Friday, April 22, 2011

What Keith Douglas can tell us this Anzac Day

[This post is a sort of follow-up to last year's What Kendrick Smithyman can tell us about Anzac Day...]

Keith Douglas is easily the greatest war poet in the English language, but you won't find anyone quoting his work at the ceremonies that New Zealand and other English-speaking nations hold to remember the wars of the twentieth century. Nor will you find Douglas' work in any of the self-consciously worthy anthologies of war poetry which are sold at museum gift shops and at charity events for veterans' associations.

If they were asked to name a war poet, most members of the public, in Britain and Australia as well as New Zealand, would probably cite Rupert Brooke, the handsome young gentleman who wrote longingly of the pleasant fields of England from an overstuffed troopship, or Wilfred Owen, who yoked the imagery of modern war to the pastoral rhythms of the Romantics.

Brooke was an execrable writer; Owen was a good writer who didn't live long enough to find the right way of expressing terrible twentieth century novelties like machine guns and mustard gas. Douglas, who died at the age of only twenty-four shortly after the D Day landings in Normandy, left behind not sentimental scribblings or promising apprentice work but a set of astonishingly mature poems. Douglas' work has won critical acclaim, as well as the acclaim of other poets - Ted Hughes saw him as a model, and Geoffrey Hill, a strong candidate for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, has written reverently of him - but it has never enjoyed a substantial popular audience.

It is not hard to see why Douglas' poetry remains unpopular with the public, and why it never gets aired on Anzac or VE Day. Where Brooke and Owen write from the perspective of the victims of war, and indeed often impersonate these victims, Douglas writes unapologetically about the experience of killing. One of Douglas' best-known poems is called 'How to Kill':

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost...

Douglas grew up surrounded by the legends and crippled veterans of World War One, and with the expectation that he would face 'the test' of some new conflagration. At Oxford in the late '30s he combined membership of the Officer Training Corps with roles in amateur theatrical productions and appearances at poetry readings. Many of the poems Douglas wrote at Oxford look forward to the coming war. In a piece called 'Danse Macabre', Douglas imagines the bodies of the maimed and dying victims of the next war magically appearing amidst a group of elegant dancers on an Oxford stage; in another poem he mocks the snobbish, purblind aristocratic army officers he encounters, and imagines their bewildered deaths in the coming apocalypse. After World War Two finally broke out Douglas was assigned to a tank group, but when his group was sent to North Africa he found himself separated from them, and consigned to a safe desk job in Cairo. Angry at this fate, the young man spent much of his time drinking and carousing. He was soon writing home to his mentor, the pro-Hitler poet and cricket writer Edmond Blunden, to report that he had run over a native Egyptian on one of Cairo's chaotic roads. The 'worst thing' about the incident was 'the smell', Douglas jokily confided.

In a poem called 'Cairo Jag' Douglas contrasts the city, with its drinking houses and brothels and bored expatriates, with the brutally simplified world of the desert battlefields to its west:

Shall I get drunk or cut myself a piece of cake,
a pasty Syrian with a few words of English
or the Turk who says she is a princess--she dances
apparently by levitation? Or Marcelle, Parisienne
always preoccupied with her dull dead lover:
she has all the photographs and his letters
tied in a bundle and stamped Decede in mauve ink.
All this takes place in a stink of jasmin...

there are the streets dedicated to sleep
stenches and the sour smells, the sour cries
do not disturb their application to slumber
all day, scattered on the pavement like rags
afflicted with fatalism and hashish...

But by a day's travelling you reach a new world
the vegetation is of iron
dead tanks, gun barrels split like celery
the metal brambles have no flowers or berries
and there are all sorts of manure, you can imagine
the dead themselves, their boots, clothes and possessions
clinging to the ground, a man with no head
has a packet of chocolate and a souvenir of Tripoli.

Douglas eventually deserted his desk job, commandeered a truck, and drove into the desert to rejoin his old tank unit. He seems to have been an almost crazily brave soldier: one former comrade remembered how much the young officer enjoyed jumping out of his tank, running towards enemy vehicles, and lobbing a grenade or two down their turrets.

When Douglas was wounded, he used his short stay in hospital to knock off Alamein to Zem Zem, a prose account of the North African campaign which would eventually be translated into Hebrew and used as a training text by the Israeli Defence Force. Parts of Douglas' memoir have an almost celebratory quality: when he boasts, for instance, that the messages his tank group sent through its primitive intercom system 'resembled the lines of a wildly avant-garde group of poets' we are reminded of the joyous aesthetic of war promoted by Marinetti and his Italian Futurists. Douglas had enjoyed a reputation as an artist as well as a poet at Oxford, and he illustrated Alamein to Zem Zem himself.
Douglas' attitude towards war may have changed after he returned from North Africa to Britain. Literary fame had suddenly become a possibility: his work had been published in important periodicals, and TS Eliot was helping him assemble a book of his poems.

