Patriotism and Pacifists in War Time, May 15, 1917

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The City Club Bulletin


Miss Jane Addams, on May 15, presented to the City Club her views on the present world situation and the part which "pacifists" should play in it. She said:

"The position of the pacifist in time of war is most difficult, and necessarily he must abandon the perfectly legitimate propaganda he maintained before war was declared. When he, with his fellow countrymen, is caught up by a wave of tremendous enthusiasm and is carried out into a high sea of patriotic feeling, he realizes that the virtues which he extols are brought into unhappy contrast to those which war, with its keen sense of a separate national existence, places in the foreground.

"Nevertheless, the modern peace movement, since it was inaugurated three hundred years ago, has been kept alive throughout many great wars and during the present war some sort of peace organization has been maintained in all of the belligerent nations. Our Woman's International Committee for Permanent Peace, for instance, of which I have the honor to be chairman, is in constant communication with our branches organized since this war began in such fighting nations and colonies as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Hungary, British India, Italy, France, Poland and Russia, in addition to the neutral countries of Europe and one or two of South America.

"Surely the United States will be as tolerant to pacifists in time of war as those countries have been, some of which are fighting for their very existence, and fellow-citizens, however divided in opinion, will be able to discuss those aspects of patriotism which endure through all vicissitudes.

"Before taking up the subject of this paper, it may be well to state that there are many types of pacifists, from the extreme left, composed of non-resistants, through the middle-of-the-road groups, to the extreme right, who can barely be distinguished from mild militarists; and that in our movement, as well as in many others, we must occasionally remind ourselves of Emerson's saying, that the test of a real reformer is his ability to put up with the other reformers.

"In one position, however, we are all agreed, and to this as to an abstract proposition, we must hold at all times, even after war has been declared: that war, although exhibiting some of the noblest qualities of the human spirit, yet affords no solution for vexed international problems; and that moreover after war has been resorted to, its very existence, in spite of its superb heroisms and sacrifices which we also greatly admire, tends to obscure and confuse those faculties which might otherwise find a solution.

"In the stir of the heroic moment when a nation enters war, men's minds are driven back to the earliest obligations of patriotism, and almost without volition the emotions move along the worn grooves of blind admiration for the soldier and of unspeakable contempt for him who, in the hour of danger, declares that fighting is unnecessary. We pacifists are not surprised, therefore, when apparently striking across and reversing this popular conception of patriotism, that we should not only be considered incapable of facing reality, but that we should be called traitors and cowards. It makes it all the more incumbent upon us, however, to demonstrate, if we can, that in our former advocacy we urged a reasonable and vital alternative to war, and that our position now does not necessarily imply lack of patriotism or cowardice.

"To take up the three charges in order:


"First: The similarity of sound between the words 'passive' and 'pacifism' is often misleading, for most pacifists agree with such statements as that made by Mr. Brailsford in The New Republic of March 17th -- that wonderful journal, The New Republic, from which so many preachers are now taking their texts in preference to the New Testament. Mr. Brailsford, an Englishman, said: 'This war was an act of insurgence against the [page 2] death in life which acquiesces in hampered conditions and unsolved problems. There was in this concerted rush to ruin and death the force of a rebellious and unconquerable life. It was bent on a change, for it knew that the real denial and surrender of life is not a physical death but the refusal to move and progress.' Agreeing substantially with this analysis of the causes of the present war, we pacifists, so far from passively wishing nothing to be done, contend on the contrary that this world crisis should be utilized for the creation of an international government able to make the necessary political and economic changes when they are due; we feel that it is unspeakably stupid that the nations should have failed to create an international organization through which each one, without danger to itself, might recognize and even encourage the impulse toward growth in other nations.

"Pacifists believe that in the Europe of 1914, certain tendencies were steadily pushing towards large changes which in the end made war, because the system of peace had no way of effecting those changes without war, no adequate international organization which could cope with the situation. The conception of peace founded upon the balance of power or the undisturbed status quo, was so negative that frustrated national impulses and suppressed vital forces led to war, because no method of orderly expression had been devised.

