Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 11. Nr. Dezember 2001

Barrage, Motherland. Women and the Front Texts of World War I (1)

Hanna Hacker (Yaoundé/Vienna)


0. Entry The White Heroine. Something about Colors

Regarding the critical situation of 1914, the white heroine had, in the social imaginary of most European (colonial-)states, shed her blood and risked her life for the fatherland a hundred years earlier.(2) At the beginning of World War I the white heroine was honored in the national consciousness for her positive value. In those places where the national formation did not directly correspond with the state power, where, as Nira Yuval-Davis would put it, common origin ("Volknation") did not correspond with common citizenship ("Staatnation"),(3) the white heroine - still 'European' - sometimes had a darker tone: red or black. She was a subject of revolt and/or terror, her honor not always so certain.

The Great War, the War to end all wars: a white man's war over the black man's future? As for white and black wo/men, it can be stated that the colonies constituted an 'outside' to the confrontations in Europe just as the image of the subordinated, tamed, destroyed - 'non-European' - black women warriors formed the other side of the white heroine. The one was merely the means for perceiving the other.(4)

In the following I focus on the question: how was the relationship described between women at the front and the front war, in terms of violence, killing, fragmentation of bodies, uncertainties of gender identity and constructions of national stereotypes? My main emphasis is on war texts relating to the Eastern Front, the 'Slavic', the 'Amazonian', in many respects the 'Other' of the perhaps better-known Western Front, where, according to Remarque's best-selling anti-war novel, "all was quiet". My reading and speaking position is undeniably that of a white, intellectual, feminist, Austrian woman.


1. Glowing for the Fatherland. Slavic Fire

Under the premise of self-definition as a member of a subordinated people, what is associated with the topos "patriotism" in and surrounding the world war?

When reading Austrian texts of various male and female authorship, a pattern of passionately glowing interpretations of the relationship between nationalism and military involvement and the sex/gender of non-German ethnic groups arises. The fire and spark metaphor was inscribed into the picture of subjugated peoples with a Slavic soul - and thus into the perception of these people's daughters:

The heritage of Ordynska [a female recruit, H.H.] is certainly romantic; she is Polish. The people to whom she belongs are some of the most chivalrous and certainly the most unfortunate in Europe. [G]reat and lofty feelings spark a fire in the Polish soul, which continues to burn steadily, which, however, you can only see at certain moments flashing passionately in their dark droopy eyes. This flash, the glow, the violent flaring up from a fiery inside certainly also shows in Ordynska's eyes. (Neue Freie Presse, 8-12-1914)

The interviewing journalist from a newspaper that was liberal before the war, describes "the wide, yellow Polish plains, the passionately loved homeland of the little heroine here before me;" the voluntary troops which "jubilantly [swear] themselves true and obedient until death to our old Kaiser" and finally storm ahead

with a deathly hatred which only he can understand who was powerless, forced to bend to the Russian yoke, grinding his teeth, for years now ready to jump - his power, elasticity and their total hatred saved up for the one great moment of revenge - rebellion - freedom! ... And the little legionnaire threw herself down, spread out her arms protectively and possessively over the earth of the homeland, and kissed the holy ground. (Neue Freie Presse, 5-12-1914)

Blood, sparks and youth were also necessary for the "land" and the "resurrection" of the Ukraine. A Christian conservative newspaper was enthusiastic about the Ukrainian invocation - "onward to Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine!"

