Document 19: Grace H. Brosseau, "Opening Speech to the Third Women's Patriotic Conference on National Defense, February 1-3, 1928," reprinted in Elisabeth Ellicott Poe, "Patriotic Women Take Stand for Adequate National Defense," DAR Magazine (March 1928), 145-150.
The question of peace and disarmament came to a critical point during the summer of 1927. Statesmen from Britain, Japan and the United States met in a second armament negotiation conference in June. The spirit of agreement that had been present in 1921 was absent in 1927. The three nations proposed no further treaties to limit the production of any type of naval vessel. With the failure of the conference, peace organizations took it upon themselves to continue the work for disarmament by other means. The WPU's legislative efforts to outlaw war represented one such tactic.
With a renewed energy pushing the peace movement forward, the Daughters found it necessary to remain vigilant in their lobby for national defense through a strong military. In February 1928, four hundred delegates from thirty women's patriotic societies met in the Third Women's Patriotic Conference on National Defense. As the hostess organization, the DAR had a special responsibility to set the tone. Resolutions passed by the women included strong support for national defense, for the present naval program in Congress, for an American Merchant Marine, and for chemical warfare.
In the Conference's opening speech, DAR President General Grace Brosseau divided the nation into two groups: those sane and reasonable citizens who wanted an adequate national defense and pacifists who did not. She believed that peace itself was not wrong, as long as it was "the right kind of peace." To Brosseau and the Daughters this meant peace enforced by military strength and intimidation. DAR Magazine columnist called Brosseau's address a "rallying call to womanhood," as the President General defined women's place in the discussions of militarism.
Brosseau described the loyal woman citizen of the 1920s as having a strong influence in the home, community, and political life because of motherhood. Mothers had the instinct to guard and protect. They passed these instincts, courage and self-preservation, on to their sons--sons who would grow to be the men willing to defend their nation.
As representing the hostess organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome here tonight the various allied Women's Patriotic Societies, the distinguished speaker, and the citizens of Washington. This is the second conference of our particular group, the first having been held in February 1927, the success of which determined us to plan another meeting this year.
The bond that draws us together is our deep and ever-increasing interest in National Defense--not as expressed in terms of reasonable armament alone, but in its close relationship to all possible phases of National life. This country of ours seems to need defense in every sense of the word. On all hands one hears censure, and were one to rely upon expressed opinion only, the belief would soon be established that everything is hopelessly wrong with America from the institutions of government down to the subway system.
Some even go so far as to hold the United States responsible for the troubles of Europe; and if that point is stressed long enough and loudly enough, the chances are that Europe will begin to believe it too. Reform is the great cry of the hour, and an individual or a group that gives evidence of being nationally minded is promptly classified as being hopelessly insular.
A small party of men were sitting in a club one day discussing world affairs. They touched upon every contact of life--the injustice of income-tax law; the mistakes of the post-war army bureau; failure of the air and shipbuilding plans; prohibition and the general restriction of liberty; the incompetence of Congress; the definciencies of law and the constitution, and so on, down the line. Each man had his say--all but one, an ex-soldier wearing the Croix de Guerre. Finally, one of the men turned to him and said, "Well, Harmon, what do you think of the general situation?" "Heck," said the ex-soldiers, "after listening to you fellows, it looks to me as though the only thing we can do is give this country back to the Indians."
But right now there are some signs of its getting into far worse hands than those of the Indians.
National Defense has been the subject of such violent agitation during the past year or two that it would seem, at first thought, as though nothing new or pertinent could be added in order to clarify discussion or to establish its necessity.
As a matter of fact, the question no longer needs illumination because men of outstanding ability and intelligence who are widely known for their activities in commercial, political, and military life have, after an intensive study of the problem, given to us from the platform and through the medium of the facile pen their resultant deductions.
It is quite apparent that the country is practically divided into two groups, those who want adequate National Defense and those who do not. The groups who work for it actively and persistently are classified by at least some of the other side as militaristic. Instinctively one recoils from the application of that term, for to the American mind it signifies huge standing armies, years of compulsory military training, elaborate fortifications, the horror of the trenches and the white crosses of Flanders Field.
Sane and reasonable citizens could hardly visualize such a militaristic program for the United States and to comparatively few would it appeal, even for the most selfish or economic reasons. Certainly to peace loving Americans, fortunate enough to have been born in this country, it would offer no illusory inducements.
