Battle Cries and Lullabies, Women in War from Prehistory to the Present, by Linda Grant De Pauw
University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. 395 pp. . $17.95. ISBN:0806132884 .
In her introduction to this book Linda Grant De Pauw repeats one of the most famous quotes of military history. Observing the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, Pierre Bosquet reportedly said, "It is magnificent, but it is not war." A similar statement might apply to this book. It is magnificent, but it is not history.
This, however, does not appear too terribly important to the author. Ironically, that could be the saving grace of this book.
Battle Cries and Lullabies hopes to bring to light in a single source the role of women in warfare since before recorded history. To do so requires a lens with a soft focus in order to cover the width and breadth of time. Unfortunately that means that the coverage of any one period is somewhat cursory. It also led De Pauw to accept some conventionally held myths as history and in other places use "evidence" that is more speculation than solid interpretation of recorded history. Despite the fact that the book rests upon some extremely flaky sources in some places, overall the book is important and well constructed. How are these two statements reconciled? Partially by this reviewer’s admission that in several areas Ms. De Pauw has no choice but to rely upon these sources in order to meet her stated objective. There are too many gaps in the conventional historical record to adequately record the history of women in war without extensive interpretive guessing. Filling those gaps, or at least pointing out where they exist is one of the most important functions of this book.
Battle Cries and Lullabies is not intended as the definitive statement of the role of women in all war through all of time. De Pauw is up front about this, saying as much in the beginning of the book. Rather, as she points out in her introduction, this is a starting point. By collecting into one book everything that she can of the history and pre-history of women in war De Pauw creates a single source for future historians of the role of women in war to begin their quests. This is an admirable goal, and for all the factual and interpretive faults of the book it does accomplish this task moderately well. This book identified a need and filled that need. In this it is a success.
Unfortunately, this same strong point is one that ultimately causes the most problems. Despite the author’s assertion that the book carries no political or hidden agenda, in some places the logic and tone of the author leaks through. As schoolchildren we are taught to avoid non-sequitor logic, ("this does not follow that") but apparently in the halls of academia this rule is sometimes subordinate to a higher goal. For example, in her examination of the role of women in the Roman era Ms. De Pauw states, "Some Roman women, obviously, were capable of bearing arms. Did any of them fight in the ranks? The question is valid; the silence of the sources proves nothing." She then continues on a somewhat speculative analysis of the role of women in that period. She is obviously correct in stating that just because nothing is said about women that does not prove that women were not there. It does not, however, serve as proof of the reverse, that they were there and that there was a vast culturally inspired cover-up as she later seems to imply.
Ms. De Pauw is the list moderator for the academically based on-line discussion group Minerva, a group dedicated to finding and exploring the role of women in warfare. As such she acts as a de facto clearing house for much of the material brought forth from academia on the topic. It is from this role that the book Battle Cries and Lullabies grew and took shape. Unfortunately, some of that shape remains ill-defined and rests upon some extremely shaky foundations. This may be a function of the nature of the topic, or it may be evidence of a well intentioned attempt to be all-inclusive. In either case, the fact that this book cites sources such as spi
Reviewer: Robert L. Bateman
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