Posts Tagged ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’

With Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 13 days old, I can’t get Virginia Woolf’s August 1940 essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” out of my mind.

In it, she writes:

Unless we can think peace into existence we — not this one body in this one bed but millions of bodies yet to be born — will lie in the same darkness and hear the same death rattle overhead (173).

As I write this, the Ukrainian people are lying in that same darkness. They are hearing that same death rattle.

One Kyiv woman’s story

This week, I read of a 74-year-old woman who emerged from the basement of her home after 10 days to find everything in sight destroyed and dead bodies lying in the street.

For most of that time, Katerina Oleksiivna had survived without heat, electricity, or water. She had existed on canned vegetables and stale bread while listening to explosions overhead and feeling their reverberations beneath the ground.

A bomb drops. All the windows rattle. The anti-aircraft guns are getting active. Up there on the hill under a net tagged with strips of green and brown stuff to imitate the hues of autumn leaves guns are concealed. Now they all fire at once.

Echoes of Woolf

That could have been Katerina Oleksiivna’s description of her ordeal. But it is not.

Instead, those are some of Woolf’s words written 82 years ago in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.” They recall the fear she experienced during the Second World War as she heard German planes fly over the Sussex countryside. One plane flew so close that she and Leonard were forced to shelter under a tree in their garden at Monk’s House.

It was not Woolf’s first go-round at war. She had already lived through four years of the Great War, listening to bombing from across the English Channel and hiding under a basement kitchen table in Richmond during air raids (D1, 123-4). From 1939 until March 28, 1941, when she committed suicide by walking into the River Ouse, she lived through the trauma and deprivations of a second.

Is the war everywhere? – Katarina Oleksiivna, 74, of Kyiv, Ukraine

Repeating history

As the brave Ukrainian people defend themselves against the Russians, my heart aches. It aches at the memory of my maternal grandparents, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1923, bringing their Ukrainian culture with them and sharing it with me. It aches at the repetition of some of our modern world’s bleakest history. It aches at our failure to spend the last 82 years thinking — and acting — peace into existence, as Woolf wished. And it aches at the thought that we may never do so.

A display at the “People Power Fighting for Peace” exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London in July 2017.

For as Woolf says, war perpetuates itself, rippling infinitely outwards in time and space, unless we stop it by turning our minds and our energy towards creating universal peace.

Thinking peace into existence

For Woolf, that means thinking peace into existence by thinking against the current, by thinking against the nationalism that dictators and autocrats like Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin promote through propaganda and force.

And in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid,” Woolf maintains that the primary requirement for fostering peace among all peoples of our world is the act of artistic creation. It is, she maintains, the antithesis to war’s destruction.

For her, “the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.” Artistic creation helps to make sense of the world, a world that in the midst of war makes little sense at all.

Woolf certainly did her part to think — and write — peace into existence. May each of us do ours as well. #StandWithUkraine

Post-It notes written by visitors became part of the peace symbol display pictured above at the “People Power Fighting for Peace” exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London in July 2017.

Read Full Post »

“Thinking is my fighting,” wrote feminist icon Virginia Woolf in her 1940 essay “Thoughts On Peace in an Air Raid.” That is more powerful than ever today, as we honor and remember another feminist icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away two days ago, on Sept. 18.

Known as Notorious RBG, tributes to the Supreme Court justice continue to pour in from around the world.

May we all be notorious in her honor.



Read Full Post »

Here’s a review of one of my favorite essays by Virginia Woolf.

Read Full Post »

It’s D-Day in Conneaut, Ohio. And as I sit here at my kitchen table under a sun-drenched window, I can hear — and feel — the loud drone of airplanes overhead and the gunfire nearby.

The invasion, complete with a beach landing, explosions in the sand, shots fired by opposing forces and airplanes flying low overhead, started promptly at 3 p.m., right on schedule.

The D-Day reenactment has been staged in Conneaut since 1999. The location was chosen because the township park’s 250-yard-long public beach and adjacent sloping terrain are said to closely resemble Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

As I sit just four blocks away from the battle site and listen to the sounds of make-believe war, I wonder: What was it like for those who actually lived through World War II and experienced the sounds of a real war overhead?

Virginia Woolf described it this way in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940):  “It is a queer experience, lying in the dark and listening to the zoom of a hornet, which may at any moment sting you to death. . .The drone of the planes is now like the sawing of a branch overhead. Round and round it goes, sawing and sawing at a branch directly above the house…A bomb drops. All the windows rattle.”

I could walk down to the park bluff to get closer, to see the “invasion” myself. But it’s easier to imagine the reality here in my kitchen than at the actual site.

From past experience, I know that the crowd of spectators sipping cold drinks and licking ice cream cones makes it difficult to imagine a real battle, where people kill and are killed. And the uniformed volunteers who portray the German and Allied soldiers of June 6, 1944, take so much obvious enjoyment in the weekend’s events that they prevent me from suspending my disbelief in the proceedings.

Last night, for example, we saw a man in full uniform riding through town in an open military Jeep. His posture, his heavy wool uniform on a hot summer afternoon, the jaunty tilt of his cap and the expression on his face as he suavely steered the vintage vehicle, said it all. He was so puffed up with the importance of his imaginary role in the upcoming “battle” that my companion and I turned to each other and laughed. Out loud.

Under the laughter, though, I recalled Virginia Woolf’s statement in Three Guineas (1938) that “wearing pieces of metal, or ribbon, coloured hoods or gowns, is a barbarity which deserves the ridicule which we bestow upon the rites of savages.”

My fear that some of those watching the events today may think that war is exciting, glorious, even fun, also prevents me from attending. I remember that in Three Guineas Woolf recognizes that “war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement.”

And I read with dismay that as part of the event, children will build their own miniature Omaha Beach in the sand. I am not sure what to make of that.

It is true that veterans are recognized and honored at the events of this weekend in our small city. And a few remaining WW II vets in town have been interviewed for a commemorative DVD.

But I remember Woolf’s response to war, and I am forced to stop and think again. I recall the fear she shared in her diaries as she heard — and sometimes watched at close proximity — German planes fly over the Sussex countryside during the second World War. And I recall her plea for peace in “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.”

Those thoughts sound more loudly in my head than the airplanes. Or the gunfire. Or the explosions on the beach. And Woolf says such thoughts are more powerful than all three.

Read Full Post »

thoughts on peace in air raidThoughts on Peace in an Air RaidVirginia Woolf’s WW II essay in which she discusses using her writing to work for peace, will be released by Penguin in the UK on Aug. 27.

Is is a part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. The price of the 128-page volume is £4.99.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: