God, Country, And

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Enola Gay, Memphis Belle—    names painted on the sides    of bombers in the forties.                                        Each    was a woman’s name chosen    to safeguard the crew.                                        Centuries    earlier, Tristan and the knights    of chivalry crusaded for Isolde    and the Virgin Mary.                                        Such women—    always women—were implored to save    battlers from burial.                                        Years    before Christ, Aristophanes    had a better dream.                                        His Lysistrata    urged women on both sides    to forego sexual intercourse    with husbands until they ended    the Peloponnesian War.                                             It worked. In fact, it confirmed a thesis    of Euripides that beautiful women    could shrink machismo to zero    simply by withholding, even    if forced, the pleasures only they    could give.                               Two playwrights    from Athens thought it should be    staged.                               Generals, profiteers    and cemetery owners disagreed    and had the graves to prove it. Aristophanes called Lysistrata    a comedy because he thought    that people still might laugh    if they observed how women    who postpone pleasure for peace    could show that war was nothing    but pornography.                               At least    he hoped so.                               Instead, he learned    that women were doomed to wait    while soldiers killed and killed    until no one could doubt    they’d killed enough to be    saluted, thanked and mustered out.