Document 20: "Overpopulation is Cause of War Says Mrs. Sanger," Japan Times & Mail, Tokyo, 15 March 1922, pp. 1 and 8.


Mrs. Sanger giving a lecture at the YMCA Hall.
Source: Nagoya Shinbun, 16 March 1922, p. 9.

   Sanger's first major public speech was given before a March 14 audience numbering between 500 and 800, about a third of them women, and also including businessmen, foreigners and some working-class people. Unable to speak openly on birth control, she couched her argument in a discussion of the problems of overpopulation and its link to war, a connection she had made in Woman and the New Race (1920), and in articles in the Birth Control Review and elsewhere. Some of her assessments were remarkably prescient, such as her belief that if Japan's population continued to grow at 1922 rates, it would eventually lead to aggressive expansion and war. This article also provides the full text of Sanger's speech.

[p. 1]

Is Cause of War
Says Mrs. Sanger
Local Police Find Opening
Speech in Accord With
Censor's Regulations


   Emphasizing that over-population is the cause of wars, Mrs. Margaret Sanger gave her opening address in Japan before an audience of over 500 persons at the Y.M.C.A. late yesterday afternoon. Owing to police regulations, Mrs. Sanger took as her subject "War and Population."

   She explained, during the course of her speech, that it was quite a natural event for a family in Germany during the dark middle ages to have from fifteen to twenty members, but for only one of two or at the most four in that group to survive to full maturity. "That was the course which Nature had taken to lessen the possibility of war, and to keep nations at Peace with each other," was her statement.

   She declared that more than forty-five percent of the women of Germany were made permanently sterile owing to the lack of food and the proper nourishment for child-bearing.

   While discussing Japan's problem of over population, Mrs. Sanger appealed to the audience to set their motherhood free; to make their women something more than breeding machines.

Here Is Her Speech

   Her speech in full follows:

   "I regret exceedingly that I am not allowed to speak to you this afternoon upon the subject of birth control. Why this privilege has been denied me I do not know for I have addressed audiences on the subject of birth control in nearly every country in Europe and every large city in the United States. However, I am grateful and pleased that I have been able to gain the permission to address you on the subject of War and Population. Inasmuch as I was unprepared to speak upon this subject, I ask your tolerance in allowing me to use my notes in addressing you.

   "For more than a hundred years Europe had about doubled her population while the increase of her food supply was less than 5 percent. She had been piling up huge debts for future generations to pay. She had piled up such conditions as slums, unemployment, child labor, inertness, inefficiency, dependency, and finally, War. The World War, which started in Europe in 1914, was only a natural result of the manifold conditions which made such a volcanic eruption inevitable.

Two Divisions

   "During the past fifty years there was a tendency in every country in Europe to increase her numbers overwhelmingly in one group and to decrease her numbers in another section. The individuals in the latter group were those who did not let nature control their destinies. They had mastered the force of fecundity. In this group, whose numbers increase but slowly, there is among them the most progressive and advanced conditions. The other group, who are at the mercy of the urge of generation, are those who have increased not only their numbers but have increased their problems beyond the means of the development of the social conscience or the intelligence of the nation. In this group in every country in Europe is found the great problems both social and economic with which the world was confronted in 1914.

   "In some countries, as in England, it was possible through colonization to alleviate the conditions in this group somewhat by sending her surplus population to Canada, Australia and other parts of the globe.

One Example

   "France, on the other hand, had kept her numbers more or less stationary and had aimed to develop quality in her people. It was to France that we turned for culture, for science, for advancement in almost every line of scientific thought.

   "Germany, on the other hand, was the central country in Europe who though in some departments far more advanced than any other country in Europe, was by the nature of that particular advancement blocked in her progress--and her conditions at home made more complex and chaotic. Germany had been the first country in Europe to bring into her country the largest sources of alleviation for her population.

   "During the dark and middle ages, Germany had relied upon infant mortality, disease and pestilence to keep her population within bounds. It was quite a natural event for a family during that period to have from 15 to 20 members, but for only one or two or at the most 4 in that group to survive to full maturity. This was the course which Nature had taken to lessen the possibility of war and to keep nations somewhat at peace with each other.

   "With the advance of humanitarian thought, scientific and preventive medicine, Germany began to increase her problems. The urge for expansion on the part of the increasing population in any country when brought against geographical barriers acts blindly in the direction of conflict--whether in colonial rivalry or territorial swarming. The opportunities for Germany's expansion were strictly limited by other powers and the prosperity due to the opening of new countries had long passed its maximum.

Serious Problems

   "The possibilities for expansion that were open a century ago, were fairly well exhausted and Germany found herself with serious problems on her hands which meant national expansion or ultimate stagnation. We find then a situation in Germany to be a rapidly increasing population, bringing this population largely to full maturity at a great expense to the government, through social service, old age pensions, and maternity benefits. The necessities for maintaining this population were out of her reach and made her dependent upon other countries for her population's subsistence. There was a tendency too, toward a surplus of highly trained professional and technical men.

   "The elaborate educational system of Germany was producing more engineers, surveyors, electrical engineers, industrial chemists and experts along various lines than the nation's employers

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could utilize or absorb. The result was that such men had to be content to remain for a less wage than the unskilled workingmen could procure or to emigrate into foreign lands where [that] skill and inventiveness became the assets of other countries at Germany's cost.

