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Elihu Burritt: Woman and War

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

Elihu Burritt: Dismantled Arsenals. Death, sin and Satan weep over the grave of their renowned confederate, War.

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Elihu Burritt
Woman and War

The history of the human race, especially for the last eighteen centuries, has been a history of blood; to which woman, like a mistaken religion, has contributed as much as she has suffered in its sanguinary annals. The Roman amphitheatre and a pagan age were not the only place and period, where and when scenes of horrid butchery were enacted for her entertainment. The trained gladiators, that without any personal animosity, cut each other to pieces in savage sport, and weltered and died in graceful contortions on the arena, were not the only victims selected from the human family to be immolated for her diversion. When Constantine abolished the arena, on its foundations arose another amphitheatre embracing the whole continent of Europe, where nations entered the lists, and kings, princes, and nobles fought for the guerdon of woman’s smile. It is an unpleasant fact in modern history, that her influence upon national character was first felt and perceptible in the field of battle. Her morning rays, like the rising sun of religion, lighted up the middle ages with the battle-torch, and inspired “the big-plumed wars” with a ferocious enthusiasm. It was more a rough impulse of chivalrous gallantry than a sentiment of Christian devotion, that deified the Virgin Mary, and enthroned her in the heavens, an impersonation of woman, retaining all the attributes of her sex, and whose favour was still accessible to her knighted admirers and champions on earth. Thus associated with divinity, she became to the warrior what Venus was to Eneas; the star that guided him to the fields of Palestine, and sat on his banner in the rifts of battle, in the breaches of Askalon, Gaza, and Jerusalem. It was not merely to rescue the site of the cross from the uncircumcised infidels of the East, that Europe poured forth her mailed myriads into the Holy Land. The divinity of those murderous wars in which millions fell, was a human divinity – the genius of woman. Their feats and deeds of arms were inspired by the light of her eye, more than by the eloquence of Peter the Hermit; and her smile and favour were more to the steel-clad warrior than the crown promised him in a future life. Had it not been for her presence and approbation, the tilts and tournaments, and all the institutions of an errant chivalry, could never have been sustained in Europe, in the age in which they flourished. Had military glory and ambition borrowed no fascination from music and love and the fine arts: had not the gentlest attributes of human nature been unsexed, and the most generous impulses of humanity perverted, the war-spirit, long ere this, would have been exterminated, as a coarse, degrading passion, from the brotherhood of Christian nations.

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