Berkeley Digital Library

A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students

Excerpt from Goldman's Lecture/Pamphlet:
"Preparedness: The Road to Universal Slaughter"

[ Questions on Preparedness Excerpt | Anti-Militarism | Next Exhibit ]

Wartime propaganda poster
(State Historical Society
of Wisconsin, Madison)
CONTEXT: President Woodrow Wilson initiated a program of military preparedness despite his intent to keep the United States out of World War I. He held that preparedness, the building up of America's military might, was the best insurance against America's entry into the conflict. Goldman, on the other hand, saw preparedness as the inevitable road to war.

Excerpt from "Preparedness: The Road to Universal Slaughter"
by Emma Goldman (1915)

Ammunition! Ammunition! O, Lord, thou who rulest heaven and earth, thou God of love, of mercy and of justice, provide us with enough ammunition to destroy our enemy. Such is the prayer which is ascending daily to the Christian heaven. Just like cattle, panic­stricken in the face of fire, throw themselves into the very flames, so all of the European people have fallen over each other into the devouring flames of the furies of war, and America, pushed to the very brink by unscrupulous politicians, by ranting demagogues, and by military sharks, is preparing for the same terrible feat. . . .

America is essentially the melting pot. No national unit composing it is in a position to boast of superior race purity, particular historic mission, or higher culture. Yet the jingoes and war speculators are filling the air with the sentimental slogan of hypocritical nationalism, "America for Americans," "America first, last, and all the time." This cry has caught the popular fancy from one end of the country to another. In order to maintain America, military preparedness must be engaged in at once. A billion dollars of the people's sweat and blood is to be expended for dreadnaughts and submarines for the army and the navy, all to protect this precious America.

The pathos of it all is that the America which is to be protected by a huge military force is not the America of the people, but that of the privileged class; the class which robs and exploits the masses, and controls their lives from the cradle to the grave. No less pathetic is it that so few people realize that preparedness never leads to peace, but that it is indeed the road to universal slaughter. . . .

Since the war began, miles of paper and oceans of ink have been used to prove the barbarity, the cruelty, the oppression of Prussian militarism. Conservatives and radicals alike are giving their support to the Allies for no other reason than to help crush that militarism, in the presence of which, they say, there can be no peace or progress in Europe. But though America grows fat on the manufacture of munitions and war loans to the Allies to help crush Prussians the same cry is now being raised in America which, if carried into national action, would build up an American militarism far more terrible than German or Prussian militarism could ever be, and that because nowhere in the world has capitalism become so brazen in its greed and nowhere is the state so ready to kneel at the feet of capital.

'At last I have found the
ideal soldier who will
keep quiet and carry out
orders without arguing."
Cartoon by Robert Minor
from Golos Truda
October 27, 1917)
Like a plague, the mad spirit is sweeping the country, infesting the clearest heads and staunchest hearts with the deathly germ of militarism. National security leagues, with cannon as their emblem of protection, naval leagues with women in their lead have sprung up all over the country, women who boast of representing the gentler sex, women who in pain and danger bring forth life and yet are ready to dedicate it to the Moloch War. Americanization societies with well known liberals as members, they who but yesterday decried the patriotic clap­trap of to­day, are now lending themselves to befog the minds of the people and to help build up the same destructive institutions in America which they are directly and indirectly helping to pull down in Germany­­militarism, the destroyer of youth, the raper of women, the annihilator of the best in the race, the very mower of life.

Even Woodrow Wilson, who not so long ago indulged in the phrase, "A nation too proud to fight," who in the beginning of the war ordered prayers for peace, who in his proclamations spoke of the necessity of watchful waiting, even he has been whipped into line. He has now joined his worthy colleagues in the jingo movement, echoing their clamor for preparedness and their howl of "America for Americans." The difference between Wilson and Roosevelt is this: Roosevelt, a born bully, uses the club; Wilson, the historian, the college professor, wears the smooth polished university mask, but underneath it he, like Roosevelt, has but one aim, to serve the big interests, to add to those who are growing phenomenally rich by the manufacture of military supplies. . . .

That which has driven the masses of Europe into the trenches and to the battlefields is not their inner longing for war; it must be traced to the cut­throat competition for military equipment, for more efficient armies, for larger warships, for more powerful cannon. You cannot build up a standing army and then throw it back into a box like tin soldiers. Armies equipped to the teeth with weapons, with highly developed instruments of murder and backed by their military interests, have their own dynamic functions. We have but to examine into the nature of militarism to realize the truism of this contention.

Militarism consumes the strongest and most productive elements of each nation. Militarism swallows the largest part of the national revenue. Almost nothing is spent on education, art, literature and science compared with the amount devoted to militarism in times of peace, while in times of war everything else is set at naught; all life stagnates, all effort is curtailed; the very sweat and blood of the masses are used to feed this insatiable monster­­militarism. Under such circumstances, it must become more arrogant, more aggressive, more bloated with its own importance. If for no other reason, it is out of surplus energy that militarism must act to remain alive; therefore it will seek an enemy or create one artificially. In this civilized purpose and method, militarism is sustained by the state, protected by the laws of the land, fostered by the home and the school, and glorified by public opinion. In other words, the function of militarism is to kill. It cannot live except through murder.

Questions on "Preparedness: The Road to Universal Slaughter":
  1. Why was war the inevitable result of military preparedness according to Emma Goldman?

  2. What graphic images does she use to describe preparedness?

  3. Why does Goldman call America a melting pot? Does the concept of American nationalism conflict with this idea?

  4. What were the economic and social effects of military preparedness?

  5. Based on her observations in Europe at that time, how does Goldman frame her fears for America's future?

  6. From Goldman's perspective, how do German and American militarism differ?

  7. Why does Goldman criticize President Woodrow Wilson more than former president Theodore Roosevelt?

  8. What did the phrase, "America for the Americans" mean, and which of the groups mentioned in Goldman's essay rallied in support of this slogan?

General Questions on This Exhibit:
  1. Does a nation's military strength promote or prevent it from going to war?

  2. Is it unpatriotic to actively resist U.S. involvement in a war? What factors influence your judgment?

  3. What groups gain and what groups lose from militarism?

  4. Can you give examples of times and places when military buildup has led to war? When it has prevented war?

  5. In times of war, should a democratic government limit First Amendment rights of free speech in the name of national security?

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