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Permanent peace goes with women's liberation

Beth Richards — April 1984

A plaque hanging on the wall of the Syracuse Research Corporation, a US think tank with large military contracts, shows a missile in flight with an inscription which reads:

- Your sensors glow in the dark
- Your sidelobes swing in the breeze
- Your hair looks like Clutter
- Your multi-path quivers
- Your reaction time is superb
-Your missile has thrust; it accurately hones in on. its target
- The fuse ignites, the warhead goes;

If a missile launching can be sexually fantasized by leading militarists as “sweet oblivion,” it follows that total annihilation must be the ultimate orgasm.

Patriarchy equates masculine virility with violence, and militarism exploits the equation with impunity. From boot camp to command headquarters, military jargon abounds with examples of virulent sexism. “When you want to create a group of male killers,” goes the Marine philosophy, “you kill ‘the woman’ in them.” Note the testimony of Wayne Eisenhart, an ex-Marine:

“One of the most destructive facets of boot camp is the systematic attack on the recruit’s sexuality. While in basic training, one is continually addressed as faggot or girl. These labels are usually screamed into the face from a distance of 2 or 3 inches by the drill instructor We would be ordered to run 5 miles when no one was in shape for more than two, or were ordered to do 100 push-ups… and in this manner, one can be made to appear weak or ineffective at any time. At this point, the drill instructor usually screams something in your face like ‘You can’t take it, you lousy girl-faggot!’.”

If the die is cast in boot camp, “by the time .it reaches the pinnacles of state power the virility/violence equation is literally cast in stone. After President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam PTL boats and oil depots, he bragged to a reporter that “I didn’t just screw Ho Chi Minh. I cut his pecker off.” A lewd example, indeed, but we have to face the facts.

With the introduction of nuclear weapons, military potency reaches catastrophic proportions. Flex your missiles, bare your megatonnage, exercise your naval power under their noses and if that doesn’t scare ‘em – up your arsenal!

Until recently, many of us were unaware of the rate at which nuclear weapons were being stockpiled. When we did notice, it came as somewhat of a shock. How did it happen? Why did it happen? What’s wrong with humanity?

In searching for the answers, it’s necessary to examine nuclear weapons not as an isolated development or an aberration of history, but rather as part of an historical progression. If the peace movement is to achieve lasting peace, it’s necessary to look beyond the immediate warhead or delivery system to the social system which not only builds them, but worships them.

If we detach nuclear weapons from the system that built them, we may be confronted with weapons even more devastating in the future. And once again, with sleep in its eyes, the peace movement will ask .the same, tired old questions. How did it happen? What’s wrong with humanity?

There are many ways to approach these questions, ranging from strict political analysis to the more philosophical or religious approach. And from a feminist perspective, the answers can be partly revealed by an examination of militarism in terms of its exoneration of so-called ‘masculine’ virtues.

Through socialisation, patriarchy defines and separates ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ characteristics. Militarism puts them at war with each other. “Fight like a man!” says a parent to the young boy who comes home crying’ because a school chum punched him. Pity the poor boy who doesn’t like to fight. He is no more than a coward, a sissy… a girl. If the goal of feminism is to challenge patriarchy and redefine sexual roles, then it follows that peace is most emphatically a feminist issue.

“Women’s suffrage and permanent peace will go together,” said Aletta Jacobs, Holland’s first woman doctor and the founder of the Dutch suffrage movement. She and other European suffragists called a peace conference in 1915, while the first World War was raging. Their manifesto urged women to participate in the founding of what was to become the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

“Women cannot disregard the appeal, sometimes expressed in letters from soldiers, who from the battlefield call upon them to save civilization, but more moving and more terrible is the silent appeal from the daily growing cemeteries, from the devastated villages and ruined homes, the orphans, the outraged, and the starving. It is much more difficult for men to meet in conference; they are in the silent armies. Women as non-combatants have this right, and as guardians of the race they have this duty.”