"We are not advocating the mid-Victorian idea that good men from every country meet together at The Hague or elsewhere, where they shall pass a resolution, that 'wars hereby cease' and that 'the world hereby be federated.' What we insist upon is that the world can be organized politically by its statesmen as it has been already organized into an international fiscal system by its bankers or into an international scientific association by its scientists. We ask why the problem of building a railroad to [Baghdad], of securing corridors to the sea for a land-locked nation, or warm water harbors for Russia, should result in war. Surely the minds of this generation are capable of solving such problems as the minds of other generations have solved their difficult problems. Is it not obviously because such situations transcend national boundaries and must be approached in a spirit of world adjustment, while men's minds, still held apart by national suspicions and rivalries, are unable to approach them in a spirit of peaceful adjustment?

"The very breakdown exhibited by the present war reinforces the pacifists' contention that there is need of an international charter -- a Magna [Carta] indeed -- of international rights, to be issued by the nations great and small, with large provisions for economic freedom.


"In reply to the old charge of lack of patriotism, we claim that we are patriotic from the historic viewpoint as well as by other standards. American pacifists believe -- if I may go back to those days before the war, which already seem so far away -- that the United States was especially qualified by her own particular experience to take the leadership in a peaceful organization of the world. We then ventured to remind our fellow citizens that when the founders of this republic adopted the federal constitution and established the Supreme Court, they were entering upon a great political experiment of whose outcome they were by no means certain. The thirteen colonies somewhat slowly came into the federation, and some of them consented very reluctantly to the use of the supreme court. Nevertheless, the great political experiment of the United States was so well established by the middle of the 19th century, that America had come to stand to the world for the principle of federal government and for a supreme tribunal whose decisions were binding upon sovereign states.

"We pacifists hoped that the United States might perform a similar service in the international field, by demonstrating that the same principles of federation and of an interstate tribunal might be extended among widely separated nations as they had already been established between contiguous states. Stirred by enthusiasm over the great historical experiment of the United States, it seemed to us that American patriotism might rise to a supreme effort. We hoped that the United States might refuse to follow the beaten paths of upholding the rights of a separate nationalism by [page 3] war, because her own experience for more than a century had so thoroughly committed her to federation and to peaceful adjudication as to every-day methods of government. The President's speech before the Senate embodied such a masterly restatement of these early American principles that thousands of his fellow citizens dedicated themselves anew to finding a method for applying them in the wider and more difficult field of international relationships.


"We also counted upon the fact that this great war had challenged the validity of the existing status between nations as it had never been questioned before, and that radical changes were being proposed by the most conservative of men and of nations. As conceived by the pacifist, the constructive task laid upon the United States in the recent crisis called for something more than diplomacy and the old type of statesmanship.

"It demanded a penetration which might discover a more adequate moral basis for the relationship between nations and the sustained energy to translate the discovery into political action. The exercise of the highest political intelligence, we hoped, might not only establish a new scale of moral values, but might hasten to a speedy completion for immediate use, that international organization which has been so long discussed and so ardently anticipated. For there is another similarity between the end of the 18th century and the present time; quite as the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution had been preceded by much philosophic writing on the essential equality of all men and on the possibility of establishing self government among them, so the new internationalism has long had its thinkers who have laid a foundation of abstract principle. Then, as now, however, the great need was not for more writing, nor even for able propaganda, but for a sober attempt to put them into practice, to translate them into concrete acts.


"We were more hopeful of this from the fact that the test of experience had already been applied by the United States to such a course of action, at least so far as to substitute adjudication for war. Four times before now has our country become involved in the fringe of European wars, and in three instances the difficulties were peacefully adjudicated.

"In 1798, when the French Revolution had pulled most of Europe into war, George Washington, who was then President -- perhaps because he was so enthusiastic over our Supreme Court -- refused to yield to the clamor of his countrymen to go to war on the side of France, our recent friend, against Great Britain, our recent enemy, and sent Chief Justice John Jay over to London to adjust the difficulties which had arisen in connection with our shipping. Because John Jay was successful in his mission, George Washington became for the time so unpopular that he publicly expressed the wish that he had never been born -- although he does not seem to have permanently lost his place in the hearts of his countrymen.

"Four years later, when France violated our neutral rights on the seas, John Adams, as President, sent commissioners to Paris who adjudicated the matter. Although keeping the peace made Adams so unpopular that he failed of his second term, many years later, as an old man, he said that his tombstone might well be inscribed with the words: 'He kept the peace with France.'

