Women on War and Survival, Ending Nuclear Overkill and War

Women on War and Survival, Ending Nuclear Overkill and War

by Daniela Gioseffi

The enemy is always thought to have no real humanity or he couldn’t be murdered so easily.

Are you one of those thinking that glasnost and the demise of the Berlin Wall means the end of nuclear overkill and war? Then, think again, as avoidance and media cover-ups, or peace breaking out on major network T.V., do not necessarily represent reality.

Even if the “Cold War” seems to be winding down, the U.S. is adapting too slowly to worldwide changes because resistance to change in U.S. military practices is very strong. Multinational corporate interests are at stake and their influence on the world economy has not diminished. There are powerful pressures to keep military spending at record levels and to maintain U.S. military bases and forces in foreign countries. Spending on costly nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviet Union remains high. According to the Center for Defense Information, a non-profit organization run by retired U.S. naval officers in Washington, DC, nuclear testing and expansion is ongoing. Cloaked allocations and military industrial contracts in research and manufacture have not let up to any significant degree. The fact that there was a huge increase in biological and chemical warfare research and development over the last nine years is a fact censored by the major U.S. media. The U.S. is still a long way from converting its military budget, estimated to represent more than 60 percent of all annual government revenue, to environmental salvation or social services like education, which are in poorer financial straits than ever.

Certainly, nothing significant has been done to solve the problem of day care for the more than 80 percent of U.S. women who are in the workforce to put necessary bread on the table — not working simply out of feminist choice. Military spending continues at record levels— even as reproductive rights are threatened — and women’s bodies continue to supply cannon fodder for the killing fields.

The Ploughshares Fund, an independent peace foundation in California, reports that the latest military budget proposed by the Bush Administration is even larger than during the record highs of the Reagan years. Our monumental war-machine economy goes unchecked. Nuclear and oil barons whose profit motive was deeply invested in keeping a “Cold War” scenario are now using the Global Heat Trap as an excuse for expanding the nuclear energy industry, even though no adequate solutions have been found for hazardous waste disposal of its lethal biproducts.

As the U.S. congratulated itself on murdering innocent Panamanians and wasting the lives of military men in an unlawful invasion of that country (perpetrated as a defense of democracy to unseat a dictator and drug lord put in place by our U.S. Secret Intelligence), Gorbachev’s moves away from violent interventionism were undermined within his own politburo by Bush’s aggressions in Central America. U.S.S.R. opponents of Gorbachev’s good will tactics, cited the Bush administration’s use of violent intervention, namely 26,000 U.S. troops in Panama, as evidence that Gorby’s tactics were not working to make true peace in the world. This fact was little reported in the U.S. media until there was rumor in the West that Mikhail Gorbachev, “man of the decade,” might be unseated from his premier post in the Soviet Union because of Lithuania’s resistance and trouble in Azerbaijan.

If all of this isn’t enough, we had better note the surge in neo-Nazi activity that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in Europe, and the reported 12 percent rise in attacks by neo-Nazi youth gangs on synagogues, Asians, Hispanics and Blacks in the U.S. Ethnic wars between poor youths occur daily. Gorbachev’s successful initiatives toward world peace stand on as shaky an economy as Bush’s aggressions against it.

The world economy is still basically a death and pollution war-machine. Mother Earth, or Goddess Earth, as feminist spiritualists call Her, has about 30 years, if that, to be saved by the predominantly male parliaments that rule her economic realities and keep her wars and apartheid systems going, here, in Central America and abroad.

“You can no more win a war than an earthquake!” said the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, peace activist Jeannette Rankin. Her words resonate truer than ever today. The horror which troubles children’s nightmares has not vanished with minor agreements about intermediate-range nuclear missiles, for even as some are disarmed, the Center for Defense Information in Washington, DC tells us, new destablizing weapons are manufactured to take their place. Wars, both declared and undeclared, continue to rage around the globe in Central America, the Philippines, Haiti, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan and Israel, and Jeannette Rankin’s sensibility is needed as much as ever despite the Hollywood exposes of Vietnam war folly.

