The Living Legacy of WWI: Jane Addams & Her Cosmopolitan Ethics, with Seiko Mimaki

April 24, 2018

Jane Addams, 1915. CREDIT: Chicago Daily News/Public Domain

REED BONADONNA: This is Reed Bonadonna. I am a senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and I am talking from the Carnegie Council building in Manhattan on 64th and Lexington. This interview is being conducted as part of the Living Legacy of the First World War project, interviews with the nine Fellows who were selected to pursue various subjects concerning the First World War, the American experience, and the legacy of the First World War.

I am talking this morning with Seiko Mimaki. Seiko, are you at your office at Takasaki City University, or are you home at this point?

SEIKO MIMAKI: I am now speaking from my house in Tokyo.

REED BONADONNA: Okay. Very good.

Seiko's project title is "World War I as a Key Moment in the History of Humanitarianism: Jane Addams and Her Cosmopolitan Ethics." Professor Mimaki and I have communicated quite a bit about her project and ongoing work over the past couple of months, and I think we are going to have a very interesting discussion.

Seiko, would you like to say anything to introduce your topic or just to get us started?

SEIKO MIMAKI: Yes. Thank you for introducing, and let me briefly introduce my project overview. My focus is war, World War I and the development of humanitarianism. It is true that war has existed throughout human history. However, it is also true that transnational humanitarian actions to mitigate the effects of war have constantly developed out of the ashes of war. So my question is: How can we situate World War I, the first world-scale war, in the history of humanitarianism?

My project highlights the past. World War I was a key moment in the history of humanitarianism, especially focusing on various civil society actors. For example, through their biased way of dividing the history of humanitarian actions, actually many accounts see World War II rather than World War I as the beginning of a new age for humanitarian actions. Certainly it was only in the middle of World War II that governments began to fully appreciate the need for greater international intervention on the part of people in war-torn countries. However, so my emphasis, if we broaden the scope of investigation and look at not only governments but civil society actors, we can trace the origin of humanitarian actions back to World War I.

So witnessing the suffering of children, refugees—disturbing—and the homeless in the devastating war, a lot of individuals and also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offered material aid and assistance to millions of war victims.

Actually there is no word [inaudible] human life, but before that already various organizations and people made significant efforts to fulfil this ideal.

My project particularly focuses on one individual, Jane Addams, a devoted social worker who was very well known for her lifelong work to empower the poor immigrant workers at Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago. Addams hoped Hull House would become a feeder of humanity which would be fundamentally different from the other charitable organizations. Certainly Addams did share a Christian sense of mission to the poor, like her contemporaries. For example, explaining the mission of Hull House, Addams declares that, "This renaissance of early Christian humanitarianism is going on in America in Chicago, if you please, without leaders who write or philosophize, without much speaking but with a bent to express in social service and in times of action the state of grace."

Actually, as this statement shows, Addams believed in the Christian mission, yet she rejected to serve this mission through philanthropy since she believed that philanthropy failed to understand the real lives of the poor and thus could not be of genuine help to them. Addams also said that a settlement differed radically from a charitable enterprise in that the settlement, etc., entered the neighborhood for social reasons in order that it may affect the life of a neighborhood and give it, if possible, a higher civic, social, and political ideal.

Addams believes that once philanthropists started to actually live together with neighbors to whom they sought to extend charity, they too received a gift from that relationship. Addams emphasized the difference between philanthropy and settlement. This view really affected her vision of world peace, I think.

During World War I, Addams expanded her scope of care globally. After the U.S. entry into World War I, she worked under the auspices of the U.S. Food Administration led by Herbert Hoover in order to meet the needs of war victims who faced malnutrition and starvation.

So what distinguished Addams from other peace advocates, I think, was her strong emphasis on the crucial role of the marginalized people, such as women, immigrants, and workers in the peacemaking process. Through her life, Addams actively supported the lives of minorities. She advocated women's suffrage, became one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and also a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Addams was a truly remarkable peace advocate who wonderfully connected theory and practice. She developed a unique peace theory based on what she herself observed and experienced while realizing these theories through her own actions. I want to analyze through her view how she developed her peace thesis and what she did, starting in World War I.