"Adams' successor, Thomas Jefferson, encountered the same difficulty, and in spite of grave mistakes, succeeded in keeping the country out of war. He was finally rewarded by the peaceful acquisition of the vast Louisiana territory.

"The War of 1812 was the result of a disregard of neutral rights incident to the Napoleonic upheaval, and made the first break in the chain of international adjudications instituted by Chief Justice Jay, which had become known as the American plan.

"Although both England and France had violated our rights at sea, the United States was drawn into war with England at the moment when she was in a death grapple with Napoleon, and so irrational is war, that in the final terms of peace, the treaty did not mention the [page 4] very matter upon which war had been declared. Perhaps, however, three adjudications out of five instances in which the shipping of the United States has become involved in European war, is as much as can be hoped for.


"With such a national history back of us, as pacifists we are thrown into despair over our inability to make our position clear when we are accused of wishing to isolate the United States and to keep our country out of world politics. We are, of course, urging a policy exactly the reverse, that this country should lead the nations of the world into a wider life of [coordinated] political activity; that the United States should boldly recognize the fact that the vital political problems of our time have become as intrinsically international in character as have the commercial and social problems so closely connected with them; that modern wars are not so much the result of quarrels between nations as of the rebellion against international situations inevitably developed through the changing years, which admit of adequate treatment only through an international agency not yet created. The fact that such an agency has been long desired, the necessity for it clearly set forth by statesmen in all the civilized nations, and that a splendid beginning had already been made at The Hague, makes the situation only more acute.


"We had also hoped much from the varied population of the United States, for whether we will or not, our very composition would make it easier for us than for any other nation to establish an international organization founded upon understanding and good will, did we but possess the requisite courage and intelligence to utilize it.

"There are in this country thousands of emigrants from the Central Powers, to whom a war between the United States and the fatherland means exquisite torture. They and their inheritances are a part of the situation which faces us. They are a source of great strength in an international venture, as they are undoubtedly a source of weakness in a purely nationalistic position of the old-fashioned sort. These ties of blood, binding us to all the nations of the Earth, afford a unique equipment for a great international task if the United States could but push forward into the shifting area of internationalism.

"Modern warfare is an intimately social and domestic affair. The civilian suffering and, in certain regions, the civilian mortality, is as great as that endured by the soldiers. There are thousands of our fellow citizens who cannot tear their minds away from Poland, Galicia, Syria, Armenia, Serbia, [Romania], Greece, where their own relatives are dying from diseases superinduced by hardship and hunger. To such sore and troubled minds war had come to be a hideousness which belongs to Europe alone and was part of that privation and depression which they had left behind them when they came to America. Newly immigrated Austrian subjects of a dozen nationalities came to their American friends during the weeks of suspense, utterly bewildered by the prospect of war. They had heard not three months before that the President of the United States did not believe in war -- for so the Senate speech has been interpreted by many simple minds -- and they had concluded that whatever happened, some more American way would be found.

"The multitude of German subjects who have settled and developed certain parts of the United States had, it seems to me, every right to be considered as an important factor in the situation, before war was declared. President Wilson himself said, in February, after the U-boat campaign had been announced, that he was giving due weight to the legitimate rights of the American citizens of German descent. The men of '48 are as truly responsible for our national ideals as the Puritans of New England, the [Quakers] of Pennsylvania, or the Russian revolutionists of the '90s. How valuable that gallant spirit of '48, spreading as it did from one European country to another, could be made in an international venture it is difficult to estimate.

"It has been said that this great war 'will prove the bloody angle at which mankind turns from centuries of warfare to the age of peace.' But certainly this will not happen automatically nor [page 5] without leadership founded upon clear thinking and international sympathies.

"It is very easy to go to war for a well defined aim which changes imperceptibly as the war progresses, and to continue the war or even end it on quite other grounds. Shifting aims is one of the inherent characteristics of war as an institution.

"Pacifists hoped that this revolution in international relationships, which has been steadily approaching for three hundred years and is long [overdue] might have been obtained without our participation in the war; but we also believe that it may be obtained after the war, if the United States succeeds in protecting and preserving the higher standards of internationalism.


