Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Brave Women of War

The Brave Women of War

Historically, women have always played an important role during wartime, going so far as to take command of troops and fight for their homeland when their male counterparts were unable, or simply lacked the heart to face the battle ahead.
Strong, intelligent and resourceful, women have displayed far greater bravery than men in critical moments, as history has proven time and time again.
Throughout this article, I have tried my very best to present some of the amazing women who have endured the hardships of war not as victims of it, but as victors of the human spirit.
Their actions have profoundly influenced the flow of history, and as such, they should be regarded as examples for all future generations, not just to be admired, but to be followed as well.

de.jpgOne great example is Deborah, a judge of Ancient Israel, and the only woman to hold such a high position in the land. Seeing how much her people were suffering at the hands of their enemy, Deborah called Barak, a military commander, to gather an army and form a rebellion.
When the fearing commander refused, however, Deborah took charge of the troops and marched against the opposing army of Canaan, successfully defending her land and receiving all the glory. She is often regarded as the mother of Israel.

jael.jpgDuring that same conflict, another woman by the name of Jael actually managed to kill the Canaanite general Sisera, who had fled the battlefield and was looking for a place to hide. Initially friendly, Jael managed to trick the enemy general into staying at her house before ending his life. Even in those ferocious times, simple housewives rose to the challenge and fought for their home, displaying unimaginable strength and courage.

A similar ruse was used by Blenda, a Swedish young girl who took it upon herself to safeguard the kingdom of Norway while the King and his men were away. When news of an invasion broke out, Blenda rallied all the women and came out with a plan to defend her home. Together they cooked many delicious foods and organized a great party for the men of the opposing army. Surrounded by beautiful women as well as drinks and food to their heart’s content, the invaders dropped their guard and took part in the festivities without a single care in the world. Blenda and the other women waited for the soldiers to pass out from their drunken debauchery and then killed all of them in their sleep. When the returning King heard of the bravery and cunningness displayed by Blenda and her companions, he bestowed full rights to all the women in his kingdom, allowing them to receive the same benefits as the men.

boudica.jpgAnother story of a great warrior is that of Boudica, the queen of the British Iceni tribe. Upon the death of her husband, their allies disregarded the will of the defunct King for a joint rulership alongside his surviving children, instead annexing the Iceni territories to their own Empire. The inhumane treatment of Boudica and her two daughters prompted not just the Iceni, but also their neighbours, the Trinovantes, to rise up against the unfair treatment. They chose Boudica, a woman of notable intelligence and spirit whose very name spelt out victory, as their leader to spearhead a campaign against the occupying enemy forces. Seen by many as a goddess, she signified a gleam of hope in a wicked and unfair world. 

mulan.jpgWhile Hua Mulan may have enchanted millions as a Disney princess, her greatest legacy is her filial piety. When the Emperor of China summoned all the men to battle the tribes that had invaded the country, Hua Mulan disguised herself as a man and entered the army instead of her feeble father and young brother. Trained in the art of kung fu and proficient in sword fighting, she served for twelve years, earning the respect of her comrades. Even though she had been offered a high-ranking position, Hua Mulan simply requested that she be allowed to return home so that she may care for her aging father.
Brave, loyal, caring, Hua Mulan is the paragon of all that is best in one’s heart.

Even though it is hard to write and pronounce, the Trưng sisters carry a name that has inspired an entire country to fight not just for its independence, but also for its identity. Regarded as national heroines of Vietnam, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were born into a household that was no stranger to martial arts and warfare. Since their father was the local sheriff, the Trưng sisters learnt various military tactics and skills at a very young age, including a sense of duty and honor.
When their village was attacked by a raiding party, the two sisters defended it with great success.
Because the attacks did not stop, increasing in frequency only, the Trưng sisters assembled an army consisting mostly of women and successfully repelled the invaders that threatened the very existence of their people. Under their rulership, a new independent kingdom was created.
The Trưng sisters will forever be remembered for making a people that had given up on itself to believe in a better tomorrow.

tomoe-gozen-on-a-horse-in-the-snow.jpgWith the rise of the samurai in the late-Heian period of Japan, it was incredibly difficult for women to stand out, especially on the battlefield. Yet that is exactly what Tomoe Gozen did. A young woman whose riding and fighting skills were only matched by her gracious beauty definitely stood out in a male dominated society. In battle she was often outnumbered, facing sometimes up to one thousand soldiers, yet she always managed to emerge victorious. It is not wonder then that she had garnered the respect of both her comrades and her foes. His master, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, always kept her by her side and even placed her second-in-command. During the Genpei War, Tomoe Gozen was always the first to ride into battle, inspiring the troops before her. With new media and shows re-telling and re-imagining her adventures, the legacy of Tomoe Gozen continues to grow by the day.

