Editor’s Note: During March, RealClearPolitics is honoring women’s history by putting the spotlight on women of accomplishment who haven’t often, or in some cases ever, been given their due. This year we’re not just celebrating Women’s History Month — we’re also marking the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States.
As women’s history enthusiast Dana Rubin has demonstrated, vast numbers of women have spoken out in public but were seldom recognized. With few exceptions, their words, ideas, and experiences have been overlooked and effectively lost.
That’s why throughout this month we’ll be publishing “A Woman Spoke Today.” Each weekday we will share a significant speech or testimony delivered by a woman in the U.S. on that date, along with a short introduction by Dana.
These speeches were delivered at suffrage conventions, in the chambers of Congress, in stadium-size venues, in church basements. Many of these speakers defied prohibitions against women using their voices in public. Those who were brave enough to speak out were subject to ugly invective, derided as “amazon,” “atheist,” and “hermaphrodite.”
In an often-told story about the great human rights/women’s rights advocate and orator Sojourner Truth, she was once delivering a speech in Indiana when hecklers called out, “Are you a man?” In response, she ripped open her blouse to expose her chest. In more than one way, she showed ’em. This month, we’ll showcase Sojourner Truth's oratorical sisters. We hope you enjoy Dana Rubin’s compilation and that you share these speeches with other others -- men as well as women.
In a carefully choreographed eight-month charm offensive, Soong Mei-ling -- better known by her married name, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or simply “Madame” -- traveled across North America, captivating audiences with her exotic appearance, cosmopolitan outlook, and letter-perfect English. On March 2, 1943, she spoke to a crowd of 17,000 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, a speech broadcast on network radio.
Born in China, educated in America, Madame sought political and financial support for the Chinese regime of her husband, known as the Generalissimo, and for China in its brutal war with the Japanese. Although in her private life she could be haughty and cruel, in this speech she emphasizes the nobleness of Chinese suffering and the virtues of Christian forgiveness.
Less than three years after her North American tour, Japan’s surrender ended World War II. But civil war erupted between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao Zedong's Communists. In 1946 Soong Mei-ling and her husband fled to Taiwan. She lived to be 106 and never again set foot in mainland China.
Victory Without Hate
To all my friends in America including those of you who have come here to listen to me this evening. I wish to express to you my heartfelt appreciation of your concern for me, and your thoughtfulness for my well-being, which you have so generously demonstrated in various ways during my illness and convalescence.
I wonder whether I can convey to you how deeply touched I am that so many people from every section of America have taken the time and trouble to send me messages of affection and goodwill. I wish I could acknowledge every one of the many thousands of letters and telegrams which I have received. But since this is impossible, will you not let me take this opportunity to thank you one and all?
I wish, too, that it were possible for me to accept your invitations to visit your states, cities, colleges, churches and other organizations. To my regret, however, my doctors will not allow me to do all that you so wish me to do, and which I would so like to do. But I know that you will understand the wisdom of their decision when you consider that 11 weeks is but a short time in which to recover from the strain of six long years of war, and that I must conserve as much as possible some strength to enable me to continue my work in China.
Since I came out of the hospital many of you have asked me to give my impressions of America. My reply has been that, whatever impressions I have gained are not deep and comprehensive enough to enable me to give a really worthwhile answer. I think nevertheless that you may be interested in sharing with me some thoughts which surged through my mind during my convalescence. Mind you, they are thoughts only, not erudite opinions and conclusions formed after deep and prolonged study. I can only hope that, such as they are, they will touch a responsive chord in your hearts, and will prove helpful in your own thinking.
We live in the present, we dream of the future, but we learn eternal truths from the past. It would be just as irrational for a man to claim that he was self-made as for a nation to believe that it could be self-sufficient. Nations and individuals are but links between the past and the future. It would be interesting and valuable, therefore, for us to consider the deep meaning which lies behind the Chinese proverb “Watch the cart ahead” in our endeavor to avoid the pitfalls in which former civilizations, dynasties and systems have fallen.