According to some commentators, Douglas was also unhappy with the idea that the spontaneous heroics he had shown in the deserts of North Africa might have been misinterpreted by his comrades and superiors. Douglas had little interest in British nationalism, or the struggle against fascism, or military discipline. He had entered the battlefield out of curiousity and a desire to test himself; once he had learnt about war and proved his courage he may not have been sure whether he wanted to fight again.

In some of the poems he wrote while he trained for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, Douglas expresses a weariness with army life, and a frustration at not being able to give more time to literature. In a poem which recalls Rimbaud's famous boasts about his unparalleled literary genius, Douglas claims that he could establish himself as the equal of any of the great writers of the past, if only he did not face the prospect of imminent death. Douglas asks future generations to remember that 'time, time was all I lacked'.

In his last, unfinished poem, Douglas looks forward to the D Day landings with a strange mixture of dread and exultation. Using an image that recalls his Oxford days, he describes the hundreds of thousands of soldiers about to embark for Normandy as 'actors waiting in the wings of Europe'. Douglas feels like he is about to smash through a dark pane of glass; he fears that he will find a 'shadow...or wraith' on the other side. In the last lines of his poem, though, he confesses that 'There is an excitement/ In seeing our ghosts wandering'.

A couple of days after coming ashore at Normandy Douglas was moving inland with his comrades through country which had been mostly cleared of the enemy. Standing in the open air with a couple of comrades, Douglas suddenly began shaking and crying. Shortly after recovering from this uncharacteristic attack of anxiety the poet collapsed. A sliver of shrapnel from a distant explosion had pierced his heart and killed him instantly, without leaving a wound.

I thought of Keith Douglas today, after reading a post at Kiwipolitico about the raid by New Zealand troops on an insurgent base near the border of Afghanistan's Bamiyan province. The operation, which was supported by American aircraft, killed nine insurgents and eight civilians. John Key has repeatedly claimed that New Zealand troops are stationed in Bamiyan not to fight but to assist in the 'training and mentoring' of Afghan security forces. As Kiwipolitico notes, though, the recent raid was an elaborately premeditated act of revenge:

[T]he point of the exercise was threefold: to exact utu on those who killed a NZ soldier; to provide a deterrent for other such directed attacks against NZDF personnel in Bamiyan province; and to send the message to the Taliban in neighbouring Baghlan province (from where the attack on Lt. O’Donnell’s patrol was organised and carried out) that Bamiyan is off-limits. The raid was personal...the raid against Lt. O’Donnell’s killers was led by the SAS in concert with US troops and air cover...

This is not the first time that Kiwi troops have been complicit in the killing of civilians in Afghanistan. During the Western invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 2001 our SAS troops were deployed as target-spotters for American bombers. It is generally estimated that at least five thousand civilians were killed by air raids during the invasion of Afghanistan; thousands more have of course died in bombing raids during the guerrilla war which has followed the invasion. New Zealand troops were also implicated in the mass execution of prisoners of war by the pro-American Northern Alliance during the invasion of Afghanistan. An SAS unit is supposed to have handed prisoners over to the Northern Alliance warlord General Dostum, who then threw them into sealed metal containers, where they soon suffocated.

It is not only in Afghanistan where New Zealand forces have been linked to human rights abuses in recent times. Kiwi troops and cops played an important role in the Australian-organised coup which removed East Timor's elected government in the middle of 2006. Anzac forces landed in Timor after weeks of increasingly violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. The Anzacs claimed they had arrived to bring calm, but Alkatiri claimed that John Howard's government was actually responsible for stirring up the violence. Alkatiri had long been unpopular in Canberra because of his tough stance in negotiations over disputed oil fields in the Timor Gap. Howard and Alkatiri's opponents claimed that the Prime Minister decided to resign from office in the interests of the nation shortly after the arrival of Anzac troops, but Alkatiri claimed that he signed a resignation letter only after a gun was held to his head.

