Peace and Bread: The Witness Borne by Women, February 25, 1922



Peace and Bread


IV. The Witness Borne by Women*

THE disposition of the Conference on the Limitation of Armament at Washington to discuss genuine world problems in a spirit of frankness and good will is in marked contrast to traditional international gatherings. This has led to a widespread hope that the Washington conference has inaugurated a precedent that may result in the successive throwing off of committees and commissions as required to deal with world situations, and so institutes a kind of world organization which should be a natural growth in contrast to the carefully constituted League of Nations or the earlier concepts of “The Parliament of Man.” On the other hand the conference often exhibited an acute consciousness of the hideous state of a world facing starvation and industrial confusion.

The strong public movement developed during its sessions for the immediate calling of an international conference to consider economic problems has testified to the currency of this sense of world disaster which could no longer be confined to Europe.

Throughout these months we have all been conscious of the desperate need of fifteen million starving Russians. But whether I have been serving on a committee to secure funds, lecturing before a state agricultural convention asking the farmers for corn to be sent abroad in the form of meal or oil, or urging congressmen to vote for an adequate appropriation with which to buy for Russia the surplus crop of grain in this country, I have been constantly haunted by a sense of colossal maladjustment, by the lack of intelligence in international affairs.

On the whole, H. G. Wells perhaps registered a widespread reaction when he declared that throughout the Washington conference his moods fluctuated between hope and despair. His final words in a remarkable series of articles so nearly express what I had heard in many countries from our members last summer that I venture to quote them here:

But I know that I believe so firmly in this great world at peace that lies so close to our own, ready to come into being as our wills turn toward it, that I must needs go about this present world of disorder and darkness like an exile doing such feeble things as I can toward the world of my desire, now hopefully, now bitterly, as the moods may happen before I die.

Perhaps it would be fairer to the membership of the Women’s International League in interpreting their work for peace and freedom to American readers to quote still further, and this from a modern poet:

“O glory of the years to be
I, too, will labor at your fashioning.”

OUR Third International Congress which met at Vienna last July, came together almost exactly two years after the Peace of Versailles had been signed. This third congress was of necessity unlike the two earlier congresses in tension and temper and was in some respects more difficult. At the first one, held at The Hague in 1915, women came together not only to make a protest against war but also to present suggestions for consideration at the final Peace Conference, which, as no one could foresee the duration of the war, every one then believed might be held within a few months. The second congress [page 2] was held in Zurich in 1919 and, while there was open disappointment over the terms of the treaty, the Peace Commission was still sitting in Paris, and it was believed not only that the terms would be modified but also that the constitution of the League of Nations would be developed and ennobled. Both of the earlier congresses therefore were hopeful in the sense that the better international relationships which were widely supposed to be attained at the end of the war were still in the making. The third congress was convened in Vienna, which, as we realized, had suffered bitterly both from the war and the terms of peace.

Our members from the thirty countries represented there had been sorely disillusioned by their experiences during the two years of peace, and each group inevitably reflected something of the hopelessness and confusion which had characterized Europe since the war. Nevertheless these groups of women were united in one thing. They all alike had come to realize that every crusade, every beginning of social change, must start from small numbers of people convinced of the righteousness of a cause; that the coming together of convinced groups is a natural process of growth. Our groups had come together in Vienna hoping to receive the momentum and sense of validity which results from encountering like-minded people from other countries and to tell each other how far we had been able to translate conviction into action. The desire to perform the office of reconciliation, to bring something of healing to the confused situation, and to give an impulse toward more normal relations between differing nations, races and classes, was evident from the first meeting of the congress. This latter was registered in the various proposals, such as that founded upon experiences of the last year, that peace missions composed of women of different nations should visit the borders still in a disturbed condition and also the countries in which war had never really ceased.

From l'Humanité
"She looked so beautiful from a distance -- in time of War!"