Those pitfalls are many, but one of the deepest and most omnivorous is pride. That pitfall has swallowed many whose arrogance led them to think that they could safely and permanently defy mankind’s deep-rooted sense of justice and right-dealing. Figuratively speaking, it was only yesterday that Herr Hitler said: “No human power can ever oust the Germans from Stalingrad.” Where are those Germans today?
Again, in July 1937, Prince Konoye said: “We shall bring China cringing to her knees within three months.” How many three months have elapsed since he said that? And China still fights on.
Those utterances by two of the most deeply dyed aggressors were inspired by unrighteous pride run absolutely mad. But there is another kind of pride, a rightful pride, which my countrymen possess. I am reminded of two little Chungking incidents which bear testimony to the pride to which I have alluded. After the first of the terrible bombings to which Chungking was thereafter increasingly subjected, free congee (rice gruel) centers were established for those of our people whose homes had been demolished and reduced to charred ruins, and who consequently were unable to prepare their food. Many declined to accept this help on the grounds that they had suffered no more than others and preferred to fend for themselves.
It was only when they were told that they were entitled to the food since they were contributing their share in the national effort to combat aggression that they were prevailed upon to accept any at all. Again, when the generalissimo and I placed our cars at the disposal of the organization charged with the evacuation of civilians in view of the bombings, as soon as the evacuees learned to whom these cars belonged, they refused to ride in them on the grounds that our duties to the nation were too important to be impeded.
It is this kind of pride that governs our people’s attitude toward America today. We are genuinely and warmly appreciative of the assistance that the American people have given to our effort in the common cause. It is not only since my visit to your beautiful country that we have become aware of the affection and friendship which your people have for ours. Throughout these heartbreaking years, when we have been daily faced with the hardships which the people of an invaded land have to suffer, we have been heartened to carry on by the knowledge of your sympathy.
I have received innumerable letters and messages from your people in large cities and in small country towns — from businessmen, farmers, factory workers, professors, ministers, college and high school students, hard-working mothers and even little children. Contributions large and small have poured in; some people sent money orders of one or two dollars and even less, and oftentimes accompanied by the wish that they could do more. These gifts spelled real sacrifice on the part of the givers, and in the eyes of our people they were multiplied a thousand-fold and illuminated by the beauty of the spirit of the donors.
We thank you wholeheartedly for what you have done and are doing for our suffering people, all the more because in this present world struggle we are giving unstintingly the flower of our manhood and everything else we have in contributing our part in this titanic fight for a free and just world. I say all this because I feel that you are entitled to know how the Chinese people of today think and the national characteristic upon which that thinking is based.
Without necessarily possessing a very profound knowledge of the history of the world, we can take warning from the fate of the Roman and Persian Empires and the ephemeral system established by Napoleon. Rome, in the earlier days, had liberal enough political ideas. Perhaps you will recall that in the second century A. D., a Roman recorder wrote that the laws of Rome only became effective because the people delegated to the senate the power to make them. The imperium or power admittedly rested in the people.
The august title of imperator under the republic signified no more than the present-day title of “general,” and was bestowed by the soldiers upon their victorious leaders. The honors conferred upon Augustus as Prince of the Senate by the Romans in reality far transcended any honor claimed for monarchs some two thousand years later in accordance with the theory of the Divine Right of Kings. Thus we see that the power of the leader stemmed from the people, and to claim divine rights and privileges was usurpation of the natural rights of men.
All the peoples in the Roman Empire could become citizens. Some of the emperors even were Syrians or sprang from other foreign origins. There was no racial discrimination as we have it today. The Armenians and other tribes of the so-called barbarian world of that day were accepted, and welcomed as allies of Rome, and not as subject peoples. This broad and practiced concept of the Romans was, I think, the chief cause for the Roman Empire lasting for over a thousand years.
On the other hand, tyranny and dictatorships have been proven to be short lived. We ask ourselves why is it that the ancient Persian Empire only remained at its comparative zenith for a few centuries, while the high tide of the Napoleonic era only lasted for a few decades.
