Carrie Chapman Catt

Address at the League of Women Voters Munitions Meeting - 12 November, 1934

Carrie Chapman Catt
November 12, 1934— New York City
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League of Women Voters – Munitions Meeting

Hotel Astor, Monday, November 12, 1934, 8 P.M.

At this grim moment, when the entire world is watching and waiting in nervous apprehension as the clouds of threatening war rise higher and higher, I bring a special message to the League of Women Voters and their women friends. I shall tell you very briefly a few facts every woman ought to know. Perhaps most of you know them. Perhaps some do not.

Men invented war. Since the earliest records of modern history men have conducted all wars with few, perhaps no exceptions. They have invented the weapons of war, devised its procedure and strategies and controlled the political policies concerning war in all nations.

It is their institution. Women invented, or at least were early responsible for agriculture, cooking, weaving, pottery, and conserving the home and the village. War is men’s institution, conservation of society is woman’s institution. Women have no more common sense about war than have men, but men, as a whole, appear to foster a loyalty to war because it is their institution. Women, as naturally shrink from the war idea because it is not their institution. Mind, I am not advocating any superiority of women over men in the war and peace controversy, but, instinctively, women represent the opposing side. Not all women oppose war. They are too ignorant of the Facts of War and of the psychology which maintains it as a perpetual institution.

Although, for thousands of years in the long ago, women served in large numbers as actual soldiers, and some times as leaders, this was never their permanent task. More often, they were the unfortunate victims of the brutalities of war.

Very slowly and gradually, beginning a possible five hundred years ago, a code began to develop that classed women and children as non-combatants and the code included the intention that eventually all armies should protect them from harm as an act of military courtesy. Theoretically, this rule was increasingly respected by the more civilized nations, although in time of war, it was often violated. In order to clarify the code concerning non-combatants, many nations, including our own, forbade women by law to take part in actual war. Nevertheless, woman filled civil positions of men in considerable numbers in all late wars, but no particular attention seems to have been paid by any nation to that fact.

In the World War, this growing non-combatant code was utterly disregarded. There arose such a desperate demand for more men at the front that women were urged for patriotic and war reasons to supply in large numbers the posts made vacant by the enlistment of soldiers. Five millions of women slipped into men’s places in Great Britain, eight hundred thousand being employed in munitions alone. In the United States, one million five hundred thousand women were engaged in war industries, one hundred thousand of them in munition plants and forty-five thousand were clerical workers in the war departments in Washington alone.

Women in the Central Powers, even those in Turkey, were employed in the same character of work, but figures of the number engaged are not available. Lord Balfour [Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister of England] said in this country in 1917: “Behind every man in the trench, there are ten persons making it possible for him to stay there, and at present seven of the ten persons are women.” General Jofre [Joseph Joffre, French general during World War I] said: “We have two armies, one in the trench, and one behind the trenches. The one in the rear is composed largely of women.” So wrote General Tasker H. Bliss [Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1917-1918]: (page 374, “What Really Happened at Paris”) “A nation in arms is a nation of combatants, men, women, and children – some drafter to the front, the labor of others commandeered and directed to maintain the former.” So useful had women proved to their nations when at arms that it has been repeatedly predicted that in “The Next War” women, as well as men, will be conscripted in order to release the largest possible number of men for the army. This may or may not be true, but if there should be another world war and one country conscripts women, apparently the rest will for that is usual war policy. The Powers That Be propose to add a competition in the use of women for war purposes to the competition in armament which lies at the foundation of preparedness for war. Women need expect no protection as non-combatants. The code of protection for women has gone. More, the new weapons of airplane bombs, poison gas, and disease germs, which may or may not be as deadly in the so-called “next war” as some authorities think, will threaten the lives of women and children in every warring nation. Grown desperate enough, any country might logically agree with General Ludendorff [German Quartermaster General during WWI] and carry out his theory. He said: “All the means to weaken an enemy nation become legitimate. By killing women and children, for example, one destroys future mothers and eventual defenders of this country.” This is correct philosophy if war is to be continued. Because of these curious developments in the attitude of war toward women, I appeal to all women to transform their traditional habit of helpless surrender and sorrowing patience in time of war to one of determined opposition to war itself. War does not creep upon a nation as did smallpox before the discovery of vaccination. It comes because the people of the nation have no freedom to express their opinion, or because they are too ignorant to know the history of war or the facts that keep it going. To be effective, opposition must be united, bold, unhesitating, and supported by correct understanding. I urge you women to know more, think more, do more about this world’s war system. Instinctively, women have expected men to bring war to an end. The majority of men are curiously hesitant, however, and evade this responsibility. Very many men, losing confidence in their own sex, have urged women to take a bolder stand, perhaps an aggressive leadership in the movement to abolish war. In fact, I rarely hear a man address an audience, largely composed of women, on the theme of peace and war, that he does not include such an appeal in his speech. Perhaps these men have felt, as did Matthew Arnold, when he said: “If ever the world sees a time when women shall come together, purely and simply for the benefit and good of mankind, it will be a power such as the world has never known.” Women have never unitedly supported any movement and have usually taken a timid, second-place when advocating any cause. That is their present attitude toward war. Should a united womanhood now set its resolution firm and immovable for the abolition of war, the opportunity would be provided for the first time to demonstrate whether women could be an invincible power. Could women really end war? They certainly could if united, and if men will not end war, women must. The human race can not endure the ravages of modern war. Why drive nations into bankruptcy, honest citizens into pauperism? Why kill the flower of a generation for no one knows what purpose? Why continue a custom for which there is no longer reason or necessity?

How can war be stopped? By compelling the nations of the world to face squarely the savage, bloody, disillusioning, de-civilizing Facts of War. Women alone can compel this result if men will not! There are, however, in ever land brave, informed, and understanding men who are marching toward the end of war. Three of the noblest of this army of men, marching toward peace, are on this platform to-night. Men and women will do better to march together. We may hear to-night that munitions should be controlled. Excellent, imperative, but do not forget that it will be still better when there are no munitions to be controlled. Let us hasten on to THAT goal. Women, you have before you one of the hardest and most important obligations ever put upon our sex. Have you courage for the task?

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