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NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) ix-xii



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Women and War, Women and Peace


The present worldwide protests against the U.S.-led war with Iraq, protests in which women are playing a leading and essential part, are not new. We can look back into the past and remember what women have done in ancient Sumer, Egypt, and Greece; we can remember women�s essential roles in protesting the price of bread at the beginning of the French and Russian revolutions; we can invent what we do not remember (as Monique Wittig taught us in Les Guérillères [1971]) and still be telling the truth about women and peace activism.

Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) is a good place to begin. Her anti-war novel Die Waffen nieder (English translation, Lay Down Your Arms [1899]), describing the horrors of Austro-Hungary�s mid-century wars, became such a cause célèbre that even the Pope read it. Known as "Conciliatrix," and as "Friedens-Bertha" (Peace-Bertha, first used in derision), von Suttner worked for peace and for women. Instrumental in helping persuade Alfred Nobel to add a Peace Prize to the list provided for in his will, Bertha von Suttner was herself awarded the Peace Prize in 1905.

Many women opposed to war and the military during and after World War I expressed their pacifism and anti-nationalism. Emma Goldman (1869-1940) wrote in 1923 from Germany (after being deported from the United States to the new Soviet Union and then leaving in disillusionment in the wake of the Kronstadt massacre): "But the one thing I am convinced of, as I have never been in my life, is that the gun decides nothing at all. . . . [I]t brings so many evils in its wake as to defeat its original aim." Nelly Roussel expressed her revulsion to the war machine in pre-World War I France by calling for a birth strike against conscription; she believed women should not provide sons as "cannon fodder" (Offen 2000, 241-2). Women peace activists held a conference at The Hague in 1915, in the midst of the Great War. Two thousand women from both neutral and belligerent nations attended; many had great difficulty traveling across a Europe at war. Their work ultimately resulted in the formation of the still active Women�s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). They organized locally and nationally, held yearly national conventions and international ones every three years. The international conference in Vienna in 1921 was particularly successful and well attended, as was the one in Washington in 1924. In that summer of 1924, a WILPF-sponsored international women�s peace school was held in Chicago ("Pacifists Open Their International Summer School" 1924).

Rosika Schwimmer (1877-1948) is illustrative of the WILPF women. She organized the Hungarian Feminist Organization (unique in that both men [End Page ix] and women were members) and edited the Hungarian feminist-pacifist magazine A No (The Woman) for thirteen years. At the 1915 International Congress of Women at The Hague, her resolution calling for "continuous mediation" was adopted. She believed that building a successful post-war world was dependent on the way the war was ended; if there was a military settlement, the peace would be dictated by militarists, with the resulting seeds of future conflict. These prescient ideas, so apparent in hindsight after World War I and the Versailles documents with their harsh reparations, are again relevant as we witness another war�s sad ending. Escaping to the United States in 1919 during the Bolshevik take-over in Hungary, Schwimmer was denounced as a traitor and a spy when she tried to lecture and write on pacifism. Applying for U.S. citizenship in the heated atmosphere of the Red Scare in the 1920s, she argued her case all the way to the Supreme Court with various appeals. Finally, in 1929, the case was denied on the grounds that she was a pacifist and would not bear arms. Over fifty years old by this time, she became a stateless person. Obviously, neither male nor female at age 50...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. ix-xii
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-04
Open Access
No
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