Friday, 6 November 2015

The Origins of Archibald Baxter’s Pacifism - part one

Over the past couple of months I have been working on an article provisionally titled 'The Origins of Archibald Baxter's Pacifism'. It's going to cover the period between the Boer war (1899 - 1902) and 1916 (conscription), with a focus on the young Archibald Baxter and the Otago region. There will be three main sections:

  • 1899 - 1902: Alfred Richard Barclay and the Boer war
  • Keir Hardie's visit to New Zealand in 1908
  • Compulsory Military Training and the Passive Resister's Union (1912) 

I’m hoping to have this article up to a publishable standard by early next year, but until then here is a draft version of the first part on A R Barclay and the Boer war. This is just a blog, so I can theoretically say anything I want, but with this sort of thing I strive for factual accuracy. If anyone reading this can spot a mistake, or would like to make any comment at all, please leave a comment or email me.       

The Origins of Archibald Baxter’s Pacifism

PART ONE: Alfred Richard Barclay and the Boer war

Archibald Baxter’s We Will Not Cease is rightly famous as an incredibly powerful pacifist statement. Of the fourteen conscientious objectors who were forced on board the troopship Waitemata in 1917 and taken to the trenches, Baxter is the only one who wrote a memoir. Out of the thousands of New Zealanders who resisted the pressures of the hegemonic pro – war forces in the years between 1914 and 1918, Baxter was one of a small handful who actually experienced the horrors and brutality of the trenches in Europe.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Anzac Day and the Politics of Forgetting

This is the full text of a speech I gave recently for the International Socialist Organisation in Wellington and Dunedin. For a shorter version of the speech, go to the ISO website:

This year New Zealand and Australia commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. One hundred years ago thousands of Allied troops invaded what was then the Ottoman Empire on April 25th 1915. The ensuing eight month battle was a grim and bloody affair fought within a tiny section of the Mediterranean coastline. Casualties were heavy on both sides, with the number of Turkish / Arab deaths being by far the highest. It was the first major battle the newly christened 'Anzac' soldiers had been involved in, and the large number of deaths had a profound impact upon the people of New Zealand and Australia. The following years of battle took an even heavier toll, but this first shock assumed a sort of mythic status, and now the date of April 25th is the focus of WW1 commemoration in New Zealand and Australia.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Links Update - war profiteering, a potential peace initiative, Archibald Baxter Memorial Trust

A few months ago I received an email from Stuart Moriarty - Patten, with a link to his article about War profiteering in the Gisborne Herald. I should have put up a link then, but never actually did. I noticed that the same article got reprinted in the 'No Glory' website here: 

World Military Expenditure

I’ve been studying the SIPRI military expenditure database quite closely, trying to get my head around the statistics to do with world totals. The first challenge is the sheer size of the data: billions and trillions of $US. According to the latest SIPRI factsheet (April, 2015), world military expenditure in 2014 was $1776 billion. If you look at the raw spreadsheet data, you get a more exact figure of

$1776.15478538343 (billion)

That’s this number: $1776154785383.43

Sunday, 19 July 2015

New Zealand’s Military Expenditure

A few weeks ago Bryce Edwards wrote an interesting column called ‘New Zealand’s Military future[i]’. He provided links to numerous recent articles which discussed the current government’s Defence Review, and the question of how much New Zealand should spend on its military. The most prominent commentators Edwards linked to were Chris Trotter and Karl du Fresne, both of whom argued that New Zealand should seriously consider increasing its spending on “defence”.

I’m going to declare my cards very clearly before going any further: I think that increasing New Zealand’s “defence” spending is both wrong and absurd, and I agree with commentators like Bob Jones and Richard Jackson that New Zealand’s “defence” budget should be zero dollars. I think that a much better and more historically appropriate term for “defence spending” would be “offence spending”. But for the purposes of this blog article I am going to strive to put my ideological position to one side. I will use the neutral term “military spending”, and I will refrain from making any comments about imperialism, nationalism, how nasty and dangerous China might be in the future, and so on.

Instead, I will focus very narrowly on some claims both du Fresne and Trotter make about the size of New Zealand’s military spending and how it compares to other countries. Both commentators blithely and confidently claim that New Zealand doesn’t spend very much at all on its military, especially in comparison to its major allies: the US, UK and Australia. Trotter says:

Monday, 20 April 2015

Links Update

I was really pleased to receive an email from Jared Davidson recently, he is the author of 

Fighting War: Anarchists, Wobblies and the New Zealand State 1905 - 1925 

....which I referred to in an earlier post. There's a fascinating history here which tells the stories of socialists, anarchists, anti - miltarists and labour activists who were opposed to the war. They might have been a minority group, but the more I read about them the more significant I think they are. He has written two other valuable articles which cast more light on this history:

Socialist cross of honour: Makings of a working class counter culture 


Remains to be seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealand 

I'm also going to highlight a specific page on the 'Honest History' website which has a list of links to articles and information about the Armenian Genocide. There is a lot more of interest contained in the Honest History site, it is a really valuable resource.

Honest History list - Armenian Genocide 

Finally (for now) a piece by Dougal McNeill - impressions and reflections on Anzac day inspired by his experience of the opening of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. I think his comments on Anzac as a kind of hyper-real spectacle are spot on, and I suspect there is more to be said on this topic. 

