17 April 2008

The pope, Bush, and the "Battle hymn"

From the Institute for Public Accuracy

After the Pope and President George W. Bush spoke at the White House this morning, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was played and broadcast on major U.S. networks. The lyrics were written by Julia Ward Howe, who would later write the first Mother's Day Proclamation, a call for peace.

VALARIE ZIEGLER, author of Diva Julia: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward Howe, said today:

"It's fascinating to add the papal visit to the list of 'Battle Hymn' performances. ... Howe was absolutely committed to the Civil War. Inspired by 'John Brown's Body,' she wrote 'Battle Hymn' -- an incredible theological document and also a stirring
call to arms -- so that people would devote themselves even to the last measure to get rid of slavery.

"But after the Civil War, she was repelled by wars between nations, like the Franco-Prussian War. Peace and women's rights became central to her. She began thinking about what might be possible for women to do on behalf of humanity. In 1870 she wrote the first Mother's Day Proclamation, an impassioned call for peace.
[See: http://www.codepink4peace.org/article.php?id=217]

"Howe held that women were inherently more loving and nurturing than men, particularly if they were transformed by motherhood. This notion was propelled by women's clubs across the U.S. at the time, which were dedicated to pacifism and women's suffrage.

"Throughout her life, Howe contended with her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, who did not want her to have a public life. One line in 'The Battle Hymn' -- 'glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me' -- may be a reference to a novel about a hermaphrodite that Howe had written to examine the role of gender in limiting people."

Ziegler is professor of religious studies at DePauw University in Indiana.

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