The ring of the bells tolls throughout our land: Into the lines! In the next few days, maybe hours, our artillery will summon us to a bloody banquet on the fields fertilized with the blood of our ancestors. Here, we Ukrainians will prove that we're no bunch of heartless slaves, but, rather, an historical individuality, a living totality that knows what it wants, and stands up for it. Gather your arms! The Ukraine will rise again! (Reichspost, 15-8-1914)

The almanac of the association of patriotic Austrian women published a "Ukrainian Ballad" by Beatrice Dovsky in which a young pregnant wife digs her dying husband and fighter out of the Carpathian snow; he, with his last sigh, vows being glad to die "for our golden Ukraine, for freedom and right, for our native language."(5)

Apparently, 'glowing love' was associated with 'young nation,' and 'holiness' of fire with 'holy' youth. Is that symbol analogous to the one to which George Mosse refers when he determines that youth and beauty are powerful in defining nationally conscious German war stereotypes from 1914? Is it a fantasy comparable to the one that Michael Adams observes in the (bourgeois) men of Great Britain who, like boys following the Peter Pan principle, would rather die in a great adventure than become adult with the prospect of a life in boring and frustrating heterosexuality? Is it a self-identification, perhaps, like the one expressed in the title of (critical) war memoirs from Irene Rathbone and Vera Brittain: We That Were Young; Testament of Youth?(6)

The Austrian texts that I cite use the topos of youth in a nationally specific and in a specific nationalizing way; they tend to construct a different youth than the bellicose formations in Germany or England. The identity of a national minority marked by subordination, from this perspective, was born or reborn in war, the great "national wrestling", the "Völkerringen". In the case of the Ukraine, the idea of a national culture actually first became established after the middle of the nineteenth century, when the nation was truly 'young'. The Polish nation on the other hand, often depicted as ancient and starving for much too long under the enemies' power, became young, youthful, renewed through the revolt movements. Certainly the youth 'glowed' for the fatherland in all of Europe in 1914. But by forbidding women at the front in Austro-Hungary, the Polish and Ukrainian youth of Galicia and the Bukowina filled the particular function of constituting a site to which the essentially forbidden existence of transgressive/aggressive subjectivities of women could be displaced.(7) Here the trench did not necessarily turn the youth into a man, nor could the man-soldier continuously constitute his alterity-producing image of women.(8) The problem of what the trench formed the girl into also had to be shifted here: to woman? to man? and which body could the woman/girl soldier discipline or discharge: a female? a male? In the perspective of the texts that I have quoted in which the awakening youth, ready for battle, is not clearly coded as male, the idea unfolds that along with "youth" there is a missing or unclear definition of gender or sexuality. Glowing young girls fought like young men for a holy idea with a fiery desire and the same weapons. The newly awakening body was not, or not yet, completely differentiated into either the 'female' territory of the national motherland - Mother Earth - on the one hand, or the 'male' disciplined, militarily organized national unity, on the other.(9) At the same time, the romanticizing of the suffering, the exotic formation of 'dark' and peripheral Slavic people, allowed the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to bring back the gender difference to some extent and with it the prohibition of front/women in the next displacement process: when the glowing minorities reach adulthood, then they would organize gendered subjectivity and embodiment in the same way as already stipulated now by the dominant majority. And nationalism could then mean identifying 'as equal' with a father-brother-genealogy, which women can rarely ever achieve.(10)

To Love your Brother, to be your Brother: In making "male youths" part of the discourse (as they were actually the majority of those sent to the front) the idea of a sibling bond was also alluded to, which was imagined as only slightly differentiated in terms of gender and sexually at least ambivalent. At the core now are not those family metaphors which had dominated in many gendering images from World War I, not the figure of the mother who sacrifices her son, not the image of the healing and holy nursing (sister), and also not the overloaded symbol of the "war bride." A counterpart to the war bride was designed and brought into discourse - probably distantly related, as she is also described as young and likewise just on the way to becoming a woman, and still typical for the marginalization of the front/woman. It is the 'brother's sister' and often likewise 'father's daughter' who glowed in a special way for the fatherland.