When Jeannette Rankin cast her vote in 1917, and again in 1941, against U.S. entry into war, she is said to have wept with passionate conviction. Many have never forgiven her what to them was a lapse of judgment. Yet, to weep, even to be hysterical, is to be appropriately human, and therefore rational in the deepest sense of the word. Cool logic has brought us to the brink of what disarmament activists call omnicide — a word used to designate acts of homicide and suicide even more terrible than the many genocides in our history —the total and final destruction of all life on earth. Added to the nuclear threat and poisons from nuclear industrialists, are our growing concerns over rising temperatures and seas, and the disappearing ozone layer and rain forests. Poisons from the Pentagon, aflotoxins, acid rain and biological and chemical warfare research and production confound the troubled psyche as it contemplates omnicide caused not only by the war machine but by the garbage of greed pouring back at us.

Both men and women are beginning to understand the importance of Jeannette Rankin’s response and are inspired by her example. Many believe that logic devoid of feminine feeling has created our present predicament and must be avoided if we are to survive as a species. As Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Nobel Prize winning scientist, explains: Though coolheadedness may be necessary in the laboratory, the scientist must learn to respond with more consideration for the consequences of what is discovered or invented there.

Women, traditionally, have been charged with humanizing society through emotional nurturance, as well as expressiveness—as in conventional feminine mourning and keening over the death of loved ones. A multicultural response to psychic numbing — pushing aside that the world might actually be coming to an end — is what is needed, a global feminism, as Marguerite Chant Papandreou or Petra Kelly might term it.

Women know that we need to address xenophobia which — in the age of outmoded nationalism and racism — still lingers in the American gut. Those pejoratives so common to the North American: “Guinea, dago, kike, kraut, Polack, nigger, Chink, Spic, Jap, gook, Ruskie, WASP, red, commie-pig, honkie, dyke, fag, gimp”…still extant in collective American vocabulary might well be the roots of mushroom clouds rising from a nuclear holocaust.

Words are ideas and the human race has proven itself as capable of fulfilling those of hate and destruction as those of love and construction. The best minds of our time are warning us that the entire race stands at a crossroads and a constructive choice must be made now, or there will be no other choice. Man is, indeed, about to destroy himself as a species and to take all of creation as we know it with him — or learn to live in peace.

Stereotypic reactions to “the other,” the stranger, the one whose language or color, hair or eyes are different, indicate the false belief that people different from ourselves cannot feel pain or pleasure as we do. The enemy is always thought to have no real humanity or he couldn’t be murdered so easily in the hate which is war.

Sojourner Truth, an American suffragist, once quipped: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, these women together ought to turn it rightside up again.”

As Hannah Arendt explains, there is no cause for war but the most ancient, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny. That cause remains, even now, the justification for the so-called “Cold War” — which rages hot as hell in developing countries where powerful militarists—who gain profits from arms sales to poorer or colonialized nations headed by puppet dictators — send their secret agents to instigate civil strife. It’s important to note that Emily Green Balch, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was voicing the same concerns about intervention in Haiti in 1925, as peace activists in The International War Resisters League or The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom raise today. Always, war has been initiated by powerful leaders who hold military might. Always, the common people, more than their leaders, are victims.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, a North American poet devoted to the cause of justice, wrote: “I am disgusted by the hollow talk of disarmament. We put wreaths on the grave of the Unknown Soldier, who’s pretty damn well known by now as a symbol of the next war.” Indeed, wars have continued well into the 20th century even though the threat of global annihilation has rendered all ideologies and justifications for warmachine economics outmoded. There are many ways and means to solve conflicts and to effect disarmament agreements in our sophisticated times. Science has made nuclear disarmament completely verifiable by technologies of various kinds and combinations. The cessation of chemical and biological warfare research and production are equally verifiable by technologies produced in non-aligned nations such as Finland and Sweden.

Still, since 1945, over 150 wars, declared and undeclared, have wrought misery and massacre throughout the world. The irony is that while wars and revolutions are fought in the name of freedom and tyranny, we are hostages to the greatest tyranny civilization has ever known. The final nuclear, biological or chemical sword of Damocles hangs over us, while many remain oblivious to the precariousness with which it is poised, or duped by shallow talk or shows of disarmament.

