Carrie Chapman Catt

Address Delivered Upon Return from IWSA Special Conference - 1927

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1927
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I have just returned from a Great Adventure. I have spent 4 whole nights and five whole days in Europe! I am sure none of you ever made so brief a visit. Many folk now –a-days get such deep and important impressions in a weekend stay in a foreign land that they write a book about it. Instead I thought I’d tell those impressions to you.

The International Woman Suffrage Alliance of which I was president for 20 years held its first Peace Conference in Amsterdam. It was a timid first attempt, so it was called a Study Conference. French and Germans, Austrians and British were there and representatives from 20 countries. It was not entirely a love feast. A beautiful Egyptian came and gave a naughty slap at the British at every opportunity and they came frequently. Several semi polite slams were given to the United States which Ruth Morgan and I divided equally between us.

In no international meeting does any delegate get all there is, although some get more than there is. Languages are an irritating obstacle to understanding. Probably two thirds of those who came to Amsterdam heard and spoke languages not their own. Most speakers used a language not their own and sometimes did not quite master it and to this imperfect speaking delegates with imperfect capacity to understand the language had to listen.

[passage begins in the middle of a sentence] in any of them and others whose minds were filled with mental reserves and they couldn’t convey them to others even in their own language. A British Admiral at Amsterdam began his speech “I speak a little English and no other languages.” He looked so helpless! but in truth the Americans actually understood him which does not always happen when a Brittisher speaks.

The French imposed their languages upon the Courts of Europe in the days of the Louis along with the ceremony, the pomp and glory, the food and the clothes, the art and the literature and the manners of France in the height of its royal grandeurs. It has continued to be imposed by the arts of France. English has been imposed in the parts of all the world not by art but by the jingle of dollars and pounds. The Germans try to make theirs a third international language and as it comes from the same root as several European languages it is understood by many. But Germany has neither the art nor the trade to impose her language as do France and the English speaking nations. I noted that the Germans altho knowing both German and French never used either in public speaking altho it was clear that the use of German much cut down the number of those who understood them.

Every convention gets its photograph taken. It comes at the end of the first session and is an unpleasant ordeal for most of us. Perhaps the Amsterdam experience will illustrate the Babel of an international conference. We were gathered on the front steps as usual. The women were talking as usual. The photographers were aiming their cameras at us as usual. You are familiar with that scene. Then the big boss one said: SSS bitte bitte stand still dames, ah merci dames tanke tanke. The deed was done and it was done internationally. What he said was what all photographers say but having said it in four languages it spread over all nations. In that way an international conference goes. These languages are queer things. I’ve met men and women who could rattle off a conversation in five or six languages and who hadn’t an idea over [sentence cuts off]. It is no wonder there is misunderstanding between nations. I’m inclined to think that the differences of definition in Russian French and German dictionaries of say, the word sovereignty may have caused the gt [great] war.

Nineteen years ago, the International Woman Suffrage Alliance met in Amsterdam when it was four years old. I was its president for 20 years. I wonder that it survived me. Many of those who labored for the success of the Congress are gone and others are old and feeble but the bright young girls and boys who in 1908 danced Dutch dances in peasant costumes for our entertainment are now getting on to young middle age and it was these pages of 1908 who arranged the conference of 1927. That is the way to carry on, is it not?

In the 19 years that lay between, what wonders had happened. Women have been enfranchised in half the nations of the world including Holland and to this Conference for the Study of War came many women members of Parliament. Lady Astor was one, looking as sweet as ever and Lord Astor was there too – the most democratic Aristocrat in the world. M.Ps from Germany and Austria and a Senator whom [illegible] for 25 years from Czechoslovakia – a wonder woman.

But there was one startling impression. In 1913 I was in Austria and as I have often told you I spoke in Vienna with the police upon the platform, ready to dissolve the meeting if anything was said criticising militarism. At that time Austrian women could not legally form a woman suffrage society, nor attend a political meeting and it was only under a police permit that I had spoken. It was a unique experience. In the streets and parks one saw plenty of squads of marching uniformed men to understand that militarism was an institution of importance. Now a few years later here comes a woman member of the Austrian Parliament, about as eloquent as Sen. Borah and on that Amsterdam platform she told a story that took my breath away. In Vienna, one time conservative rich autocratic militarists, the School Board has burned 150 thousand school history books. Why? because they untruthfully taught the glory of war! I fairly trembled with emotion and I said to myself. What a wonder that I, little me have witnessed these two opposed demonstrations of Austrian character. But just as I was all swelled out with pride and exaltation, as though I had had something to do with it – my mind took a violent bound straight through the roof and away from Amsterdam and it landed in Chicago. The shock I got threw me down so low that I’ve mentally crawled on my hands and knees ever since. All the time I seem to smell the odor of burning histories but not those of Vienna. If I lived in Chicago I’d either do something or move away!