For female youth in most bourgeois or on the way to becoming bourgeois societies of the nineteenth century, brothers embodied an essential mediator to public life, to social and national identity, to the definition of political fields. Brother-sister-relationships contributed in their ways to the gendering of and familiarizing with colonialisms. Structures and motives of women's social work in the ghettos of major European cities, can be read as analogous to the duty of the male siblings who went into the colonies; feminists acted militantly, in public and perhaps compensatory ways, as they perceived that their brothers directed their bodies and desires towards the various fields of honor. In 1914 the brother and close male relatives now concretely represented a mediator to the military, to the front. The farewell from the brother who goes to the front and/or dies there, constitutes a central biographical emotional experience for the sister, especially for single and non-heterosexually bound women and significantly determined the forms for writing war (experiences), which again applies to many bourgeois dominated nations and lands participating in the war.(11)

But what does the topos of brotherly love constitute when it is inserted in a discourse of the young, subordinated people in the Slavic periphery of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ready to go to battle?

The surge of the 'youth' (boys/men, girls/women) to the front was meant to explain or justify itself as something natural, arising from the sister's identification with her brother, from the intense youthful sibling bonds. Quotations which paraphrase or directly name the brother-sister bond and refer to renowned fe/male war volunteers like Sophie Haleczko, Olena Stepaniv and Jerema Kuz, sound something like: "all" must now "go together;" there is no enduring at home; the brave volunteer fights "with her brothers against the arch-enemies of Ukraina;" her "brothers are all standing in the fields;" it would be "an immeasurable joy [...], if I, as a Polish woman, could defend our precious fatherland together with my brothers [...] against the horrid enemy;" and then one young woman together with her girlfriend, without her parent's approval, boards the train that leads her brother to the brigades and she, herself, to a career as a - male - hospital corporal.(12)

Two front/wo/man stories that are told again and again, as it were, from the hospital bed, also constructed brother-sister constellations. Once again, the very young female field sergeant Stanislawa Ordynska serves as an example. The daughter of a wealthy Polish revolutionary, who was persecuted and sent to Siberia, she was able to escape in January 1914 with her brother from Warsaw to Krakow. They had to leave their mother behind. Thus the daughter did not stay with her mother, but rather, the sister went with her brother 'away', 'forth'. Their father had arranged for the siblings to be trained as members of a Polish shooting association, and in the end, immediately after the outbreak of the war they were voluntary marks(wo)men and patrol guards, trained by Austrian officers. Stanislawa, while stalking the trenches near the scene, was an eyewitness to the execution of one of her brothers at the hands of a Russian soldier:

She thought that she would collapse with pain, but her father, the fanatical revolutionary from 1863, had impressed upon them all: 'The individual is nothing! Do not blink an eye when your brother, your sister, your friend falls! ...' so she squeezed the tears back into her eyes, with a lump in her throat, biting her tongue - forward, march! (Neue Freie Presse, 5-12-1914)

Recalling the stamina training from her father allowed her to continue with several fights, charges, daring fact-finding missions, honors and shots - like the brother, and in place of the dead - until she herself also collapsed.

The motif of the sister who catches a view of her just killed brother, is also found in the (Hungarian, not Slavic) story about Miss Baka in the summer of 1915. The young woman from Budapest, also from a good family, seems to have acted in isolation, without military training or nationalist motivation. After the death of her beloved mother, as the story is told by newspaper reports, the "peace and happiness of the family was destroyed." Her older brother was "her only pleasure" - and it was not a question of whether the father was insufficiently lovable. The passionate desire for the brother who had reported for duty carried her forth. Like him, she put on a soldier's uniform and found him dead on the battlefield, "shot through by enemy bullets," much like the young bride of the Ukrainian legionnaire in Beatrice Dovsky's heroic ballad. Miss Baka remained as an infantry-woman with her brother's regiment and participated in several battles, until she collapsed and was sent to a Hungarian hospital. There, as described, she "admitted" to the doctor (a woman) that she was "not a boy."(13)