There was constant evidence that the food blockade, maintained in some instances long after the war, had outraged a primitive instinct of women almost more than the military operations themselves had done. Women had felt an actual repulsion against the slow starvation, the general lowering in the health and resistance of entire populations, the anguish of the millions of mothers who could not fulfill the primitive obligation of keeping their children alive. There was a certain sternness of attitude concerning political conditions which so wretchedly affected woman’s age-long business of nurturing children, as if women had realized as never before what war means.

THE delegates represented nations in various stages of political and social development. At moments we seemed to be discussing the same question from the experiences of its decadent end and its promising beginnings, as if the delegates to the congress represented the point of view both of the university and of the kindergarten. Partly because the meeting was held in Vienna, and partly because the international secretary, Miss Balch, had recently traveled in the Balkan States in the interests of our league, a large number of women came from the immediate territory. Some of them, from Greece, Bulgaria, Poland and the Ukraine, represented organized branches of the league. Other groups were from “minorities” in the newly annexed territories, who frankly came in search of aid, hoping to gain some international recognition and support from even so small and unofficial a congress as our own. There was an interesting group from Croatia, whose reports of the pacifist movement among the Croatian peasants were most impressive, especially one given by the daughter of [Radić], the leader of the movement which he believed destined to reassert the non-resistant character of the Slav. The Saxon group from the part of Transylvania which had lately been given over to [Romania] reported religious difficulties; the relation between Bulgaria and Greece with reference to the transfer of nationalities under the League of Nations plan was set forth by women from both countries. At an evening meeting these [page 3] various minorities, fourteen in all, stated their own cases, and resolutions were presented only after the substance had been agreed upon by representatives of both nations involved. Thus the Polish and German women agreed on a resolution about Upper Silesia, the English and Irish delegates on the Irish question. Touching addresses were made for the Armenians, for the Zionists, and by a colored woman from the United States on behalf of her own people who are not nominally a minority, although they often suffer as such. This evening’s program cohered with the discussion: “How can a population, feeling that it is suffering from injustice, strive to right its wrongs without violence?” There was a very sympathetic report of the Gandhi movement given by Miss Picton [Turbervill], who had lived in India and who preached the following Sunday for the congress in the English church in Vienna. We were also told of a remarkable group centering about Bilthoven in Holland, with some detail as to how Norway and Sweden had accomplished their separation without bloodshed, and of the earlier non-resistant phases of the Sinn Féin movement. Nearly every country represented by a delegation brought some report of the “non-military movement,” in which large or smaller numbers of their fellow-citizens had pledged themselves to take no part in war or in its preparation. Four of our own branches, all of them in countries so recently at war, had made this promise of noncooperation in war a test of membership in the national organizations.

From De Notenkraker
The war god is a cruel god. He strikes humanity even unto the second and third generations.

THIS was part of the revolt against the precautions the governments of Europe were everywhere taking in regard to “pacifist teaching.” Even neutral Switzerland had passed a measure in its assembly, which was still, however, to be submitted to a referendum of the people, that any one teaching a man of military age in such wise as to lessen his enthusiasm for military service should be liable to three years’ imprisonment. A well known theological professor in a Swiss university had resigned on the ground that he could no longer expound the doctrines of the New Testament to the men in his classes. Holland was considering similar regulations, and even in those countries where universal military service was forbidden by the terms of the Peace Treaty, as in Hungary and Bavaria, the almost military rule temporarily established in both of them made any form of peace propaganda extremely dangerous. It was as if the war spirit itself had to be sustained by force, as if its own adherents were afraid of any open discussion of its moral bases and social implications. The military parties seemed more and more to confine their appeal to “the sense of security” and to use the old “fear of attack” motives.

The few communists who were delegates to the congress -- the word used in Europe in a somewhat technical sense to designate the members to the left in the Socialist Party -- were perhaps the most discouraged people there, because their movement in Russia and elsewhere had become so absolutely militaristic. Holding to their pacifist principles had cost them their standing in their own party. Although they may have “come high” to us so far as public opinion was concerned, no people in the world at that moment so needed the companionship which pacifist groups might give them. In the eyes of the bourgeoisie themselves, no one could put pacifism into practice more beneficially for all Europe. These few communist delegates were for the most part reasonable, but all of them were profoundly discouraged.

