Would our name be tarnished by the proposal? Would it not rather shine with more luster than before? If no nation accepted the treaty America would have lost nothing and moral sentiment against war would have gained.

But it is probable that some power in the world would accept the offer. Some small nations might be so eager to enter into such a treaty with a first-class power that they would rush to sign it ere the ink was dry.

Neither should we find ourselves entirely without sympathy among the great powers. It is significant that the sub-committee of the League of Nations, in reporting the Treaty of Mutual Guarantee, included a statement (qualified and limited as I have shown above) that war is a crime against the law of nations. This fact shows that even among the great nations such a proposal would meet with friendship.

The enunciation of this law in separate treaties should not, however, conclude the matter. The law against war should be expressed in more than one solemn way. The declaration should be written into the basic law of every association of nations. No association of nations can perform its work if its work is to prevent war, until this declaration is uttered. This federation of nations cannot prevent war until it pledges to itself and to the world that its purpose is to abolish the use of war. If an organization is formed to consummate a particular purpose, the purpose must be declared either before or simultaneously with the formation of the organization. Otherwise, the organization has not before it a standard towards which to work(?).

The declaration that war is illegal and a crime should be written into the law of the United States and of every nation. It is of equal moment with any declaration contained in any bill of rights ever written. It should be written into the Constitution of every international association. It should be enunciated in every possible form, in every language spoken, in every center of population. Every church, every lodge, every club, every group, should express the truth that the killing of men in mass is just as much murder as the killing of one man, that war is illegal and disreputable, in order that the moral force of humanity may mobilize itself behind the enforcement of this law.


The law that war is illegal must be enforced – (1) by a court with jurisdiction over nations, with power to declare nations in the wrong, basing its decrees upon a declared law that war is a crime; (2) By non-physical pressure inserted through public opinion, and (3) by an economic and moral penalty.

Before going on to discuss these subjects, let us admit that at this time we cannot be completely certain of every last detail of the machinery which will be built u through the ages to enforce international law. Let us grant for once that we are unreasonable in expecting the sketch of our great edifice to carry out in every slightest specification the details of organization which will eventually shape themselves. A simple international conference could take the indispensable first step toward outlawing war, or separate treaties may constitute that step. The machinery cannot be properly sketched in detail until that step is taken. When society declared that murder was a crime, men the evolved procedure to enforce the law. When “Thou shalt not kill” was written, there were no constables, nor courts. When society declares that war is murder, that war is criminal, we shall evolve the procedure to enforce the law. Murder had to be declared a crime before the machinery developed. Before we can evolve machinery with entire definiteness for the abolishing of war as a settlement of disputes, we made that declaration, the machinery will be built. The declaration must come before the procedure can be evolved completely. In its final form it may differ somewhat from anything now contemplated, but men will build machinery if once they declare the law. The machinery must include a court with jurisdiction.

Taking up the question of the enforcement of this law by a court with power, I intend to discuss that question, not from the angle of the present powers of the Hague Court nor of the League Court, but only from the angle that a court with power based upon law can help to do away with violence.

War has many remote causes. The immediate ostensible cause is always some dispute. You cannot eliminate war unless you substitute some other method of handling the dispute. Society has worked out no substitute for violence better than an adjudication by a fair tribunal. A court which could call nations before it and could dispose of controversies apt to produce war, would aid greatly in eliminating war. Such a court will never rise to its full dignity and power while aggressive war is legal and sanctioned. War must be made illegal, or nations will still use war. Nations are particularly apt to use war if their cause is weak, but when war is made disreputable, nations will seek some other method, and it will be made disreputable by being made illegal.

How can a court stop war if there is no law against war? I have sat in murder trials. How could I even impanel a jury to try a man for murder if there was no law making murder a crime and punishing it as such? If I have before me the most heinous murderer, I cannot try him much less sentence him after conviction, unless there is a law defining murder. We have defined murder and we even electrocute men for the killing of individual men. But we have not declared war to be a crime, and so no court in the world can now prevent nor even condemn a war.

I consider the establishment of a court with jurisdiction as vital to world peace. But the indispensable first step is the outlawry of war which, as I have said, can be accomplished by a simple conference or by separate treaty. While a court, which could hear all international controversies would always be helpful in maintaining friendly international relations, in many cases no court could maintain peace while war is legal, because we cannot stop a nation from doing what it has a legal right to do.

Either the League Court or the Hague Court may develop into the court which will enforce this law. Outlaw war and the League Court and the Hague Court will both be immeasurably strengthened. And this is of the utmost importance, because the machinery to abolish war must include a functioning court based, not upon force, but upon law.

