Lately, I have been thinking about the ways in which being a mother informs my view of the world. The question that haunts me is why the casualties of modern warfare are primarily women and children.

I am trying with little success to imagine what it is like for the mothers in Afghanistan and Iraq whose children have died in the bombing, or by stepping on landmines or from brightly colored unexploded cluster bombs that looked like toys. The children who have died because of the lack of medicine and hospitals. The children who have been raped. The children who have been detained in Guantanamo. The children who have died or will die because of exposure to depleted uranium. We have no way to know how many children have been killed or injured in these countries because our own government dismisses them as unimportant collateral damage. What we do know is that 80% of the casualties in modern warfare are civilians and that the vast majority of these are women and children.

International news and aid agencies estimate some 3000 civilians in Afghanistan and more than 10,000 in Iraq have been killed. Approximately three times more than this have been wounded. We will never know just how many of these casualties were children. We do know that to their grieving mothers, they were never collateral damage. I recently read of an Iraqi mother saying of her dead son that he loved to laugh and play football. My heart screams out that her little boy is not different that the boys in my suburban neighborhood, that it could have been my child!

These images are foremost in my mind because it is with these countries that we have been waging a war on terrorism. Less visible but just as horrific are the hundreds of thousands of children who have been killed, wounded, raped and traumatized by the conflicts raging in many other countries. In Zimbabwe, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sudan, in Palestine and many others. It is no exaggeration to say that violence against women and children has reached pandemic proportions on our planet.

My thoughts are also with the mothers in our own country whose children are risking their lives every day as members of the military. My heart is filled with sadness when their children die but I cannot grieve for them in the same way because (for whatever reason) they chose to join the military, they are hardly innocent bystanders. If I were a mother with a child in the military, those words would undoubtedly feel cold and cruel. Please believe that is not my intent, but rather it is to issue a wake up call to the mothers of our soldiers, to the mothers of all soldiers everywhere. Surely as we sit here in agony, watching our children die even as they kill other children, we must see that it is no longer okay to proudly send them off to war for any reason. Yet even as I write this, bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and Senate to reinstate the draft, sending still more of our children off to die. I have to ask, did we give birth to our sons and daughters in order to send them off to die and to kill other mother's children? How can it be morally acceptable to render our children, our most precious assets, into cannon fodder and other mothers' children into collateral damage? In what way can the killing of our children protect our communities and ensure our safety?

As women, we have the power to give birth, as mothers we have the power to nurture our future. It is no accident that women's voices are routinely excluded from the 'peace-making' process. It is this very exclusion that maintains the false patriotism that depends on sacrificing our children. It will only be when we assert what should perhaps be called a matriotism, a sense of identity that demands respect for the gift of life and the connections that sustain us, that we will be able to end the violence that is killing our children.


Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist.  She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, Her work has been published in Awakened Woman, Alternet, Hip Mama, Off Our Backs, Rain and Thunder, ZMag  and Expository Magazine.