Women's Ways of Peace

 Singing for Peace


Songs and singers have always been important in protest movements. Here are three samples from the female perspective.

1) “I didn’t raise my boy”: Pre World War I Song

“Ten million soldiers to war have gone
who many never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break
for the ones who died in vain.
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?”
Song lyrics by Alfred Bryan.

By 1917, America was marching toward war. There were posters and songs everywhere recruiting men to join the forces. The message often involved women urging men to go to war to protect their families and homes. Women were expected to encourage their sacrifice. It was common to use the image of a mother as a self-sacrificing patriot.

A few brave pacifists challenged this message. Some were women fighting for suffrage who were convinced that if women were in the government, the war should not have started in the first place. They particularly protested the involuntary drafting of young men into the military and used the idea of motherhood as a legitimate source of female opposition to the war. In actuality, this played against them as the government warned that women were potentially traitorous because of their personal aversion to war and their “excessive” attachment to sons. This tactic diminished female critique of the war. The image of the “bad” mother, the one who smothered her sons rather than let them go to war, by World War II was portrayed as a danger to American men.

This song, a hit of in 1915, became the icon of the popular antiwar sentiment. Responses to it were songs parodies, such as “I Did Not Raise My Boy to Be a Solder, But I’ll Send My Girl to Be a Nurse.”

Note: It was normal to include a picture of the song’s singer on the songsheet cover.
Also, find the symbols of motherhood, pacifism, and horrors of battlefield on the song’s cover.
Source: Susan Zeiger, “She Didn’t Raise her Boy,” Feminist Studies, Spring, 1996.

2) Songs from the Greenham Commons Peace Camp: 1980s

1) Campers for peace breaking the law

So there’ll be no more war...
Chant down Greenham ...

We don’t want your laws
We don’t like your cause
We won’t fight your wars
Chant down Greenham...

We don’t want your Cruise
We have life to lose
It’s not too late to choice
Chant Down Greenham...

2) More and more women reflecting on the base

Stating our case
So there’ll be no more war...

It ain't just the web
It's the way that we spin it,
It ain't just the world
It's the women within it.
It ain't just the struggle
It's the way that we win it.
That's what gets us by.

Note: find Peace camp description in
Women’s Way of Peace: Demonstrations

3) Singers of the Sudan: 2004

Traditional Sudanese Singers, 2004

It is tradition for men in the Sudan to sit down together on straw mats and listen to songs of war before setting out to battle. In the ravaged region of Darfur in Sudan, the militiamen in the past listened to women singing about the bravery and strength of the men, and the courageousness of past generations. The women who raised their voices to stir up ferocity in the Arab militiamen are hukamah, traditional Sudanese singers. War songs are just a small part their songs that include those about love, mourning and celebrations. They are mostly elderly women, regarded as wise women who have special insight into the world. They are both admired and feared by those who listen to them, seeing them as a sort of community judge.

Some of the singers now wish they could take back their songs, which had the effect of sending the militias, full of pride and fury, out to drive more than one million black Africans from their homes since early 2003. After a two-day workshop for influential community leaders led by the Peace Studies Center at the University of Nyala in the summer of 2004, the women saw a way to use their considerable power for good. They now reward generosity, and other acts of virtue, with songs of praise. Dishonorable acts are denounced through lyrics that send shame to the perpetrators and their kin. And, who would not want one’s name lauded in verses that every member of the group can hear? As one singer, Ms. Sanusi, said: “If someone does something wrong, I sing a poem about it. I change his attitude.” Singing and chanting in Arabic, the singers also sing for peace. “May the children grow with no fighting in their lives.” And, “What happened to you, Sudan? We mourn the deaths. We long for an end to war.”

New York Times International Monday, July 12, 2004.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
Click for Author Information

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