The main factor in enforcing this law will be public opinion. The court’s decrees must be enforced by public opinion mainly, and not by physical power. We cannot eliminate force between nations, by using force. One reason for this is that the nations will not readily consent to a super-government. To be practical, in order to function properly, any international organization must be based upon agreement only, (that is treaty); being based on agreement, the organization will be disrupted if force is used. Moreover, the seeds of hatred sown in using force to repress war are just as evil as those sown in the war which the force was employed to repress.

Laws are not enforced through physical force only; they are also enforced through public opinion. The better part of law enforcement is done through public conscience. This is so because real laws, which have a moral basis, are the expression of the moral feeling of the community. We have in Cleveland about twelve hundred policemen. There are eight hundred thousand people in that city, and if they wished to organize a head-hunt, the police would be powerless. Most of the citizens are kept in check by what? Not by courts, not by constables, not by prisons, but by their intent not to break the law. This intent not to break the law is the moral feeling of the community and it results from many spiritual and educational forces, which are vitalized by belief in a declared law. The same force of public opinion can be built up among the nations. It cannot be built up until the moral law that war is illegal is expressed so that the spiritual strength of the world, always much greater than we admit, may rally to its backing. War must be outlawed, in order that this spiritual force which will teach the nations not to “learn war any more”, not to want “to learn war any more”, may be released and vitalized. At present it is impotent. This spiritual force – this desire not to war, because war is a crime – will finally be the most potent force toward peace, and hence we should express the law if for no other purpose than to release this force.

Some say a court which does not enforce its decrees by physical force will be valueless. There are three answers to this doctrine:

  1. Physical enforcement of court decrees against an individual does not constitute war. Physical enforcement of court decrees against a nation will always be war or the equivalent of war. If we keep in mind that our purpose is to abolish war it is plain that physical force against a nation which is war or its equivalent, cannot be used for that purpose. You cannot abolish war by making war.

  2. Physical force, or war as a system of settling disputes, has been the colossal inefficiency of all time. Shall we confess that man who has chained the forces of nature, who has organized society into nations and has built up individual law, is incapable of extending law to world problems so as to abolish this destructive evil? Let us never yield to that counsel of despair. It can be done, but it cannot be done through the names which all history has shown to be the gigantic failure, through physical force or war itself.

  3. Faith and confidence, not physical force, have been at the basis of most international relations in recent centuries. It is not visionary to claim that the world court can enforce its decrees by international public opinion. Upon that precise basis most of the treaties made between nations in recent centuries have been built. Treaties based upon mutual agreement have covered the great subjects of immigration, postal systems, boundaries and trade rights. These agreements have been based upon nothing but mutual consent and yet with rare exception they have been observed. The very outcry against the entry of Belgium by Germany indicates the belief of the civilized world in maintaining faith. These treaties are made and observed between parties, one of which often could not possibly use force to secure her rights. Thus Denmark could never by physical means enforce a treaty with the United States, nor Uruguay with England. Asking for a treaty to be enforced by faith and confidence and not by physical means which must be war is therefore far from visionary. Also the only force which carries out the decree of the United States Supreme Court between the different states is this intent to observe the law, this non-physical force. For centuries the affairs of nations have been regulated by treaties unenforceable by physical power, and the proposition to abolish war by treaty is merely a proposition to use this simple method of agreement so wide-spread and so usually observed, to rid of its greatest common enemy.

Even in the individual criminal law, the greatest factor in law enforcement is non-physical power. For instance, the drastic penalty rarely prevents killing. Criminologists agree that drastic penalty does not usually repress crime, saying that swiftness and certainty of punishment is a deterrent, but not the mere heaviness of penalty. Sometimes this conclusion seems unfounded. From time to time some particular execution really has effect upon some particular gang in some particular locality. In general, however, in the physical enforcement of the law, repression of crime is accomplished not by drastic penalty, but by speed and certainty of punishment The criminal shrinks from a quick, sure penalty. But most people are restrained from committing crime, not by fear of physical penalty so much as by moral considerations, namely, that it is wrong to commit crime and that it is disreputable to commit crime.

Why, in general, do we kill? There is, I grant, in every community, a criminal fringe of population which has no respect for life. On the other hand, most people do not kill. In olden times on the contrary, slight controversies were settled by recourse to violence much more than now. For small debts, for family feuds, for slightest words, and for smaller reasons, killing was done. Statistics were not kept on these killings, but the fact that the church set aside certain days as the “Peace of God” in which killing should not be done, shows that life was held very lightly.

