Mary Grabar

“All’s fair in love and war.”

For men of a certain ideological stripe that’s true.

One of my 80-year-old relatives tells about her experiences as a teenage girl during World War II. Her family was one of those who opposed the imposition of an atheistic communist regime, so had to flee to Austria. The women were left with an uncle and together with the next-door family (left with women only) they combined their efforts and hitched each of their cows to a wagon, and formed a European version of a wagon train.

Whenever a Russian soldier was spotted, the girls and young women hid in ditches, sometimes filled with water. An aunt would sing in Slovenian, “Just stay a little longer, girls,” or “Come on out, girls. It’s safe now.”

The “wagon train” stopped at an inn and a young woman there overheard the inquiries about getting lodging. Her husband was off fighting and she was left alone with two young children in a large house. So she invited the little party to stay with her.

One day, alas, they saw two Russian soldiers walking up the hill towards the house. It was too late. The soldiers demanded that the woman show them what was upstairs. She took her two children with her, thinking that surely with children present--

Rape, of course, is a weapon used by the cowardly, those who don’t fight fair.

My relative recalls the young woman coming backs downstairs and crying about what she would tell her husband.

History tells us about the crimes perpetrated against innocents in times of war, and in that part of the world, most recently of the rapes during Yugoslavia’s civil wars of the 1990s.

The way my relative told this, the possibility of rape was so accepted that strategies were devised to protect those who would be targeted.

What the young Austrian woman was counting on was a code of honor, a code obviously missing with those two Russian soldiers.

But it is a uniquely Western code. Nowhere else in the world do codes of honor apply to women as they do in the West.

At one time codes of honor towards women were disparaged by feminists who took even a door being held open as an affront.

I think of photos of women shoveling and sweeping streets in the Soviet Union. The communist propaganda that I saw during a visit to Prague showed male and female “workers” smiling more giddily than Lawrence Welk’s Bobby and Cissy while they danced atop farm machinery.

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at