Oldfield, Sybil. Women Against the Iron Fist: Alternatives to Militarism 1900- 1989. Basil Blackwell Ltd. Oxford, UK.

“How dare the government presume the right to kill others in our name?”
Women in Newbury Court, UK, 1982.

“…The Pentagon sits on like sone grotesque chicken caged in its nest and fed/ cancerous hormone, exceed and exceed and exceed/ Hiroshima, over and over and over, in weight/ in power/ in horror/ of genocide” Denise Levertov, 1980
(2 quotes from this book)

Sybil Oldfield is half- German and half English, so by her birth and her well articulated convictions is the ideal person to write movingly about many woman of the last century. Some are famous, some are barely known; Oldfield says that we honour, even if we do not heed, many men for their ‘anti-militarism and internationalist humanism’, but women do not get heard.

Opposition to war is still not universal. Oldfield says that the legitimations of ‘the iron fist’, the myth of war-prevention

Women Against The Iron Fist by Sybil Oldfield: A Book Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Cover art: Mothers by K. Kollwitz

by war preparedness, the preferrability of death to defeat are still with us. She reveals the terrible philosophy of Bismarck and von Treitschke as the founding philosophy of the 20th Century – still now into the 21st… without war no state could be…the features of history are virile…after internal law and order the next essential function of the State is war.

Many women have challenged this philosophy in Europe and North America – the geography of this study. The well-known Virginia Woolf believed that war could not be prevented for as long as men in power continue to exclude women’s socially constructed, traditional values of the private life – including the value of every irreplaceable individual.

Simone Weil, the French philosopher worked hard to prevent WW2 and was articulate on the subject of war as the affliction of the 20th Century. Although she saw the defeat of Hitler as necessary as did the UK pacifist, Maude Royden, both with great reluctance, Weil said that defeat must come from the combatants against Hitler becoming more democratic and ant-racist themselves and not try to out do Hitler’s brutality. (Eisenhower’s role, documented elsewhere in disposing of more that 1 million Germans after the war in a camp – maybe be seen as the immediate failure of the victors who have now become the bullies of the world – and torturers of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay TW)

Sophie Scholl, a young German woman, and her brother were beheaded for treason for their courageous work in the internal German resistance – a virtually unknown part of WW2 history. She believed that those who put their faith in force deny the real purpose of life: life.

Oldfield writes about Europeans Christa Wolf, Inge Thorsson, the Greenham Common women, Clara Ragaz and USA women who opposed war – the poets Muriel Rukeyer, Denise Levertov, Sharon Olds whose words and political actions continue to inspire.

This is the book that really inspired me to write about the women I know who oppose war and oppression; to make an impression in the historic neglect of women who lived and died for freedom from the evils of war and war preparation. Oldfield has written other good books; I particularly liked Spinsters of this Parish, mainly the story of women’s rights activist, Mary Sheepshank. We need many more of these kinds of books.

Filed under Book Reviews, Sybil Oldfield