There is an announcement on my desk for Mother's Day. It comes with a brown-and-white bumper sticker for my car that reads: "Millions of Moms Care . . . Prevent Nuclear War."
The messages were sent to me, as a mother of one and daughter of another, from the Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament. The press release tells me that they have planned anti-war events in 14 states to commemorate this Mother's Day with rallies and speeches and white "mums."
The point, I am told, is to revive Julia Ward Howe's idea. Back in 1872, long before Anna Jarvis made this a national celebration of maternity, Howe called for a Mother's Day for peace.
This remarkable lady, author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," had also seen the devastation of the Franco-Prussian war. She wanted mothers to organize "to prevent the waste of human life of which they alone bear and know the cost." Her modern heirs can envision the devastation of a nuclear war. They want mothers to organize because, as the coordinator said, "The ultimate mothering issue is the prevention of nuclear war."
Between these two Mother's Days, these two generations of women, stand 111 years and one shared idea: the idea that there is some special quality which makes mothers "naturally" more invested in peace--in the future of their children. Helen Caldicott, for one, calls the anti-nuclear impulse a mother's "instinct."
Yet, I wonder if Americans assign mothers the role of peacemongers to the exclusion of others. I wonder how peace became our issue, our speciality, and our minority platform.
In real life, mothers have had very little "maternal" influence on a bellicose century. Even Mother's Day was often an occasion for manipulating this female peace constituency.
In the carnage of World War I, Congress wrote special tributes to Mother's Day because women felt "most deeply the pangs of war." On Mother's Days that fell in wartime, we were praised and handed gold stars for sacrificing our children. On Mother's Days that fell in peacetime, we were promised "never again."
Our more recent history is filled with the protests of mothers: Mothers Against the War, Another Mother Strikes for Peace, Gold Star Mothers Against the War, and now my bumper sticker: "Millions of Moms Care." At times it seems as if only mothers are expected to care about the future.
I don't dispute for a minute a prejudice for peace among women. We have read it over decades of polls registering opinions about the Vietnam War, the neutron bomb, Reagan's foreign policy.
There are risks in single-sex disarmament, when peace is thought of predominantly as a mother's issue. There is the risk that women may simply stake out a higher moral ground--NO NUKES--and refuse to engage in questions like "how?" There is the risk that mothers, claiming some superior sensibility, psychologically exclude their allies, whether these are bishops or statesmen or fathers. Finally, there is a greater risk: that society, having assigned mothers the role of peacemongers, will go about the business of the arms race.
We've seen evidence for that kind of ideological sex-segregation. In the history of the 19th century, women were given the job of upholding the traditional kinder virtues of a benign domestic world, while men forged into a ruthless industrial world. Women were to create the haven of family. Men were to create the heartless world.
Today, I carry two pictures in my own mind. One shows 30,000 women forming a nine-mile ring around Greenham Common at an anti-nuclear rally in England. The other shows gray-suited men at the START talks in Geneva. The women are on the outside, protesting. The men are on the inside, making policy.
Am I opposed to Mother's Day rallies? Pin the white "mum" on my lapel. But on some Mother's Day, we must move beyond thinking of mothers as the private manufacturers of the next generation, the women who have the vested interest in life, the future peace.
What we are talking about is survival. And, surely, all men and women have that "instinct."