History · Jan. 2019 Posts

“A Whole World is Hidden from Us”

I’ve been thinking about the term “perspective” lately. It’s a loaded term. According to the online Mirriam-Webster dictionary one definition is, “The interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed.” That sounds a bit like word salad to me, so I looked it up in the Mirriam-Webster ELEMENTARY dictionary which says, “The ability to understand what is important and what isn’t.” Interesting.

I have always associated the word “perspective” with “narrative” as it seems to me that controlling a narrative (personal, cultural, historical, etc) often means controlling the perspective it’s told from as well; a narrative being what is typically told and perspective being how it’s told.

So what got me thinking about this? Namely, an oral history of WWII from the perspective of the women who fought on the front lines — “The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in WWII” by Svetlana Alexievich. In it, Alexievich interviews Soviet women who served on the Eastern Front. Before she wrote this book, however, she questioned why another book about war should be written —

“There have been a thousand wars — small and big, known and unknown. And still more has been written about them. But . . . it was men writing about men — that much was clear at once. Everything we know about war we know with “a man’s voice.” We are all captives of “men’s” notions and “men’s” sense of war. Men’s words. Women are silent. . . . Women’s war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words. There are no heroes and incredible feats, there are simply people who are busy doing inhumanly human things. . . . But why? I asked myself more than once. Why having stood up for and held their own place in a once absolutely male world, have women not stood up for their history? Their words and feelings? They did not believe themselves. A whole world is hidden from us. Their war remains unknown . . .”

I highly recommend reading it. Alexievich’s form of writing is, in my opinion, one of the purist forms of journalism/history I’ve ever read. HOWEVER, keep in mind that some of the interviews are haunting, visceral, brutally honest depictions of warfare from one of the most horrific wars in history — all described by women who were encouraged to speak for themselves as opposed to parroting the national narrative or what their husbands told them to speak.

*Commander Marina Raskova, a famous pilot and navigator is pictured above.

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