"Sanger and World War II," Fall 1995, #10
As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, we thought it was an appropriate time to look at Margaret Sanger's impressions of the war, in her own public and private words.
Not surprisingly, Margaret Sanger's views on war were tightly connected to her belief in the importance of birth control. She began forecasting another world war shortly after the first had ended. In speeches and articles she offered the well-worn argument that over-population begets aggressive expansionism. For Sanger, the only effective preventative measure was to limit population growth through birth control.
Though somewhat naive and often over-simplistic in her analysis of international affairs, Sanger's tours of Europe and Asia during the 1920's and 1930's, her work as president of the London-based Birth Control International Information Centre, as well as her extensive network of friends and colleagues, afforded her a bird's eye view of the conflicts and personalities that drove the war machines. Sanger found culpability on all sides in the global arena, but was especially distrustful of British leadership.
For most of the 1930s, Sanger's frustration with the deteriorating situation in Europe and the Far East, and her long-held pacifistic ideals, led her to adopt a rigidly isolationist stance from which she would not budge until America was solidly entrenched in the war. However, although she agreed with much of what Charles Lindbergh and other America First campaigners were publicly proclaiming about the importance of U.S. neutrality, Sanger was unequivocal about the evils of fascism and the Nazi regime.
Nor did her isolationism prevent her from participating in projects to help those most affected by war. During the 1930's she worked to help bring European refugees to America, (see "Margaret Sanger and the Refugee Department, Margaret Sanger Papers Project Newsletter, Spring 1993). After 1940 she began sending food and clothes to British friends and later to friends in Germany as well. And after Pearl Harbor she reminded wartime Americans of the even more critical need for birth control.
As the mother of two sons, Sanger like most other Americans dreaded the reality of war. When her two sons, Grant and Stuart, were sent overseas late in 1943, Sanger withdrew to her Tucson home, and anxiously awaited news. Happily, both men returned home safely in 1945 and shortly thereafter continued to pursue their medical careers.
When the war finally ended in 1945, Sanger was relieved, but also horrified by the devastation the conflict had left in Japan, Germany and many other parts of Europe. And she remained even more convinced that the key to peace was population control. What follows are extracts from Sanger's letters, journals, and speeches.
December 8, 1920
We are breeding, breeding, breeding excess numbers for what? For another condition like that of Europe in 1914 with its dingy, crowded communities that sought in bloodshed an outlet and a relief from the tragedy of existence? Unless we apply fundamental remedies to these conditions we will just approach the same congested and confused state which may and is likely to produce an outburst of the same nature as the European struggle of the past 5 years. ("Return from Europe" Speech, MSM 70:870)
September 3, 1933
Japan is breaking her own record for population increase. The whole crisis in the Far East – so menacing for the peace of the world at large - - grows out of this "full-speed-ahead" cradle competition between Asiatic races.... the sowing of the seeds of another World War! ("Woman of the Future" Speech, MSM S71:510)
October 4, 1939
I am one of those who believe that Americans have no influence politically in Europe. That our ideals are merely "eye wash" to the diplomats and unless we can present a broad & just peace as a working basis for Russia, Germany and the trouble making countries we should keep out of it. (MS to Edith How-Martyn, MSM C)
I do not believe that the statesmen of England or France are any more righteous, noble, honest, truthful or wise than the same gamesters in Germany, Italy or Russia. They are all playing a game with Nations as their pawns. ("Hitler and War" Speech, MSM S72:125)
War in Europe – with Germany conquering France, Holland, Belgium & threatening England has upset the world. To keep USA out of Europes war is the desire of all of us – but G. B. influence here is tremendous – (Journal Entry, MSM S70:531)
September 20, 1940
The British Propaganda is Effective – all the papers & columnists are hard at it. Only Col Lindbergh is sane & the Lone Eagle trying to keep USA out of European entanglements. (Journal Entry, MSM S70:538-539)
June 9, 1941
I certainly want to see a better world. We have fought for that you & I. All that we have believed in & worked for has been crushed in Germany but I am glad to say a little light still burns in England, just a flicker but it burns....No dearest I do not think it wrong to condemn us or keep our freedom or are we not opening the floodgates to all the things we hate in Germany & Russia? (MS to Juliet Rublee, MSM)
December 7, 1941
Today news over the Radio that Japan declared war on USA. Bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii... Nation after Nation will now join in this madness & God only can keep hearts true & heads cool. (Journal Entry, MSM S70:568)
February 3, 1942
Last night I dreamed of Hitler – Saw him in a room so close that I could see his eyes wink ... house I was in with others raided by Nazis. I hid under a table with others but one womans leg was discovered then we all were brought forth. Hitler came in to execute war plans & operations using this house as his base. A bird flew into the room from the window & lighted near me – It was white & a dove – Hitler caught it, held it up high over my head & told me to pick out a feather – I did so & awakened. (Journal Entry, MSM S70:513-514)
Grant in Navy! ... expects to be called Somewhere any day. God forbid– (Journal Entry, MSM S70:570)
January 26, 1943
Millions of Women in Industry, Defense & other National Activities are needed unencumbered & unhampered for the duration as much as their husbands or brothers are needed as free men on the battle fronts. (MS to Kenneth Rose, MSM S22:108-109)
March 22, 1943
I do not know whether or not you listened to Churchill's speech yesterday, but I was never more disappointed in his views, expressing, as they did, the whole Tory clique of the City of London. It was what I call a nationalistic, jingoistic brain storm! (MS to Margaret Valiant, MSM S22:373)
August 12, 1943
Stuart may have to go Overseas – God knows I'll be crushed over that. It will be the end for me! (MS to Florence Rose, MSM S23:0062)
March 10, 1944
Planned Parenthood must be an important plank in the post war platform if enduring peace is to prevail. Global war demands global peace, and the gains which we are struggling to achieve in this country must be extended throughout the world if they are to be effective for us. In the United States we have achieved a favorable balance between population and resources which has contributed greatly to the raising of our national standard of living. But it will avail us little in the long run if European and Asiatic countries continue to overrun their boundaries, and to breed themselves into greater poverty, famine and ultimately into war. Therefore the fight for planned parenthood must encompass the world. ("Children of Tomorrow" speech, MSM S72:380)
May 10, 1944
What an amazing experience for you, as you say, to have two human beings fall through the air from that height – it is all too ghastly and horrible. I keep wondering what is going to happen after the war to men who live through experiences of that kind. (MS to Stuart Sanger, MSM S23:954)
September 19, 1944
Stuart is in France having left England with the others without a days vacation. I think the American Army is treating the American boys as if they were children, not letting them get away in case they get into trouble when not with his Uncle Sam. (MS to H. G. Wells, MSM S24:323)
October 27, 1944
Grant is out in that Philippine battle in a carrier ... its too horrible being at the end of a phone waiting. (MS to Margaret Valiant and Florence Rose, MSM S24:395)
August 10, 1945
Atomic Bomb over Japan startled the World. (Calendar Entry, MSM S80:647)
August 30, 1945
Stuart has come back from France but is not out of the Army. Grant was still in Okinawa the last we heard, we only hope he will not be sent in Japan. We as everyone else are terribly thankful that the war is over. (MS to Marion Willis Brock, MSM S24:1148)
October 25, 1945
Isn't it true, General, that until America, with her present power, stands for the rights of parents everywhere in the world to voluntary and healthful reproduction, neither a large standing army or the atomic bomb can save us from another war? (MS to General Douglas MacArthur, MSM S25:213)
Revised: November 14, 2002