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Monday, 9 August 2010

The non-combatant woman and warfare

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The Army Recruiter's television advertisement shows young men and women graduating from training, getting exercise, taking orders, operating machinery--anything but actually fighting in a war. Yet in today's volunteer army, the battle zone is the most likely destination of the new recruit. Much has changed in Western culture from only the century before last, when going to war, fighting in war--even dying in war--was the goal of every red-blooded male, and the aspiration every sweetheart held for her wooing warrior. North Americans and Europeans going forth to war against Islamists would do well to read this mid 19th-century poem by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, translated from the Swedish. It shows that the mentality that is still the driving force behind Islamic warfare is not all that far removed from where Western Culture is today.

THE VILLAGE MAIDEN

The sun went down and evening came, the quiet summer even,
A mass of glowing purple lay between the farms and heaven.
A weary troop of men went by, their day's hard labour done,
Tired and contented, towards their home they wended one by one.

Their work was done, their harvest reaped, a goodly harvest truly,
A well-appointed band of foes all slain or captured newly;
At dawn against this armed band they had gone forth to fight,
And all had closed in victory before the fall of night.

Close by the field where all day long the hard hot strife was raging,
A cottage by the wayside stood, half-desolate and ageing.
And on its worn low steps there sat a silent girl, and mused
And watched the troop come slowly by, in weary line confused.

She looked like one who sought a friend, she scanned each man's face nearly.
High burned the colour in her cheek, too high for sunset merely;
She sat so quiet, looked so warm, so flushed with secret heat.
It seemed she listened as she gazed, and felt her own heart beat.

But as she saw the troop march by, and darkness round them stealing,
To every file, to every man, her anxious eye appealing
Seemed muttering in a shy distress a question without speech,
More silent than a sigh itself, too anguished to beseech.

But when the men had all gone past, and not a word was spoken.
The poor girl's courage failed at last, and all her strength was broken.
She wept not loud, but on her hand her weary forehead fell,
And large tears followed one by one as from a burning well.

"Why dost thou weep? For hope may break just where the gloom is deepest!
O daughter, hear thy mother's voice, a needless tear thou weepest;
He whom thy eyes were seeking for, whose face thou couldst not see,
He is not dead: he thought of love, and still he lives for thee.

He thought of love; I counselled him to shield himself from danger,
I taught him how to slip the fight, and leave them like a stranger;
By force they made him march with them, but weep not, rave not thus,
I know he will not choose to die from happy life and us."

Shivering the maiden rose like one whom awful dreams awaken,
As if some grim foreboding all her soul in her had shaken;
She lingered not, she sought the place where late had raged the fight.
And stole away and swiftly fled and vanished out of sight.

An hour went by, another hour, the night had closed around her;
The moonshot clouds were silver-white, but darkness hung below there.
"She lingers long; O daughter, come, thy toil is all in vain.
To-morrow, ere the dawn is red, thy bridegroom's here again!"

The daughter came; with silent steps she came to meet her mother.
The pallid eyelids strained no more with tears she fain would smother;
But colder than the wind at night the hand that mother pressed.
And whiter than a winter cloud the maiden's cheek and breast.

" Make me a grave, O mother dear; my days on earth are over!
The only man that fled to-day, that coward, was my lover;
He thought of me and of himself, the battle field he scanned.
And then betrayed his brothers' hope and shamed his father's land.

When past our door the troop marched by, and I their ranks had numbered,
I wept to think that like a man among the dead he slumbered;
I sorrowed, but my grief was mild, it had no bitter weight,
I would have lived a thousand years to mourn his noble fate.

O mother, I have looked for him where'er the dead are lying.
But none of all the stricken bear his features, calm in dying;
Now will I live no more on earth in shame to sit and sigh.
He lies not there among the dead, and therefore I will die."

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