Rosa Luxemburg explained how our demise will not be in the cause of freedom, but military profiteering, just as in Germany where she was murdered for her prophecies. What she had to say is very much the same as what the U.S. Center for Defense Information in Washington, DC is telling us now. Like Eisenhower and Einstein, it warns us that the military has taken over the world economy to a profoundly destructive extent. Accidental nuclear war is now a real possibility.

Greenpeace reports that some 34 live reactors have been accidentally dropped on the bottom of our oceans, and nuclear accidents and submarines have dumped irradiated coolant in nearly every major port in the world. While the extent of the overkill capabilities of nuclear forces boggles the mind, the neutral outer-space surrounding our fragile planet is now threatened with the proliferation of first-strike nuclear weaponry. Yet, the U.S. nuclear airforce during the last decade swept into action more than three times on “Red Alert” because of the failure of a 29 cent computer chip, a fact reported even in the New York Times. On top of this is the fact that NASA is developing a space shuttle for dumping radioactive wastes, like deadly plutonium, in outer space.

Italian educator Maria Montessori observed long ago that “the people of the world who profess to want to get rid of war as the worst of scourges are, nevertheless, the very ones who concur in the arming and starting of wars.”

Petra Kelly of West Germany documented, as have many others, that fallible computers and men — sometimes on drugs or dealing them — hold our futures in their hands. But even as she warns us that the world expenditure on the arms race is now estimated by the United Nations to be well over a billion dollars per day, a growing network of women are asserting themselves in the international peace movement.

Many of us who have not experienced the direct devastation of war in our daily lives need to understand that war’s realities are all around us. Increased military spending has lowered the standards of living for billions of people around the globe, but by far the largest number of people living below the poverty line are families headed by single women — and their numbers are steadily increasing. The horrendous increase in poverty around the world — especially among women — has been paralleled by the largest ”peacetime” military build-up in history. Militarism creates misery everywhere, but women are especially hard hit by its economic violence.

Even those of us who live in peace in developed countries suffer from nuclearized and militarized economies. Scientists tell us that one out of four people will die of cancer and blame the increase on the military and chemical industry’s poisoning of our air and waters.

In countries seemingly not involved in war, people are deprived of both material and human resources. World economists explain that the Japanese economy and educational system is thriving, primarily because the country has not indulged in military development since World War II.

Other nations, however, have been devastated by military-industrial barons. Worldwide military expenditures are estimated to exceed $900 billion per year. In Britain, for example, it costs nearly two million pounds to train a fighter pilot. Betty Lall of The Council for Economic Priorities in the U.S. states that, on average, it costs the same to arm and train one soldier as it does to educate 80 children; to build one modern bomber as it does to wipe out smallpox over a 10-year period; to launch the latest nuclear missile submarine as it does to build 450,000 homes for the poor. The entire food stamp program to help feed hungry people in the U.S., does not cost the markup overhead — just the overhead — of one nuclear bomber. One hour of “Star Wars” research can buy remedial reading for 300 U.S. school children for a year, or counter the tragedy of between 40 and 60 million functionally illiterate people.

Who sets militarized economic priorities? In the U.S., with one of the strongest feminist movements in history, there are only two women senators and 23 women congresspeople among the hundreds of men running the government on “The Hill.” In fact, men hold almost all electoral or appointed positions in the world. In the politboros of Eastern block countries, there are nearly no women and few people of color. In developing countries — according to United Nations statistics — a huge majority of women still have no voice in the political arena of their lands. Only in a few Scandinavian countries do women have a fair measure of political power. Not surprisingly, those most often charged with such decisions are the last to suffer the deprivation and devastation caused by them.

The few corporate executives or party bureaucrats who profit from this have stockpiled the explosive power for over 50 tons of TNT in nuclear weapons for every human on the globe. Their priorities are destroying the earth and consuming vital resources that belong to us all. It is now estimated by United Nations sources that there are more than 50,000 nuclear warheads in the world. The total explosive power of the world stock of nuclear weapons is about equal to one million Hiroshima bombs, each of which has a yield of 13 kilotons.(A kiloton is equal to 1,000 tons of a conventional high-explosive like TNT.)