The childish, perhaps erotic yearning for the brother in the case of Miss Baka, or the glowing love for the subordinated fatherland in the case of Miss Ordynska, allows both girls to temporarily become their brothers and leads to their short term inconspicuous and competent functioning as soldiers within the institution of the army. The fact that their identity was arranged as 'young' allowed their enthusiasm and fusion with a person of the opposite sex, (or with what they do) to seem normal, and in any case, to occur. Girls like them did not sustainably endanger the gender order, and they became 'good' stories since they simultaneously hid and represented the ban of women at the front. It was no coincidence that their success was situated far from the German-Austrian center of the Monarchy, and likewise, it was not by chance that this and other similar stories ended in collapse, in the breakdown of the body, the total exhaustion of the mind. It upset the girls to be like their brothers; they reached the point where the masculinity of the soldier classically ended, namely, lying in shock in a (sick) bed, and the very breakdown serves to hold up the facade of not having to present this as the goal of the war and the violence.


On the terrain determined by war, concern is with legitimate, direct violence, the destruction of bodies and the infliction of material damages in a visible and direct way. 'Arms' or war armaments are coded as extensions of the body, and after a battle the 'body' of the troop is considered wounded, damaged or having escaped relatively unharmed. As Elaine Scarry sketches out, wars also aim at leaving permanent traces of their results on the body. In the case of war, bodies must be exceptionally extended in the interests of the state or nation: to kill or capture, to charge forward or let themselves be injured.(14) I consider direct violence, the dismemberment of the body, a site for achieving a (gender) perspective on the war of 1914. In the following, I ask how women wrote and read the violence at the front and what the relationship of 'violence' to 'gender' is there.(15)

You can see it, but you cannot speak it. It is like women at the front - you can see them but until recently you could not speak them. Feminists are beginning to recognize even more clearly than ever before that praxis and theory ... function interdependently. In other words, it is not enough for women to have been there; they have to write and interpret what it means to have been there.(16)

What is it that is tricky about writing and interpreting what it means to be "there?" In my line of questioning there are (at least) two things: 'there' is the soldierly-masculine and 'there' is the legitimate production of violence. The thesis could be that the less a female subject had to justify, in terms of sexual ab/normality, her presence at the site of soldierly action, the easier became her writing violence. In the early 19th century European women still wrote quite unabashedly about their experiences of violence, their activity in warfare having not yet been labeled as sexually problematic. For the war text from Regula Engel, this is definitely relevant. She fought at Waterloo as a valued patriot, wife and mother and reported:

Our fourth son [...] was probably already dead when I saw my beloved husband fall. ... My youngest son Joseph, just ten years old, fought at my side, his head was shattered by a bullet, I saw one of his eyes and his brain spraying in front of me. Beside myself with despair, I saw an English cavalryman charging at me, I sighted him briefly and shot off his upper-lip through the nose with a pistol. I grabbed his second one, but as soon as I could pull it away, he pulled it out of my hand and shot me through the neck with my own weapon. I couldn't fight anymore and collapsed. Just at that moment I received yet another bayonet wound in my right side from a grenadier, so that the blood flowed from me in streams. The grenadier was immediately hung by order of his general.(17)

A century later it seemed disproportionately more difficult for front/women to find a space for the memory of their own bloody-bellicose behavior in the texts. In works published by women in combat in World War I, there are hardly any 'direct' descriptions of fighting.

(A striking exception, though, was Maria Botchkareva; in 1914 a wo/man soldier with the Russian army, after the February Revolution founder and leader of the famous Women's Battalion of Death. In her memoirs, drill, fights, and dealing with mangled limbs resume in a straight line the violent experiences that marked her life story until then - battering by her father and two partners, poverty and banishment, suicide attempts and plans to kill.(18)

