Henry Kissinger? M. Z. Remsburg? James Thurber? Ann Landers? Robert Orben? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke about the uneasy relationship between the sexes that has been told for decades:
Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
In the 1970s this statement was attributed to the U.S. foreign policy specialist Henry Kissinger, but I suspect that the quip existed before the 1970s. Would you explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: A version of this jest was circulating by the 1940s. In February 1944 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed the following as a short filler item. No specific attribution or acknowledgement was given: 1
“One war that will never be won by either side is the continual war between the sexes,” declares a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy on the part of both sides.
Only part of the text was placed between quotation marks because there were two participants in the joke. The quoted words of the columnist were followed by the humorous reaction of a second unidentified person. The common modern versions of the joke simplify the presentation so that there is only one speaker.
In August 1945 a newspaper in Covina, California printed an instance of the quip and named an editor as the source, but QI suspects that the editor was simply relaying a pre-existing joke. The semantically redundant phrase “on the part of both sides” in the 1944 version has been omitted from most later instances: 2
According to word from editor M. Z. Remsburg of the Vista Press, the reason the war between the sexes will never be ended is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In September 1945 an instance was printed on the front page of a paper in Charleroi, Pennsylvania in a small box in the upper-left corner reserved for entertaining remarks. No ascription was listed: 3
The reason the war between the sexes will never end is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy.
In 1946 a version that was similar to the instance in February 1944 was printed in the “Omaha World Herald” of Nebraska. But the uncertainty of provenance was reflected by changes in the phrasing. The word “continual” was replaced by “continuous”: 4
St. Louis Star-Times
“One war that will never be won by either side is the continuous war between the sexes,” asserts a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy.
In December 1948 a Sunday newspaper supplement called “This Week Magazine” published the “Best Laughs of 1948” selected by Irving Hoffman. The joke was included although it had actually entered circulation by 1944 or earlier. An anonymous “West Coast wit” was credited: 5
Another West Coast wit observed: “One war that will never be won by either side is the continuous war between the sexes,” and added, “That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy”
In 1953 Bennett Cerf who collected quotations and anecdotes presented a variant of the joke in his syndicated newspaper column. The punch line was credited to James Thurber who was a prominent humorist based at the “The New Yorker” magazine: 6
When Elliot Nugent was collaborating with James Thurber in the writing of “The Male Animal,” he asked one day, “Jim, why do you figure that it’s the men who almost always lose the battle of the sexes?” Thurber explained, “It’s because the men are always fraternizing with the enemy.”
In 1958 the famous advice columnist Ann Landers employed the quip without attribution: 7
DEAR REALIST: Interesting how the women scream it’s a man’s world… and the men insist it’s the women who run it. The battle of the sexes will never be won, however, because there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
The jest continued to circulate in 1962 when it appeared in a financial advice periodical called “Changing Times: The Kiplinger Magazine”. The phrase “war between the sexes” was used instead of “battle between the sexes”: 8
The war between the sexes never will be won by either side. Too much fraternizing with the enemy.
The tireless collector Evan Esar included an anonymous instance in the massive 1968 compendium “20,000 Quips and Quotes”: 9
The war between the sexes will never be ended successfully: there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
A very interesting instance was contained in a 1979 collection called “The Book of Quotes”. The statement was credited to Robert Orben who was a professional gag writer and a speechwriter for President Ford. Businessmen and other speakers could purchase jokes supplied by Orben. The remark by Orben included an ascription to Henry Kissinger. However, QI believes that this was not intended to be serious; instead, Orben was embellishing the joke with a comical attribution. Perhaps Orben placed the saying into a speech: 10
A great philosopher once said—I think it was Henry Kissinger—nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.
In 1988 the notable gossip columnist Liz Smith attributed the saying to Kissinger: 11
“Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy,” said Henry Kissinger.
In conclusion, a prolix version of this joke was circulating by 1944, and the creator was unknown. The wording evolved over the years to become more concise. The ascription to Henry Kissinger occurred many years after the quip was first disseminated. In addition, the linkage was probably comical.
Image Notes: Man and woman outlines from Nemo at Pixabay.
(Great thanks to Steve Sailer whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Sailer also pointed out that Orben was a speechwriter for Ford.)
- 1944 February 16, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 8, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1945 August 24, Covina Argus-Citizen, ‘Round the State by Leone Baxter, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspaper Archive) ↩
- 1945 September 19, Charleroi Mail, (Box in top left corner), Quote Page 1, Charleroi, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1946 February 1, Omaha World Herald Endless War (Short filler item with acknowledgement to St. Louis Star-Times), Quote Page 28, Column 7, Omaha, Nebraska. (The word “enemy” is misspelled “eenmy” in the newspaper page image)(GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1948 December 26, The Milwaukee Journal, Section: This Week Magazine, Best Laughs of 1948 by Irving Hoffman, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1953 January 24, Farmington Daily Times, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Farmington, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1958 May 24, Spokane Daily Chronicle, Ann Landers Says: Victory Sign Unlikely in Battle of the Sexes, Quote Page 4, Column 3 and 4, Spokane, Washington. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1962 May, Changing Times: The Kiplinger Magazine (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance), Volume 16, Number 5, Notes on these changing times, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Published by Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc., Washington, D.C. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Section: Sexes, Quote Page 725, Column 1 and 2, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Section 4: Macho, Page 42, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1988 April 28, The Blade (Toledo Blade), Liz Smith (Syndicated column), Quote Page P-5, Column 7, Toledo, Ohio. (Google News Archive) ↩