Carrie Chapman Catt

Ashamed of War (A Belated Apology) - Jan. 19, 1938

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 19, 1938— Washington, D.C.
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Address delivered before Conference on Cause and Cure of War


FEBRUARY 27, 1938


(An address delivered by Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt before the Thirteenth Conference on the Cause and Cure of War in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, January 19. The address is reprinted by permission from Delegate’s Worksheet, No. 3.)

An accomplished anthropologist from Harvard has said recently, after studying Anthropology or the nature of MAN for twenty-five years, “I have decided that the proper function of the anthropologist is to apologize for MAN.” With this conclusion, I heartily agree. Dr. Hooton (Dr. Earnest Hooton) volunteered to offer such apology and did it brilliantly in a book called Apes, Men, and Morons. But in that volume he said not a word about WAR. Certainly, WAR is MAN’S most incredible, inexplicable, and monstrous misbehavior. Therefore, an additional and a much more extensive apology is long overdue.

I do not possess the temerity to offer such an apology, but I do volunteer to present an inadequate pre-preference to the volumes of apology yet to come. I venture to appoint the super-superior group known as the Cause and Cure of War to hear and consider it.

Whether you advocate Genesis or Evolution, it is equally certain that ancient MAN lived in trees. He had to! He was not an Ape, but at the time of his probable arrival the Earth was possessed by a dictatorship of gigantic and terrible beasts. All were equipped with fierce fighting gear and all were desperately hungry. The King of these Beasts was the Saber-Toothed Tiger, enormous of size and terrific of temper. When one of these ferocious animals came around, the only possible thing for a human to do was to scurry into the nearest tree and keep scurrying until he was safely out of reach. Ancient Great Grandma, with her baby clinging to her, could leap from the ground well into a tree and fly like the wind to the topmost branch, where she swayed tantalizingly in sight of old Saber Tooth himself and knew that she was perfectly safe. Meanwhile, Ancient Great-Granddad boomed a deafening warning to all other humans that enemies were about.

I know there are people who do not like the idea of their forefathers living in trees. Well, we are here tonight solely because trees saved the human race from being eaten alive before it could creep! Like it or not!

In time, the Great Beasts were destroyed by the long glacier periods and the Dictatorship of MAN succeeded the Dictatorship of Beasts.

But MAN, as the Director of World Evolution, has been a sorry failure. An episode took place some two or three millions of years before Christ which gave him a wrong start and he has never had brains enough to correct the mistake.

One bright spring morning some men were climbing down out of their trees with the intent of stretching their legs in a little walk on the ground. There being no newspapers yet, they did not know that their big enemies were gone and they were timid and suspicious. Hearing a noisy rustle of leaves, they paused and were astounded to see other men coming down out of their trees. They did not know them. They had never been introduced, so the two groups pitched into each other and had a battle.

The apology for those early men is easy – they did not know any better. They had small brains and did not know how to use what they had. In fact, off the record, our early ancestors were Morons! From the tree tops MAN had looked down upon gigantic beasts eating each other alive and they merely followed their example. The history of MAN completely shows that MAN has always been short on original ideas and long on imitation. Perhaps you may say that I cannot prove that the Institution of War began in the way I have described. Well, can you disprove it? No? Then let it stand.


A possible two millions of years spun by. Most historical details of these Dark Ages are sadly lacking, but one important thing is clear. When the curtain went down upon the beginning of human WAR, MAN had not yet had an idea in his head. He was running the world on instinct, but when he emerged from those ages, he had many ideas. Most of them were neither brilliant nor practical, but upon three of the most outstanding ideas world history has been built; a morality had been discovered; and, eventually it was put into a Moral Code. The most important rules were these: A. 1. Thou shalt not lie.

  1. Thou shalt not steal.
  2. Thou shalt not kill. Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Christian and the Mohammedan religions all had these rules and all said they got them from God.

B. There was a counter Code – as old and as universal as the Moral Code – but no one said it come from God and it has never been put in print. Yet it is believed and taught “everywhere and by all.” It has been the creed of all nations and practiced by men. We might call it the Immoral Code.

  1. All men within our frontiers are good men and any harm done to them by others must be punished. All men outside our frontiers are inferior and are potential enemies. To lie to any of these, so that the effect redounds to our advantage is a virtue, spelled with a large V. God will reward such acts.
  2. To steal from an enemy and bring the loot home to us or to capture and hold their land for us is sterling honesty. God will so regard it.
  3. To kill enemies singly or collectively when they do not please us is patriotic heroism and as God is always on our side in all wars, He will not punish. Under the aegis of these conflicting codes, War and Morality survived and prospered, but War always dominated and was always the victor in all races between the two. The third idea C. is much more of a thought than either of the others and would have kept WAR alive and going ever since the battle between the tree men long ago had there been no other reason. The idea must have come on another bright, spring morning when a man said: “If only I had a longer arm than my enemy, I could reach over and give him a death blow before he could reach me.” From that moment, the most important and all-absorbing ambition of the human race had been to find means whereby one of our men could kill an enemy while remaining safe from that enemy’s attack. Men went from fists to stones and sticks and thence to stone axes – on to spears, javelins, and daggers, and later to swords – short swords, long swords, with shields, chain armor and helmets for protection. Cavalry came to terrify the enemy and then to be adopted by all. At some remote time the bow and arrow appeared to make death more certain.

Next, great walls surrounded cities twenty feet high and twenty feet thick, but the enemy not only built walls around his own cities; he produced the battering ram to pound down the walls of his enemy, great ladders to climb over them and the Greeks invented fire baskets to throw over the walls and set the cities afire.