Joan of Arc is a name that needs no real introduction. Not only is she a national French heroine, but she is also a Patron Saint of Bravery and Purity to whom many continue to pray. As France was on the verge of total collapse during the Hundred Years War, a humble young girl from an isolated village managed to turn the tide of war, bringing hope where there was none. That girl, later named The Maid of Orléans, was none other than Joan of Arc. Through the will of God, she went from spinning wool with her mother to being in the presence of royalty, right before taking command of the entire army of France. Her first greatest success was the liberation of Orléans, the final bastion that kept the country from being completely overrun by enemy forces. It unequivocally proved Joan of Arc’s Divine mission, gaining the support of the people who had lost all hope. For her faith and loyalty, which Joan of Arc never denounced, she suffered terribly. She was accused of everything that is evil, yet she died like a Martyr, becoming a Saint in the process.

-yaa_Asantewaa_165083671.jpgConsidered a national hero and a strong supporter of African independence from foreign rule, Yaa Asantewaa’s courage is known all over the world, as her actions continue to inspire people to this very day. Upon the death of her ruling brother, Yaa Asantewaa used her position as Queen Mother of the Ashanti Empire, part of modern-day Ghana, to nominate her grandson as his successor. The exile of the young man and most of the government body, however, left Yaa Asantewaa the sole ruler. Not willing to have her country fall into enemy hands, she summoned the remaining members of the Ashanti government and asked that they go to war. Their refusal spurred Yaa Asantewaa to call the women of her empire to take up arms instead of the cowering men. Her unparalleled bravery and subsequent sacrifice did not go in vain, though. After a brief period of occupation, the newly-formed country of Ghana was the first African nation to gain independence.

World War I stands as one of the most destructive conflicts in human history, proven by the loss of so many lives. Yet it allowed not just for tragedy to arise, but also for brave souls as well.
One such fine example is that of Ecaterina Teodoroiu, a Romanian woman who rose up and fought heroically for her country. Much like other heroines before her, she came from a humble background, as both her parents were farmers living and working in a small Romanian village.
That, however, did not prevent her from completing her studies and preparing herself to become a teacher. The start of the war saw her become a nurse, though. She did not remain one for very long, as the death of her brother and other young men like him affected her deeply. She asked to become a soldier, which was quite unusual for a woman in those times. But with the royal family’s support, who saw her as a symbol to inspire the troops, she was allowed to go to the frontline. Unhappy with being at the back of the battleline, she actively took part in the many firefights of her comrades. Using strong military tactics and even escaping capture, Ecaterina Teodoroiu proved herself to be a worthy soldier indeed. She was promoted to Second Lieutenant and even given her own platoon. Her dying words on the battlefield were: “Forward, men, don't give up, I'm still with you!"

Queen_Mary_of_Romania_2.jpgThe Great War also saw women of noble birth dedicating themselves to others. One such example is Princess Marie of Edinburgh, who acted as Queen consort of Romania. Commonly known as Marie of Romania, she exerted far more influence than even the King himself, becoming one of few royal consorts in history to wield such tremendous power. But she used all that power for good, taking care of her people, making political decisions that benefitted her country, as well as fighting for independence and world recognition. Even though her detractors tried long and hard to ruin her reputation, they could not succeed. In fact, her popularity kept increasing, and is now considered a national symbol of freedom.

Agueda Kahabagan y Iniquinto, which many refer to as Tagalog Joan of Arc, is a woman often shrouded in mystery. Little is known about her, except that she was born in Santa Cruz, the capital of the province of Laguna in the Philippines. Yet is was her unrivaled bravery on the battlefield that has placed her in the annals of history. Often seen wearing a white dress and armed with a rifle and a bolo knife, a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete, she rode first into battle, encouraging her countrymen not to give up in their fight to defend and free their country from enemy forces. Earning the admiration of her superiors, she was the first Filipina to be given the honorary title of “Henerela”.

