Carrie Chapman Catt

Speech delivered at White Plains - Nov. 18, 1931

Carrie Chapman Catt
November 18, 1931— White Plains, New York
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When the Disarmament Conference meets next February in Geneva, its mission will be the fulfillment of solemn pledges made at the Peace Conference at Versailles which closed the war. At previous peace conference delegates showed signs of repentance for the sins of their nations, but no effectual proposal was ever made to prevent their reoccurrence. At Versailles, however, the delegates showed no desire to experience another Great War and all came together in the decision that three things must be done.

  1. Peace machinery must be established to restrain nations threatening war.
  2. A League of Nations must be set up to look after the operation of the machinery.
  3. There must be disarmament.

It was too difficult a situation to think through to its complete and logical end - these great things that had no precedents in the history of the world.

In the words of General Tasker H. Bliss: "The Peace Conference recognized a limitation of national armaments as the very cornerstone of the foundation that it was attempting to lay for a lasting peace." At that time all the Allies believed that Germany had caused the Great War and they wished to punish her soundly for the offense, so it was their determination to take away from her all her power to make war again. What did they do? They reduced her army and stipulated that it should be devoted exclusively to the maintenance of order within her borders. They forbade all other war equipment. No navy, aircraft, chemical war manufactures, armament, nor schools nor camps for training military men were to be allowed. Mr. Clemenceau, President of the Peace Conference, announced publicly in an official document on behalf of the entire Conference: "The restraints in regard to German armaments are the first steps toward the reduction and limitation of armaments for all the nations."

A considerable library of books has been written and printed concerning the cause, the conduct, and the conclusion of the Great War. The statements within these books are often in conflict with each other and no one tells the whole story in a manner acceptable to everybody else. To my mind, a wit, in a sentence, told the story more completely than any book I have read. Said he: "After ten years, it seems that no one yet knows who started the war; who won the war; or who will finally pay for it."

The preamble to the military terms of the Versailles Treaty provides that in order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military naval and air clauses which follow." You will note that when Germany affixed her signature to one side of the last page of that document, twenty-seven other nations of the world, including all the Great Powers, signed it on the other. Therefore, in all good faith and honor these nations have pledged themselves to initiate as soon as practicable a general limitation of armament." No pledge, promise, or agreement, could be clearer or more binding.

In the Covenant of the League of Nations there stands Article number 8. This section dictates that plants for the reduction of armament down to the lowest point consistent with national safety shall be undertaken as soon as possible.

Through thousands of years the institution of war grew unceasingly stronger and more dominating over the destinies of men. By the year 1914 every nation in the world had a war machine, powerful and threatening. Many men of backward races had been enlisted in colonial armies and had there learned the modern art of war. By 1914 the white man's method of war making and the white man's war weapons had traveled to the remotest corners of the earth. War had become remarkably unified. There was one factor common to all the war machines. Each one cost more than all the other expenses of the government put together.

For a thousand years the first thing a new nation had done had been to create the biggest war machine possible. As soon as that war machine came into existence, it was noted in the records of all other nations with remarkable accuracy concerning details. The country was registered in every capital as a potential enemy.

What is a war machine? you may ask. The term is not elegant and perhaps it is slang. Yet, no other term is known to me to express what is meant. A war machine, like an automobile, seems to be composed of spare parts, and these, in times of peace, have little or nothing to do with each other. Ships, guns, men, rifles, uniforms, brass buttons, boots, shoes, food, camps, kitchens, doctors, nurses, hospitals, ambulances, aircraft, cannons, bombs, shells, laboratories where poison gas is manufactured, submarines, wagons, horses, flags, bands, and hundreds of other parts are necessary to the making of war. Yet, were all these parts assembled in one great machine, there would still be four important things to be done before war could be set into operation.

  1. There must be an authority to declare war. In this country it is the President and Congress by a two-thirds vote. When that is done, there is still no war.
  2. There must be an authority to tax the people to secure unbelievable amounts of money with which to pay the costs of war.
  3. There must be an authority to give orders for conscription, for without conscription there will never again be armies large enough to combat the war machines of other nations.
  4. The preparations are not yet in readiness until the fourth is done. There must be a Publicity Bureau and this Bureau must convince the people of a nation that the war is unavoidable and that honor makes the war obligatory.

Now all the spare parts are assembled and the nation moves as soon as possible on to the battlefield.

For thirteen years no step has been taken to demobilize the war machine. Every nation is still heavily overburdened with taxes to maintain its war machines. The Germans say "You promised the reduction and limitation of armament of the Allies down to a parity with that fixed for Germany. Common justice indicates that if that will not be done, Germany would be free to build a war machine up to a parity with that of the Allies." For thirteen years the world has waited for this first step in the reduction and limitation of armament.

Catt, C. C. (1931). Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: Speech and Article File, 1892-1946; Speeches; Untitled; 1928 to 1944. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,