Helen Keller — opposition to World War 1

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The Emma Goldman Papers
Last updated
Aug. 24, 2011, 10:50 a.m. (view history)

Question: Did Keller actively oppose the war in Europe, or just US involvement in it? Especially year 1915.

She actively campaigned against the war in general-- and not just US involvement in it-- from the end of 1915. She did not go to Europe with Henry Ford's "peace ship" during this time because, according to her, the peace desired by Ford and other pacifists was one that would leave capitalism intact, do nothing about the exploitation of workers, and inevitably result in more (capitalist) wars in the future. In a speech originally given on December 19 and then repeated in the following weeks, she advocated for the creation of a global union that would unite workers and soldiers against the governments making them fight each other. These views were similar to those held by other radicals at the time who were not pacifists, but rather believed in "no war but the class war."

Contains two documents from late 1915 on the war:

p. 72: Helen Keller, "The Ford Peace Plan is Doomed to Failure," New York Call, December 16, 1915.
A commentary of the plan of Henry Ford to send a boat of famous Americans-- including Jane Addams, Thomas Edison, and others-- to Europe to try to stop the war. Keller says the plan won't work because "[Ford] won't use the only means to make it a success-- get the the soldiers themselves to quit fighting." Says that "the treaties of governments end in new wars. It is time to sweep aside these artificial peacemakers and declare the peace of man." Seems like a similar view to the IWW, no war except class war.

p.73-4: Helen Keller, "Menace of the Militarist Program," Speech at the Labor Forum, Washington Irving High School, New York City, December 19, 1915.
Says that the war is a capitalist one, and that agitation for American involvement has its roots in "J. P. Morgan & Co, and the capitalists who have invested their money in shrapnel plants, and others that turn out implements of murder" who "want to develop new markets for their hideous traffic."
Again, not against all war: "The only fighting that saves is the one that helps the world toward liberty, justice and an abundant life for all." Very clear that this is not one of those wars, unless soldiers fighting join together against their governments. Suggests creating an organization that would foster just that goal: "The worker has nothing to lose but his chains, and he has a world to win. He can win it at one stroke from a world empire. We must form a fully equipped, militant international union so that we can take possession of such a world empire." And later: "Let the workers form one great world-wide union, and let there be a globe-encircling revolt to gain for the workers true liberty and happiness."
Very against nationalism of war proponents, saying fighting for the defense of governments accomplishes nothing except furthering the exploitation of workers therein.

p.123-124, in a footnote to the above speech:
December 16, 1915 New York Call article advertised the speech as "the Socialist interpretation of the causes of the European war and the dangers confronting the United States" and said that Keller would "advocate the general strike as the speediest way to end the European conflict."
Keller was introduced that night by the Socialist Rose Pastor Stokes, and Andrew Furuseth spoke at the Forum the following week.