This week, with the country’s books pages filled with reviews of books released to coincide with ANZAC Day, we thought we would recommend five books documenting those brave souls that risked their lives and/or liberty resisting war. This is the first of an ongoing series of lists recommending five books on a theme. Upcoming lists include: Five Books that Made (and Keep) Me an Anarchist, by Sam Buchanan, and Five Comics that Changed My Life, by Tim Bollinger.
Ask that Mountain by Dick Scott, Raupo Publishing, $40
Dick Scott’s second book on the campaign of passive resistance at the Taranaki village of Parihaka has been reprinted eight times and can be found in every school library in the country. The book draws on official papers, settler manuscripts and oral histories to give the first complete account of what took place at Parihaka, where the chiefs Te Whiti and Tohu opposed the colonial government in the latter half of the nineteenth century – making one of the world’s first recorded campaigns of passive resistance.
We Will Not Cease by Archibald Baxter
The late co-leader of the Green Party, Rod Donald, paid tribute to Archibald Baxter during a 2004 Parliamentary motion on a tomb for the unknown soldier. Donald’s speech is worth quoting at length: “Baxter was one of 14 conscientious objectors who were forcibly transported to the front line in France where they were subjected to a variety of disciplinary measures, including the barbaric ‘No. 1 field punishment’. Baxter, the father of James K Baxter, wrote his book in London at the beginning of the Second World War, but the first edition was mostly destroyed during the Blitz. When it was republished by Caxton Press in 1968, he wrote in a preface: ‘A greater barbarism than any the human race has known in the past has risen among the nations. In the First World War multitudes of conscript soldiers were buried alive in the mud of France. Villages were also annihilated but the greatest number of casualties were among the conscript troops. In the Second World War the wholesale slaughter of civilians—by high explosives, by firebombing, and finally by atomic weapons—became a matter of course. Reports from the present Vietnam War indicate that 80 percent of the casualties are occurring among civilians. War has at last become wholly indiscriminate. The Military machine has turned against that communal life that is the seedbed of future generations of mankind. The only apparent justification that war ever had was that by destroying some lives, it might clumsily preserve others. But now even that apparent justification is being stripped away. We make war chiefly on civilians and respect for human life seems to have become a thing of the past. … all wars are equally atrocious and no war can be called just.’
An electronic version of We Shall Not Cease is available here.
Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu, by Judith Binney, AUP
This extract from NZ History online gives a taste of this remarkable story: “When the First World War broke out, [Rua Kenana] was accused of sedition because he had pacifist beliefs and opposed conscription of Maori into the armed forces. The government harassed Rua, using liquor laws to arrest him for selling illicit alcohol at Maungapohatu. He refused to attend court, claiming he was busy with a harvest. Later he declined to accompany policemen who came to arrest him.
In April 1916 a large force of heavily armed constables was sent to arrest him. A shot was fired, and in the confusion two Maori, including Rua’s son, were killed. The historian Judith Binney comments that the police later manipulated the evidence and claimed that Maori, planning an ambush, had fired first. Rua and his followers denied this. According to Binney, the “weight of evidence” supports the Maori case. She also suggests that one of the Maori who died might have been executed. The way in which the arrest warrant was executed was later found to be highly questionable, if not illegal.
Rua’s trial in the Supreme Court was one of the longest in New Zealand’s legal history. He was found not guilty of sedition, but guilty of resisting arrest. He was sentenced to one year’s hard labour, followed by 18 months’ imprisonment. The presiding officer, Judge Chapman, commented that Maori needed to learn that the law “reached every corner” of the land. Eight members of the jury later publicly protested the harshness of this sentence.
Till Human Voices Wake By Ian Hamilton, AUP
An account of Ian Hamilton’s experience of being locked up during the Second World War for his Pacifist convictions. But it’s far more than just a prison memoir – Till Human Voices Wake is a clear, and at times angry, explanation of his libertarian socialist beliefs. Hamilton’s analysis of Pakeha culture anticipated Germain Greer’s equally blunt assessment of White Australia and its repressed guilt for its history of environmental and human destruction.
The book inspired a piece of music by Christopher Blake recorded by the NZ Symphony Orchestra in 1986.
And Hamilton has the distinction, according to the Australian National Dictionary, of being the first person to use the phrase “our tongue’s like the bottom of a cocky’s cage” in print. (Perhaps more surprisingly there’s four others listed as using it since.)
Bomber Grounded, Runway Closed by Ciaron O’Reilly, Rose Hill Publishers
What follows is an extract of a review by Lynda Hansen published in Australia’s Green Left Weekly.
On January 1, 1991, [New Zealander] Moana Cole, Susan Frankel, Ciaron O’Reilly and William M. Streit took hammers and disarmed a B-52 bomber and temporarily closed the runway at Griffiss Air Force Base in New York state.
The activists quoted from the scriptures to arresting soldiers: that nations could come together to beat swords into ploughshares rather than prepare for war.
This book chronicles the ANZUS Ploughshares direct disarmament action, intended as part of international resistance to the Gulf War. It also explains the religious philosophy of the Catholic Worker tradition and its community-based existence to serve the poor.
Catholic Worker runs soup kitchens in Los Angeles to serve 1500 people a day. The community is involved in a form of non-violent direct action.
In letters written from Montgomery County Jail, O’Reilly reflects on cell life: the setting of humiliation and vengeance, and unexpected human beauty and warmth. O’Reilly says that jail is about institutional dehumanisation and has little to do with justice or reconciliation and nothing to do with the causes of crime.
There are lighter moments as well, such as the debate between a Syrian and an Afghani on which way is Mecca: east or west? O’Reilly interjects trying to put the Galileo position — that the world is round and Mecca is to be found in both directions.
For more on New Zealanders who have risked life or liberty resisting war take a look at: ‘Lest we forget: remembering peacemakers on ANZAC Day.’