Pacifism versus Patriotism:
The Debate Over American Militarism, 1921-1930

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Political Cartoon appearing in The Daughters of the
American Revolution Magazine,
December 1924

Original Editorial Project by Anissa Harper
State University of New York at Binghamton
August 1998

        The years following the first World War served as a crucial turning point in American diplomatic and military policy. Prior to the war America had maintained a policy of "isolationism" in international affairs. While the United States had developed an "informal" empire in the Philippines, Hawaii, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and consequently built up a naval force to protect those commercial interests, America maintained a careful aloofness from the alliances and conflicts that plagued Europe.[A] When these same conflicts finally erupted in war in 1914, American leaders resisted direct involvement until a convergence of forces finally committed the U.S. to the Allied war effort in 1917.[B]

        Many individuals protested against American involvement in the war, among them the women of the Woman's Peace Party. Organized in 1915 and led by reformer Jane Addams. The WPP sought to bring about a quick and peaceful resolution to the war through mediation and dialogue between the powers involved. Addams and other Peace Party members joined with other like-minded women from across Europe at an international Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a united effort of women from all nations to combat the forces that caused international conflict and war, was born from this meeting.[C]

        While the women of the WILPF approached the war from an ideological perspective, other American women saw a more immediate need to guarantee American victory against the "German menace." The Daughters of the American Revolution, among others, sought to answer this demand by purchasing war bonds, donating funds to relief charities, and providing items such as knitted vests and wristlets to sailors overseas. By becoming involved in this type of political activity, the Daughters had stepped beyond their Society's traditional purpose.

        Founded in 1891, the DAR was the female counterpart to the numerous male patriotic societies which sprang up in the 1890s.[D] The Daughters had previously refrained from purely political activities, instead devoting themselves to promoting patriotic celebrations and erecting monuments and markers to honor their Revolutionary forefathers. War work provided DAR members with a new outlet for their energies and the Society leadership took great pleasure in the enhanced recognition accorded to the organization for its efforts in the country's time of need.

        Although the WILPF and the DAR did not see eye-to-eye on the best response to the problems of the war both organizations were too involved in their own work to take much notice of each other. Occasional articles in The Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, the official publication of the Society, spoke out against the pacifists, whom they saw as unpatriotic, but most issues during the war years were devoted to glorifying the DAR's war work or to promoting various aspects of the military. Numerous articles appeared during this time explaining the efficiency of the War Department, detailing the virtues of chemical warfare, and urging D.A.R. women to participate in the civilian training camps.[E]

        The end of the war brought with it a different political climate and an increased antagonism between "patriots" and "pacifists." In 1919 a vicious Red Scare erupted in the nation, fueled in part by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Although the Scare ended almost as quickly as it started, during 1919 and 1920 red baiters attached labels to peace organizations and their leaders, identifications which persisted for the next decade. At best pacifists were called dupes of Communism and Socialism, exploited by their sincere desire for peace. At worst, peace leaders were vilified as Bolsheviks who sought to destroy the nation through disarmament and world revolution.[F]

        Among the most extreme of the documents which sought to explain the communist threat to America was the New York State Legislature's Report on Seditious Activities, also known as the Lusk report. Although the report and its writers were soon discredited, patriotic societies adopted it as a kind of handbook for identifying subversives. Particularly, peace movements came under attack due to the Lusk report's allegation that the "pacifist movement has been exploited to inject Socialism and internationalist ideas among the educated classes."[G] Members of patriotic societies believed the threat to be real. They answered the report's urging for "the loyal and courageous co-operation of the citizens of this Republic"[H] to confront the problem.

        While the DAR participated in the red baiting of the period, they did not confront their political opponents directly. Usually attacks took the form of general denouncements of pacifism and its adherents in the pages of their Magazine. This uneasy coexistence would not last for long, however. By the middle of the decade the Daughters had launched personal attacks on the leaders of peace organizations, charging them with a variety of un-American activities.

        The documents in this collection examine the battle between pacifists and patriots in the 1920s. They express the beliefs of two women's groups regarding the presence of the military in American politics and diplomacy. Many documents revolve around conflict--conflict between the DAR and the WILPF as well as conflict within the DAR itself. Nearly all of the documents profess a desire for peace, yet their authors disagreed on the best means to that end. At the center of this issue is the question of disarmament. The collection begins with statements from both groups concerning the 1921-1922 Washington Armament Limitation Conference, and it concludes with an article published following the 1930 London Naval Limitation Conference. The interceding years and documents provide an interlocking dialogue about American womanhood, politics, diplomacy, and militarism during the decade 1921 to 1930.

Document List


Documents 1 and 2: Anne Rogers Minor, "Message from the President General," November and December 1921


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