I did not come away from my weekend in Europe in a spirit of optimism. Those experts I met heard and talked with in Amsterdam were not [illegible] up, but I might have recovered from the effect they had upon me. But the journey was long 10 days going and 11 days coming and I took along 20 magazines with articles dealing with the Economic or Disarmament Conferences or some phase of the war questions, and I took 18 books. Some were presents and were mystery stories. I made up to the Chief Steward and got a nice reading lamp over my bed and every night I read nice cheery tales of murder and robbery, so as to get the things experts said out of my thinkery. It was the sum total of what I got out the books and magazines plus the Amsterdam experts that brought me home rather downhearted.

I firmly believe that any one suffering from pessimism should go into seclusion, live on bread and water until recovered and that they should be fined for making a speech in that condition. Yet here am I.

I shall spare you my theories and only state a few facts.

  1. There was a small controversy in every land as to what caused the gt war while it was going on. Each one of the 32 nations involved in the war maintained a paid publicity bureau which fed the people the true explanation of war. When the war was over, the controversy went on. Of course a contention over the cause of the last war stirs continual suspicions, hatreds and disagreements. I have read much of these contentions and I give you my word that something written by a humanist is the truest thing anybody has yet said. In all the 32 nations that went to war, there is not one person who really knows what or who started the war, what or who won the war, what or who will finally pay for it. Now along comes John Bakeless who has written The Origins of the Next War and declares with proof too that if the whole human race had not been a lot of stupid simpletons any one of them might have known such a war was coming. Taking this comment of his as a guide I began gathering signs that there will be another war and when and I have a big pile all clipped from our own magazines within the last year that prove it. The date will be between 1940 and 50 or 12 to 20 years hence. It will be a world war. Some see civilization going down in it, some see the white race expiring some see Christianity buried but no one sees any good coming from it and when war comes no one will know who or what caused it. The only thing each nation will know is that it was not she who started it, and that she never did anything at all at all but defend herself. Question: With every nation defending itself and never never doing anything to offend another how does it happen that war comes? Well, I’ll tell you a secret. You may depend upon it. The majority of men are too busy making money to know or care what is going on, but the male of the intelligensea all the world around is suffering from a paralyzing attack of scare. He sees red, and green. We used to hear of niggers in the wood pile. Now, it is revolution, bankruptcy war [illegible] gas and disease germs behind every corner. I’ve never males so uneasy. The men I used to know when they suspected an enemy about went out and hit him a crack over the head. These modern males just tremble and shout prepare prepare, he’s coming. I don’t know whether the female of the species is mightier than the male. I suspect she isn’t but if she is now is the time to show it. If women would cease getting her best thrills out of buying a fur coat or string of pearls or taking a trip around the world without a days preparation, and turn their attention to putting moral courage where now there is none, that coming war might be averted and preventions built strong there would never be another.

My third message is that the people in Europe and America do not see eye to eye. The Conference had for its chief program the Economics and the Disarmament Conferences. The nations met to consider the reductions of land armies and armament. They refused to reduce. At the call of the president, a Naval Conference met Gt Britain, USA and Japan. Gt Britain and USA refused to reduce. Each laid the blame upon the other. It seems that Gt Britain feels the fate of the Empire depends on the maintenance of her Superiority of her Navy, Her Britannia rules the waves. She thinks it a bit impertinent for the US to want a Navy as big as hers just as Fiske thinks it fairly insolent for Japan to want a navy 3/5 as big as ours. Each of these three nations accuses the others of shameless ambition; for itself it has only a modest and sweet scented patriotism. So these three proud haughty and scared nations wouldn’t reduce. In Europe there are more men under arms than in 1914 and they will not quit – that too with the armies of the two great militaristic nations Germany and Austria returned. Never were there so many ships upon the seas. Submarines are growing in number and quality. Young men like mermaids arose from the sea, first time across. Now they go around the world and carry germs as well as torpedoes. The competition in airplanes goes on like mad. We were startled by the tales of the Big Bertha. Now every country has bigger Berthas – why these builders can scarcely wait for the world to recover far enough to go at it again. This is no time for does and olive branches, no time to wait for the brotherhood of man and several other pretty panaceas. It is a time when common sense should be knocked into the heads of nations by some system of thunderous logic.

I’ve been inquiring about psychology as it is taught today. The Professors and proferessoresses appear to be engaged in the study of children. Why don’t they turn to this problem. It is only a state of mind – a bag case of fright. What the world needs is a dose of soothing syrup.

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