REED BONADONNA: I am interested in knowing how you got started on this project. It is a fairly standard question I have asked of the Fellows, and very often there is some kind of a story there of how this interest developed, whether it builds on earlier work that you have done, or even if there is maybe some kind of a personal or family connection of some kind with the subject matter, with Jane Addams, the general question of humanitarianism, and as you say "cosmopolitan ethics."

SEIKO MIMAKI: Of course, I think first Addams is very important when we think of World War I. She perfectly suits your project. This is one reason.

But the other reason, I believe that her vision of cosmopolitanism has strong relevance today. Especially today we are witnessing the crisis of cosmopolitanism. Until recently it was very widely believed that the rapid globalization would result in a more cosmopolitan world, more cosmopolitan outlooks among the people.

But as shown by the UK's vote for Brexit and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election, nationalism has been very prevalent among those who regard themselves as victims of ruthless globalization. So here today, cosmopolitans are actually being accused of being detached elites who do not understand the miserable realities of ordinary people in the era of high technology and globalization. Certainly we need to criticize these hopeless demagogic claims, yet at the same time we should realize that this should not prevent us from coming to our honest reflection of what has been wrong with the current version of cosmopolitanism and why cosmopolitanism has ceased to appeal to ordinary people.

Actually the victory of Donald Trump, Trump has advocated an "America First" foreign policy, this suggests that the U.S. liberal international visions that have prevailed for the better part of a century are no longer convincing to most Americans. So now we should renew it.

This is one strong reason why I want to revisit Addams, who developed the very unique concept of cosmopolitanism as a humanistic project which pursued freedom and opportunity for everyone, not just for a privileged few. So Addams' cosmopolitan world vision, which was developed through her daily concrete experience of working with women and workers, actually it was never an intellectual abstraction but aimed at fulfilling people's concrete needs.

This cosmopolitanism, I think, has very strong relevance, and we can get many insights from her cosmopolitan visions. That is a second reason that I want to analyze and revisit her cosmopolitanism now.

REED BONADONNA: I have had the thought and developed a little bit that America is at once one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world in its acceptance of foreign cultures and people from abroad in the sense that we are a nation of immigrants and so on, but we are also in some ways sort of the most provincial people in the world and very rooted to our towns and neighborhoods and communities, sometimes defined by ethnicity, within the larger America. In a way Addams plugs into both of those strains because she acts very locally, but she is also thinking globally in these cosmopolitan terms.

SEIKO MIMAKI: Yes, exactly.

REED BONADONNA: I was wondering how your research is going. Have you hit any bumps, any obstacles, or maybe interesting discoveries, unexpected assistance or finds along the way? How is the work of research going so far?

SEIKO MIMAKI: I want to go to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, but so far I haven't been able to go. But maybe in the spring I want to go and do some archival research. I have already checked articles and books on Jane Addams, and very recently especially in [inaudible], there is some revival of Jane Addams. I think the revival of increased concern, including concern for Addams, reflects the fact that people are now looking for some different foundation and to deconstruct cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism, so a lot of people are now feeling some kind of crisis of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism, especially in the United States. There are so many books and articles. These books and articles are continuously published, so I am now reading these articles. I can hear how there is some original point these previous researchers have not discussed enough.

REED BONADONNA: I have to admit that I of course had heard of Jane Addams and I knew a little bit about her work and Hull House before reading your proposal and then your very thorough interim report that you sent in a week or so ago, but she really is quite a fascinating figure. She seems to have combined a powerful intellect and command of language with kind of a moral authority and a willingness to work with others maybe who did not agree with her about everything, but not to compromise her principles even under pressure.

I wonder if you could share any human touches of Jane Addams. Do you have a favorite image or anecdote about her, a particularly revealing quotation, or anything like that just to sort of give some life to this extraordinary woman?

SEIKO MIMAKI: Yes. It is very hard to choose one, but now I am very interested in what she witnessed on European battlefields. She traveled to Europe during World War I, and she had several conversations with government officials in Europe, but at the same time she had interviews with soldiers. She heard very interesting stories from the soldiers themselves.

These experiences really affected Addams' visions of future peace. For example, through the European tour, Addams was convinced that killing was contrary to human nature. For example, Addams says, "We have in all countries seen a statement in regard to the necessity for the use of a stimulant before man engages in killing." For example, in England they gave them rum, and in France the soldiers have absinthe. They all have to give them the dope before killing.