In their texts it seems as though women combatants of 1914 also obeyed the war's mechanization logic, through which modern technology contributed to the naturalization of destruction, mutilation and killing (of the 'opposing' troop's body) and rendered unable to be articulated as individual occurrences. What they did report on were the wounds their own bodies had suffered, not those inflicted by them on someone else, and the course of the healing process. Flora Sandes, an English woman active in the Serbian army, published two autobiographical texts on her war experiences. She suffered a severe injury from bomb fragments during a battle in the mountains. The transportation from the field to the hospital tent was dangerous and dramatic, her convalescence was lengthy, relapses and a further operation followed. Her bravery remained her pride during this ordeal.(19)

Marina Yurlova, a young woman of Cossack origin, arriving inadvertently at the front, more of a 'girl' than a transgressing woman, so to say, documented the course of both physical and mental illnesses in her memoirs (distinctly fictionalized or perhaps thoroughly fiction). At first, during the blasting of a bridge in 1915, she was hit in her leg by a bullet and described in detail how she fought in the hospital - ultimately successfully - not to have it amputated. Doctor and superior are fatherly friends who only want to 'help' the little one.(20) Considerably more stoic, Marina Yurlova describes the painful shoulder operation that she endured in an attempt to save her arm. It was 1918 and months and years had passed in the meantime, in which she had completely collapsed twice after shell shock, lost the control over her body and mind and at times could no longer hear or speak. The text describes her getting a shell shock while driving an ambulance as follows:

Fighting opened before dawn, with the Russians on one slope and the Germans with some Austrians on another, and a valley lying between them like an open grave. [...] My mask seemed to put a screen between me and the world outside [...]. Nobody looked human; even when men fell dead, they fell like animals, with their masked faces turned upwards, and their bodies twisted sideways. Even when they were blown to pieces - and God knows I must have seen it happen a hundred times, those arms and legs and heads scattering up through the murky air - I found nothing wrong in that. Deafened and speechless, I went about my work automatically, staggering back and forth to the stretchers.(21)

The girl-as-soldier had become the soldier-as-hysterical who, during her dazed journey through revolutionary Russia stood by and watched scenes of lynching and killing, thereby reacting purely as soul: in fear, in mourning. "No escape from war - here or in the Caucasus, Tsar or Bolshevik or Czech, it didn't matter: no escape from war."(22)

In the mutilated form of the wounded body, violence finds its expression primarily in the memoirs of nurses; here, it seems to be common and clearly represented in a way that it is not in the texts by front/women combatants. The first person narrator in Henriette Riemanns' Schwester der Vierten Armee (Nurse of the Fourth Army) has a laconic style and a self-sacrificing attitude:

A man [...] unflinchingly allows his intestines to be perforated - others have their eyes removed [...] a young student [...] let his ribs be broken while under local anesthesia." "So many shots to the head. Their skulls are shattered. They lie several days, weeks. Their brains ooze out. They die slowly, abandoned. Once in a while someone is 'healed'."(23)

Unceasingly at the threshold of her own exhaustion, embroiled within a plot as thrilling as only a national-socialist girl's bestseller can be, the narrator of Suse Hoerner-Heintzes' Mädels im Kriegsdienst (Girls in Military Service) presents her story:

Now the probe. Here the tie. There's hemorrhaging. The forceps are missing there. It mustn't fall. ... Now, a scraping knife. Oh how it breaks the bone! And the skull is really broken all the way through. The brain is pressing out. ... Take a tongue depressor, push the brain back, watch out, gently, gently ... remarkable how softly the tongue depressor lies on the brain - what a soft swelling mass it is ---. Oh dear God, let me pass out. ...What rubbish! How silly girls are. Who else would hold the instruments? And who would assist? ... I will swab calmly. I am pushing the brain back. ... It is all working well and moving along calmly."(24)

The memoirs of the military doctor Käte Frankenthal are written quite soberly, skeptical of patriotism and from the position of the Jewish immigrant: "The horror was so great, that one could have just as easily laughed."(25)