Gunpowder brought crude guns and cannon. Centuries were expended in developing them into light, quick-loading, and far-shooting rifles, and the Big Bertha of the Great War, the largest cannon ever built, at that date, was the climax in the evolution of cannon. Now all the great nations say they have bigger and better Berthas and every nation is now working upon the problem of making rifles perfectly smokeless and noiseless.

From crude dugout logs, rowed with sticks, the navies of the world have climbed up in the competition until the modern steel warship of today, marvelous in construction, majestically patrols the sea. Here the man who fires the deadly cannon does not see the cannon he shoots nor the ship that is his aim. Hidden far below the surface, he merely pushes a button on a map.

In the year of our Lord, 1938, after a steady evolution of four millions of years, the climax of MAN’S achievements might be presented in a picture – a super-steel Warship covered with gaily-waving flags and bunting, a band playing martial music on its deck, while floating all about in the surrounding waters are explosive mines, ready to blow it up – while stealthily, moving submarines, with their giant torpedoes, are all set to blow a hole just where the man sits so calmly with his steady finger on the cannon shooting device. Overhead the sky is blue, darkened just now by the super-climax of the climax – a fleet of airplanes loaded with bombs which, when skillfully dropped, may destroy a navy, a city, a nation, or when the fleets have grown a trifle larger, they might destroy the entire human race. Look again, yonder on the land, there are men, women with babies in their arms and children clinging to their skirts, dogs and cats, all wearing gas masks and all running wildly toward dark tunnels. Thinking a little further, this picture seems unnecessarily elaborate. The real peak of the climax, the true symbol of man’s four millions of years of evolution is a single figure – let us appoint a university graduates statesman with several added degrees and decorated with the key to fill the role. Now he is wearing a gas mask, and is scurrying into a hole in the ground, hoping to escape the war he does not know how to stop!!

To be sure, MAN has done other things besides make preparation for war – great things. Among them he has built schools, universities, printed newspapers and books, but the point never to be forgotten is that the military machine of a neighbor could blow all the collective creations of man into smoke and ashes. Once there were seven wonders of the world. Where are they now? Once on the plains of Western Asia, there were a dozen prosperous nations, each with a beautiful capital city. Where are they now and where are the men who built them? Gone – buried under the debris of war. And this happened before the days of gunpowder, airplanes or torpedoes.


Says a calm-minded, practical business man: “Dispassionately now, and merely as a cash register proposition, can any one deny that WAR is the most futile, expensive, and fantastically unproductive enterprise that ever engaged the energies of men?” Certainly, no one can deny it. Then, why does WAR go on? Alas, with all our schools and universities, our books and newspapers, apparently there is not one man who knows how to stop war. Is there then no hope of release from his thralldom of war? Must Mars forever be master of men, dominating ever nation and every policy? I think there is a way, a new way. I do not suggest that any one shall lay aside the present plan of working, but any one who feels inclined, might add this new one to the old. I have been studying WAR and its meaning for twenty-five years, but something recently happened to me quite new. I was ashamed. I received a Christmas card from a woman friend in Japan who once visited this Conference. The card said she was praying night and day for peace all the world around. I shed upon it and read again, for I had learned between the lines that there were Japanese who were not fighting China. The next day I ready that another friend, the beautiful Baroness Ishimoto [Kato Shidzue], had been arrested. I bowed my head, and then I was utterly ashamed. I was not ashamed of Japan alone, although I knew of no war which has had less reason for its existence or which has put more cruelty in its application than the one Japan is now waging against China. Japan has always been imitative – perhaps more so than any other nation has ever been. She is now doing what most nations have done and I was ashamed not of her, but of all the nations of the human race – some dead and gone – who, together, have set the example Japan is now following. I was ashamed of the generations which have always put the Moral Code in the background and worshipped at the shrine of the Immoral Code. When I became ashamed, I wanted to apologize for all the human race. I suppose I have experienced the usual emotions of WAR, but I assure you that the healthiest emotion I have ever had was shame. I was twenty-five years younger and I wanted to don my chain armor and helmet and go forth to the fray once more. I want you to have the benefit of that stirring spirit. Just how ashamed are you of WAR history, and of the years the human race has wasted its brain power in inventing new armaments to kill, instead of trying to find a way to stop war? If you are now ashamed now, kneel at your bedside tonight and ask God to make you ashamed. It would be the greatest blessing that could come to you. When you have become ashamed, work to make your family, your friends and townsmen ashamed likewise. I long to see a great army of the Ashamed, marching up Capitol Hill to our government, in order that, together, we may make a gigantic apology for MAN’S WAR record. Do not mistake! When we go, we will not say, “So sorry, so very sorry.” We will demand reparations for the sins that have been committed, even in the name of liberty. We will demand that lands, mines, oils, and many other wealth-producing product shall be delivered to some authority in recompense for the sins that were committed when these were taken unjustly and by force.

When nations have been sufficiently ashamed to make peace for general reparations for wrongs done to other nations, they will come speedily and in humility to insist that the old moral code, so long violated, shall be uplifted in the peace movement of the world, and the old immoral code which has been the sponsor of every war since time began shall be repudiated forever. Then, and I believe not until then, can there be real hope of perennial peace.

The pleas on behalf of peace that we are making now would leave every imperialistic nation will all the loot in her safe possession while denying imperialistic aggression and conquest to others. To my mind this is the real foundation of all trouble and the hesitation to foreswear war. It is not from arguments that peace will come, but it will arise out of the purified souls of men who have put morality above immorality. The sooner, dear friends, that you become ashamed of the past and strive to restore belated justice, the quicker will come the sunset upon war and the sunrise upon peace.

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