Jane Addams

Statement Before the U.S. House Committee on Military Affairs Regarding the Selective Service Act - April 12, 1917

Jane Addams
April 12, 1917— Washington, D.C.
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Selective-Service Act. Hearings Before the House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs, Sixty-Fifth Congress, First Session, on the Bill Authorizing the President to Increase Temporarily the Military Establishment of the United States, April 7, 9-11, 14 and 17, 1917 (Washington, D.C.: Washington Printing Office, 1917), pp. 238-240.

Miss Addams. I simply want to say, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of this committee, that I am sure there is a good deal of feeling in this whole country against conscription. I have been in the South lately. I was sent South for my health about six weeks ago; but I have had a great many letters saying that conscription is a form of coercion which is absolutely averse and absolutely contradictory to everything that America has ever stood for, and that even in Australia and in Canada, where the people are in this war with England, they have not had conscription. The Canadians have not even dared propose it, because they think it is so un-American, and they call themselves Americans in the sense of living on this side of the Atlantic. In Australia it was submitted to a referendum vote. Hughes, the prime minister, had been in England and told everybody he could turn out ever so many men, and when he went back they made a sort of combined political appeal and took a referendum vote on it, and the Australian voters turned it down. They had splendid regiments in Egypt and also at the Dardanelles, which sustained heavy losses, and nobody could doubt their bravery, but they said they would not accept conscription because it was against the whole idea of democratic government; that they were willing to send the men as volunteers, but they would not send them under conscription.

Now I know that that is exactly the kind of reaction we are going to get in America; at least, I should be awfully disappointed if men and women do not feel that way. I know thousands of them that will feel that way. They are willing to volunteer if it appeals to their conscience, and if they believe that the war is something in which the United States should take part, then let it take part as it has done other things, as a volunteer body, and not begin with coercion, which is something that democratic countries like Canada and Australia have nor had, and Australia is the only Province that has had a referendum vote on the question. New Zealand has conscription without ever having had a referendum vote. Australia insisted on a referendum and turned it down. I have some things from the London Nation and other English papers — and they are right in the midst of the war — commenting on the Australian referendum, saying that there are many things more precious even than victory and one of them is democratic principles and democratic institutions.

I think I know the West pretty well. I was born in Illinois and I have lived there for a good many years; more that 50 years, and I know a great many kinds of people. I meet hundreds of people all the time and I shall be enormously surprised if in the end you do not get such a reaction. I think just now, in this curious war contagion which is going on all over the country and this queer imitation we are making of being like Europe and doing everything they do and avoiding their mistakes and all that sort of thing, I think it may go for the moment, but eventually I am sure it will not go, and you are going to have draft riots and all sorts of things like that. That really is the burden of my song, but I will be glad to answer any questions, if you like.

I was in England when they were discussing conscription, and it was not only the labor people and the radicals, by any means, who were opposed to it. I remember Lord Courtney, who is a Lord of Penwick, whose wife is one of our peace people and whom l saw quite often, was bitterly opposed to it. He said England could not afford to go in for that kind of thing. Of course, we all know that the first compulsory military service in the world was undertaken by Prussia after the wars of Napoleon. After the wars of Napoleon Prussia was limited in her army and told she could not have over so many soldiers in her army because she was recognized as a danger to the other German States, and what she did was to get every man in the army under a short term of service, and when the war came every man was trained. Now, if we are going to fight Prussianism, if that is what we are fighting, and I do not think we are awfully clear about what we are fighting, do not let us begin by taking the most offensive system of Prussianism and adopting it in this country. I think three years ago it would have been inconceivable to have had conscription preached in this country.

Mr. Kahn. Do you not know, Miss Addams, that the Australians have universal military training?

Miss Addams. For home defense.

Mr. Kahn. And every man who volunteers there, of course, has been trained.

Miss Addams. The Australians have a very short term of military service for home defense only, and I think it is like the Swiss system, three months in the year. One bill here proposes a year and the other six months. We are going just a little further than anybody else has gone before, even under the stress of war, and the Australians do it only for home defense and they do that because they have this Asiatic fear. They are fearful of Asiatic invasion.

Mr. Kahn. Of course, we hope that we will never have an offensive war and that all our wars will be defensive.

Miss Addams. Every war is a war of defense, Mr. Kahn. No Government would dare go to war otherwise. Germany was protecting herself against the Russian mobilization, and every war in the world has been a war of defense.

Mr. Kahn. And so when the Australians say, "We are going to train our boys simply for home defense," they use the usual subterfuge?

Miss Addams. But they had a referendum vote on it.

Mr. Gordon. And they cannot send them out of the country unless they volunteer.

Miss Addams. And they cannot send them out of the country in Germany unless they volunteer. Germany cannot send a man for over-sea service unless he volunteers, and when they sent men during the Boxer trouble they could only send volunteers. What we are proposing to do now is to conscript men, and we do not know whether they will land in France or where they will land.

Mr. Kahn. Of course, that is a question the War Department has not determined and nobody else in this country has determined.

Miss Addams. And that is what makes it so dangerous to give them this blank check.

Mr. Greene. You spoke of home defense as if it were confined to military operations on your own soil.

Miss Addams. And that is what the Australians call "home defense."

Mr. Greene. That is what was in your mind?

Miss Addams. Not leaving the soil of Australia.

Mr. Greene. Then if there was a conflagration going down on the street and it was approaching your home, are you justified in going off of your premises to blow up a building next to you in order that the fire may not reach you, and still call it protecting your home?

Miss Addams. I think that has nothing to do with conscription. If I was to conscript somebody to blow up the building —

Mr. Greene (interposing). I am asking you about the term "home defense" and not the means by which you do it.

Miss Addams. We are talking about conscription.

Mr. Greene. I understand, and it is for home defense.

Miss Addams. And I quarrel with your figure. Of course, I would save my home in any way I could, but your figure is that our house is going to burn if we do not blow up somebody else's house, and I do not believe that.

Mr. Shallenberger. If the ocean was between your home and the other place, you would not have to blow it up.

Miss Addams. Certainly not. We have only one border that could be defended and that would be the Mexican border.

Mr. Greene. You are mixing my metaphor with water.

Miss Addams. I quarrel with your metaphor as not being analogous to the situation.

The Chairman. Miss Addams has submitted an article on the subject of the conscription referendum in Australia and I would like have it go into the record.

(The article was "The Conscription Referendum in Australia." The Canadian Liberal Monthly, 1917, pp. 83-87.)