“Where are the women” at the Summit talks on our fate? asks Betty Lall, named by UNESCO as one of the world’s three leading women experts on arms control. “It is an interesting fact that women have been shunted aside when high-level discussions turn to issues of armaments, especially interesting since women have been at the forefront as activists where nuclear arms control is concerned,” she tells us.

Christa Wolf, an East German writer, has pointed out that many who are skeptical about the survival of the race believe that nations and their economies can be governed only by competition rather than cooperation. Though this fact goes uncontested, the people who are sure we’ll be able to solve critical life problems fail to reflect on the relationship that exists between the arms race and patriarchal structures of thought and government. Wolf notes, too, that even the youthful Japanese of today have little sense of the suffering of Hiroshima victims.

The reality or memory of the suffering of war is absent from the lives of many in developed countries and is a reason for creating a global network on our universal fate. As Simone Weil wrote in Paris during World War II, “Pain and suffering are a kind of currency passed from hand-to-hand until they reach someone who receives them but does not pass them on.” Our Soviet sisters, along with some of their great poets, like Anna Akhmatova, agree that since women are more concerned with the task of birthing and nurturing the human race than the arms race, an exchange among women of the world could serve to encourage them to continue to speak out and act for the salvation of life. As Virginia Woolf once wrote,”.. .the outsider will say I have no country. As a woman, my country is the world.” Still, an American, Dorothy Day, makes us wonder in irony when she writes: “We are quite literally a nation which is in the process of committing suicide in the hope that then the Russians will not be able to murder it.” One can easily imagine a Russian woman saying something quite the same.

Similarly, Darlene Keju-Johnson, of the Nuclear-Free Pacific movement gives important testimony on behalf of Pacific Islanders suffering the consequences of nuclear bomb tests. Blobs of flesh are now being born to women of the Bikini Islands who are experiencing birth defects caused by nuclear irradiation. The unimaginable suffering of Marshall Islanders is a microcosm of what we will all endure if the earth is not saved from military profiteers. Women like Keju-Johnson offer us inspiration to avert psychic numbing. The challenging and moving literature by women on war inspires a global mentality, empathetic feeling between differing peoples, and peacemaking action. There’s a universal timeliness to the major themes in their literature — as for example those offered by Gertrude Kolmar, who wrote poetry in a Concentration Camp, or South Korean student, Song Ji Lee, in jail under the despotic reign of DuWhan Chun, or Winnie Mandela of South Africa whose words from prison resonate back in time to those of a Southern slave beaten by a U.S. plantation owner during the aftermath of the Civil War. Some literature on the theme reaches back in history as far as Enhueduanna, a Sumerian priestess (c. 2400 B.C.) Enhueduanna is the first known poet in history — man or woman — to write war protest poetry. Ch’iu Chin, an 18th century Chinese poet affords an example of a revolutionary hero and resister of cruel colonization which amplifies the feeling expressed by Greek, Central American, Afghan, or Lebanese women of later times. The discovery of such works gives resonance to our continuing search for peace and reminds us of our ageless desire to change from the course of violence as a means of settling disputes.

Voices of mothers, daughters and sisters of earth need to be heeded as much as the maligned but clairvoyant Cassandra, or Aeschylus’ “Suppliant Women” at the dawn of Western civilization, needed to be heard. “Surely the earth can be saved by all the people who insist on love,” Alice Walker has written. May her conviction prove true as women, everywhere, link hands in a chorus of life to save the planet.

Copyrighted 1990, Daniela Gioseffi, Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster. First serial rights of the revised introduction to Women On War are offered free to On the Issues by the author, who wishes to be supportive of The Journal of Substance For Progressive Women.

Daniela Gioseffi is a poet, novelist, critic and journalist who works with many peace groups and serves on the Board of The Writers and Publishers Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament. Her publications include a feminist novel, The Great American Belly, books of poetry and, most recently, Women on War, an anthology of international writings published by Touchstone Books, NY.