Outraged nurturers

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” — Virginia Woolf, “Three Guineas”

I was mistaken last week — so my long-time correspondent Richard Moloney pointed out to me — when I enthused about the uniqueness of Cindy Sheehan’s standoff with the president: “When has a grieving mom,” I asked, “merely bearing witness to the humanity of her lost loved one, so mobilized a nation’s conscience and forced it to ponder the cost of a war?”

In point of fact, women have played high-profile roles countering the brutality of every modern war, shaming and exasperating the war makers and defying the logic that excludes a mother’s nurturing instinct from public policymaking. They’ve protested on the steps of the Kremlin; they’ve stood up to NATO; they’ve gathered in the war orphans of Sudan and wrested official recognition of their existence from a blind government.

What I’m talking about here is not merely nursing the wounded or in other ways softening and “humanizing” the harshness of war. I’m talking about mothers’ summoning moral strength from the depth of their grief and telling powerful men that what they’re doing is wrong. The Cindy Sheehan phenomenon, which, in its stunning national impact, is generating hysterical backlash from the diminishing ranks of the war’s supporters, is part of a global tectonic shift in political consciousness that will ultimately strip war of its legitimacy as a first or even final recourse in international conflict resolution.

“We oppose the creation of new Cold War-type stereotypes; we oppose nationalism in all its forms; we are against any nation or country being presented as ‘the enemy,’” wrote Nadezhda Azhgikhina, a co-founder of the Association of Russian Women Journalists, in an essay on the recent political impact of the mothers of Europe, particularly in Russia, published online by Women’s WORLD.

For instance, in 1995, during the first Chechen war, the organization known as the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia staged what it called a “March for Compassion” from the Kremlin to the Chechen village of Samashki. Scary concept, compassion: “The Russian Army,” Azhgikhina wrote, “forced the mothers to terminate their march when their appeal to stop the war elicited a broad public response.”

Uppity moms, outraged nurturers, acting without official sanction. When they decide that enough is enough, they have the power to stop wars. They have the power to change the world, one rescued son or daughter at a time. The Soldiers’ Mothers crossed the border into “enemy territory” anyway — hundreds of them — and, according to Brenda J. Vallance, writing for Russia News, “worked with local officials and Chechen military authorities to organize POW exchanges.”

The antiwar efforts by women around the world are not symbolic. They’re dead serious. They mean to change the way things are. Russian leaders now understand this. So does “Bring ’em on” Bush, which is why he doesn’t dare meet with Sheehan.

Just as cynical politicians around the world are in solidarity with one another over the all-purpose concept of “fighting terrorism,” so the peace moms are united in their determination to separate boys from their guns and stand for sanity. The moral diplomacy of the Soldiers’ Mothers in Chechnya has a startling resonance with the stated goals of a group of American women who were arrested last month in Tucson.

Bring on the Raging Grannies!

“This was not a performance, a joke or civil disobedience,” Betty Schroeder, age 74, told reporters. “This was an enlistment attempt.”

Well, it was too much for the personnel at a Tucson Army recruitment center, who were unable to cope with eight elderly women in fancy hats singing “God Help America” and trying to sign up for duty in Iraq in order, as one of them said, “to replace our young who are in the firing line.”

Yeah, sure, lady. Now beat it or I’ll call the cops. And they did leave (they were arrested outside the center), but not before reading a prepared statement blasting the permanent war economy, the horrific use of depleted uranium weaponry and the pre-empting of the education budget for defense spending.

“The Raging Grannies,” their statement explained, “want to enlist in the U.S military forces to make possible the immediate return of all U.S. service personnel, and to set an example of what REAL diplomacy can achieve. We would meet with our counterparts in Iraq (women) and come to a mutual agreement of how best for Iraq to regain its own independence, as all U.S. troops, bases and corporations leave their country.”

The charges against them were later dropped. The charges against the Bush administration remain in place.