The Second World War proved to be even more devastating than the first one, and it stands as mankind’s worst conflict ever. Never has such destruction ever been witnessed, bringing human casualties to that of billions. But even in those dark times, the brave women of war refused to give up. Violette Reine Elizabeth Szabo was one of them. After hearing about the death of her husband while leading an attack against the enemy, she joined the British Special Operations Executive to become a field agent. Both fluent in English and French as well as versed in the use of fire weapons, something that her father had taught her, she was able to pass her training and quickly rise through the ranks. It was her charming personality and incredible courage, however, that made her popular with her colleagues. Her first missions into occupied France were not without their hazard, but she always kept her nerve and successfully completed her assigned tasks. Unfortunately, due to a lack of information, she was eventually captured by enemy forces, but even then, she did not surrender so easily. Engaging in a ferocious firefight, it was not until she ran out of ammunition that she was captured. Even in captivity she served as an example for the prisoners who had lost the will to fight. Posthumously, she was awarded with the George Cross, one of the highest honors given by the United Kingdom.


We are now able to better understand what transpired during the chaotic years of World War II thanks to the tireless work of people like Elizabeth "Lee" Miller, a war correspondent who was able to convey the brutality of that conflict through her touching photographs. Disregarding the stern warnings of her family and friends to evacuate and flee to safety, she insisted on covering the events of what would become one of the greatest tragedies of all time. Traveling alongside the U.S. Army, she was able to photograph incredibly poignant moments. From the aftermath of D-Day to the liberation of Paris to the horrors of concentration camps to the children caught in the terrible conflict, Elizabeth "Lee" Miller showed the entire world that war is never the solution. We all bear the responsibility to ensure that our children will never experience such devastation.

Adored and admired by millions, Diana, Princess of Wales, was known throughout the world for her modesty, grace and charity work. When the discovery of AIDS created mass hysteria and panic, Princess Diana was one of the very first people in the world to speak about the disease. She denied the rumors that somehow the people who had contracted AIDS were dangerous; instead, comforting those who had been affected, and encouraging others to follow in her footsteps. This indeed made her a very brave woman. For her, the greatest illness of all was simply not being loved. Above all, she valued kindness and courage, exemplified by her support for The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC). War is one of the worst atrocities ever, claiming numerous lives every single day. Yet even after peace has been established, the consequences of war are still prevalent. One such consequence are landmines, left behind by soldiers long gone. Even in peacetime, they represent a constant threat to the civilian population that is forced to live in fear. Through this organisation, Princess Diana’s ultimate goal was the safe removal of landmines from war-torn areas, and more importantly, a worldwide ban on these devices of killing. Her life was sadly cut short, but it is no doubt that Princess Diana has truly become a Queen in the hearts of people.

Mother Teresa is a name synonymous with everything that is godly upon this world. Better known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa gave up any sort of comfort, choosing instead to dedicate her life to the poor and sick. Upon hearing that a group of children had become trapped inside a front line hospital during the 1982 Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa intervened and requested a temporary cease-fire between the combatants. Aided by Red Cross workers, Mother Teresa disregarded all personal safety and traversed the war zone all the way to the besieged hospital. There, she was able to get the children out safely. Putting her life at risk once more, Mother Teresa embarked on a tour of the countries behind the Iron Curtain. As someone who grew up in a Communist country, I am forever thankful of her altruistic actions. Mother Teresa always put others before her, spreading the word of God even in the middle of a raging war. She is truly the Mother of those who have been abandoned by the world. On September 4th 2016, she was officially canonised.

Acting selflessly, these remarkable fine women should be best remembered for their undying spirit and their will to make a difference, proving that women are just as capable, if not more so, than any man. This list, however, represents only a tiny fraction of all the women who endure the pains of war on a daily basis. Their strength is undeniable proof that light exists even the darkest of places. Let us all do our best to support them, and more importantly, fight for a future where there is no war, only peace.