OTI Online
Winter 1991

SOME FEMINISTS ON WAR

JANUARY 25, 1991



These comments were gathered as the war in the Persian Gulf entered its second week and rushed into print immediately prior to our press date.

We watch this war live for the first time in history, at home, on television, sandwiched between MTV and reruns of the “Honeymooners,” the entire world united at last -- as disassociated spectators at the ultimate high-tech video game.

As feminists, we had no say in this war: We watch, glued to our screens as earth’s innocent children don masks of terror all of the Middle East. Our emotions are intense and conflicted. What if the world blames the Jews for being as imperfect as everyone else? For defending themselves? For daring to survive? Jews and Israelis, like women and feminists, are held to much higher standards; both groups are expected to be victims, not victors.

Feminists cannot afford to forget the raging war against women which results in a litany of invisible and unmourned victims: Rape, battery, incest, Indian dowry burnings, death from illegal abortions, female infanticide in China, clitorodectomies in Africa and the Middle East, etc. Female lives lived in helplessness and despair -- lives lost to poverty and daily crushing oppression.

We remember Hitler and the danger of appeasement. If evil exists, and we believe it does, how do we confront it? Can we do so effectively and nonviolently? If we could deploy a Cruise Missile to stop all rape, should we? If we could destroy the central command posts of the pornographers and pimps, would we?

Many on the American left believe that evil can be confronted with dialogue or that half-day marches can speak truth to power. Perhaps violence must be met with a force greater than itself -- massive collective, continual, unarmed struggle -- (like Gandhi’s followers laying their bodies down across British railway lines, like feminists pitching their tents at Greenham Common against nuclear missiles). All our bodies on the front lines -- all the time. And, if not, Cruise Missiles will speak for us whether we like it or not.

Those on the American right are well trained in cost benefit analysis. They feel that 50 thousand more American lives lost is not too high a price to pay to maintain control of the world’s oil supply. Blood for oil? Hell yes! (Yours, not mine). After all, Americans, both left and right drive cars and show no willingness to give them up in order to stop this war.

We all supported Saddam Hussein: He paid good money for arms, he was supposedly a bulwark against Iranian fundamentalism, he was a socialist “Robin Hood” who cared about Middle Easter poverty, inequity and the Palestinians. Now we are left to do deadly battle with a monster we helped to create.

As the tortured faces of prisoners of war, refugees and ecological disaster, fill our screen we know we are seeing George Bush’s “New World Order.” One that will be a recapitulation of the old. Regardless of the outcome of the war between nations, patriarchy, racism and anti-Semitism will win and women, children and the poor will lose. Despite this, we must go on record in support of the war against Saddam Hussein.
-- Phyllis Chesler and Merle Hoffman

So much that is happening in this war is contrary to feminism. There are millions of invisible women victims for whom this war had added another form of violence in their lives. This includes not only Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Saudi, Palestinian and Israeli women but also hundreds of thousands of Asian women workers in the Gulf now displaced as refugees, vulnerable to abuse from soldiers. The U.S. women in the armed forces, not allowed combat “privileges” yet sent to the region to face danger; the antidemocratic nature of the U.S. troops, overwhelmingly made up of racial minorities and the poor, taking the risks for an ill-defined national interest.

Perhaps most unsettling is the eagerness of many on both sides to have it out militarily. Bush and Hussein made no real effort at peace because they wanted to fight. The grip of machismo on our public life can be seen in the delight of many leaders and journalists in playing war games and testing war toys, not to speak of the defense industries’ need to keep up that budget. And while the U.S. plays world police in one region, in barters away the freedom of the Baltic states in another.