Addams interviewed hospitalized soldiers and they describe symptoms of what was later called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which made her convinced that the soldiers were prepared to die, but they were not prepared to kill.

Addams also recalled one German soldier's confession, a killing [inaudible]that does not show courage but madness, and he confessed that. Man must be brought to the point by stimulant, and once the [inaudible] began they are like insane men.

These observations and the conversations and experiences in European battlefields really affected Addams, so I want to analyze how these experiences were included in the most general idea of peace and how these experiences made Addams' peace idea different from her contemporaries.

REED BONADONNA: Right. Very interesting to me. As you know, I am a military type. I am a retired Marine, so hearing about her involvement with the battlefields and the soldiers in the First World War—

SEIKO MIMAKI: Yes, I really learned a lot from your book.

REED BONADONNA: I am so glad. We will have to talk about that sometime too, but today we will focus obviously on your work.

I was just going to mention that in addition to PTS, a term you have probably heard that is being used today is "moral injury," sometimes abbreviated MI. This occurs to soldiers who may or may not be suffering from PTS, but they have had to do something or they have seen something in war which has really hurt them, gone against some of their most deeply held values, ethical standards, and they come away from this wounded in another way.

It occurs to me that some of the soldiers in the First World War were probably also suffering from moral injury. It is a war that was fought in a different way from a lot of the ones that are being fought today and recently, but still this diagnosis, which is a fairly recently coinage, more recent even than PTS, may have applied to some of the soldiers she was talking to when she visited the battlefields in the First World War. Anyway, I will leave that aside for now.

Are you at all familiar with the writings of some of the military writers who have talked about the reluctance of soldiers to kill on the battlefield? There has been some writing by military historians like S. L. A. Marshall or analysts like David Grossman about this phenomenon. It might be interesting for you to look over some of their work.

SEIKO MIMAKI: I would definitely be interested in them. I am now thinking, when Addams argued about peace, Addams always saw the experience of war victims, such as these soldiers or the mothers who lost their sons on the battlefield. That is why she emphasized the role of women, especially mothers, and also soldiers in peacemaking.

For example, Addams, also remembered another young soldier's confession: "We are told that we are fighting for civilization," this soldier said, "but I tell you that war destroys civilization." At the battlefield, the soldiers knew that and witnessed war nearly destroying civilization.

For example, soldiers also witnessed that the highest products of the universities, the scholars, the philosophers, the poets, when he is in the trenches, when he spends his days and nights in brutality and horror, he is as low and brutal as the rudest peasant. So this is what a soldier said to Addams. During the war Addams recognized that.

Also she emphasized the role of women because the women, particularly the mothers of the soldiers, and also these soldiers, these people really realized the terrible consequences of war, and they cannot have some romantic belief in war. They started to seriously question the meaning of war. Why are still many people outside the battlefield who still justify the war by appealing to very abstract ideas such as nationalism and patriotism?

I want to focus on these real experiences and Addams' conversations with these women and soldiers, how these affected Addams' peace ideas.

REED BONADONNA: Very nice. Addams appears to have been very erudite, very well-read, again very good with language. Did she see herself as working within or playing off of any kind of a tradition? She was Christian, I believe. Did she have any favorite writers? Did she hearken back to other peace or humanitarian movements, whether early Christianity, the 19th century peace movements, some of them associated with The Hague and Geneva? Did any of these historical events and trends have a particular influence on her thought and on her actions?

SEIKO MIMAKI: A lot of philosophers and writers affected Addams' thinking. For example, Leo Tolstoy's pacifist ideas, so Addams learned a lot, and also Immanuel Kant's ideas definitely affected Addams.

Addams fundamentally believes in the cultural reciprocity between Western countries and even non-Western countries. This was a period of imperialism, but Addams quite exceptionally believed in cultural reciprocity at that time already, so that is why she really likes interacting with immigrants. She really loves learning from various cultures as immigrants are brought to Hull House, so she attended many events at the Hull House herself. Of course, she pushed and organized, but at the same time she herself attended events to learn the immigrants' culture.

REED BONADONNA: I'm an English major by background, at least partly. For some reason, maybe because it is taking place around the same time, I found myself thinking of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as I was reading about Jane Addams, the situation of women in the early part of the century and in the post-World War I period. Virginia Woolf describes the deprivation, for example, at English universities at this time, the relatively threadbare accommodations which were offered to female scholars compared to the much more sumptuous surroundings of some of the male colleges, for example, at Oxford University.