Apparently the experience of violence in the fighting lines should not be sought exclusively at the level of narrative or content. Writing violence was also, or even primarily, a question of form. Some memoirs from the field articulate the pounding of the shots in their staccato-style and the brevity of the eternal fear between them. They can sometimes be read as fragments like the granite splinters, which the narrator patiently removes from the injured (male) body. Based on 'female' and violently formed war and field experiences, such texts present European modernism's characteristic innovation: a fragmentation of the language, a constant presence of the narrating voice(s).(26)

If the writing of violence is a matter of form, then the perception of violence is all the more a question of reading. Was violence written, if not read, or read 'differently'? From the memoirs of the so-called Swiss-Amazon, Regula Engel, I cited a passage full of spraying blood, bursting brain matter and furious smashing and shooting; in a dozen lines of text there are four dead and two severely wounded, one of them is the author herself. A few years before World War I, the radical pacifist-leaning wing of Austria's women's movement cited Regula Engels' text as a prime example of "plain self evidence" and pure motherliness. It was probably the leading feminist Auguste Fickert herself who warmly recommended reading the new edition:

For those who want to save themselves from these times of complicated problems and complicated people, for an atmosphere of original health in order to be able to breathe for once a deep liberating breath, read the notes from this plain soldier-woman, who ... remaining modest and childlike despite all heroic bravado, never extended herself beyond the limits of her gender.(27)

The fact that the violence was that much less write-able the nearer the female author/actor came to the front and arrived at her own masculinization (that unique effect of many front and field texts about World War I) seems to have reproduced itself several decades later in the research literature. The discourse adopted by feminist research and/or assigned to queer theory rarely or never problematizes the (self) positioning of women in militarily legitimated acts of killing. Julie Wheelwright's study, Amazons and Military Maids, constitutes an exemplary text for historical gender constructions, considerations of homo/heterosexuality and the analysis of cross-dressing women. It is almost necessary that the violence of the military and war nonetheless form a blank. The author only touches upon it in passing, tersely, summarily and as a lead-in to the theme of masculinity/femininity:

If being a man means excelling in the quintessence of all male activities, the art of war, then the imitation has been a success. Women have proven that they are just as capable, skillful, aggressive, deadly and intrepid as their male counterparts in all aspects. [... ]They are not seen as brave women, but rather as steadfast soldiers; their military identity stood above all other descriptions, perspectives and experiences. [...] Therefore it remains a purely academic question, whether the radical potential of their experience and the annoying contradictions by which they were embodied, actually effectuates a historical transformation in the understanding of the gender difference.(28)

In pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, like Julie Wheelwright's title, is learned together with the art of war, the handwork of killing, but what else remains to be written? Perhaps as an aside: In World War I, death became the measure of 'validity' of a literary depiction of the war. Only those who were able to perceive death at the front could 'see' the war, the literary canon defined. According to that, women, excluded from the front, could not write about death. But they still did, also those who had not been 'there': a bitter, satirical writing, representing a death that comes unintentionally, silent, lamentable and lonely.(29)