Why in these days do the great mass of people not kill and not intend to kill? We still cherish animosity. Often we feel that some person encumbers the earth, that the earth would be well rid of him. Why do we not rid the earth of him? For three reasons:

  1. It is against the law to kill. There is a very heavy penalty for killing.

  2. It is disreputable to kill. The man who slays another is an outcast.

  3. We think that it is wrong to kill, that human life is sacred and that as individuals we have no right to take human life. This is the most potent reason of all.

These reasons appeal in varying measure or not at all to different classes of a community. The habitual criminal does not care that it is wrong, nor that it is disreputable to kill. The penalty makes him care a little that it is against the law to kill. The man to whom appearances are everything cares most of all that it is not respectable to kill. But some of us refrain from killing and from crime for all three reasons, that it is against the law, that it is disreputable, and that it is morally wrong.

Now it is against the law to kill, because society realizes that it is wrong to kill; and it is disreputable to kill because society recognizes killing as wrong and makes it against the law.

Applying this fact to international controversy, when will the nations cease to instigate and perpetrate mass murder, that is to say, deliberate premeditated, unjustified war? They will cease when they recognize that war, that is, mass murder, is morally wrong and is disreputable. In order to make war disreputable, it must be declared morally wrong, and in no such solemn way can that declaration be made as by declaring it against the law. There will be real progress toward world peace when the nations recognize the moral indefensibility of war and make its use disreputable among the nations. Then and not until then shall we build up that public opinion against war which will be the greatest factor in enforcing the law against war.

What penalty shall be exacted for the law’s violation?

There must, of course, be some penalty for the breaking of the law against war. This penalty must not include the use of force by one nation or one group of nations upon another. It is sometimes argues that if it is proper to use force upon an individual and put him in jail, it must be equally proper to use force upon a nation to compel it to obey the law. But there is a vital distinction between bringing force to bear upon an individual and bringing force to bear upon a nation. The use of force against an individual, although it is physical violence, does not amount to war. The use of physical force against a nation must always amount to war or to a threat of war, and you cannot stop war by making war.

But what is the real inwardness of the penalty which any court imposes? Is the major part of that penalty the actual punishment? Or is it not rather the adjudication that the defendant has done the crime with which he was charged? Spending ten years in a penitentiary is a drastic penalty. But can that penalty be compared, measured in the suffering of one’s self, one’s family, one’s friends, with the adjudication that one has been guilty of the offense against society of arson, or burglary, or murder? In the withdrawal from human society, from friendly companionship which one suffers in the loss of economic opportunity, - in a thousand and one ways society works out upon the criminal a penalty infinitely greater than the mere penalty of losing personal freedom. Moreover this penalty echoes down through the ages. When in fact, the man who suffered is in the dust, his descendants are ashamed of him for doing the thing for which he was found guilty.

This is just as true of nations as of individuals. The great penalty in international relationships, when the moral forces of humanity have organized themselves together, will be not this or than form of physical force but the adjudication that the nation has been guilty of criminal violence, of lust of territory, of willingness to kill inhabitants of other nations, of organized mass murder. To procure that adjudication there must of course be a court created with power to decide any controversy between right and wrong, and with power to hear a case against any nation in the world, whether that nation wants the case heard or not. The adjudication of guilt will constitute the greatest penalty.

It is possible, however, to conceive of still further penalty – a penalty more definite and more important, – feasible but not involving the use of armed force. We shall work out an employment of the economic boycott to prevent war. If another war arose, the mothers and fathers of the United States, who want war to be cut off at the tap root, could band themselves into a huge society which would pledge itself to buy no goods manufactured in the nation at fault. That extra legal, extra governmental action would of itself constitute a drastic penalty. No nation could survive that boycott. Of itself such action would eliminate war.


I have said that this step declaring war illegal constituted the basic prerequisite toward peace. The outlawry of war is the indispensable first step. The Court, while of value in many directions, will often prove useless to prevent war unless war is outlawed. I shall have failed in my purpose if I have not indicated that in my opinion we should demand of whatever peace organization we are members, that it recognize as the foundation which we must have if we are ever to build world peace, the declaration that war is illegal.

Even if all members of the League were to sign the compulsory protocol, agreeing to submit all controversies to the League Court, this action while of the greatest aid to world peace would not be a substitute for the outlawry of war.

In order to eliminate war we not only have to build up a substitute for war but we have to condemn war, to brand it and make it disreputable. Establishing a method of feasible determination of controversies is, of course, of the highest practical importance, but an agreement to submit controversies to a world court even though signed by all the nations of the world is not of itself the branding of war.

