Margaret Sanger, "War and Population," 14 Mar 1922.

Source: " Birth Control Review, June 1922, 106-7. Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S70:931.."

This is a published version of a speech given by Margaret Sanger to the Y.M.C.A. in Toyko, Japan. For a longer version reported in the Japanese press, see "War and Population, Mar. 14, 1922.


War and Population

By Margaret Sanger

I regret exceedingly that I am not allowed to speak to you this afternoon upon the subject of Birth Control. Why this privilege has been denied me I do not know, for I have addressed audiences on the subject of Birth Control in nearly every country in Europe and every large city in the United States. However, I am grateful for small favors and am pleased that I have been able to gain the permission to address you on the subject of War and Population.

In 100 years Europe had about doubled her population while the increase of her food supply was less than 5 per cent. She had been piling up huge debts for future generations to pay. She had piled up such conditions as slums, unemployment, child-labor, inertness, inefficiency, dependency, and finally war. The World War which started in Europe in 1914 was the natural result of the manifold conditions which made such a volcanic eruption inevitable.

During the past 50 years, there was a tendency in every country in Europe to increase its numbers overwhelmingly in one group and to increase slowly in another. The latter group consists of individuals who do not let nature control their destinies. Here the forces of fecundity have been mastered. In this group with slow increase in numbers, conditions are progressive and advanced. The other group who are at the mercy if the urge of generation are those who have not only increased their numbers but have increased their problems beyond the development of the social conscience or the intelligence of the nation. Out of this group in every country in Europe arose the great problems, both social and economic, with which the world was confronted in 1914.

In some countries, as in England, it was possible through colonization to alleviate the conditions in this group somewhat by sending the surplus population to Canada, Australia and other parts of the globe. France, on the other hand, had kept her numbers more or less stationary and had aimed to develop quality in her people. It was to France that we turned for culture, for science, for advancement in almost every line of scientific thought.

Germany, however, was the central country in Europe, which, though in some departments far more advanced than other countries, was blocked in her progress, and her conditions at home made complex and chaotic. Germany had been the first country in Europe to bring into her country the largest resources of alleviation for her population. During the dark and middle ages, Germany had relied upon infant mortality, disease and pestilence to keep her population within bounds. It was quite a natural event for a family during that period to have from 10 to 20 members, but for only one or two, or at the most four to survive to full maturity. This was the course which Nature had taken to lessen the possibility of war and to keep nations somewhat at peace with each other.

With the advance of humanitarian thought and scientific and preventative medicine, Germany began to check her death rate, but to increase her problems. The urge for expansion on the part of the increasing population in any country when brought up against geographical barriers acts blindly in the direction of conflict--whether in colonial rivalry or territorial swarming. The opportunities for Germany's expansion were strictly limited by other powers and the prosperity due to the opening of new countries had long passed its maximum. The possibilities for expansion that were open a century ago were fairly well exhausted and Germany found herself with serious problems on her hands which meant national expansion or ultimate stagnation. We find then the situation in Germany to be a rapidly increasing population brought largely to full maturity at a great expense to the government through social service, old age pensions, maternity benefits, ect., while the necessaries for feeding this population were out of her reach, making her dependent upon other countries for the subsistence of her people. There was a tendency too, toward a surplus of highly trained professional and technical men. The elaborate educational system of Germany was producing more engineers, surveyors, electrical engineers, industrial chemists, and experts along various lines than the nation's industries could utilize or absorb. The result was that such men had to be content with a smaller wage than unskilled workingmen could procure, or emigrate into foreign lands where skill and inventiveness became the assets of other countries at Germany's cost.

While Germany's birth rate was on the decline--in 1900 it was 36.5, in 1909, 32. and in 1913, 29.5--the number of deaths diminished also by such proportion that her rate of survival became higher, and her population increased in a faster proportion than it had done with the higher birth rate. There was an increase of from 700,000 to 800,000 souls a year, which amounted to nearly four millions of new individuals every five years. It was upon such conditions briefly and fragmentarily related here, that Germany based her claim to a place in the sun and the right of livelihood of her surplus population. The Berliner Post in 1913 said: " Can a great and rapidly growing nation like Germany always renounce all claims to further development or to the expansion of its political power? The final settlement with France and England, the expansion of our colonial possessions in order to create new German homes for the overflow of our population...these are the problems which must be faced in the near future."