3. Dusk over the Track. The Other of the Western Front. A Conclusion

The American writer and war nurse Mary Borden titles her sketches of the war, published in 1929, The Forbidden Zone. In the French army, that strip of land is called "La Zone Interdite," in which the (women of the) ambulance teams moved, awaited their time to act and care for freshly wounded soldiers in the field tents after an exchange of shots. Feminist war history once again took up the image of the "forbidden zone" and carried it broadly over to the analysis of field/front experiences. Body zones of the front/women equally could be read as forbidden, and it was often the breast that represented and replaced other female body zones. The realms of action of the first-aid attendants and nurses were hidden away like the realm behind the firing line (as though) marked by barbed wire - their field the body of the injured, mutilated and dead. While the battlefront could shift forward or backward, the immobilized, 'stained' zones always remained behind. Women who were stationed here could be seen as carriers of 'stained' and 'forbidden' knowledge; they saw the horror of the war in the field, and were not supposed to speak or write about it. Feminist (literary-)historians, therefore, consistently viewed war texts by women in the forbidden zone to be new in a gendered and political sense and specific to World War I.(30) This historical quality of a prohibition and its processing, however, simultaneously formed a myth of the western front. The forbidden zone of the West also constitutes a projection space for historical desires, which were and are often indicated as an expression of gendered desires of transgression. The prototypical, controversial formation of discourse of a sexually occupied 'no man's land' found its way into passages of two novels, Radclyffe Hall's Well of Loneliness (1928) and Helen Zenna Smith's Not so quiet ... Stepdaughters of War (1930). In Radclyffe Hall's well read version of an 'inverted' career, it is the service at the front which allows the heroine and those like her to offer their masculine courage to the fatherland and to find recognition for it. In the dark, life-threatening, heroic nighttime ambulance rides on the western front, romantic love can begin as a condition for the passionate connection between the grand heroine of the novel who steers, and the naïve lover who understands how to nurse.(31) Helen Z. Smith's story was partially laid out as a counter concept to Hall's lesbianized 'good' front/woman. For Smith, the forbidden zone legitimates the exclusion of lesbian women from the patriotic realm as it is a heterosexual, self-affirming female community. She rewrote the lesbian body as representative of a forbidden zone; she bans and simultaneously defines the masculinization of the front/women as unavoidable. After all, war service forced non-feminine, responsible and targeted behavior 'outside,' where it is "not so quiet."(32) The rich production of writings from and about the western front, therefore outline what 'was there': the gendered and transgressive experience of positional warfare, which also meant that men stayed still and women were in movement; women/bodies which had marked their own historical sexualization and brought it to the line of a lesbian-hetera-(op)positioning; and finally, the completion of a relatively clear end of the war with the success of the capture and destruction and the resulting armistice in November 1918.

The gendering narrative style for war events in the 'East' actually concentrated more on the representation of ethnic conflict or national identities than on the representation of a homo/heterosexual conflict. (Nevertheless, what has to be brought to mind is that along the Eastern Front, women-as-combatants possibly 'really' faced each other, as they were fighting in quite high numbers in "official" positions on both sides of the front.) Here, the war does not 'end' with the ceremonial European peace agreements but rather continues with the revolutionary impetus by means of old annihilation strategies under the new conditions of a civil war. It leads women to its front in new ways - with the White and Red Armies - while in the West they were already called back to their 'quiet' places in the hinterland. The eastern front of World War I is also not symbolized in the suggestively static image of positional warfare, but rather as though crystallized in the dynamic image of "break through battle" - "the collective attack Tarnow-Gorlice," "the single successful large scale breakthrough battle," "the first material slaughter, the beginning of mechanical warfare, the mechanical age, the birth of the collective person, the birth of Bolshevism;" "Austro-Hungary's last great victory" and "one of those battles of fate which stands at the turning point of two historical eras."(33) According to even highly diametrical ideologies, after such a breakthrough, however, everything must be written anew: the history, the future, "the human" ... and the Valkyrie myths, in which the ambulance drivers were meant to have discovered the Forbidden Zone in France, now consequently correspond with the Amazon myth, in which the East-front/women of Slavic blood wanted to be recorded; weapon-trained, preferably young and glowing and initially as white as their Western counterpart.

© Hanna Hacker (Yaoundé/Vienna)

TRANSINST        table of contents: No.11


(1) This paper is based on a chapter in: Hacker 1998 (especially 204-210, 158-163, 222-225). There I unfold in a broader way my key terms such as "transgression" or "un-femininity", and I explain in more detail my notion of the "forbidden front/woman".

(The English version of this paper is based on a translation by Lisa Rosenblatt. I thank her for her excellent work. Remaining linguistic mistakes are entirely my own.