It would seem as though defense pleaders--and there are many--might be pardoned even by the most ardent pacifists, for the mere possession of the natural instinct of self-preservation. This country is still too young for its early struggles to have become a matter of ancient and half forgotten history.
Then too, there is, or should be, the poignant memory of unpreparedness in all of our wars, followed by the useless sacrifice of splendid youth and man power.
Since there is some motivating force back of all the anti-preparedness agitation, one is bound to wonder just what the proponents of disarmament for the United States hope to gain by such a procedure. They know perfectly well that the rest of the world is going steadily on in the act of maintaining and even increasing its defenses on land and sea and in the air.
Surely there is enough national pride extant to support the desire that our country be in a position to at all times state its terms and not be compelled to accept those imposed by others.
If the disarmament seekers are prompted by brotherly love and peace on earth, good will toward men, they might seek other avenues of international regeneration, at least during the period of international unrest. That would be quite in accord with good American business sense and certainly a far cry from militarism.
On the other hand, if they have in mind the establishment of a new order in this country through any sort of revolution--an order in which they will figure as the dominating force, it is high time that the good, unsuspecting American citizen took off his rose-colored spectacles and viewed the out-and-out pacifist in his true light.
This statement is not intended as a reflection upon the real peace lovers. For in the final analysis we all want the right kind of peace, but it refers entirely to the avowed defense-destroying pacifist.
Human nature has not changed so very much from the time of Adam up to the present moment, and some of the same characteristics appear in all of the races that cover the wide area between New York and Canton, China. The ruling power has always dominated with every ounce of its strength and will in every country of the world. It should never be necessary to argue this point. Merely cite Russia. That should be a sufficient object lesson to the easy-going and yet order-loving American.
Mr. George Wichersham, former Attorney General, was quoted in the New York Times recently as having said, "We are persisting in building a Navy in the face of all world efforts toward peace."
Few countries, besides our own, have made a really serious gesture toward disarmament. The naval or military program, or both, of most European nations are proportionally equal or greater than that of the United States.
True it is, that, out of the Briand peace proposal, talk of a multilateral treaty developed. If a focal point through the discussion can ever be reached, it may, in time, result in international amity and good will. If, through the procession of superior statesmanship, world peace, definitely divided, solemnly recognized and rigidly adhered to, is the outcome, Secretary Kellogg and Premier Briand will occupy a dual place in history, excelled by no man.
In the meantime there are just a few safeguards--some important precautionary measures that appeal to the American mind as a bit of national good housekeeping. One is the Defense Act of 1920--a law of the land in fact, the enforcement of which would give us a peace time army of 280,000 enlisted men. The other is the naval program recently submitted by Secretary Wilbur calling for the construction of seventy-one new auxiliary vessels. Let us briefly review the Navy situation. What are the facts?
In 1916, America began construction of ships that its Navy might rank with the greatest Navies in the world. Entrance into the World War interrupted this building program. Following the war the building of battleships and battle cruisers which were to be the backbone of our new Navy was again begun. In 1921 we abandoned the plan due to an agreement with Great Britain that we would not have a Navy larger than hers and an agreement with Japan that we would reduce our Navy on a basis with hers of 5 to 3. The limitations agreed to at the Washington Disarmament Conference applied to battleships and battle cruisers. They did not apply to certain types of fast scout cruisers, nor to submarines.
In contrast to the policy of our Nation in reducing, sinking, and scrapping our ships, other Nations have been building, building, building fast scout cruisers not restricted by the Washington Conference. The result is we have fallen below our relative Naval treaty strength. Last year the women of the Woman's Patriotic Conference on National Defense asked that "Congress immediately provide funds to commence the construction of the three authorized cruisers and to enact the pending measure which would authorize ten additional cruisers." It is a matter of record that Congress did appropriate funds to begin building the three cruisers. Now the Secretary of the Navy--with the approval of the President--asks Congress to authorize a $740,000,000 five-year Naval-building program. Women believe in reality. The believe that such a program as proposed by the Secretary of the Navy is to backed up by real appropriations to build real ships. They are not disposed, however, to interpret fulfillment of this Naval program as the entrance into a Naval race with other countries.
Has not the Seventieth Congress of the United States a duty to perform in providing that our Navy shall be built up and maintained not only on a basis of the treaty ratio of 5-5-3 but that it shall be fully supplied with Naval bases commensurate with its actual needs and supplemented by a merchant marine? Correspondingly, it is a part of the support of adequate National defense to stand back of the Naval authorities of our Nation in their plans for a strengthened and powerful Navy.