Is there any sense or tactile images that are coming through to you across the years? I will throw out another quotation: An American historian of the American Revolution said that if you want a sense of what the American Army was like in the field or in camp, imagine the smell of whiskey and onions because this is probably what the army smelled like a good part of the time.

Is there anything like that that comes across to you, a sense impression of Addams as she did her work, either back in the United States or in communicating with the soldiers? What did that feel like, do you think, for her and the people she was communicating with?

SEIKO MIMAKI: That will be my future question. One thing I can say is that Addams of course emphasized the role of women, but she did not believe in women's passive nature. She is not a maternalist. She emphasized the women's role because she interacted with many women because at Hull House there were so many women immigrant workers. From the interaction with them Addams developed her thesis of peace, and she emphasized women's, especially poor women's, roles in the possibility that they can contribute to peace building.

In this sense, Addams never had ideas like men are more aggressive in nature and the women are peaceful, this kind of a maternalist essentialist argument. I think Addams never took this.

So, yes. Your point is very interesting, so I want to analyze Addams' thinking from this perspective.

REED BONADONNA: This project is about the living legacy of the First World War, so each one of the Fellows is focusing on a certain aspect of the First World War and this legacy. What do you think of Addams' legacy at this point—and this may be a tentative answer because you are far from done with your project—what is it that is most worth recalling about her legacy and about the memory of the aspect of the World War I experience that you are researching?

SEIKO MIMAKI: Actually, for example, when we talk about World War I, there are a lot of things, especially about how World War I led to the development of humanitarianism or internationalism. A lot of people think of Woodrow Wilson instead of Jane Addams. Wilson is a very important person, I agree. For example, now, criticizing Trump's "America First" diplomacy, multiple pundits and scholars have advocated the United States sticking to Wilsonian tradition regarding Wilson's foreign policy vision such as collective security, open markets, and promotion of democracy as an ultimate goal for U.S. diplomacy. I want to emphasize that. Wilson is very important.

 Still, Wilsonianism is not the only source of inspiration for future liberal world order. Addams made visions for world peace which are quite significantly different from those of Wilson. So we will broaden our views on possible future world and the U.S.'s role there.

For example, one of the important characteristics of Addams' vision of peace was its emphasis on very bottom-up approaches and also inclusiveness. This reflected, as already I emphasized, Addams' experience of serving at Hull House. Actually the other progressive elites at this time, including President Woodrow Wilson, clearly endorsed the special roles of qualified elites in leading necessary reforms both at the domestic and international levels, and tended to [dis]regard an uneducated mass.

But Addams believed that no group had exclusive insight on how to solve pressing social problems. Addams denied these elitist approaches and regarded that participation of diverse groups of people would be necessary for successful domestic and international reforms. Addams even emphasized that. So in a democratic country nothing can be permanently [inaudible], save through the mass of the people.

So based on this belief, Addams says that "true social progress could be realized not through leadership of selected elites but through wider participation of the community members." Actually Addams called this kind of inclusive progress as "lateral progress." This concept was invented as a notion to advance the whole society, leaving no one behind.

This inclusive bottom-up approach to world peace is quite different from what Woodrow Wilson envisioned. So I want to contrast these two important peace visions and to enrich one's imagination for future peace.

REED BONADONNA: Very good. Is there a Jane Addams today? Is there anyone comparable to her, someone of her intellectual and moral stature? Is there an emerging figure or someone with whom you might compare Jane Addams?

SEIKO MIMAKI: It is a very interesting and stimulating question. If I were Addams, maybe I would say that we do not need a single great philosopher to lay the foundation for global humanitarianism, or so I would argue in my paper, because Addams formed the best philosophical foundation for humanitarianism in the daily concrete lives of the ordinary people rather than abstract theories or principles developed by a great philosopher.

In fact, what makes Addams truly distinct among her progressive contemporaries was the fact that she really wonderfully connected theory and practice. She developed a unique peace theory based on what she observed and experienced, while realizing these theories through her own actions.