We read that Sapor, the Persian Emperor, after defeating the Romans, used the neck of Valerian, the Roman emperor, as a footstool for mounting his horse. Was it this cruelty and arrogance of the conqueror toward the conquered which contributed to the fall of the dictatorships whose leaders strutted about in a frenzy of exhibitionism during their short day as invincible conquerors and masters?
Let us contrast this with the Chinese way of life as shown in the following historical incident: During the period of the Three Kingdoms in China, Kuan Kung, a valiant warrior, met Huang Tsung, also a brave warrior, in single combat. With a sweep of his long sword, Kuan Kung cut off the forelegs of his opponent’s steed. Horse and rider both toppled to the ground. The vanquished warrior awaited his doom with resignation. The victor, Kuan Kung, however, extended his weaponless hand and cried: “Arise! My sword falls edgeless against a dismounted and unarmed foe.”
To return to the Roman Empire, its final fall was due, among other things, to the sybaritic and effete practices indulged in by the Roman people. In the declining days of the Empire they hired others to do their fighting, while they themselves wallowed in sensualism which culminated in the total eclipse of the Roman Empire in the west. On the heels of the fall of this empire followed the Dark Ages in Europe with all the attendant evil results. To safeguard ourselves against retrogression into another Dark Age is, I feel, the greatest task now confronting the United Nations.
Whether the principles of freedom, justice and equality for which we are fighting will be able to stand the strain and stress of the times is a question depending largely on ourselves as individuals and as nations. Convicts are subject to coercion, but it must be remembered that they have proved themselves to be antisocial and had first committed crimes against society. Their exclusion from their fellow men is but a logical consequence of the necessity for expiation, whereas slaves or subject peoples arrive in that estate often through no fault of their own.
The Axis Powers have shown that they have no respect for anything but brute force, and such being the case, they logically hold that conquered peoples should become shackled slaves. They lack the imagination to visualize the fact that a man may be enslaved physically but cannot be controlled in his thoughts and in his innate desire to be free. Nor do they recognize that, if people are deprived of responsibility, there can be no real discipline, for indubitably the highest kind of government is maintained through self-discipline.
Nor are they imaginative enough to realize that unrest, however ruthlessly suppressed, will continue to create situations which successive riotings and reforms cannot ameliorate, leaving in their wake only bitterness and determined hatred of the oppressor. The implacable underground hostility of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Low Countries and Prance, and the indomitable resolve to keep on fighting as shown by your people, and by my people, and by the peoples of Britain and Russia, attest incontrovertibly to this fact.
The world today is full of catchphrases. Men often pay lip service to ideals without actually desiring and working for their fruition. Fascist Italy has sometimes claimed to be an organized, centralized and authoritative democracy. Nazi Germany on occasions has also called itself a democracy. Do we of the United Nations wish to follow in their footsteps?
The universal tendency of the world as represented by the United Nations is as patent and inexorable as the enormous sheets of ice which float down the Hudson in the winter. The swift and mighty tide is toward universal justice and freedom.
In furtherance of this tendency, we in China have bled for the last six long years to demonstrate our repudiation of the inert and humiliating philosophy that a slow, strangling death is the more merciful, though some people in other parts of the world maintain that the absence of hope would prevent the acrimony of a losing fight and leave man’s nature untrammeled to compose itself to the mercy of God.
We shall hold firm to the faith that nothing short of race annihilation will ever prevent any people from struggling against wanton domination, whether economic or political. Are we right?
Again, there are peoples who are obsessed by the fear that the stage of economic stagnation has been reached; there are others who preach totalitarian-tinged doctrines of economic autarchy. If we accept these theories, then we must all be self-sufficing, for when any of us lacks raw materials and labor, instead of obtaining them through legitimate means of trade and commerce, we would have to resort to the brutalities of invading our neighbors’ territories and enslaving the inhabitants.
