Jane Addams to Edward Mandell House, November 23, 1915


November 23, 1915.

My dear Col. House:

May I send you the points upon the Conference of Neutrals which you so kindly asked me last Sunday evening to write you?

With the military party in power in each country taking the censorship of the press in their hands, the whole stream of communication which ordinarily makes for international public opinion has been stopped, -- as much so as if bulkheads in the Atlantic Ocean had damned the Gulf stream in its course.

1. One of the first practical services of a Conference of Neutrals would be to supply a clearing house to be used by the different groups in the belligerent countries who have programs they wish to propose as a basis for negotiations. For example, we constantly met in England people who said that after the Germans had been driven out of Belgium, they would be willing to talk peace; on the other hand, there is in Germany a large Anti-Annexation League, of which the Secretary of State Hans Delbruck, is a member, declaring that Germany must not keep Belgium. The group in England with no way of communicating with the Anti-Annexation group in Germany, were assuming that the Germans must be driven out of Belgium irrespective of the amount of bloodshed involved, while the people in Germany were assuming that England, bent upon a military victory, would receive no negotiations.

2. Not only is this true in respect to interchange between different nations, but it is most difficult within the countries themselves. Whatever sentiment there is for peace can find no outlet through the press of any of the belligerent nations. With a group of neutrals, however, sitting in some city as The Hague, or Berne, or Copenhagen, -- the union for Democratic control, with its very reasonable program could say to the conference what it could not publish in England; and if the conference gave this out, it would become news and would be published throughout all England, without subjecting newspapers handling it to the charge of lack of patriotism. This is true even more of the situation in Germany and France. The general tendency of the press at present, as brought out by an English member of Parliament this month, is to publish only the most inflaming statements issued by the extremists in the countries with which they are at war.

3. Further, while the labor men of France have broken off communication with the labor leaders of Germany, they could find out each other's programs only [page 2] through such a neutral conference, and discover doubtless that in many respects unknown to themselves, these programs were identical.

While it is doubtless true that governments have sources of information through their foreign office; this is not true of the masses of the people among whom groups with definite programs for terms of peace are growing.

If this war is to be ended with public negotiations and with discussion on the part of the people themselves of the terms of peace, it can only be done through some such clearing house that a Conference of Neutral Nations would afford. Otherwise the people will know nothing of the terms of peace until they are practically rectified; and the only way popular opposition could then express itself would partake of the character of revolution.

Sincerely yours,

Jane Addams [signed]