Helen Keller’s 1916 Advice to Soldiers: Strike Against War

In January, 1916, about a hundred years ago now, Helen Keller made a speech in Carnegie Hall, New York where she quite unabashedly called out the hypocrisy and manipulations of industry leaders and government who were pushing young people and working people into supporting the war (World War I). This is a remarkable speech, in which she spells out quite simply that all wars would end if people–soldiers–simply refused to fight, but put down their arms, a thought that might seem radical to some arms-manufacturers today, but makes perfect sense to most of us.

Worth reminding ourselves of, in this time of Endless War perpetrated round the globe by the US war machine, fruits of which we are seeing today in the overflowing refugee crisis situation–it’s a special call to soldiers, to those who bear arms for this or that “noble cause” of “protecting the homeland” or ensuring “national security,” including those who toil covertly to assault activists and ethical citizens in the “War of Terror”.  When soldiers lay down their arms-and today, their electronic weapons, the makers of arms and bombs–and electronic weapons, and the banksters behind them will be forced to find and fund more useful endeavor. Wouldn’t that be marvelous, a world where no government can go around declaring war and dropping bombs by commanding the actions of its military, where militaries wake up and listen to their consciences instead…

The text of the speech, published in the volume, Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years (International Publishers, 1967), can be found online at various places, including here at Gift of Speech. The video below offers excerpts, as also the text below.

“We are facing a grave crisis in our national life. The few who profit from the labor of the masses want to organize the workers into an army which will protect the interests of the capitalists. You are urged to add to the heavy burdens you already bear the burden of a larger army and many additional warships. It is in your power to refuse to carry the artillery and the dread-noughts and to shake off some of the burdens, too, such as limousines, steam yachts and country estates. You do not need to make a great noise about it. With the silence and dignity of creators you can end wars and the system of selfishness and exploitation that causes wars. All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms.

We are not free unless the men who frame and execute the laws represent the interests of the lives of the people and no other interest. The ballot does not make a free man out of a wage slave. there has never existed a truly free and democratic nation in the world. From time immemorial men have followed with blind loyalty the strong men who had the power of money and of armies. Even while battlefields were piled high with their own dead they have tilled the lands of the rulers and have been robbed of the fruits of their labor. “

Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.

Please visit Gift of Speech for the whole transcript of the speech. The American Federation for the Blind, where Helen Keller worked for 44 years, is seeking to digitize her archives and is looking for donations this month, if you would like to support them.

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