Because we know that World War II happened, and that human civilization did survive despite unprecedented atrocities, it may be difficult to see the world of the 1920s and 1930s the way our grandmothers did. Annie Wells Cannon, a member of the Relief Society General Board, expressed their view this way during the semi-annual Relief Society Conference of October 4-5, 1933:
There is no crime so great as war. Any of you who sent your sons or husbands to the Great War realize that. Thousands of people go to the tombs of the Unknown Soldiers in the great capitals of the world and do homage in memory to the thousands of men who were slaughtered in the World War. Thousands of women visit the hospitals all over the different nations, to see the men who were gassed, shell-shocked and crippled, disabled, tubercular – all know of the dreadful things that come through war.
The sisters of the Relief Society were far from alone in their horror of a repeated war and their hopes that something could be done to eliminate, or at least to rein in, the destruction and loss of life of future wars. Six million women from around the world signed a petition circulated by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom calling for world disarmament (really, a limitation on offensive, but not defensive, weapons), especially for the cessation of wartime gassing and the limitation of bombing by air. The president of the WILPF was Jane Addams, the genius of the Settlement House movement and the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The International Council of Women was a constituent organization of the WILPF, and the LDS Relief Society was a full participant in the ICW.
The petitions of the WILPF (including petitions signed by the ICW, and by the Relief Society) were sent to the World Disarmament Conference held at Geneva, Switzerland, 1932-34. That conference ended in failure, as all such conferences have, in part because during the months of the conference Hitler rose to power in Germany and Japan invaded Manchuria; they, along with nations who didn’t happen to be quite so aggressive at the moment, called for other nations to disarm while insisting that they themselves had the right and the need to expand their “purely defensive” weapons.
But the dream of peace and disarmament was a pleasant one while it lasted, and the Relief Society was as optimistic as anyone else in calling for peace. In that context, Sister Cannon presented the following Resolution to the Relief Society Conference of 1933:
I move that we, the women of the National Woman’s Relief Society, join the organized womanhood of the world in the effort to bring about world peace and eliminate all wars by using our utmost influence to bear upon the delegates to the Disarmament Conference to be held this month at Geneva, Switzerland, and by urging upon these delegates the adoption of the plan submitted by the International Council Committee as follows:
1. Substantial reduction of existing armaments.
2. No re-armament.
3. Abolition of aggressive weapons within a definite period and with the immediate elimination of all bombing from the air, of the air weapon in general and of poison gas.
4. Limitation of expenditure to prevent rivalries in armaments.
5. Effective supervision of existing armaments and of arms manufacture and trade.
6. A permanent organization to carry out the above provisions and to carry on the work begun by the Disarmament Conference.
This plan to be accepted by all the Great Powers of this Conference to be cabled immediately to the Secretary of the Council Committee at Geneva.
I strongly prefer that any discussion focus on the goals of the Relief Society, or the involvement of Relief Society in such cooperative movements. Please do not allow this to stray into the typical blogging stink over politics and current events. Thanks for your understanding.