A Higher Standard

   "While Germany's birth rate was on the decline, in 1900 it was 36.5 percent, in 1909, 32 percent, and in 1913 29.5 percent--the number of deaths diminished also by such proportion that her survivals became higher, and her population increased in a faster proportion than it did with an increasing birth rate. There was an increase of from 700,000 to 800,000 souls a year which amounted to nearly four millions of new individuals every five years. It was upon such conditions, briefly and fragmentary as they are related here that Germany based her claim to a place in the sun and the right of livelihood of her surplus population.

   "The Berliner Post in 1913 said: 'Can a great and rapidly growing nation like Germany always renounce all claims to further development or to the expansion of its political power? The final settlement with France and England, the expansion of our colonial possessions in order to create new German homes for the overflow of our population. . . . these are the problems which must be faced in the near future.'

Increase in Population

   "If one studies the comments of the press during the five years preceding the Great War, it will be found in every instance that the argument upon which the need of the right of any country to prepare for war was based upon her increasing and growing population.

   "Germany in 1910 had a population of 70,000,000. At the rate she was increasing she was bound to have in a short time double that number. It was the argument of her militarists and others who were seeking greater demands for Germany that she must find an outlet for her people, that Germany was hungry for trade, that she needed colonies, that she could not confine her growing population within her narrow geographical boundaries and in one of the magazines the Kaiser was quoted to have said that in 1950 Germany would possess a population of two hundred millions or something near to it.

   "It might have been supposed that councils such as those representing the best ranks of thinking Germans might have been adverse to this condition of things, but extraordinary, as it may seem to all thinking people, the Marxian philosophy had taken a strong hold upon the people of Germany and particularly the working people of Germany during the past 25 years and inculcated the view point that the greater the numbers of the proletariat the higher would be their wages, the higher their demand in the labor market and the larger the numbers in the ranks of their revolutionists. So that up to the time of 1914 there was every tendency on the part of the thinkers of Germany both economic, social and political to increase their numbers and to trust to the gods the results, that might makes right.

Worse Yet to Come

   "This, briefly, is the pivotal condition of the cause of the war in Europe in 1914. We all know the results and the consequences, but none of us can foretell the terrific decadent consequence which Germany is yet to feel. Her best fitted manhood was slaughtered in the war, her mothers and children left at home in a condition of physical starvation from which has come the generations of the future. When I was in Germany in 1920 and witnessed more than 10,000 little starving infants, the results of the blockade and the war, I felt that it would be far kinder for Germany's future and for the future peace of the world to humanitarily allow these little victims to pass away rather than to keep them alive upon the charity of the enemy nations. More than 45 percent of the women of Germany were made permanently sterile owing to the lack of food and the proper nourishment for child-bearing.

   "The present circumstances in Germany are extremely heavy taxes, low value of money, the deficiency of labor in many establishments, with food and the cost of living so dear that the average wage earner lives upon a ration which means partial starvation.

   "The conclusions to be drawn from Germany are that a nation will not be the victor in war; that war is no longer the way to settle international disputes, but until all nations recognize that there are fundamental dynamic forces at work which must be controlled, forces such as hunger and propagation, that we cannot solve one without including the other, that until these forces are recognized and acted upon wisely, the idea of international peace will remain a dream and a myth.

Japan's Problem

   "Japan has problems today increasingly as great as those of Germany in 1910. She has a right to have those problems solved in a rational humanitarian way, but until our diplomats and statesmen recognize the causes of war and make the study of the population in all its manifold departments, all our Leagues of Nations, international conferences, agreements and international treaties will become the proverbial "scraps of paper."

The Time Has Come

   "Men and women of Japan, I appeal to you to look into this subject thoroughly. The mothers and women in your country are just as desirous of wiping out poverty, misery, suffering and war as the mothers and women of the other nations of the world. I appeal to you to set your motherhood free! To make your women something more than breeding machines such as the women of every nation have been during one period of that nation's development. The time has come for international brotherhood and international emancipation.

   "The advancement of hygiene and sanitation and welfare work in any country only increases its population problem which means invasion through immigration or armed invasion. Each nation must control her populations to the point where it will not be necessary to make aggression upon their neighbors.

   "The study of the population problem will reveal to you the initial cause of the suffering of mankind, it will reveal the cause for his struggles and divisions into factions and parties. It will point out the remedy to obviate these differences and to establish a new order of civilization.

   "To the working man it will show that the state of oppression and tyranny can exist only as a result of his ignorance. That the struggle between classes, capital and labor, the war between nations are the inevitable consequences of that ignorance.

Quality, Not Quantity

   "That the working man has himself been the producer of these conditions through his unlimited procreative powers--unchecked uncontrolled. While he and his brother are the initial sufferers from all the flagrant inequalities found in all nations today.

   "Let us then friends, depart from the old methods of quantity and turn our attention to producing quality in our peoples.

   "It will then be possible for everyone to have independence, personal dignity, motherhood will be glorified--and a nation may well expect to promote to its populations peace, justice, happiness and the International Brotherhood of the World.

   Mrs. Sanger is expected to give a lecture on birth-control at a meeting of members of the New York Society at the Nagoya Hotel at Nagoya on March [28] at 6 p.m.[A]

   The lecture meeting will be restricted to members of the New York Society only, and will not be in the nature of a public lecture.[B]


A. The meeting date was changed a couple of times, and then eventually canceled by Sanger when she became ill.
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B. Notice here the billing of the lecture here as restricted and not "a public lecture," all part of the restrictions imposed on Sanger that permitted her to enter Japan.
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