In the aftermath of Alkatiri's ouster, Australian and Kiwi troops clashed repeatedly and violently with Timorese civilians. In February 2007 Australian and New Zealand troops launched a spectacular raid on a refugee camp which housed a hardcore group of supporters of Alkatiri. After a tank smashed through the camp fence, Anzac troops ran through the area, firing live ammunition. After two civilians were killed rioters took to the East Timorese capital of Dili in protest, attacking the Australian embassy and stoning vehicles driven by Aussies and Kiwis (anti-Anzac riots broke out again in August 2007). Like the recent raid in Afghanistan, the assault on the refugee camp in East Timor was an act of utu: Anzac forces had been the target darts fired from the vicinity of the camp, and they wanted to teach the residents of the place a lesson. Why is the recent raid in Afghanistan being analysed and argued about on the blogosphere, rather than in New Zealand's mass circulation media and in parliament, and why do so few Kiwis know about the allegations of human rights abuses by troops and cops operating in their name in Afghanistan and East Timor? Why doesn't our Prime Minister even admit that we are fighting a war in Afghanistan, rather than taking part in some sort of glorified training exercise?

As bizarre as it may seem, many contemporary New Zealanders simply cannot believe that their army would do anything so unpleasant as actually kill other human beings, let alone defenceless innocent human beings. Forty years ago, New Zealanders were all too aware about what their troops were doing in Vietnam. Part of the population hated the war against the Viet Cong, and took to the streets; another part vigorously defended the conflict. Nobody kidded themselves that Kiwi troops were mucking about doing 'training and mentoring' exercises with the South Vietnamese a safe distance from the war zone.

Since the Lange-led Labour government banned nuclear ships from our waters in 1985, New Zealanders have begun to perceive their country's foreign policy and its armed forces in a new and peculiar way. Despite the fact that Lange maintained relatively warm links with America, refused to close the US air base in Harewood and spy base in Blenheim, and boosted the country's military budget, many Kiwis began to talk about their country as 'the Switzerland of the South Pacific', an island of enlightened neutrality in a conflict-ridden world. The National Party soon adapted to the new mood, and endorsed the nuclear free policy. Later, both National and Labour discovered that the best way to sell a foreign military deployment to the public was to present it not as an old-fashioned armed expedition where guns got fired and people fell down dead, but as an exercise in 'peacekeeping' or 'reconstruction', or some other fine-sounding but rather vague activity.

In the twenty-first century, New Zealanders display a schizophrenic attitude to the activities of their armed forces overseas. As we were roped into the post-9/11 'War on Terror' our military was deployed in more and more locations, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Solomons to East Timor. Partly because of the duplicity of our leaders and partly because of the delusions we have acquired since the Lange era, we refused to accept that our troops were going to war. We were happy, though, to celebrate when one of our soldiers was given a Victoria Cross for shooting a large number of people one dark night in Afghanistan. Willie Apiata could be an old-fashioned war hero and a touchy-feely peacekeeper in the space of a single newspaper editorial or politician's speech.

If New Zealanders are to have a serious discussion about their military's role in Afghanistan and other conflict zones, then they need to wake up to the reality of what Apiata and his mates do for a living. Just like Keith Douglas, the men of the SAS are killing machines. Enormous amounts of money and materiel are expended teaching them how to kill, and when the opportunity has presented itself they have killed with alactrity in Afghanistan. We need a national debate on whether Apiata and his mates should be killing Afghans or not. John Key is very keen to avoid this sort of honest argument, because he knows that he can make no credible defence of the American-led recolonisation of Afghanistan and the endless war this recolonisation has created. Key wants to hide behind waffle like 'mentoring and training' and 'peacekeeping forces' because on this issue waffle is all he has.

With their often unpleasant honesty about what soldiers do on battlefields, Keith Douglas' poems are a corrective to the tendency of politicians and bad poets to waffle about war. If only 'How to Kill' and Douglas' other great poems could be read aloud at dawn services this Anzac Day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

By Derek Cheng 3:42 PM Friday Apr 22, 2011 Share

Fresh questions are being raised about New Zealand's elite SAS soldiers and their role in detaining prisoners and then handing them on to other forces who may have tortured them.

Metro magazine, published tomorrow, reveals three incidents - one in 2002 and two in 2010 - when the SAS took prisoners and handed them to other forces.

In May 2002 the SAS led a mission in the village of Bande Timur, 80km west of Kandahar.

According to Metro, it resulted in the deaths of at least three people, including a small child, and the arrest and torture of many others after the SAS handed 55 prisoners over to US forces.

"They beat us very badly in prison," one of the prisoners, Abdul Wahid, told Metro.

"They cut off our hair, and they shaved our beards and moustaches."

