I’m the author of Petticoats and White Feathers (1997), Reconstructing Patriarchy after the Great War (2008), and a volume co-edited with Kimberly Jensen titled Women and Transnational Activism in Historical Perspective (2010). Beginning in June 2011, I will be taking over as editor of the interdisciplinary, international journal Peace and Change http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0149-0508. I’ve just completed a book-length study of the transnational aspects of war widowhood during the First World War. Of Little Comfort, under contract at New York University Press, explores war widowhood primarily in the United States and Germany. As living symbols of self-sacrifice in need of protection, war widows aided the nation-state by providing the justification necessary to re-militarize after the guns were silenced. But some widows in both the “winning” and “losing” nations renounced the violent nationalism that they interpreted as the cause of their own war-induced grief, as well as that of humankind as a whole. Their activism spawned transnational interpretations of women’s relationship to war.
Barbara Sonneborn’s 1998 film Regret to Inform (http://www.regrettoinform.org/pages/about.shtml) spurred my interest in how widows have shaped relations between nations formerly at war. In the documentary, Sonneborn, a U.S. Vietnam War widow, travels to that country to visit the place where her husband died and to talk with Vietnamese women who also lost their husbands in the conflict. After the film’s release, a cyber memorial, War Widows Living Memorial (http://archive.ideum.com/portfolio/widows_war ) was created to commemorate war widowhood transnationally. Films and websites encourage transnational interpretations of armed conflict, since there are no governmental or military authorities to mediate between a war widow’s memories of her late soldier-husband and the official commemoration of the conflict itself, and no governmental entity to fabricate unity out of disparate experiences or responses to war.
Erika Kuhlman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Idaho State University