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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Feminised Face Of War

Women's view of war has been trampled by a testosterone-fuelled charge. Now, 
they must be heard

Mary Riddell
The Observer
September 23, 2001

The hour is coming. We are signed up to a war against a country that may or may
not be harbouring a man who may or may not be responsible for the greatest 
terrorist atrocity of modern times. When reason falters, loss and rhetoric 
provide the spur. In the words of Tony Blair, speaking at a memorial service in
New York: 'There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead, and the bridge
is love.' Any time now, starvation or missiles may decree that thousands of 
Afghans embark on that last crossing with their children in their arms. Are we 
to tell them or ourselves that they walk it in the name of love?

In this limbo, there is no tangible enemy, no obvious plan, no limits of 
engagement and no opposition, beyond Harold Pinter, American-hating lefties and
a posse of tree-hugging women peaceniks. The polls suggest, and politicians 
demand, that British citizens want this war as much as Americans. We don't. Two
supposedly harmonised nations have rarely been more distanced. The US mood, with
the exception of New York, leans to violence. Gun sales are up by 70 per cent, 
fathers at primary-school gates talk of bombing Kabul to 'a parking lot', 
ignorant of the fact that such an objective would constitute a civic 
restoration programme. College boys enlisting for service long to die for their
country. Dulce et decorum est. Do we want our sons to seek such desperate glory?
Does Blair? Of course not.

We can't even acknowledge a shadow on their lives, though we know that it 
deepens. We get it next, says the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John 
Stevens, but somehow the message fails to register. It isn't that we don't 
understand terrorism; we don't understand ourselves. While some of the US 
public believes that it is in this for retribution, we dream of reconciliation.

The tent outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square is a testament to empathy, 
but also to a curious self-delusion. A shrine not to adult suffering but to 
childhood, it is full of stuffed animals and relics of infancy. Behind the 
teddy bears and Narnia books is a board of condolences. Some are in baby script.
Some, from children as young as four, are computer-generated, with clever 
text-setting and angel graphics. These are not a tribute to the orphans of 
tragedy. Nor are they really from small children. They are from adults who 
crave a route back to innocence and forward to tranquillity. The messages in 
the condolence books mostly reflect the same theme. May we all now rest in 

But how, when we are heading for a conflict whose unwinnable aim is world 
domination, rather than an essential accommodation with old enemies? You don't 
have to be a military strategist to realise the folly of thinking that the 
momentum of war shifts at Washington's whim and pace. But few dare object, when
dissent is construed as an affront to the dead. Sorrow demands a totalitarian 
response, but already there are cracks.

The Observer 's polling confirms women as the sceptics of a war devised, 
controlled and reported by men. Only two in 10 of us would support massive air 
strikes, and almost half don't endorse surgical ones. A mere 8 per cent have 
full confidence in Bush, and 83 per cent are against giving him unconditional 
support. We are less assured than men that a war on terrorism will make the 
world safer. We are more afraid. What does this make us? Victims, suggest most 

From the silent undead of the Taliban, in their carapace of veiling, to 
terrorised Muslim girls and the victims of Manhattan, women are, as ever, 
depicted as passive targets. Sixty-five per cent of lost in the Second World 
War were women and children. At the World Trade Centre, disproportionately many
may have died. There are theories that men sprinting in flat shoes get out 
faster than women hampered by heels or waiting to help a colleague. Women are, 
allegedly, more likely to re-enter a crumbling building when told that it is 
safe to do so. Even for high fliers, death may reserve a final inequality.

Whether bystanders or warriors, women are routinely portrayed as conflict's 
losers. Female soldiers, from Boadicea to a British Army lieutenant, have 
always appalled the sort of misogynistic British general who would have 
disqualified Joan of Arc from active service on the grounds of a poor 
performance on the gym leg-press machine. In his new book, Men, Women and War,
Martin van Creveld argues, ludicrously, that one of the cardinal functions of 
warfare is an 'affirmation of masculinity'. Unlike women, whose lives are 
divided into biological phases, men need more 'social construction' and the 
chance to engage in armed combat unhampered by those whose role is to admire 
from afar.

As Siegfried Sassoon could have told him, women can also be pugilists, 
demanding heroism from men sickened by killing. After Manhattan, a more 
significant role-reversal is happening. Women's response to Bush's war has been
measured and thoughtful, while the emotional kitbox people like van Creveld see 
as female - the raucous emotion and febrile rhetoric - now belongs to men.
'Dead or alive' avengers and hysterical bio-prophets who fear an anthrax phial 
in every airline spongebag aren't displaying macho toughness. Theirs is the 
scared swagger of those who have seen in Manhattan not an invitation to a 
global dust-up but a cold intimation of how the world may end.

Since they dare not acknowledge that danger, some other target must be found 
and pacifism is always easily parodied as the province of smoked-out 
Lennonistas, of beardy anarchists and feeble women. If only their lessons had 
been learned earlier. Instead, the Greenham Common campaigners who fought 
successfully to keep cruise missiles out were routinely derided as slags and 
dykes in dungarees. CND's broad aim of ensuring that the earth continues to 
revolve around the sun became so discredited that Blair, and others in Cabinet,
shrink from any mention of their old links.

Instead, Blair smiled on Bush's nuclear missile defence system, involving the 
tearing up of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. If civil war comes to Pakistan,
there is nothing to stop a rogue regime writing its own nuclear protocol. As 
women have been warning for years, aggression only heightens our own fragility.
But the issue is not old stereotypes of female nurturers and male aggressors. 
What counts now is what van Creveld scathingly calls the 'feminisation' of the 
world. Its current proponents are Clare Short, but also men like Peter 
Kilfoyle and Doug Henderson, who demand that action must be taken on the basis 
of the rule of law.

As the old warhorses of the Left sign up to a feminised world, Blair, who has 
always belonged to it, begins to falter. Sidestepping the raw aggression of 
male warspeak, he and others invoke God and peace and the 'surging of the human
spirit'. These pass for feminine invocations, but they are not ours. They do not
resonate with our mothers, still carrying visions of husbands or brothers who 
died in the last war. They touch no chord in those of us who campaigned for CND,
haunted by the 200,000 dead after Hiroshima and appalled by Truman's tribute 
to 'the greatest achievement of organised science in history'. Our wish was to 
protect our children, the last generation of Cold War babies, from whatever 
fissile blend grandstanding politics and organised science might next devise.

We failed them. George Bush's hour is coming. A police chief warns that Britain
is the next target. We have seen Manhattan. We have witnessed horror in the 
Middle East and watched African famine victims entwined with their children in 
the languid torpor of the hours before death. And yet we have no knowledge of 
how war this time around might look; only that the soft preamble is somehow 
more menacing than sabre-rattling.

As retaliation gets closer, even Bush has abandoned redneck talk for a more 
feminised language of passion and eloquence. The rhetoric now is of life, death
and love. The supposition is that no decent British woman, or man, could fail to
render to Bush absolute and unconditional support for war. Millions of us may do
so. I have not met a single one.