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My Country is the Whole World

Shirley Farlinger — February 1984

Cambridge Women’s Peace Collective, Pandora Press, 1984. $12.50, 306 pages.

Reviewed by Shirley Farlinger

The idea of putting together this anthology of women’s writings on peace was first proposed at a WONT (Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat) meeting in Cambridge, U.K. in March 1981. The 220 pieces were chosen by ten women called the Cambridge Women’s Peace Collective.

The title is a quote from Virginia Woolf — “As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” The cover illustration is one of several in the book by Käthe Kollwitz. It is titled The Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground and depicts a universal mother shielding three small children with her peasant’s body. In a world where 40,000 infants die from malnutrition every day, the seed corn is being destroyed. More peace writing, singing and organising such as the examples given in this book are urgently needed.

The excerpts are chronological and at first it is depressing to realise that women have been plucking the same strings since the sixth century B.C. Sappho says:

“Some say cavalry and others claim infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth.
I say it is
the one you love…”

A contemporary American poet, Margaret Flanagan Eicher, echoes the same theme:

“They said he was a hero,
Do you think a hero in the family
is better than a living son?”

Each contribution is profiled in a few words, but readers unfamiliar with history will sometimes have difficulty placing the references in context. Is Anna Laetitia Barbould speaking of the British Empire when she writes:

“Our wars have been wars of cool calculating interest, as free from hatred as from love of mankind; the passions which stir the blood have had no share. in them. We devote a certain number of men to perish on land and sea, and the rest of us sleep sound, and, protected in our usual occupations, talk of events of war as what diversifies the flat uniformity of life. “

Pacifists looking for creative ways to wage peace would learn from Crystal Eastman’s description of how war was averted in 1916 between the U.S.A. and Mexico.

Margaret Mead takes the sociologists’ approach:

“The tie-up between proving oneself a man and proving this by a success in organised killing is due to a definition which many societies have made of manliness. “

But she concludes optimistically that “Warfare is only an Invention, not a Biological Necessity.”

Singers Holly Near and Buffy Sainte-Marie are included. Other famous names such as Green Party organiser Petra Kelly, German theologian Dorothee Soelle, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and feminists Kate Millett and Judy Chicago have not been written out. But, in keeping with the title, there are also contributors from such faraway places as Zaire, Japan and Pakistan.

Some of the excerpts leave a dead weight on the psyche. The account of the life of Teresa Strangl given by British writer Jill Tweedie is one of those. Frau Strangl happened to be married to the Kommandant of Treblinka, the largest German death camp and extermination process of 900,000 Polish Jews in World War II.

“Blinkered, devoted, worried but faithful, whenever she had the opportunity she received her man into her bed, fresh from the naked shit-stained Jews, clutching their babies, whipped into the chambers. And in so doing, she lived out to the extreme the article of our faith: Love conquers all.”

Women everywhere make love to those who make the ovens of nuclear holocaust.

For readers who simply enjoy striking prose and poetry and courageous little-known initiatives for peace, this book is an excellent choice. For peaceniks who need more material for sermons, pamphlets or factsheets, this book IS an invaluable resource.