Carrie Chapman Catt

Speech - Apr. 19, 1939

Carrie Chapman Catt
April 19, 1939
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Beginning with the early prophets some three thousand years ago, great and wise men have continually condemned war with its cruel brutalities and have praised peace with its dignity and goodwill. From the pronouncements of the poets and philosophers of long ago, down through the ages to the scholars and statesmen of our own time, logic has steadfastly characterized the expressions of all peacemakers, but never those of the war mongers. The aim of peace is constructive and under its aegis, all great institutions of the world have been built. The aim of war has always been destructive and cities, nations and races lie buried under its ruins.

Despite these well taught lessons, war has continuously spread until it now covers the earth and includes every nation and tribe within its organized system. Never were men so completely trained in the business of destruction as now. To liberate more men for this nefarious task, women and children are prepared to take the places of men in the ranks of workers. Once, women and children were non-combatants, now they are common victims of air-bombing and meet death in the market, on the street, in the home, hospital or church. Never before were all the resources of a nation so carefully surveyed and evaluated in war terms. The armaments of war have grown more varied and more terrible as the years have passed. Warships, airplanes, and submarines are all larger and more destructive than ever before. Cannon shoots further and destroys more. Poison gas and millions of gas masks have come to be a necessary equipment of every nation. Already, the destruction of the wars during the past twenty-five years have far exceeded those of any similar period. In the Great War, more than ten millions of men lost their lives; today, millions of refugees, driven from their homes by pitiless force, homeless, hungry and in despair, are roaming over three continents. The best of the Germans must weep for the Hitler sins committed upon Jews, Catholics, and Protestants; the best of the Japanese must bow their heads in shame over the catastrophes their men have brought upon their neighbors, the Chinese; Italians and Spaniards cannot be proud of their recent history.

How can this degeneration have happened while universities, and colleges, churches, and general education have been pushing forward so vigorously? Why does this fear of war fill every nation with constant dread, and crisis follow crisis? Why is the human race so completely ruled by the animal emotions of fear, hatred, and jealousy and why so little by the human traits of common sense, logic and justice?

We, who have studied, read, and discussed war and peace for the past twenty-five years, think we can answer these questions.

All wars end in high temper. The victors are swelled with pride and triumph; the victims are filled with resentment and longed for revenge. The memory never forsakes the victim and it may be a century or more before the opportunity for retaliation occurs. A pathological condition is created which changes the character of the nation during this waiting period . . Meanwhile, this nation increases its armament and continuously grows more war-minded. The neighboring nations observe this preparation for war, take alarm, and soon the competition of preparation among the nations grows keen and bitter and all prepare themselves for war. None threaten aggression; all declare they prepare for defense. In time, this psychosis holds the entire world enthralled.

There was brave talk at the beginning of the World War about aims and objects, but now, that twenty-five years lie behind us, it is doubtful if any one person could name the cause of that war which would be accepted by the rest of the world. Another war would be as meaningless. Whatever may have been true once, war is not a pathological condition, but it is not an incurable disease.

From the World War there emerged a determination to make an end of war. That had never happened before. The plans were seemingly practical. First, came the League of Nations whose business it would be to control war and cure the war habit, but the United States of America, which had proposed this League, declined to be a member of its own institution. In consequence, much confidence in the League was lost at the beginning and, one by one, the other nations dropped out and followed our example. The Pact of Locarno, the Naval Treaty with its several pacts, the Kellogg Pact, and even the latest Munich Pact, one by one, failed because some of those who signed them violated their pledge.

During the discussions preceding the establishment of the League of Nations, one which seemed the most outstanding was over the proposal to set up an internationally armed force which would enforce the provisions of the League. No such authority was established and, consequently, no enforcement of provision became possible.

The World War left many "sore spots" throughout the world. Germany, Italy, and Japan, all wanted more territory, more prestige, "a bigger place in the sun", and maintained little respect for the treaties they had signed. So while the peacemakers of the world were experimenting with possible cures for war, these three nations found the time auspicious for adding to their possessions and a wild rattling of the saber an excellent way to win what formerly could only be obtained by war. In the words of Moderator Denny, of Town Hall, "The Treaty of Versailles has been abandoned, the peace of Munich has been scrapped; pledges and pacts have no meaning."

Yet this is no time for pessimism or despair. We have tried a great experiment and it has failed. Peace did not come to the world. We now live under the shadow of a possible coming war. Nevertheless, there exists an enormous army of peacemakers, intelligent, brave, and far-seeing. A branch of this great body is to be found in every nation. War has existed in the world for a possible two millions of years; the experiment to bring it to an end covers a mere twenty years. Why weep! We are far better prepared for the next peace experiment than we were for the first and if the second experiment does not succeed, we shall be still better prepared for the third, and so we shall go on until the way to permanent peace is found and firmly established.

Cheer up, pessimist, lay aside despair and enlist in the continuous world experiment of pushing forward the evolution of society which will not fail to bring permanent peace. Cooperation, confidence, and persistence are all the equipment necessary for success. Our peace forces are good enough, but must grow continually larger, continually stronger, continually more confident.

As soon as possible, there should be a world conference, not a conference of war makers whose business it is to bring a peace settlement between combatants, but a conference of peace makers whose only aim is to discover the mistakes in the first experiment and a better program for the next. We shall not find that method along the road of neutrality or isolation or any "milk and water" theory. It must be a more determined plan that the last. It must have a power to stop [to stop] the aggressor before he begins. It must have a power in it to catch and imprison all Napoleons before they ruin nations and men instead of afterwards. It must have a faculty to define civilization and convince the world that that alone shall be the pattern of the governments under which we consent to live.

Catt, C. C. (1939). Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: Speech and Article File, 1892-1946; Speeches; Untitled; 1928 to 1944. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,