The resolution which excited the most comment in the press, and which apparently aroused that white heat of interest attaching to any discussion, however remote, of property privileges, was introduced by a group who felt that, as we constantly urged the revolutionist to pacific methods and denounced violence between the classes as we did between the nations, we should logically “work to awaken and strengthen among members of the possessing classes the earnest wish to transform the economic system in the direction of social justice.” The methods suggested in the resolution and voted upon subsequently were “by means of taxation, death duties and reform in land laws,” all of them in operation in many of the countries represented in the congress. The sense of panic aroused by this reasonable discussion was one more indication of that unrestrained fear of bolshevism one encountered everywhere in Europe. It was hard to determine whether it was the idea itself which constantly aroused terror, or the army of the Russian Bolshevists threatening to enforce a theory regardless of “consent.” At any rate, a European public finds it hard to believe that anything even remotely connected with private property can be discussed upon its [page 4] merits and are convinced that the subject must always be introduced either by agents provocateurs, or by propagandists paid with Russian money. The war propaganda had demonstrated to the world how possible it is to “put over” an opinion if enough ability and money are expended, and the Bolshevists had certainly learned the lesson. We undoubtedly felt for an instant that icy breath of fear blowing through Europe from the mysterious steppes of Russia.

THROUGHOUT the congress we were conscious that peace theories turned into action won the complete admiration of the delegates as nothing else did. This was instanced when the congress was eloquently addressed by a Belgian delegate, Madame Lucie Dejardin, who had organized an association of those who had been imprisoned in Germany (civilians as well as returned Belgian soldiers), which had cared for two thousand German and Austrian children. She herself had been carried into Germany in January, 1915, and imprisoned there in one camp after another, until, developing tuberculosis, she was invalided to Switzerland in July, 1918. This Belgian woman was typical of many women who had touched bottom as it were in the valley of human sorrow and had found a spring of healing there.

In 1913 I had attended the suffrage meeting in Vienna presided over by the mother of the present president of the Austrian Republic. At that time the Austrian women were prohibited by law from belonging to any organization with a political aim. I returned eight years later, as I said at a public reception in the city hall, to find full suffrage extended to all women over twenty-one, with eleven women sitting in the lower House of Parliament, four in the upper House, and twenty-three as members of the city council. In the face of these rapid changes, who would venture to say that peace, or any other unpopular cause, was hopeless? Even a new basis for peace seemed not so remote when the large audience, containing many Austrian officials, listened with profound interest to a Frenchwoman, Mlle. Mélin, who, although her devastated home was not yet rebuilt, held war itself as an institution responsible for the wretched world in which we are all living.

We felt everywhere, in the midst of the political depression, both urge and zest in the efforts of one country after another to restore the land to the people, or at least to divide up the huge estates into smaller holdings. In Hungary, for instance, [Barna Buza], the minister of agriculture under the [Károlyi] Government, had been succeeded by a peasant named [Szabó], who in the midst of the reaction was putting through radical land reforms of which he talked to us with enthusiasm.

The [Czechoslovakian] government was dividing the estates in the annexed territories among the returned Russian legionaries and other soldiers, and their projected reforms reached much further. Everywhere there was acquiescence if not a “consent” to the housing arrangements which practically all the cities had made; conservative women told us with a certain pride of what they had done to conform to the municipal regulations in making room for other families within their houses, and that it was “not so bad.” Sometimes this sympathetic report and the universal concern for the starving children, for whom thousands of women in all walks of life were deeply moved, gave one hope that this impulse to care for the victims of the war was as widespread as its devastating misery, expressing itself not only through the care of children but in many other ways, such as the governmental subsidy to the bread supply which was still regularly made in Austria. Would this impulse gradually subside into a “suppressed desire,” forming the basis of futile and disturbing [page 5] social unrest; would it be seized by the doctrinaires who were already trading so largely upon the normal human impulses exaggerated by war; or would it finally be captured by the friends of mankind? Could not this impulse to nurture the wretched be canalized and directed by enlarged governmental agencies, and was not that the problem before the statesmen of Europe?