War must be branded as outlaw, because without that step moral opinion against war cannot be built up to its highest strength. The agreement to submit controversies to a world court itself alone cannot build up to the requisite strength the moral opinion of the world against war unless we declare the utter indefensibility of murder in mass.

Moreover, when war is outlawed a nation which makes war will be violating the solemn declaration against war. If war is not outlawed and if the nations simply agree to submit their controversies to a court, a nation which makes war will indeed be violating its agreement to submit its controversies to a court instead of to armed battle for determination, but will not be violating any basic declaration against war.

This is a program upon which both proponents of the League of Nations should unite. Declaring war a crime can be done whether or not we enter the League, and making that declaration will displace nothing in existence. It strengthens the League of Nations. It strengthens the moral standing of both international courts. This is true, first, because it is the moral feeling in the ultimate analysis which will prevent war, and secondly, because the expression of that moral feeling will release still greater moral support for peace.

This proposition transcends all plans and all machinery. It denies no movement which is made in the direction of international peace, but it gives the basic foundation without which peace can never be built.

To do this, to secure a treaty declaring war illegal, we must organize for peace. Did you ever stop to think that we have never organized for peace, only for war? One regiment of soldiers has more organization than all the peace advocates in America. We should have a ministry of peace as well as of war. We must organize for peace and we must turn out memory and our energy to peace instead of war, And in doing so we shall be true to the spirit of America, War violates our sacredest traditions, including the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Right to Life. Did you ever think of the life, young life, ardent life, vigorous life, poured out like water, in utter denial of this, the most basic of all the rights demanded for us in the Declaration of Independence:

In urging this step, we are not one whit repudiating the sacrifice of the boys who fought in France. After all, how was it that they could meet the shock troops of Europe untrained as they were and repel six times their number in irresistible victory? This was due not only to their fine, clean young man power, – it was due to their spiritual power. They wanted this thing never to happen again. They wanted small nations never again to be dominated by great military powers. In other words, they were fighting a war to end war.

If we appreciate their sacrifice, which is measured not merely in the lists of the dead but in the ever increasing lists of the boys who cannot adjust themselves, of the boys who cannot fit into their old positions, of the boys who while not insane are not quite right now that they have come back from war, we will see that we have no choice but to hold this standard ever before us and to go forward to make the last war truly a war to end war.

We have a war record of whose relative blamelessness we may be proud. But this country needs to have was eliminated. In 1917 we were drawn into a war not of our own making, nor seeking, and henceforth we are inevitable linked with the destiny of Europe for peace or war. America needs the lives lost in war. In twenty years America will need the boys who dies in France. There will be no one to take their places. The old world for generations will be sapped of energy and intellect and moral fiber and, oh, how she needs moral fiber, because of war. Because I believe in the Declaration, because I uphold the Constitution, because I care more for this country than for anything except my family, I am compelled to fight this atrocity which threatens gradully [sic] to engulf America with all the world.

There will be those who will say this is a dream. Woman suffrage was a dream. Freeing the slaves was a dream. The law against murder was once a dream. Let us make no mistake. The world cannot totter back into sanity unless she fixes her eyes upon some healing vision. We shall have to dream this dream, and make it true, if humanity is not perish.

How will this come to pass? It will come about just as the declaration against murder came to pass. Men grew so glutted with their killings that they turned in their tracks and admitted that it was wrong to take human life. Men and nations will finally admit that mass murder is just as wrong as individual murder; in their individual hearts they admit that now. The only question is whether in our day and generation we shall set the seal upon that recognition by making war illegal and disreputable.

Neither is it necessary to abolish the causes of war before we take this step. We did not abolish jealousy, hatred, greed, nor the other human emotions which give rise to killing, before we made murder a crime. Neither do we need to abolish tariffs, customs, restrictions of the seas before we make mass murder a crime.

You and I thought that when we had won the vote our work was over. And that grieved us. We have longed for the old days, – the struggle, the comradeship, the thrill of working for freedom for the women of all ages. Ah, my friends, there are greater days ahead, unless our task falls from nerveless fingers, and our eyes fail to see the light. I do not ask you to give up one cause which is upon your heart – the status of women – work for children – political progress; all of them are worthy of service. But what hope can there be for women, for democracy, for children, for mankind in a world poisoned, its finest strength running out like water, in war which will become increasingly more hideous? The biggest task that ever faced humanity is ours. Shall it fall from our hands?

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