In spite of much talk of peace, there is little concern for women’s lives or even token interest in what women think about this war. One lesson for feminists is that we must be heard as a voice on foreign and domestic policy in this country if we hope that the new world order will reflect humane priorities globally and at home.
-- Charlotte Bunch - Director of the Center for Global Issues and Women’s Leadership - Douglass College

Speaking as feminists, we are opposed to any war in the Persian Gulf, where young men and women would lay down their lives in a conflagration whose cost in blood and dollars would be prohibitive. We remember Vietnam. We remember that the United States has armed Saddam Hussein and stood by during his massacre of the Kurds with chemical warfare. This is not a war to defend democracy: Women in Kuwait cannot vote, no one in Saudi Arabia can vote, women cannot even drive cars; a lesbian or homosexual is subject to barbarous methods of execution. This is not a war for any moral purpose, only for oil and power. For 20 years we have said that war is a feminist issue; it still is. Our priorities remain at home: Poverty, racism, AIDS, the dangers to our own economy and ecology. The proper solution lies in the patient and concerted use of United Nations sanctions, not in the massive folly of a catastrophic war into which George Bush would drag the people of the United States and the world.
-- Ti Grace Atkinson, Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem - An edited version of this letter appeared in the NY Times 01/20/91

Is there a case for supporting a war in the Gulf? I believe there is. Women have learned to resist the role of victim, to identify and speak out against personal and public-policy oppressors. Murders, rapes, and pillaging in Kuwait, including the removal of dozens of premature babies from their incubators, Saddam Hussein’s boast to turn Israel into a giant crematorium through indiscriminate bombings of its civilian population, his lethal use of poison gas against the Kurds in Iraq -- many are crimes against women in particular, as all are offenses against humanity in general.  Silence is consent; feminists must not be passive in the face of active, institutionalized evil.
-- Eleanor Pam - is a Professor, Hostos at C.U.N.Y.

Outraged! Filled with incredible sadness, pain and anger, I summon the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. who in 1967 addressed students at Sacramento State College on “War and Conscience” saying “this way of settling differences is not just ... We have again fallen victims to the deadly Western [American led] arrogance and lies that have poisoned the world order for so long.” Once again we have built on political myth for economic gain and then shored it up with new violence. Black, Hispanic and poor white youth will die in disproportionate numbers, in a desert where they have no right to be. They will all too soon realize that this war is being fought for the wealthy and secure to insure that they remain so through their oil profits. George Bush would see our daughters and sons die by the thousands; risk the very existence of Israel and its people, and court the most chaotic conflagration imaginable in the entire Middle East to maintain this economic power and military control of the privileged few in the West. This is as barbaric -- morally and physically -- as anything that Saddam Hussein could dream of.

Martin concluded his address by exhorting that “...Every man (and woman) of humane convictions must decide on the protest against this madness that best suits his/her convictions” -- but protest we must!
--Betty J. Powell - Black, lesbian feminist, Educator, trainer and management consultant specializing in cultural diversity

In the last decade, over one trillion dollars of our tax money was spent developing the high technology weapons systems we now see “being engaged” in the Person Gulf “campaign.”

Twelve major American cities as well as entire states like California and New Jersey are now virtually bankrupt because for 10 years the federal government chose to invest in Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, Apache helicopters, Smart warplanes, M1 tanks, and intelligence satellites, instead of education research and development, infrastructure, and the needs of the American family.

It remains to be seen whether we would have found ourselves in the grip of leadership so unworthy of power if 50 percent of Congress had been women when all these electronic war toys were being appropriated.
-- Linda Clarke - Student at Columbia University

As longtime activists in progressive and feminist movements, we deplore the violence and aggression levied against the Iraqi people. Furthermore, we do not believe this war is a solution to the global crisis facing the world’s people.

All loss of life is tragic -- American, Iraqi or Israeli. But the news we get ignores the loss of Iraqi life as if Iraqi, indeed all Arab people, are irrelevant, as if their lives don’t matter.

We urge progressives to oppose forced conscription of young women and men into the armed forces with the concommitant loss of civil liberties here at home.
-- Eleanor J. Bader, Mary Lou Greenberg, Carolyn Handel, Beverly Lowy - On The Issues staff


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