That our Army and Navy strength be brought up to at least a fair average is asking very little when the protection of a country numbering 120,000,000 is at stake.
To fall miserably below other countries in defense is an admission to the world that we have nothing in our borders worth defending. Yet among certain individuals and groups there is opposition to this naval program. A well-defined effort is on foot to poison the public minds against it and to bring adverse pressure to bear upon the lawmakers of the land.
I urge every member of this Conference to stand by the Army and Navy, confident that our government will take suitable action whenever the chance to reduce armaments appears.
The cause and cure for war is a popular theme for discussion these days, and it is indeed one worth serious consideration. The cause, however, lies in human nature and in human nature alone may the cure be found. There are many who with ladders placed against the sky are throwing star dust into the eyes of those below. Such proponents of peace are starting at the wrong end of the ladder.
Primarily the cause of war is to be found among those people whose roots are sunk deeply in the age old traditions of the might and right of force. To uproot those traditions and to transfer them to the universal kingdom of the mind of man would be the supreme accomplishment of the century.
Therefore, in beginning at the roots, do not let us start here in America. That is as much a waste of time as to passionately proclaim the verities of the Apostles' Creed to a dyed-in-the-wool Congregationalist.
In this unaggressive country we are not trained to regard war as desirable or as a retributive measure; but we should be morally, mentally, and physically prepared to meet the emergencies of righteous conflict. When the cause is finally located by the searchers of truth, then should the cure be applied, and at the source. The chances are that when all the sorting and sifting and evaluating has been done, human nature will remain human nature to the bitter end.
Into all this seething discussion women are quite naturally being drawn, and their attitude is both interesting and vital because of the strong influence they wield both in the home, in the community, and in the political life of America. There is nothing inherently militaristic in the nature of woman. Rather she shrinks from the sight of blood, from the sound of blows and even from the remote horrors of war. But her job is to guard and to protect, and as she sits upon life's side lines she watches growth and development in humankind.
She sees first the childish demand for tights in play, and she glories in the spirit of her boy when he valiantly defends his sister, his person, or his toys from aggressive intruders. During the period of emergence from youth to manhood, she sees no diminution of that defensive quality, and her pride of race increases as she watches obstacles met and overcome. Furthermore, she knows in her inmost heart that the right sort of men inherit the instincts of courage and self-preservation from the right kind of women. Therefore, would she alter mankind she must first destroy the spartan within herself. The question is, dare she do it and does she really want to?
There you again have in embryo the cause and cure of war. The instinct of protection and defense and the pride of possession may, by drastic means be eliminated from the teaching of the young. What the net result will be in lack of virility, initiative and productivity is an entirely different proposition. It is a dangerous business to juggle with the potentialities of the future.
But this is an abstruse subject as well as an irrelevant one at this particular moment. To launch into its discussion is not the purpose of this meeting.
We are foregathered here as I said, in the beginning, for the consideration of National defense in all of its many phases. The best trained minds of this country will present clarifying viewpoints, to which it will be our pleasure and duty to give diligent heed. All efforts will be wasted, however, if we return to our homes and forget or disregard what we have heard. To our fellow workers we must not fail to concretely present our deductions. The resultant resolutions should be thoughtfully and earnestly studied in the various organizations throughout the coming year and then followed up by action of the right sort.
Do we want peace? we ask ourselves. Of course we do. Will we work for ultimate world peace? Certainly, but in the meantime we stand for the safeguarding of our treasure houses. In them are the rich harvests of one hundred and fifty gloriously fruitful years and we women owe something to a productive past. What is more, we owe to the oncoming generations to keep intact liberty and the protection that we are so unreservedly enjoying.
Edmund Burke said, "Civilization is a contact between the great dead, the living and the unborn." Upon us rests a responsibility that we cannot shirk.
There is a bit of pleasantry afloat to the effect that the eyes of the world are turned to America. Very good, but let us keep our eyes focused upon America, not only as a bit of precaution, but because it is the cheeriest and most unclouded bit of view on the world's horizon today. It is our own land, too, and justly demands our love and respect. Those who do not love America first and best, have forgotten the abiding truth that there is no halfway house in patriotism and that only whole-hearted Americanism can be accepted from any American citizen.
No one of its citizens need apologize for America. The reason is obvious--it is America!
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