OUR OBVIOUS DUTY circ 1937
Carrie Chapman Catt
Despite the fact that war has begun in Ethiopia which threatens the peace of the entire world, there is reason for peace makers to rejoice.
At no time in the history of the world has there been such powerful demonstrations of opposition to war as during the past few months. The great outstanding fact of the year is not that war has come, but that the League of Nations very nearly persuaded Italy to abandon its imperialistic intentions. Such an effect of public opinion has not been seen in the world before.
At the end, Great Britain came forward with confidence and determination. She persuaded France and the League of Nations to more resolute policies. Why did she change from uncertainty to decision and why had she procrastinated until too late to secure the result she wanted? She changed her attitude because a referendum on peace and loyalty to the League of Nations was submitted to the people and it was announced that it had been signed by eleven millions for and one million against. With an election coming, the backbone of political leaders immediately stiffened, and the collective backbones of the nation straightened and bold, unhesitating action followed, but, meanwhile, a hundred and fifty thousand Italians had been transported to Eritria and Somaliland [autonomous region of Somalia]. Foods had been ordered or sent in amounts sufficient to provide for the needs of a large army. Submarines, airplanes, tanks, and poison gas in large and costly quantities had been built or gathered together and forwarded to Africa. Italy had been forcefully educated for twelve years to expect this or a similar war and to believe it necessary. One American has read all Italian school books and found them well filled with subtle propaganda in support of such a war.
Conclusions by the League have met with one embarrassing difficulty. Italy and Ethiopia each charge the other with being the aggressor and neither has declared war upon the other.
Nevertheless, the League of Nations found the government of Italy guilty of aggression and a violator of Article XVI of the Covenant of the League of Nations but it was too late to avert war. The only problem facing Italy then was, - could her “face be saved” – and pride said “No.”
Had the returns of that referendum been completed a few months earlier, it is not improbable that there would have been no war in Ethiopia! Had all the so-called Great Powers had similar referenda, it is certain there would have been no war.
The League of Nations is composed of nations. In ever nation there is a war group, rich and politically powerful, a peace group, probably poor and hesitating, and a group, larger than either or both together, which is indifferent and uncertain. The mutual distrust of the first two groups and utter ignorance of what is going on in the world of the third, renders quick, constructive, definite policy impossible as yet.
At Geneva representatives of these governments have, from time to time, made eloquent, convincing orations for peace. One recalls the thrilling words of Briand of France [Aristide Briand, 55th Prime Minister of France during early 20th Century], Stresemann of Germany [Gustav Stresemann, German Chancellor 1923-1929], Benes of Czecho-Slovakia [Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia 1935-1938, 1945-1948], Litvinov of Russia [Maxim Litvinov, Russian revolutionary and Soviet politician], MacDonald [Ramsay MacDonald, British Prime Minister 1924, 1929-1935] and Hoare [Samuel Hoare, British politician] of Great Britain, and many others whose phrases have rung around the world, but no nation has stood solidly behind its orator with insistence upon the bold program he recommended.
The World’s League can never rise to nobler heights than the nations which compose it. Hence evasion of responsibility for the oncoming war of Italy was the policy for the first months of the year.
The war group, believing that war has always been and, therefore, always will be, is, as yet, too strong and influential. The peace group is not certain enough that it knows the road to peace and wastes time on subsidiary discussions. The indifferent hold themselves too selfishly aloof.
The Obvious duty of all intelligent people in the United States is to build up the peace group to greater numbers, stronger unity, and more certain policy.
We need a referendum on peace with more signers than there were in Great Britain since our population is larger than hers and our representatives should now know how large a mandate there is among us for an insistent peace program.
It is our national duty to join the League of Nations since world peace cannot be secured without the cooperation of all nations in the world. Japan and Germany have sulkily withdrawn, not being able to have their own way, and perhaps Italy will take similar action for the same reason, but such nations will return when they find themselves isolated.
We need a definite united program suitable for all groups and which will lead straight to the certain abolition of war and perpetual peace. We need, too, active, energetic, crusading support of that program, first by the people, next by the political parties, and finally by the government.
We need “Shall it be Peace of War Schools” to teach speakers, organizers, and writers how to work.
Work to this end and war will cease. Wait for others to do the work and wars will follow wars for many a year.