"Pacifists recognize and rejoice in the large element of national unselfishness and in the recognition of international obligation set forth by President Wilson as reasons for our participation in the great war. We feel that the exalted sense of patriotism in which each loses himself in the [consciousness] of a national existence, has been enlarged by an alliance with nations across the Atlantic and across the Pacific with whom we are united in a common purpose. Let the United States, by all means, send a governmental commission to Russia; plans for a better fiscal system to bewildered China; food to all nations wherever little children are starving; but let us never forget that the inspiring and overwhelming sense of a common purpose, which an alliance with fifteen or sixteen nations gives us, is but a forecast of what might be experienced if the genuine international alliance were achieved, including all the nations of the Earth.

"In so far as we and our allies are held together by the consciousness of a common enemy and the fear of a common danger, there is a chance for the growth of the animosity and hatred which may yet overwhelm the attempt at international organization to be undertaken after the war, as it has defeated so many high-hearted attempts in the past.

"May we not say in all sincerity that for thirty-three months Europe has been earnestly striving to obtain through patriotic wars, that which can finally be secured only through international organization? Millions of men, loyal to one international alliance, are gallantly fighting millions of men loyal to another international alliance, because of Europe's inability to make an alliance including them all. Can the United States discharge her duty in this situation save as she finally makes possible the establishment of a genuine international government?


"Ever since the European war began, the United States has been conscious of a failure to respond to a moral demand; she has vaguely felt that she was shirking her share in a world effort toward the higher good; she has had black moments of compunction and shame for her own immunity and safety. Can she hope through war to assuage the feverish thirst for action she has felt during all those three years? There is no doubt that she has made the correct diagnosis of her case, of her weariness with a selfish, materialistic life, and of her need for concerted, self-forgetting action. But is blood-letting a sufficiently modern remedy in such a diagnosis? Will she lose her sense of futility and her consciousness of moral failure, when thousands of her young men are facing the dangers of war? Will she not at the end of this war still feel her inadequacy and sense of failure unless she is able to embody in a permanent organization the cosmopolitanism which is the essence of her spirit? Will she be content, even in war time, to organize food supplies of one group of nations and to leave the women and children of any nation still starving?

"Is not the government of the United States somewhat in the position of those of us who have lived for many years among immigrants? It is quite impossible for us to ask just now whether the parents of a child who needs food are Italians, and therefore now our allies, or Dalmatians, and therefore now our 'alien enemies.' Such a question is as remote as if during the Balkan war we had anxiously inquired whether the parents were Macedonians or Montenegrins, although that was then a [distinction] [page 6] of paramount importance to thousands of our neighbors.

"It has been officially declared that we are entering this war 'to make the world safe for democracy.' While we are still free to make terms with our allies, are we not under obligation to assert that the United States owes too much to all the nations of the Earth whose sons have developed our raw prairies into fertile fields, to allow the women and children of any of them to starve?

"It is told of the recent Irish uprising that after Sheehy Skeffington had been arrested, an English soldier was placed on guard in the house lest Mrs. Skeffington and her little boy might destroy possibly incriminating papers; that the soldier, after standing for a long time in the presence of the woman and child, finally shifted his position and, looking uneasily at Mrs. Skeffington, said; 'You see, I didn't enlist exactly for this.'

"Would it not be possible for the United States to tell her allies that she had not enlisted in this great war for the purpose of starving women and children? When the United States entered the war the final outcome was apparently to be decided by food supply rather than by force of arms. Could Germany hold out during the spring and early summer until the new crop was garnered? Could England feed herself were the U-boat campaign in any degree successful, were the terrible questions in men's minds.

"For decades civilized nations had confidently depended upon other nations for their supply of cattle and of grain until long continued war brought the primitive fear of starvation back into the world with so many other obsolete terrors.


"Such an international organization as the United States is now creating in connection with her allies for the control of their common food supply, is clearly transcending old national bounds. It may be a new phase of political unification in advance of all former achievements, or it may be one of those shifting alliances for war purposes, of which European history affords so many examples. Simply because food is so strategic, as it were, we lay ourselves open to the latter temptations. Could we not free ourselves from this and at the same time perform a great service if we urge that an international commission sit at Athens during the rest of this war, as an international commission sat in London during the Balkan wars? Such a commission might at once insist upon a more humane prosecution of the war, at least so far as civilian populations are concerned, a more merciful administration of the lands occupied, and distribution of foodstuffs to all conquered peoples.


