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Journal of World History 12.1 (2001) 196-198

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Book Review

Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present

Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present. By LINDA GRANT DE PAUW. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Pp. xvii + 395. $24.95 (cloth).

Just as histories of women's work over the last several decades have demonstrated definitively that, as the phrase goes, "women have always worked," Linda Grant De Pauw's study demonstrates that women have always been involved in war. De Pauw is the author of several books on women in colonial America and the founder and president of the [End Page 196] MINERVA Center, a nonprofit center that promotes the study of women in the military and publishes the quarterly journal Minerva's Bulletin Board. This study is not solely one of women in the military, however, but, as its subtitle suggests, of all the various roles women have played in war. The chronological sweep suggested by the subtitle is also completely accurate, for the book begins in Neolithic times and ends with a chapter looking at current civil wars around the world and peacekeeping forces, such as those of the United Nations.

De Pauw lays out the parameters of her study clearly in the introduction, noting that she will define war as "a disciplined and socially sanctioned use of deadly force by one group of people against another" (p. 9), and explore a variety of roles women have played within the context of war. Some of these have long been recognized--victim, instigator, camp follower, androgynous combatant--and others have remained more hidden or ignored--war leader, covert operator, laundress, soldier's wife, and mother. She then traces these roles through chapters that are arranged more-or-less chronologically. The bulk of her discussion before the twentieth century focuses on Europe and the West, with separate chapters on classical Greek and Roman warfare, European warfare from the Crusades through the Thirty Years War, the revolutionary wars in America and France, and the Crimean and American Civil Wars of the nineteenth century. In part this is a function of her sources and the field of military history in general, which focuses (to a much greater extent than De Pauw does, in fact) on Europe and the United States. The chapters devoted to late nineteenth- and twentieth-century warfare are more balanced, with analyses of the actions of non-European women in these wars often preceded by brief summaries of women's earlier military activities in these cultures.

Throughout most of the work, De Pauw includes discussions of the sources which exist for women's military actions in various venues, and explains clearly why these sources highlight certain types of activities and neglect others; she views such skewing in the sources as both unintentional--rising from the fact that sources privilege organized military units in which men predominate rather than unorganized rear-guard actions in which women are more likely to fight--and intentional--rising from the fact that sources omit women's actions in order to make male warriors appear more heroic. She provides several fascinating examples of the ways in which sources build up the reputation of women warriors as well as hide them; Molly Pitcher, for example, whom many of us learned about when we were in grade school, turns out to be a creation of the centennial celebration of the American [End Page 197] Revolution in 1876, though real women did help load and fire weapons in that war.

De Pauw's book is weakest where she neglects her own cautions about sources and relies too heavily on the work of authors who are not themselves so careful. The discussion of prehistoric and early Near Eastern wars, for example, cites Riana Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987) which itself is based largely on the work of the anthropologist Marija Gimbutus, whose interpretations of prehistoric Europe are questioned by most archaeologists and...