20TH CENTURY POETRY AND WAR
PART 8: Women's Voices

 
     
     

 

 

 

CONTENTS
Introduction
  the first world war
  the 1930s
  the second world war
  crimes against humanity
  the nuclear age
  other wars
  responsibility
  women's voices
Come on, come back GO
The Enemies GO
A Wartime Education GO
Tortures GO

Introduction

Why should women have a section especially for them? This is what some women say:

- 'Women's characteristic life experience gives them the potential for two things: a very special kind of intelligence, social intelligence, and a very special kind of courage, social courage. The courage to cross the lines drawn between us, which are also the lines drawn inside our heads. And the intelligence to do it safely, without a gun, and to do it productively.'

- 'Allowing men who plan wars to plan peace is a bad habit. Common sense dictates that women should be central to peacemaking, but the people who typically negotiate peace settlements are overwhelmingly men.'

- 'Male negotiators sometimes worry that having women participate in the discussion may change the tone of the meeting. They're right. During the Northern Ireland peace talks, the men would get bogged down by abstract issues and past offences. The women would come and talk about their loved ones, their bereavement, their children and their hopes for the future. These deeply personal comments helped keep the talks focused. The women's experiences reminded the men that it was people who really mattered.'

- 'People need peace education. An education for peace is an education for co-operation, caring and sharing, nonviolent problem-solving. An education that fosters competition, conquest, aggression and violence is an education for war.'

The 20th century was packed with women emerging from the shadows of marginalisation and saying, in different ways, 'stop war'. Whatever and wherever the conflict, women (and their children) have always been the chief sufferers and victims, and at last they started saying so. Some are known by name. Some have won Nobel Peace Prizes. Others gathered together in their own communities, or joined international organisations, or started their own kind of campaigns, all looking for ways to be heard. They are still at work - and getting somewhere, especially in resolving conflicts at community level, in almost every country in the world.

Some of them are poets. In Britain, the index of any anthology of poetry from Chaucer to Ted Hughes reveals the shameful gap: almost all published poets until the mid-20th century were men. The movement to 'liberate' women, which gathered momentum in the 1960s, liberated women poets too, and not only in Britain. They, too, began, with growing confidence, to write about, among many other things, the world of male violence as they saw and interpreted it.

The four poems that follow deal with different kinds of suffering experienced by women as a result of war. The first three in various ways reflect the centuries-long marginalisation of women, and provoke thoughts about the sorts of victimhood which women have begun to resist. The 'IDEAS' sections after the first and last poems also contain some disturbing first-hand accounts of atrocities against women. The suffering and struggle of women in war is by no means over; much of it will not end until war does.

            
     

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