I need not remind you that we are in the midst of a presidential election. All of you who hear as many political speeches over the radio as I do, know that there are distinguished members of the two dominant parties who have said, with great emphasis, that there are issues before our people more crucial than any in half a hundred years, problems, they tell us, which are vital, fundamental, and which concern the very life of our nation. Let us admit the truth of all these claims.
I have come to say that there is a problem which looms high above them all. It is greater, infinitely greater, than all the collective problems of this campaign, greater far, than all other problems in the world when summed together. That problem is: “What shall we do about war?”
Do you think of war as another little question of equal standing with “Shall the old people be pensioned?” “Shall children labor in factories?” “Shall murderers be hanged?” There is no comparison. An argument with good foundation for this claim might be made, although I will not take time to do so. I might even claim that the reason there are indigent old people, parents who want their children’s wages, and waves of crime, is the all-embracing, never-ceasing curse-endowing business of war.
The main vissitudes in the world at this present time were born of the Great War and the so-called “depression” which followed. The condition which we call a “depression” now has had various names through the centuries of history and none of them have indicated the truth about it. The thing we call “depression” is a form of exhaustion. There is an exhaustion of man-power, of health, of finances, of hope, of material – of intellectual – and of moral standards. A war does to civilization exactly what a hard frost does to a garden. Those who have gardens have had an illustration of that comparison this morning. The World War included more nations, cost more money, and enlisted more men than any other in the world’s history. Naturally, it was followed by the most extensive, disastrous, and stubborn depression within the knowledge of men. A war depression is often a severer shock to a nation than the war itself. Many great men have declared that civilization cannot survive another world war; it is even more doubtful if it could withstand another depression. All wars bring exhaustion, but, sometimes, when the war is small, the exhaustion is little more than fatigue. When it is a large war, or a series of wars, it has been so sever an exhaustion that no recovery has been possible. For example, in ancient Asia, where certainly the first highest civilizations were established, there were many nations climbing upward with great vigor and promise, but these nations went to war, they fought and fought again, and fought still more until the very name of them is lost in oblivion. Asia never has recovered. Europe fought in the early centuries and continued fighting more and more, never ceasing, and finally there was a period of depression which lasted 300 years and which is called the Dark Ages. The period of exhaustion has a way of bringing more exhaustion and while we talk of recovery, it is a great question whether any nation has really fully recovered from a great depression. The people of the time die; children grow up and take the place of the elders and build with more vigor and historians speak of it as “a recovered nation,” but it is not the same nation it would have been had the elders not exhausted themselves and it by too much war. (From Mrs. Catt’s chapter in “Why Wars Must Cease.”)
It is said that when and if a “Next War” comes, it will be more hideous than the last. This has been true from the beginning. Wars have not grown civilized, but more cruel with time. It is agreed that no weapon or equipment used in the last war will be abandoned in the next because it was too ruthless or destructive. On the contrary, every nation will have improved each instrument of war by making it more powerfully destructive. This has always been true, century after century. Every nation invents and produces new weapons, if it can, that will be more deadly than any yet used. This has always been true. The new weapons that may appear in the next war are the dread of all nations and always have been. This dread is one of the reasons why every nation considers it an inevitable duty to be prepared, so far as it can, for the “next war.”
Why care whether war is old or young, you may say. The older an idea is, the harder it is to move. It is fixed in the mind, like the comprehension of light, darkness, time. To say to a probable billion of men in the world: “The sun shines” will bring the response: “Of course, it always has, it always will.” Say to the same men: “There will be a war” and they will respond with: “Of course, war always has been and always will be.” These two ideas are precisely of the same character in the minds of those men. That is why war is difficult to abandon.
There is no race, no nation, no tribe, no small group of men that have been discovered anywhere upon this round earth who have not shown evidence that they have had much experience in war and who were not more or less prepared for more expected wars. The institution, therefore, is not only old, but it has long been a universal custom.
When the church ruled the thought of the world and a new idea appeared, such as, “Gallileo says the world is round,” the official answer was: “It is not so. It is believed everywhere and by all that the world is flat.” That settled it. They cut the heads off of people disagreed; or they had a pleasant way of burning them at the stake. No one now can make such pronouncements with the authority the Church once had, but every nation in the world, not excepting our own, says: “Every nation prepares for war. We must. Wars always have been; they always will be.” Ask any reformer, no matter what his cause: “What was the most stubborn obstacle to the winning of your aim?” He or she will answer: “They said the thing I asked never had been; therefore, it never could be.” To those of you who are really interested in coming peace, let me entreat you to remember always that war is old and is universal and no argument or action is very effective which does not strike at the deep roots which hold it fast.
Some groups of men that have had better conditions than most, have risen higher than others and are called civilizes. They are better educated, have better food and shelter, write and read books, and think well of daily newspapers. They hold elections, conduct courts, lecture and preach, levy and pay taxes, make inventions, sail the seas and the air, and these, and other developments of men constitute the highest forms of civilization. Yet no nation has become civilized enough to forswear war. Every nation spends more than half of its national income upon its upkeep. The more civilized the government, the more it spends. Our own government, for years, has spent upwards of 80₵ out of every $1.00 of its annual income on wars; that is, bills for past wars, maintenance of present equipment, and preparations of wars to come. This is not the cost of running a war, but is paying for wars we have had and keeping ready for a new war when and if it should happen.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.