If one studies the comments of the press during the five years preceding the great war, one will find that the argument of the right of any country to prepare for war was based upon her increasing and growing population. Germany in 1910 had a population of 70,000,000. At the rate she was increasing she was bound to have in a short time double that number. It was the argument of her militarists and others who were making greater demands for Germany that she must find an outlet for her people, that Germany was hungry for trade, that she needed colonies, that she could not confine her growing population within her narrow geographical boundaries.

In one magazine, the Kaiser was quoted as having said that in 1950 Germany would possess a population of two hundred millions or something near to it. It might have been supposed that counsels, such as those emanating from the best of thinking Germans, might have been critical of this condition of things, but, extraordinary as it may seem, the Marxian philosophy has taken a strong hold upon the people of Germany and particularly of the working people during the preceding 25 years, and had inculcated the doctrine that the greater the numbers of the proletariat the higher would be their wages, the stronger their demands in the labor market and the larger the numbers in the ranks of the revolutionists. Hence up to 1914 there was every tendency on the part of the thinkers of Germany, both economic, social and political, to approve the increase in their numbers and to trust to the gods the results, believing that might makes right!!

This, briefly, is one of the chief causes of the war in Europe in 1914. We all know the results and the consequences, but none of us can foretell the terrific decadent consequences which Germany is yet to feel. Her most fit manhood was slaughtered in the war, her mothers and children left at home in a condition of physical starvation which must affect the generations of the future. When I was in Germany in 1920 and saw for myself more than 10,000 little starving infants, the results of the blockade and the war, I felt that it would be far kinder for Germany's future and for the future peace of the world to humanely allow these little victims to pass away rather then to keep them alive to perpetuate disease and misery. More then 45 per cent. of the women of Germany were made permanently sterile owing to the lack of food and the improper nourishment for child-bearing. The present conditions in Germany include extremely heavy taxes, low value of money, deficiency of labor in many establishments, scarcity of food and cost of living so dear that the average wage-earner lives upon a ration which means partial starvation.

The conclusion to be drawn from Germany are that a nation will not find the solution of its problems in war: that war is no longer the way to settle international disputes. Nevertheless we cannot hope for world peace until all nations recognize that there are fundamental dynamic forces at work which must be controlled. These forces are hunger and propagation, and we cannot solve one without including the other. Until these forces are recognized and acted upon wisely, the idea of international peace will remain a dream and a myth.

Japan has problems today which are becoming as great as those of Germany in 1914. She has a right to have those problems solved in a rational, humanitarian way, but until our diplomats and statesmen recognize the causes of war and make a study of the population question in all its manifold departments, all our Leagues of Nations, international conferences, agreements and international treaties will become the proverbial "scraps of paper." Men and women of Japan, I appeal to you to look into this subject thoroughly. The women and mothers in your country are just as desirous of wiping out poverty, misery, suffering and war as the women of the other nations of the world. I appeal to you to set your motherhood free! To make your women something more than breeding machines, such as the women of every nation have been during some period of that nation's development. The time has come for international brotherhood and international emancipation, based upon free, conscious maternity.

The advancement of hygiene and sanitation and welfare work in any country only increase its population problem. Population must then find its outlet through emigration or armed invasion of some other country. Each nation must control its population to the point where it will not be necessary to make aggression upon its neighbors.

The study of the population will reveal to you the initial cause of the suffering of mankind, it will reveal the cause for its struggles and its divisions into factions and parties. It will point out the remedy for these differences and the way to establish a new order of civilization. To the working man, it will show that his state of oppression under tyranny can exist only as a result of his ignorance; that the struggle between classes, between capital and labor, and the wars between nations are the inevitable consequences of that ignorance. The working man has himself been the producer of these conditions through his unlimited procreative powers--unchecked and uncontrolled; while he and his brother are the initial sufferers from the flagrant inequalities found in all nations today.

Let us then, friends, depart from the old methods of quantity production, and turn our attention to producing quality in our peoples. It will then be possible for everyone to have independence and personal dignity; motherhood will be glorified, and the nation may expect to promote for its population peace, justice, happiness, and the International Brotherhood of the World.


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