THE conditions in southeastern Europe as we saw them that hot summer of 1921 might well challenge the highest statesmanship. We saw much of starvation and we continually heard of the appalling misery in all of the broad belt lying between the Baltic and the Black Sea, to say nothing of Russia to the east and Armenia to the south. Even those food resources which were produced in Europe itself and should have been available for instant use were prevented from satisfying the desperate human needs by “jealous and cruel tariff regulations surroundings each nation like the barbed wire entanglements around a concentration camp.” A covert war was being carried on by the use of import duties and protective tariffs to such an extent that we felt as if economic hostility, having been legitimatized by the food blockades of the war, was of necessity being sanctioned by the very commissions which were the outgrowth of the peace conference itself. We saw that the smaller states, desperately protecting themselves against each other, but imitated the great Allies with their protectionist policies, with their colonial monopolies and preferences.  

This economic war may have been inevitable, especially between succession states of the former Austrian Empire with their inherited oppressions and grievances. We longed for a customs union, a pax economica for these new nations, who failed to see that “the price of nationality is a workable internationalism; otherwise it is doomed so far as the smaller states are concerned.”

We arrived in Europe in the midst of the prolonged discussion as to the amount of the “reparations” to be paid by Germany. This discussion by the Supreme Council had [focused] more powerfully than ever before the antagonism between two conceptions of international trade; one, that widest form of cooperation which would afford the greatest yield of wealth to the entire world; the other, that conflict of activities and interests by which the members of one nation may, through governmental action, benefit themselves at the cost of the members of another nation.

The latter doctrine was of course openly applied to the enemy nations, but naturally it could not be confined to them.

The situation as we saw it seemed to bear out completely Norman Angell’s theory of the futility of war. As he stated in The Fruits of Victory, published at that time: “The continent as a whole has the same soil and natural resources and technical knowledge as when it fed its populations, but there is suffering and want on every hand. ... War psychology is fatal to social living. ... 'The ideas which produce war -- the fears out of which it grows and the passions which it feeds -- produce a state of mind that ultimately renders impossible the cooperation by which alone wealth can be produced and life maintained.’”

AND so we came back to what our own organization was trying to do, to substitute consent for coercion, a will to peace for belief in war. Like all educational efforts, from the preaching in churches to the teaching in schools, at moments it must seem ineffectual and vague, but, after all, the activity of life could be changed in no other way than by changing the current ideas upon which it was being conducted.

The members of the [Women's] International League for Peace and Freedom had certainly learned from their experience during the war that widely accepted ideas can be both dominating and all powerful. But we still believed it possible [page 6] to modify, to direct, and ultimately to change current ideas.

Although we were so near to the great war with its millions of dead, we had ventured at the very opening of the congress at Vienna to assert that war is not a natural activity for mankind. After an opportunity to see something of the League of Nations in Geneva we could again assert that it is a natural tendency of men to come into friendly relationships with ever larger and larger groups, and to live constantly a more extended life. It required no courage to predict that the endless desire of men would at last assert itself, that desire which torments them almost like an unappeased thirst, not to be kept apart but to come to terms with one another. It is the very spring of life which underlies all social organizations and political associations.

*This is the concluding [installment] from Miss Addams' book, Peace and Bread in Time of War, brought out this month by the Macmillan Company. Correction should be made here of two passages in the previous [installment]. President Wilson's peace-without-victory speech was delivered January 22, 1917; that of the fourteen points on January 8, 1918. Miss Addams points out that the mistakes were not, however, as to dates but as to characterizations. On page 659 she was in truth referring to Mr. Wilson's annual message of December 7, 1915; and on page 661 to his speech to the Senate of January 22, 1917, in which in a sense he may be said to have forecast the fourteen points. The chapter dealt with the period before the United States entered the war. -- EDITOR.

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