Others said they were bound and hooded while dogs rushed at them in a threatening manner, paraded naked in front of Americans, and one was said to have been beaten so severely that he couldn't move his hands or legs and ended up disabled and in a wheelchair.

The men were later released without charge.

5:08 am  
Anonymous George said...

A few notes of my own which seem apposite, borrowed from Twitter.

If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war" Jim Nachtwey.

But I'm not sure its aim is to negate humanity. Instead: to mark bodies & produce survivors. This puts photography in an unsteady place.

The productive effects of war are not piles of bodies, but the losses and pain inscribed on those who loved them.

[War is] (revenge against the living). Open to counterinterpretations.

Idle speculation. I know little about war or its effects, and nothing firsthand.

10:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how can a psycho be a great poet?

12:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thunderbolt steers all things.

8:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ie, 'war is inevitable as humanity'

we are a violent species.

why deny it?

8:07 pm  
Blogger ewingsc said...

'ie, 'war is inevitable as humanity'

we are a violent species.

Why deny it?'

Well, how 'bout choice ?

How bout 'consequences'

How about 'The Ability Of Other Countries To Involve You In Their Affairs'?

We all come from the violence of history - indeed we may all be here because of it.

But -none- of the people I know seek to climb their neighbour's fence in the night with a knife in their teeth.

While people are capable of a wide range of behaviours

billions of people continuously live and die their lives without physically or directly harming other people

Asinine statements like 'humans will always kill each other'

just aren't that helpful.

4:50 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

how can a psycho be a great poet?

A psycho? Pound is also numbered as one of the greatest of poets but he was pro fascist.

Douglas (I agree with Maps) was one of the greatest poets to have lived) but he was not psycho. He was deteched, he was like many other young men in war. Yes he liked war and battle. Some men do. He was strangely (near) a-political. He was suspicious of writing like Wilfrid Owen [of the anti-war poems of WWI] (in my opinion Owen wrote some great poems about the WWI as did Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon, a lot of this is described very well by Pat Barker in some of her "factional" novels written about that time). Owen's poems are powerful. But Douglas knew no-one would change. The war took place. Men continued to kill each other.

Brooke didn't take part in any fighting he died in in hospital after getting an infection which was fatal.

My feeling is that "How to Kill" and "Forget me Not" (It has a German title) for example is beautifully honest. He was not much more than 20 when he died.

No, people of all kinds of "politics" write poetry - good or bad.

10:57 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This post is courageous Maps. It is time the whole illegal and barbaric Iraq-Afghanistan invasion was re-examined. They have been killing and bombing there for longer than WWII. Civilians are deliberately targeted as in Vietnam and Korea. These wars are also always racist in nature.

I see ANZAC Day as hypocrisy. I really hate these hypocritical ceremonies.

I never support them. I never buy poppies. I refuse to support warmongers. The RSA are pro war.

I hate these bastards such as the NZ SAS - I see them as de facto murderers. (O.k. I can see how young men are attracted to adventure etc but this is getting beyond a joke). I protested the SAS going to Afghanistan outside the Papakura military camp - Minto was there.

We got strong support from local people of all nationalities including Maori working class.

People were not fooled about Vietnam and, yes, they shouldn't be fooled about Afghanistan, Iraq, or Indonesia. Unless we mourn civilians and soldiers of "both sides" who died in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan etc and those who died in the NZ Wars these ANZAC DAY farces are always only a way to perpetuate the rhetoric of war and murder.

11:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anti-troop assholes. My father told me of the same stories when he arrived back from the Nam. Getting spit on, bricks being thrown.

I think if you spit on a vet, they should bayonet your sorry carcass right there.

Soldiers - they deserve RESPECT...and much more. God Bless all of them!

12:53 am  
Anonymous true patriot said...

Something about Vietnam makes me picture the still active players now as they were then.

I think I would be content to wave my souvenir Viet Cong flag in you face and tell you my Dad I helped kill a lot of your communist buddies by flying our infantry to where they could do the most good wiping out NVAs

Or tell you assholes that Americans can vote against liberals without fear of punishment. In other words, it already sucks to be this guy; the socialist revolution for him never came and George W. Bush is still a free man.

12:54 am  
Anonymous herb said...

Chris Trotter supported the invasion of he tries to weasel out of this him...

and there are religious fanatics too

5:15 pm  
Anonymous Ryan Bodman said...

Thanks for the insightful post Maps. A thought; I wonder whether the end of Compulsory Military Training in 1972 can also be understood as having played a role in the public's disconnect from the actions of the armed forces. It was from 1970-72 when the largest anti-vietnam actions were taking place.

