Saturday, February 7, 2009

A NZ Pacifist Tradition

Great programme on the New Zealand pacifist tradition, on Chris Laidlaw's Sunday Morning show on Radio NZ National last Sunday morning. It was Part One of a series on "Conscientious Objectors" and Part Two airs tomorrow, 8 February 2009 at 11.05 am.

Last week's instalment (1 February 2009) was called "A Pack of Hoons: Conscientious Objectors in New Zealand History" and there is an audio archive on the Radio New Zealand web page.

David Grant, NZ's foremost authority on conscientious objection in New Zealand, and author of three books on that topic, talked about his most recent work Field Punishment No. 1 published recently by Steele Roberts, and revealed some of the barbaric treatment of Kiwi conscientious objectors in the First World War.

Grant also wrote Out in the Cold - a study of the NZ "conchies" of World War II (Reed Methuen 1986). This book is a treasured item on my family's shelves, as our dad was one of those brave men who because of his moral convictions, refused to fight in the war. He was imprisoned for the duration and his civil rights were not returned to him for many years after the war, as he was considered a subversive. Here's link to a web site honouring the memory of the peacemakers and their families.

Many but by no means all of the conscientious objectors did so because of religious belief, and David Grant has also written a history of the NZ Christian Pacifist society.

I was lucky enough to grow up in the company of many of Dad's friends and associates from "[prison] camp" days, and what a wonderful variety of 'beliefs' they represented - communists, free thinkers, humanists and Christians too, with that pacifism in common, and that belief that conflict should be able to be solved without violence.

Also speaking last week was John Baxter, grandson of Archibald Baxter who wrote the New Zealand classic memoir We Will Not Cease about his experiences as an objector in the First War. The pacifist tradition is strong in the Baxter family - several of the next generation of Baxters were conchies in the second war. It was great to hear John pay tribute to the strength and example of his grandmother Millicent Baxter and acknowledge her role in the family's antiwar activity. Cape Catley reissued Millicent and Archibald's books, and they were reviewed in the NZ Listener here.

Mention of the pacificist tradition in New Zealand is never made without acknowledging the great Maori prophets who espoused peaceful protest. One of my heroes in particular is Te Whiti o Rongomai of Parihaka.


Mary McCallum said...

Another interesting post. An area of our history I know little about - so thank you! How brave these people were to stand up against prevailing beliefs and expectations. Astonishing stuff. You must be very proud of your Dad.

Aspiring Writer said...

I also found this post interesting. I did a bit of research on Pacifism a few years back. It made me quite upset to learn how pacifists were treated. Recognised some of the books. REally interesting! Yes, you must be very proud of your Dad.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Thanks Mary, and Hello Aspiring Writer - yes, I am very proud of my Dad. Over the years I've only grown in the sense of how lucky I have been to have such a kind father and a wonderful role model.