Carrie Chapman Catt

We Live in a World in Which Every Nation is Organized for War - 1935

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1935
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We live in a world in which every nation is organized for war. Each nation has its war machine, they are duplicated one of the other in general plan and equipment save that some are stronger and more up to date than others. The fashions in armaments change as rapidly as those of a lady’s bonnet and only the rich nations can keep pace with military inventions. Already ships, submarines and airplanes than any known during the Great War, guns and cannon shoot further than any known then and bombs of heavier weight may not be thrown at the enemy.

It should be remembered that these war machines growing stronger and more terrible every year are an evolution, an institution that has grown and expanded without pause since the days of Nebuchadnezzer. The Foreign Policy of nations has grown up side by side with the war machine – twin defenses built up by frightened nations each afraid of every other. Let an emergency arise and automatically State, War and Navy Departments move on to war. A President ever so peaceful in hope and theory, a Congress far from militant ideals are unable to understand the force of this combined war machine. It moves; they surrender. Two good and educated men could scarcely be further apart than Mr. Wilson and Mr. Coolidge. Both have been men of peace yet the force of treaties vested interests precedents drove the first to intervention in Mexico and the second to the edge of the precipice at least. Presidents may come and presidents go and the same recurring emergencies will drive them all to follow the age-old way. They cannot escape the operation of the system a part of which they are until the system is changed. Here we live in this war-world. Over here is a warless world wherein the precedents that now ensnare our feet and our reason have been replaced by others built upon new foundations and on different specifications. It doubtless is a long long trail that leads from here to there and surely there lies between a steep and stony climb.

The Academy of Political and Social Science must have thought it time to begin the journey or it would not have placed this subject upon the program.

In truth, the only way to start, the only way that any nation can make an effective contribution to permanent peace is to do something, do anything that boldly, courageously challenges outworn methods of the past and confidently points to somewhere, some time, somehow saner methods for the future. It must break away from the custom of dealing with situations that inevitably produce war, and set up a rule that will ensure peace. To wish for peace and do nothing is futile; to resolve oratorically for peace on party platforms or campaign speeches and do nothing is childish. There must be action – a step forward a new thing achieved. A timid experiment to-day if based on sound reason becomes a precedent to-morrow and a sacred human principle the day after.

What to do, is the first question. The answer calls less for wisdom and originality than for a clear conception of right and wrong. Finding the thing to do, the more staggering question is, have we as a nation the courage to do it? “Will my party stand for this new thing,” asks the timid politician thinking always in terms of votes. He trembles before the fear of what ignorant though educated men, or self-seeking though religious men may do. So we the people hold back waiting for the President, the President must wait for his party, the party waits for us and the world cries for justice while all of us, poor groping scared Americans, wait for each other.

There is wisdom enough in this land to find the thing to do, there is courage enough to do it if we will but understand that there is no such thing as political party courage or initiative until we the people put them there. Ours is the responsibility now and always. What can we do? Discover some new principles and write them into our foreign policy. Take out of it the spirit of Hannibal and Alexander and Genghis Khan and put into it something the foreign policy of no nation has ever had – the principles of the new foundation of the world to be.

Ten years ago our nation had a chance to do a bold and noble thing. It could have listened to the plea of new China stumblingly experimenting in self-government. We should have understood the aspiration of that wise old people with their young men set afire by the combination of Western education and Western imposed humiliations. We, of all in the world, should have dared to extend the friendly hand. At the point of bayonets other nations had imposed that cruel superiority complex known as extra-territoriality upon the Chinese. At the point of the bayonet indemnities were exacted to pay the cost of their own conquest and customs preempted to pay the bill. King George’s attentions were polite gestures compared with these impositions upon China. The United States did none of these wicked acts but she took and enjoyed all the advantages won by the bayonets. Ten years ago the demands of the young Chinese were as clear as they are to-day. The United States might have withdrawn from those treaties of humiliation. Had it done so, China would not have sought advice and help from Russia, the missionaries would not now be refugees and nearly eighty mostly armed ships of foreign nations in Chinese harbors and rivers. Some day another treaty will be written. Have we discovered any better principles upon which to base it than those from which we did not withdraw when we might have done so? It is said that Mr. Coolidge has done exactly right. I believe he has done the only thing possible since the wrong had been allowed to rankle so long. On the other hand, I believe the Chinese are doing the inevitable and were you Chinese, you too would be a rebel.

We missed an opportunity – an opportunity to lead toward the right that will not come our way again. We may still offer a new treaty but it will be compelled by the force of circumstances, not a generous contribution. This matter the United States might have arbitrated pending disputes with Mexico and thus set an example to the world. She didn’t and wouldn’t. The provision for such procedure had been made in the Treaty of Guadaloupe [Peace treaty between the U.S. and Mexico] signed in 1846. Washington was afraid to do what Washington 81 years ago had promised. Another opportunity wasted. All the germs that spread and produce epidemics are those of disease. Principles, new conceptions of justice and right are infectious too. The first business is to start the so-called culture on its way.

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