If there is someone in the contemporary world, if there is someone doing the same philosophical adventure like Jane Addams, I want to mention Michael Ignatieff's recent book, The Ordinary Virtues, which has many overlapping philosophical concerns with Addams. In this book, The Ordinary Virtues, Ignatieff tried to find a new foundation for global ethics in the divided world, a new foundation in the lives of local people. Actually, Ignatieff traveled to Brazil, Bosnia, also Japan, my country, Myanmar, South Africa, Los Angeles, New York City, so various cities. And there Ignatieff had various conversations with ordinary local people who are practicing very ordinary virtues and also sometimes practice in their own way.

For example, in Jackson Heights, Ignatieff saw people living side by side, not together, and then concluded that they respected diversity, not necessarily because they believe it is a universal principle, but because it is in the interest of their daily lives and group survival. This philosophical basis of what Ignatieff is trying to practice for me is similar to what Addams tried one hundred years ago.

[Editor's note: For more on Ignatieff, check out his 2017 Carnegie Council talk on The Ordinary Virtues and other resources from his Carnegie Council Global Ethical Dialogues project.]

REED BONADONNA: Yes. I had the same thought that it might be Michael Ignatieff, who is the nearest we have to a Jane Addams. In fact, it even made me wonder how acquainted Michael Ignatieff is with Jane Addams and her record. I want to go back to my copy of Ordinary Virtues and see if maybe he mentions her in there somewhere or some of his other writing, like his book Virtual War and his book The Warrior's Honor that he wrote several years ago that I have used and cited in my own work.

Professor Mimaki, would you like to sort of finish it up at this point, last words on the subject, maybe, if you like, looking forward to where this project is going and maybe what the follow-up for it might be as we get to completion?

SEIKO MIMAKI: I want to add a little bit about more suggestions taken from my research for the future world.

The other thing interesting about Addams is that Addams never regarded the nation-state as a sole actor in world politics. World politics, in the way in which Addams envisioned, was not a simple collection of sovereign states; it consisted of many kinds of community groupings.

So Addams' transnational and post-hegemonic world visions I think have been increasingly relevant in the contemporary world. Today we are witnessing the U.S. relative decline and also Trump's advocacy of America First diplomacy, and also in Europe we are witnessing the rise of nationalist parties all over Europe.

Here in this world people are increasingly worried about what Ian Bremmer called a "G-zero world" where no single country or bloc of countries has the potential and economic leverage or the will to drive a truly global agenda. [Editor's note: For more from Bremmer on the "G-zero world," check out his 2012 Carnegie Council talk.]

However, we should be reminded that the contemporary world is more complex, so it is characterized by multiple actors rather than sovereign states. For example, last summer I read an article, "After Liberal Hegemony: The Advent of a Multiplex World Order," published in Carnegie's Ethics & International Affairs by Amitav Acharya. In this article, Acharya argues that the imagined world order should be called not a G-zero world but a G-plus world, where not only Western countries but non-Western countries, not only governments but international institutions, regional bodies, civil society, even individuals could form various kinds of partnerships toward global cooperation in various areas such as security, climate change, and also human rights.

Also, what has happened after the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last summer could be regarded as a sign for a new world order that Acharya and also Addams envisioned, where people are less dependent on hegemonic leadership yet still find various ways to cooperate in order to address global challenges.

Actually after the U.S. withdrawal, no other country followed. At the summit meeting in Hamburg, the other members reaffirmed their commitments. In this current world, Addams' insight into world politics has many useful lessons and insights for the future world order, I believe.

REED BONADONNA: Very good note on which to end perhaps. I just want to say at the finish that program assistant Billy Pickett and I are here for you to make things easier if we can, to answer questions, to smooth the way. Once we maybe start moving, we definitely do plan on some meetings of Fellows here in the city and also possibly at The Hague Peace Conference in September, so we have some things to look forward to. Anyway, we are here, and we are very willing to help.

Maybe on that note, we can say good morning. Actually, I can probably let you go to sleep at this point, because you are probably ready for that, I think. I am getting a thumb's up from the control. Anyway, it has been great talking with you, Seiko. I am so glad that we finally had a chance to converse after numerous emails back and forth and definitely to be continued.

SEIKO MIMAKI: Yes, indeed. I am very happy too, to finally talk with you directly. Thank you.

REED BONADONNA: Yes, and we will do it again. Anyway, have a good evening.

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