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

Source: " Attentive Audience Hears Mrs. Sanger, Japan Advertiser, Mar. 15, 1922, pp. 1 and 10."

The actual speech was not found, but this transcript was published. For shorter versions see, War and Population , Birth Control Review, June 1922, pp. 106-7 and Overpopulation is Cause of War, Japan Times and Mail, Mar. 15, 1922.


Prosperous-looking business men, well-groomed women, students, shop girls, coolies, a Buddhist priest or two, a number of foreigners and a battery of camera men composed the audience of about 500 persons which heard Mrs. Margaret Sanger, American birth control advocate, speak on "War and Population" in the Tokyo Y.M.C.A. auditorium yesterday afternoon. It was Mrs. Sanger's first public meeting and among her most attentive listeneres were a liberal sprinkling of "plain clothes men" of the Metropolitan Police who were there to see that the speaker did not overstep the bounds permitted into a discussion of birth control--a subject officially banned as "dangerous" to Japan morals.

The late date at which yesterday afternoon's meeting was announced was thought to have been responsible for the small audience, but no more interested audience could have been secured. Apparently most of those present understood English, for the audience, as though charmed by the clear and distinct voice of Mrs. Sanger, sat silent and expectant as she spoke. The usual stir came as the translator started on each new paragraph of Mrs. Sanger's speech, and it was easy to discern those who had understood Mrs. Sanger as he proceeded with the translation.

Speaks on War and Population.

Two listeners were less attentive than the others. They were both typical women of the poorer class, aged beyond their years by the bearing and raising of many children in a few years; each was compelled to pace the room at the rear and croon to a fretful baby on her back.

"I regret exceedingly that I am not allowed to speak to you this afternoon upon the subject of birth control." Mrs. Sanger said as she started her address. "Why this privilege has been denied me I do not know, for I have addressed audiences on birth control in nearly every country of Europe and in every large city in the United States. However, I am grateful for small favors and am pleased that I have been able to gain permission to address you on 'War and Population.' Inasmuch as I was unprepared to speak upon this subject, I ask tolerance in allowing me to use my notes in addressing you."

"In a little more than 100 years Europe had about doubled her population while the increase in her food supply was less than 50 percent. 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 only a natural result of the manifold conditions which made such a volcanic eruption inevitable."

Social Conditions Brought War.

"During the past 50 years there has been a tendency in every country in Europe to increase the numbers overwhelmingly in one group and to increase slowly in another. it is these individuals who do not let nature control their destinies. Here, the forces of fecundity have been mastered. In this group, whose numbers increase but slowly, conditions are progressive and advanced. The other group, who are at the mercy of the urge of generation, have increased not only their numbers, but have increased their problems beyond the means of development of the social conscience or the intelligence of the nations. In this group in every country of Europe are found 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, on the other hand, was the central country in Europe which though in some departments was far more advanced than the others, was by the nature of that particular department blocked in her progress, and her conditions at home were made more complex and chaotic. Germany had been the first country in Europe to bring in the largest sources 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 15 to 20 members, but for only one or two, or at the most 4 in that family 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."

Checking Disease Increases Problems.

"With the advance of humanitarian thought, scientific and preventive 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 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, bringing this population to full maturity at a great expense to the Government, through social service, old age pensions, maternity benefits, and the like. The necessities for feeding this population were out of her reach and made her dependent upon other countries for her population’s subsistence."

"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 employers could utilize or absorb. The result was that such men had to be content to remain for less wages than the unskilled workingmen could procure or to emigrate to foreign lands where that 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 percent--the number of deaths diminished by such proportion that her survivals became higher and her population increased in a faster proportion than it did with an increasing 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 fragmentary as they are related here, that Germany based her claim to a place in the sun and the right of livelihood of her surplus population."

War Argument Is 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 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 future.'"

"If one studies the comments of the press during the five years preceding the World War, he will be find in every instance that the argument upon which 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 millions. 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 of the magazines the Kaiser was quoted as having said that in 1950 Germany would possess a population of 200 millions or something near that. It might have been supposed that councils such as those representing the best ranks of thinking Germans might have been adverse to this condition of things, but, extraordinary, as it may seem to all thinking people, the Marxian philosophy had taken a strong hold upon the people of Germany and particularly the working people during the past 25 years and inculcated the view point that the greater the numbers of the proletariat the higher would be their wages; the higher their demand in the labor market, the larger the numbers in the ranks of their revolutionists. So that up to the time of 1914 there was every tendency on the part of the thinkers of Germany--economic, social and political--to increase their numbers and to trust to the gods the result, that might makes right."

Describes Conditions in Germany.

"This, briefly, is the pivotal condition of one of the chief causes of the war in Europe which started 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 best fitted manhood was slaughtered in the war, her mothers and children left at home in a condition of physical starvation from which will come the generations of the future. When I was in Germany in 1920 and witnessed 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 than to keep them alive to perpetuate their disease and misery. More than 45 percent of the women of Germany were made permanently sterile owing to the lack of food and improper nourishment for child-bearing."

"The present conditions in Germany are extremely heavy taxes, low value of money, deficiency of labor in many establishments, scarcity of food and the cost of living so dear that the average earner lives upon a ration which means partial starvation."

"The conclusions to be drawn from Germany are that an overcrowded nation will not be the victor in war and that war is no longer the way to settle international disputes. Until all nations recognize that there are fundamental dynamic forces at work which must be controlled--forces such as hunger and propagation--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."

Appeals for Women's Freedom.

"Japan has problems today increasingly 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 the study of the population question in all its manifold departments, all our League of Nations, international conferences, agreements and international treaties will become proverbial ‘scraps of paper.' Men and women of Japan, I appeal to you to look into this subject thoroughly. The mothers and women in your country are just as desirous of wiping out poverty, misery, suffering and war as the mothers and 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 in some period of that nation’s development. The time has come for international brotherhood and international emancipation based upon a conscious maternity."

"The advancement of hygiene and sanitation and welfare work in any country only increases its population problem, which means expansion through immigration or armed invasion. 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 problem will reveal to you the initial cause of the suffering of mankind; it will reveal the cause for his struggles and divisions into factions and parties. It will point out the remedy to obviate these differences and to establish a new order of civilization."

Unchecked Procreation the Cause.

"To the working man it will show that a state of oppression and tyranny can exist only as a result of ignorance. That the struggle between classes, capital and labor, and the war between nations, are the inevitable consequences of that ignorance. It will show that 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 all the flagrant inequalities found in all nations today."

"Let us then, friends, depart from the old methods of quantity and turn our attention to producing quality in our people."

"It will then be possible for everyone to have independence and personal dignity; motherhood will be glorified, and a nation may well expect to promote for its population peace, justice, happiness and the international brotherhood of the world."

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project