"Women and Patriotism." Harper's Bazar, 28 May 1898, p. 455.
A RESIDENT Jingo in every house? That prescription which the BAZAR gave the other day is the missing word for which we all have been waiting. “A Resident Jingo.” Somebody at each breakfast table to blow the trumpet with no uncertain sound. Somebody who is sure—who never had a doubt—that war is the only way for us to do God’s work just now.
Only let us stipulate that the Jingo shall always be a man. Boadicea and Jeanne d’Arc were useful in their day, but their day is over. The woman who really believes in war now is as much out of date as a dinornis.
At the beginning of this trouble we all felt an uneasy terror lest the New Girl might feel herself called to play the rôle of an Amazon. She is called to play so many rôles! What if she should fancy that she was cast for the part of an American Jeanne d’Arc!
There was at one time a threat of this worst calamity abroad in the air. Certain clubs of young women wired in open letters to the President their approval of his course, and urged him to “push the war on promptly and decisively,” assuring him that they stood ready to devote their money and influence on his support and to the service of their country. In one of our seaboard cities a number of young girls actually tried to form a company, drilled, devised a costume, and seriously proposed to offer themselves for the war as part of a cavalry regiment. The first gun that was fired silenced these young Bellonas, who had been sincere if foolish. Their worst fault is their habitual desire—no matter what the drama played in the world may be—to take the part of leading lady.
Even if the war should last but a few months, there will be work for many rational, patriotic women in hospitals or sanitary commissions, trying often, it may be, to cure the very men whom their husbands and sons have tried to kill. For war, in this part of the Christian era, is such an anomaly that it has phases of burlesque horror and of tragic absurdity, which perhaps some day will become apparent to us all.
Hospital and sanitary work, however, will give employment to but an infinitesimal fraction of the patriotic American women. What shall the great majority of us do to help our country?
What if we should each resolve to keep the shadow of the war as far as may be out of our minds and houses and hearts?
Because, for one reason, we women are more intemperate haters that men.
Those of us who were old enough during the civil war to understand its effects upon the social life of the nation will remember that one of its worst results was the dull misery of our home life in the North and South. And this was due not so much to poverty, nor to anxiety, nor even to grief for the dead, as to the bitterness with which the women took up the quarrel. The home-staying wife and mother in Vermont or Georgia regarded her foes as monsters, and hated them accordingly. The non-combatant is always more vindictive than the man in the fight. The Yanks and Johnny Rebs hallooed good-humoredly to each other across the picket-line, and managed many a time to exchange tobacco and news and jokes. When young Winthrop made his last mad charge, a cheer of admiration broke from the ranks of the Confederates and Grant himself acknowledged Lee’s distinction as a great soldier.
But the women at home found no redeeming quality in their enemies. Excitement and suspense, long continued, told on their nerves; they saw no hope for to-morrow nor pleasure in to-day, and resigned themselves to a permanent condition of misery and belligerency with a zeal which they felt did their country honor. Men who wore the blue and gray can meet now with hearty good-fellowship. It is among the women of the North and South—especially women of isolated, uneventful lives—that the old hate and distrust still linger, and like snakes left from the drained swamps in the fair meadow, occasionally thrust up their ugly heads to sting and poison.
Another war is upon us now. The cause, let us agree, is holy and righteous. Let us send our medicines and money and prayers; hang out the flag and sing the “Star-spangled Banner,” but keep the temper and venom of the war out of our own lives.
It is an appalling fact—to speak the plain truth—that after nineteen centuries of Christian civilization in the world two great Christian nations can find no saner way to settle a dispute than by the brute force of Cain and Abel. But it is a fact. The cruel government that starves women and babies cannot be reasoned or shamed into better behavior, but must be thrashed, like the cruel boy who pulls the wings from the flies.
Very well. So be it. But it is not our place as women to help with the thrashing. Each woman has her own home to work in. She can keep her head, no matter what news the morning paper brings. Let the man of the house, the Resident Jingo, sound a charge upon the trumpet every morning, long enough to convince himself that the war is a necessity, and go out if he will to light the red flames in another quarter; but she can keep the pleasant little home fir burning on the hearth. She can keep up the music, the jokes, the cheerful kindly life, for the children. Instead of raking up for them stories of the Inquisition or of Philip in Holland to disturb their minds, she can show them that the Spanish Queen, and even the Spanish sailors and soldiers, are not wild beasts, but human beings like themselves, with their faults and lovable qualities, as those who know them best can testify.
The American man has undertaken this war with a high purpose. God grant that he may succeed in it!
But the American woman did not bring it about. She cannot fight in it; she cannot end it. It may make her life one long blank to the end, but she may at least keep its rancor and fury out of her works and her thoughts.
Whoever she is, she has her own work to do, though it be only to iron shirts, and she will best serve her country now by doing it cheerfully and thoroughly, by standing in her own place, just and moderate and merciful.
Every such healthy, reasonable life helps to bring the country back to health and reason.
In the end, nobody will be the worse, and many people will be the better, if patriotic woman remain poised, tranquil, and steady though the wildest excitements of the war.
REBECCA HARDING DAVIS.
1. Bodicea or Boudicca, warrior queen of the British Celtic tribe Iceni, circa 40 C.E. ↩
2. Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) fought alongside the French army and is now a Roman Catholic saint. ↩
3. A type of moa bird that lived in the Late Pleistocene to Holocene periods (c. 10,000 B.C.E.). ↩
4. One of a nation of woman warriors in Greek and Roman mythology. ↩
5. Bellona, an Ancient Roman goddess of war, sometimes said to be Mars’s sister or wife. ↩
6. Johnny Rebel, a nickname for the Southern states or the Confederacy during the Civil War. ↩
7. Theodore Winthrop (1828-1861), a writer and the first Union Army soldier killed in the Civil War. ↩
8. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), Commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War. ↩
9. Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870), Commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. ↩
10. Genesis 4. ↩
11. The Catholic institution created to suppress heresy; actions date back to 12th century France. ↩
12. King Philip II of Spain’s violent attempts to exert control over the Netherlands in the late 16th century. ↩
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