I recall Chomksy making this argument in the context of the US, suggesting that the abolition of conscription led to the decline in the peace movement. His rationale, if I recall corectly, was that a professional army removes the threat of conflict from the population.

Just to be clear though, I'm not suggesting a return to CMT - haha

4:43 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Maps - thank you! Douglas is a wonderful uncovery for me.
I am not a pacifist (there are times when humans *must* fight an oppressor/oppressors) but I am leery of professional military people - not least, because they must do what their political masters (word used deliberately) decree...or go on the rampage, taking their power over civilians as a warrant to do whatever their *military* masters (word used deliberately) decree...e! Kia ora, Fiji!

So - what can we do?
In my whanau, we know our histories, and most of us are competent with weaponry. But a citizen-army isnt a really good idea either-

so, what can we do? (I ask this as an honest question.)

7:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In France, the latest IFOP/Paris Match/Europe 1 poll gives Marine Le Pen, age 42 --
the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the new president of the Front National
(FN, or National Front) -- 36 pct of the working-class vote in the first round of
the 2012 French presidential election, versus Dominique Strauss-Kahn (17 %),
Sarkozy (15 %), Martine Aubry (16 %), etc. (source, Le Monde: "Marine Le Pen,
candidate préférée des ouvriers," April 24, 2011)

Worse yet, Robert Ménard, former head of Reporters sans frontières and former
anarchist and Troskyist, considers that the FN says things that makes good sense
and that people should stop demonizing the FN.

Welcome to the 1930s -- red shits (sorry, Freudian lapsus; should read "shirts")
meeting brown ones...

8:59 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Ryan Bodman said...

...I wonder whether the end of Compulsory Military Training in 1972 can also be understood as having played a role in the public's disconnect from the actions of the armed forces. It was from 1970-72 when the largest anti-vietnam actions were taking place.

... "

There was no compulsory military training, or draft, here in NZ. (There was in Australia). What happened was that the Government called young men up by their birthday (it was a random selection) and these were put into training. Now they were then allowed to volunteer for military service. This meant that Holyoake (who I think was not keen on NZ military involvement but like most PMs here, he was well up inside the US's arsehole they all still are)) could have his shit-cake and eat it).

The main push was simply that NZ was involved. Protestors knew this and we also knew all about the Vietnam war. The history from French occupation etc and the atrocities and so on. Protest was often quite violent, and bombs were even set off at military reciruiting stations, Shadbolt was always getting beaten up by the cops and so on. As people realised generally what a really stupid and barbaric war we were involved in the numbers protesting increased exponentially until huge numbers of people who would not ordinarily protest were anti the Vietnam war.

Chomsky's theory seems rather weak. I have never been impressed by him. He probably never did any real labouring work. Al talk and no do I hazard.

There were many Australians who had come here (I met quite a few) to avoid the draft. In Australia they drafted young men into the army.

10:01 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

In some ways New Zealand involvement in overseas wars has always been more insidious and cowardly than that of other countries. It continues to be so.

(There is no fight for freedom - no one does clichaic crap like that.)

They relied on volunteers from those "called up" and from within the army and the territorials.

Some tried to join the territorials in the 70s to "work from within". Not to fight for freedom!

(Others I knew thought about joining the North Vietnamese Army.)

10:21 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Keri,

I agree that the left has not really provided any sort of alternative to the armed forces it criticises. It has also missed some of the contradictory and partly-progressive aspects of our existing armed forces - their bilculturalism (is there any public institution in the country that is one tenth as bicultural as the army?), for instance, and their collectivism. This stuff would certainly be worth a post and discussion. I'll have to think of something coherent to say!

Hi Richard,

I think Ryan is referring not to compulsory training introduced specially to cater for the needs of the Vietnam War, but rather to the watered-down form of wartime conscription adopted in the late forties, under which young men did a few weeks' basic training and remained 'on call' for a few years afterwards.

Geoff Fisher, whom you may remember from our anti-war group - he was the bloke who had converted to Islam after spending time in Iran - was sent to jail in the sixties for refusing his dose of compulsory service in protest at the Vietnam War. In his autobiographical book Long Loop Home, Peter Wells wrote of the unpleasant induction which awaited young men who were called up for compulsory training, and of his decision to escape the training by telling the military that he was gay. Dave Bedggood once posted a comment here about doing compulsory training in the late fifties: he might share some more memories with us, if he's reading this thread.