"The United States has to her credit a long account of the spread of democratic institutions during the years when she was at peace with the rest of the world. Her own experiment as a republic was quickly followed by France, and later by Switzerland, and to the south of her a vast continent contains no nation which fails -- through many vicissitudes though it be -- to maintain a republican form of government.

"It has long been the aim of this government of ours and of similar types of government the world over to replace coercion by the full consent of the governed, to educate and strengthen the free will of the people through the use of democratic institutions, and to safeguard even the rights of minorities. This age-long process of obtaining the inner consent of the citizen to the outward acts of his government is of necessity violently interrupted and thrown back in war time; but we all realize that some day it must be resumed and carried forward again, perhaps on an international basis. Let us strive to keep our minds clear regarding it.

"Some of us once dreamed that the cosmopolitan inhabitants of this great nation might at last become united in a vast common endeavor for social ends. We hoped that this fusing might be accomplished without the sense of opposition to a common enemy which is an old method of welding people together, better fitted for military than for social use. If this for the moment is impossible, let us at least place the spirit of cooperation [page 7] above that of bitterness and remember the wide distinction between social control and military coercion.

"It is easy for all of us to grow confused in a moment like this for the pacifist, like the rest of the world, has developed a high degree of suggestibility; we too share that sensitiveness to the feelings, the opinion, and the customs of our own social group which is said to be an inheritance from an almost pre-human past. An instinct which once enabled the man-pack to survive when it was a question of keeping a herd together, or of perishing off the face of the Earth is perhaps not [underdeveloped] in any of us.


"When as pacifists we urge a courageous venture into international ethics, which will require a fine valor as well as a high intelligence, we experience a sense of anti-climax when we are told that because we do not want war, we are so cowardly as to care for 'safety first,' that we place human life, physical life, above the great ideals of national righteousness.

"But surely that man is not without courage who, seeing that which is invisible to the majority of his fellow countrymen, still asserts his conviction and is ready to vindicate its spiritual value over against the world. Each advance in the zigzag line of human progress has traditionally been embodied in small groups of individuals, who have ceased to be in harmony with the status quo and have demanded modifications. Such modifications did not always prove to be in the line of progress, but whether they were or not, they always excited opposition, which from the nature of the case was never so determined as when the proposed changes touched moral achievements which were greatly prized and had been secured with much difficulty.

"Bearing in mind the long struggle to secure and maintain national unity, the pacifist easily understands why his theories seem particularly obnoxious just now, although in point of fact our national unity is not threatened, and would be finely consummated in an international organization.


"With visions of international justice filling our minds, pacifists are always a little startled when those who insist that justice can only be established by war, accuse us of caring for peace, irrespective of justice. Many of the pacifists in their individual and corporate capacity have long striven for social and political justice with a fervor perhaps equal to that employed by the advocates of force, and we realize that a sense of justice has become the keynote to the best political and social activity in this generation. Although this ruling passion for juster relations between man and man, group and group, or between nation and nation, is not without its sterner aspects, among those who dream of a wider social justice throughout the world there has developed a conviction that justice between men or between nations can be achieved only through understanding and fellowship, and that a finely tempered sense of justice, which alone is of any service in modern civilization, cannot be secured in the storm and stress of war. This is not only because war inevitably arouses the more primitive antagonisms, but because the spirit of fighting burns away all of those impulses, certainly towards the enemy, which foster the will to justice.

"We believe that the ardor and self sacrifice so characteristic of youth could be enlisted for the vitally energetic role which we hope our beloved country will inaugurate in the international life of the world. We realize that it is only the ardent spirits, the lovers of mankind, who will be able to break down the suspicion and lack of understanding which has so long stood in the way of the necessary changes upon which international good order depends; who will at last create a political organization enabling nations to secure without war, those high ends which they now gallantly seek to obtain upon the battlefield.

"With such a creed, can the pacifists of today be accused of selfishness when they urge upon the United States not isolation, not indifference to moral issues and to the fate of liberty and democracy, but a strenuous endeavor to lead all nations of the Earth into an organized international life worthy of civilized men?"

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