(2) I refer here to the Napoleonic Wars. The German example would be the so-called "liberation" struggles against Napoleonic rule where women fought partially 'as men' among the "White" German guerilla.
For some reflections on the representation of nations in gendered figures during the 19th century, see also: Hacker 1999.
Inspiring for any critical approach to nation and un/gendering are, of course: Kristeva 1988, Bhabha 1990, and Zizek 1992.

(3) Cf. Yuval-Davis 1997:1-25.

(4) For the European construction and destruction of the so-called Amazons of Dahomey, I discuss this in more detail in: Hacker 1998:123-41.

(5) Dovsky 1917.

(6) Cf. Rathbone 1932; Brittain 1933; Mosse 1987 (especially 138-169); Adams 1990.

(7) For a discussion of different displacement strategies wherein the woman soldier embodies the crisis of categories, see: Hacker 1995.

(8) Among the many studies on the disciplining of the soldierly boy and man cf., e.g.: Theweleit 1980; Amberger 1987; Adams 1990.

(9) Usually, this gendering differentiation is vaguely located as having happened in the early modern age, and according to many scholars it is completely terminated for long by the end of the 19th century, cf., eg.: Seifert 1995.

(10) Cf. the not uncontested theory elaborated by Ivekovic 1997, especially 118-20.

(11) Cf. Vicinus 1985 and Woollacott 1993.

(12) I quote here different newspaper articles (e.g., from Neue Freie Presse in 1915) as well as correspondence on file in the Austrian War Archives (e.g., the file of Polish volunteer Emilia Paciow and her correspondence with the War Ministry in 1915).

(13) Cf. Hirschfeld s.d. [1930]:267-8.

(14) See: Scarry 1992:101-06 and 168-9.

(15) The sites of violence differ also geographically. For reflections on some national differences in war literature by women cf., e.g.: Cardinal 1993a; Cardinal 1993b; Higonnet 1995.

(16) Cooke 1993:177.

(17) Engel 1821:76-7.

(18) Many depictions of bloody actions can be found in: Botchkareva 1923 [1919].

(19) Sandes 1927:67-8: "(B)y the time we reached [the First Aid Dressing Station, H.H.], blood was dripping through the stretcher. I was about at the end of my tether, but they gave me hot drinks, warmed me up, and then laid me on the table to probe round and find some of the numerous pieces of bomb. I buried my nose in the broad chest of Doctor B--, who was standing at my head, while the other one worked, and frankly yowled for the first time. But he knew better than to sympathize with an overwrought patient, so he lit a cigarette, thrust it between my lips, and told me to 'shut up and remember I was a soldier,' which had far more effect than any amount of petting would have done."

(20) Yurlova 1935:64: "Amputate? What did that mean? Then my heart turned over and dropped like a sick thing into the pit of my stomach. [...] My leg off! - never to ride again, never to go back to the army, never to run; never, should I get home again, to climb the hills; never to dance, never to play. I told myself fiercely that I'd rather die with both feet than live with one."

(21) Yurlova 1935:128.

(22) Yurlova 1935:169.

(23) Riemann 1930:98 and 109.

(24) Hoerner-Heintze 1934:128-29.

(25) Frankenthal 1981:67.

(26) This is outlined in a captivating, but unfortunately rather short way in: Marcus 1989.

(27) Book review, in: Neues Frauenleben, Vol. 19 No. 8, August 1907, 15-16.

(28) Wheelwright 1989:78.

(29) See: Higonnet 1993b

(30) Marcus 1989; Higonnet 1993a; Higonnet 1993b.

(31) Cf. Hall 1976 [1928]:337-61.
To the literary scandal contributed not the least the fact that Hall obviously referred to an authentic ambulance unit where daughters of prominent British aristocratic families had worked in.

(32) As an analysis of Smith 1930 see: Marcus 1989.

(33) Dobiasch 1934:12 and 18.


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For quotation purposes:
Hanna Hacker: Barrage, Motherland. Women and the Front Texts of World War I. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 11/2001.

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