The manifesto attracted over 1,000 delegates from a dozen countries. ‘Peace’ and ‘freedom’ were lumped together in the name they chose for their new organisation, and the League’s founding documents claimed the urgency of linking together the two movements it felt to be vitally connected: the Women’s movement and the Pacifist movement. “The first has been recognized as one of the greatest of world movements towards liberation; it is time the second should be recognized as another.. Only free women can build the peace which is to be, themselves understanding the eternal strife engendered by domination…

Margaret Bondfield, Britain’s first woman Cabinet Minister, was a founding member of WILPF, as was Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and the only US Representative to vote against entry into both World Wars.

The list of other WILPF founders reads like a roll call of the most well-known women radicals of the day. They include Jane Addams, Margaret Ashton, Kathleen Courtney, Charlotte Despard, Isabella Ford, Catherine Marshall – and many, many others.

Whether is is by virtue of their oppression under patriarchy, their socialization, their. role as non-combatants, their alienation from military decision-making, or simply because they are ‘mothers of the race’ – we can thank women for giving birth to the peace movement. And, to a large extent, we can thank women for keeping it alive until today.

Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of women has established peace camps at military bases in Europe, Britain, Australia and North America. According to a report submitted to the United Nations in 1978, nearly two-thirds of the world’s ‘peace workers’ are women.

In Canada in the early ’60s, when the peace movement was virtually non-existent, the Voice of Women claimed a membership of 6,000. According to Dr. Ursula Franklin, Professor of Metallurgy at the University of Toronto and a founder of. VOW, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed in 1963 was largely the result of women’s protests. here and in the United States.

More recently, the testing of the cruise missile over Canada has aroused considerable opposition, and – if the surveys are accurate – especially from women. NUPGE, Canada’s second largest union, conducted a national survey in January of this year which revealed that 67% of their female constituents were opposed to the tests, compared to 33% of the males. Gallup polls conducted in December and July 1983 revealed a similar discrepancy.

These statistics do not prove that women desire peace more than men do. Nor do they prove that men are more concerned about defense and security than women arc. What the discrepancy may point to, however, is that women are less enticed by the theory of deterrence.

Deterrence theorists, argue that nuclear weapons have kept the peace and that those who want to abandon them are asking us to leave ourselves defenceless. Nuclear deterrence equals strength, strength equals security, and security equals peace. Hence, Ronald Reagan brands the MX missile the ‘Peace-keeper.’

Judging by their role in society (and, more specifically, in military planning and defence), it’s perhaps easier for many men to fall for the ‘peace through strength’ argument. And, judging by their absence from military planning and defense, it’s perhaps easier for women to be more objective. It seems ironic, in view of the statistics on their involvement in the peace movement, that women are virtually excluded from peace negotiations.

When NDP External Affairs critic Pauline Jewett returned from the Stockholm Security Conference in January, she said that there were fewer women delegates (0 that conference than to most international gatherings she had attended in her career. .

According to the Voice of Women, there are many competent women in Canada, at the United Nations and in Europe who are highly qualified in international law and security matters. VOW plans to bring them together for an international conference in October which will focus on women’s roles in negotiating processes and conflict resolution. But, as one organizer for the conference explained, the reason women are not involved as yet in peace negotiations is because today’s negotiations are about power, not peace. “If they were peace negotiations,” she said, “women would definitely be there.”

It may take a long time before women take their rightful place at the negotiating table, as well as at every other level. of political activity. In the meantime, they’re showing their power outside the conference doors, in parishes and union halls, in schools and in the streets.

“If non-violence is the law of our being,” said Gandhi, “the future is with woman.” Certainly peace cannot be achieved without her. And if arms negotiations remain a game of posturing and stalemate, it may be that peace will have to happen first in the streets and union halls, in schools and church basements. And perhaps, in the final analysis, that is the way it should be.