11:05 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

To be totally opposed to all military at this stage in history would be naive. As indicated by Keri and Maps it is a complex issue.

The problem is, amongst other things, with the rhetoric etc

We are all part of this.

Re the "conscription" etc maybe the absence of the threat of being forced into an army is a factor in motivating or not motivating protest.

'Long Loop Home' by Wells. I haven't seen it. Is he worth reading? Interesting peoples' different experiences of those times. It certainly wasn't as urgent as in Australia or of course the US where indeed it took a lot of courage to burn one's draft card.

Dave Bedggood is a great battler. (Best term!?)

8:35 pm  
Anonymous Ryan Bodman said...

Elsie Locke's Peace People offers brief coverage of the oppisition to the CMT in the early 1970s. Though opposition to CMT was old news in NZ, the training being introduced for the first time in 1911. I wrote a paper on a group called the Passive Resisters' Union who, linked with the Red Feds, caused all sorts of problems to the projects implementation. Paper can be found here:

5:39 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Ryan Bodman said...

Elsie Locke's Peace People offers brief coverage of the oppisition to the CMT in the early 1970s. Though opposition to CMT was old news in NZ, the training being introduced for the first time in 1911. I wrote a paper on a group called the Passive Resisters' Union who, linked with the Red Feds, caused all sorts of problems to the projects "

I read your thesis or paper: it is brilliant! And heartening.

Had such a movement widened and deepened, indeed it had spread to Australia; the import is we may have, by refusing military action, by people refusing such military involvement throughout the world, we may have avoided at least two terrible wars.

The point about the PYM is pretty good. I was in the PYM myself. It was good, but from your paper possibly not as well organized as the PRU.
When I was a part of it (this was 1969-71 or so), membership was growing spectacularly but the wasn't sufficiently insightful and or lacked the creative leadership to continue to build it.
Yes there were a lot of creative actions, marches and happenings etc and much debate between the PYM and the "hippies" and "Resistance" (they were in Queen Street who were more or less just pro peace and were more "hippies" than we who were workers (I worked at the Railways or the Freezing works, in fact where I flatted in Ponsonby, I was one of the very few who got up at about 6 am every morning to go to work in Otahuhu! I believed then that one should be productive worker. In a complex way I still do.) Or some were: and inside the PYM there were (naturally) disputes and so on, but also camraderie and humour and much agreement and fun, while it was serious movement, as was said of the PRU.

Ideas from history, such as the PRU could have helped us.

1:16 am  
Blogger Richard said...

One problem was there was a rejection of "theory" versus "action". (Theory and practice need to work together.) Bill Lee pushed this idea (though not completely) Bill Lee was a school friend of mine who I played chess with about 1960 or so as was Barry Lee. Barry Lee tried to subvert the police by distributing anti-war and other propaganda (the CP's 'The People's Voice' amongst the police. He was sacked of course. Bill Lee organized or helped to organise a big and successful strike at the Auckland Railway workshops (to improve Apprenticiship conditions) before I got there.

Later they tried to get him for sedition or plotting dangerous actions but a very good lawyer (Shenkin I think he was) showed that having an article about how to make a Molotov coctail could be in any house!

He was / is a really nice fellow (I always got on well with him...but in those days he had a lot of charisma and so on enjoyed his drop. Those were heady days! But for many reasons the PYM organizers etc failed to keep the momentum. (But a lot was achieved by direct action, and indeed "Civil Disobedience').

Tim Shadbolt was NOT a member of the PYM he acted more or less on his own (such as Brunton got this completely wrong in the poetry book 'The Big Smoke' of the 60s and in his own account which is otherwise good). Shadbolt had a huge power for giving speeches and organizing small (but often quite spectacular and even dangerous) events and actions, which were good. The PYM officially disapproved but no one ever disliked Shadbolt. His oratorical powers were huge. He drew massive crowds with his great speeches, his good looks and charm, his humour and knowledge.

Others, such as Dick Fowler, a friend of mine at the time, & one of the initiators of the PYM, also gave a speeches at Albert Park: once he gave, from memory and 'off the cuff', a two hour explication of the entire history of the Vietnam and the war going back to before the 1900s!

But you could write a book on the PRU movement and add to (and deepen) that literature about war and protest and pacifism. Pacifism not as a weak, or a waffly, idea: but as a movement of courage and conscience. The young men and others who fought the Compulsory Military Training had real courage and clearly were inspired by socialism and such as Thoreau. NZ history has a lot of depth we often miss. Keep up this good work

1:17 am  

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