In reality, neither is possible, for the vast and rich unindustrialized hinterlands of China alone would bear witness to the obvious falsity of the former theory. The processes of history, composed of sequence — coexistence and interdependence — just as people in society are inevitably entwined through common interests, common efforts, and common survival, prove to us the folly of the latter theory.
What are we going to make of the future?
What will the… world, recovering from this hideous blood-letting, be like?
The wisest minds in every corner of the world are pondering over these questions, and the wisest of all reserve their opinion. But without letting temerity outrun discretion, I venture to say that certain things must be recognized. Never again must the dignity of man be outraged as it has been since the dawn of history.
All nations, great and small, must have equal opportunity of development. Those who are stronger and more advanced should consider their strength as a trust to be used to help the weaker nations to fit themselves for full self-government and not to exploit them. Exploitation is spiritually as degrading to the exploiter as to the exploited.
Finally, there must be no bitterness in the reconstructed world. No matter what we have undergone and suffered, we must try to forgive those who injured us and remember only the lesson gained thereby.
The teachings of Christ radiate ideas for the elevation of souls and intellectual capacities far above the common passions of hate and degradation. He taught us to help our less fortunate fellow-beings, to work and strive for their betterment without ever deceiving ourselves and others by pretending that tragedy and ugliness do not exist. He taught us to hate the evil in men, but not men themselves.
In order that this war may indeed be the war to end all wars in all ages, and that nations, great and small alike, may be allowed to live and let live in peace, security, and freedom in the generations to come, cooperation in the true and highest sense of the word must be practiced. I have no doubt that the truly great leaders of the United Nations, those men with vision and forethought, are working toward the crystallization of this ideal, yet they, too, would be impotent if you and I do not give our all toward making it a reality.
Over 2,000 years ago, during the feudal period, when many little kingdoms coexisted in China, there were two conflicting theories: the principle of imperialism, or lien-heng, and the principle of concerted effort, or hoh-tsung.
The originator of the principle of imperialism, or lien-heng, connived to swallow up the six weaker states by the state of Tsing. The originator of the concerted effort, or hoh-tsung, on the other hand, advocated the union of the six weak states for mutual protection against their dominant neighbor Tsing. The central idea was, in the event of aggression by the state of Tsing against any of the six states, the others were under moral obligation to come to the assistance of the invaded state. Unfortunately, the six states were lukewarm toward this idea of united effort and did not take any pains for its support, with the result that gradually, one by one, the weaker states were destroyed by the strong state of Tsing. Do we want history to repeat itself?
At the present day I should like to point out that we often use the term “community of nations.” If we would only pause to think for a moment, we would realize that the word “community” implies association not of voluntary choice, but of force of circumstance. We should, instead, think of ourselves as a society of nations, for society means association by choice. Let us, the United Nations, which have come together by choice, resolve to create a world resting on the pillars of justice, coexistence, cooperation, and mutual respect.
Selfishness and complacency in the past have made us pay dearly in terms of human misery and suffering. While it may be difficult for us not to feel bitterness for the injuries we have suffered at the hands of the aggressors, let us re member that recrimination and hatred will lead us nowhere. We should use our energy to better purpose so that every nation will be enabled to use its native genius and energy for the reconstruction of a permanently progressive world with all nations participating on an equitable and just basis. The goal of our common struggle at the conclusion of this war should be to shape the future so that “this whole world must be thought of as one great state common to gods and men.
Sources: The New York Times, March 3, 1943.
Also: Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Addresses Delivered Before the Senate of the United States and the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 18, 1943, together with Other Addresses Delivered During Her Visit to the United States, (Washington: US Government Printing Office) 1943, pp. 11-15.
Dana Rubin is a speaker and consultant focused on women’s voice and speech. She’s the founder of Speaking While Female, the first-ever online collection of contemporary and historical speeches by women from across time and around the world. Dana recently gave a TEDx Talk on “Unlocking the Secret History of Women’s Speech,” and she’s working on an anthology of women’s speech. For more on how she helps organizations attract, retain and develop their women leaders, visit SpeakingWhileFemale.biz.