Anzac: they'll remember it for us wholesale

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ormond E Burton and Anzac Nationalism

There's a famous quote by Ormond E Burton which gets mentioned many times by Anzac commentators: ‘somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme New Zealand very definitely became a nation.’ . Just what this means exactly, and just how much of our so called 'national identity' derives from our inheritance of WW1 battle experience is a subject I will leave to the various newspaper and magazine editors. I'm much more interested in the man Ormond E Burton, and how this conservative trope squares – or fails to square – with his subsequent statements about nationhood and his militant pacifism.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Absurdity and Obscenity of Gallipoli

As we appoach the Gallipoli centenary, I have set myself the task of re – reading some of the best examples of New Zealand writing about the disastrous invasion. There are three books, Ormond E Burton's 'The Silent Division', Robin Hyde's 'Passport to Hell' and Alexander Aitken's 'Gallipoli to the Somme', all based upon first hand experiences of New Zealanders who fought in the bloody trenches of Gallipoli. I'll start with the horror and some images of the 'fallen'. Here is Private J. D. Stark (8/2142, Fifth Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion) describing the bodies of the dead:

But the dead who waited in No Man's Land didn't look like dead, as the men who came to them now had thought of death. From a distance of a few yards, the bodies, lying in queer huddled attitudes, appeared to have something monstrously amiss with them. Then the burying-party, white faced, realised that twenty four hours of the Gallipoli sun had caused each boy to swell enormously – until the great threatening carcases were three times the size of a man, and their skins had the bursting blackness of grapes. It was impossible to recognise features or expression in that hideously puffed and contorted blacknessi.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A link to my Daily Blog Anzac post

Here's a link to my 'Guest Blog' at the Daily Blog. 

An Anzac Thought Experiment 

 I've submitted an edited version of this to a few mainstream press papers too. I have never done this before, but obviously this is the only time of year I am going to have a chance of getting mainstream exposure. My goal for the next ten days is to write a series of short, punchy pieces which will hopefully travel beyond the already converted readership of this blog. Any words of advice about how I might improve my chances would be appreciated. The Daily Blog is a good start, but I reckon if this blog was doing its job properly I would get heaps of abusive comments on it. So Please help me out and share the word on facebook at least.

Haunted Gold: the dubious profits of Gallipoli

Based on interviews with war veteran Douglas Stark, Robin Hyde's book Passport to Hell is one of the most readable and insightful books about the New Zealand experience of the trenches of World War One I have read. Starkie is a rebellious, tough and frequently violent character who gives a raw and completely unsentimental picture of the reality of trench warfare. As we approach the Gallipoli centenary it is his descriptions of the blackened and bloated corpses lying in No Mans Land which stick in my mind most of all. What also comes to my mind is the focus of Hyde's Gallipoli narrative: money. After the horror and sense of disgust has worn off, Starkie and his mates focus on gambling. Trench warfare involved a huge amount of boring waiting, and Anzac soldiers filled up the hours with coin games of 'Two Up' and card games to distract themselves from both the tediousness and the horror of the war:

Monday, 13 April 2015

What do the Pope, Kim Kardashian and the Anzacs have in common?

The answer is that they all have some major form of influence over the upcoming centenary of the Armenian genocide, which began on April 24th 1915 – just one day prior to the famous Gallipoli landings.

Only 22 countries officially recognise the Armenian genocide, which took the lives of at least 1.5 million people. From what I have read this is actually a conservative estimate, and does not take into account the deaths of other Christian minorities. Recognition – or rather the lack of it – is a major political issue for some of the countries which have important relationships with Turkey. New Zealand, along with the US, Australia and Israel all fail to officially recognise the Armenian genocide. Diplomatically making this sort of recognition is a very big deal, and Turkey takes a very hard line against any country which dares to make this sort of statement. With the centenary approaching, and high profile people like the Pope and Kim Kardashian helping to raise the issue, it isn't too surprising that Turkish PM Recep Erdogan is looking for cover. Where exactly will he hide? Well, the Anzac centenary is pretty damn close, so who will notice if he moves it a day behind to coincide with the Armenian genocide centenary?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Anzac 'remembrance' and Anzac virtues: different narratives

John A Lee in 1936. He lost his arm in the war.

How exactly are we supposed to honour the solemn Anzac imperative 'Lest We Forget'? After a century, actual living memories of the so called 'Great War' no longer exist. The thousands of dead New Zealanders and Australians who died on the slopes of Gallipoli are represented by lists of names etched onto memorials, black and white photos of young men wearing lemon squeezer hats. Newspapers run hundreds of stories about individual soldiers and how and where they died. Families are shown holding pictures of their relatives from 100 years ago, medals are proudly displayed. Thousands of people will wear red poppies and attend dawn services on April 25th in order to attempt to honour the memory of the dead.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

John Key's Gallipoli Wisdom

I've been working on a sort of 'side project' recently which involves learning more about the Middle East. I'm particularly interested in the historical connections between what we see happening now in places such as Syria and Iraq, and the dissolution and carving up of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. I'm also interested in Turkey, one of the most powerful and relatively stable states to form out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. As I wrote a couple of years ago, it was the experience of travelling in Turkey and seeing all of the massive monuments dedicated to Kemal Ataturk which got me thinking about the strange and disturbing reality of the New Zealand Anzac tradition.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Should we commemorate a 'colour blind' Anzac day?

Which wars are more significant for New Zealand's history, the wars of dispossession waged against Maori during the 19th century or the imperialist wars of the 20th century? Anzac day effectively captures the century between 1915 and 2015, but reduces the previous era of settler colonialism to an insignificant status. Australia has a similar pattern, and struggles with the issue of recognising its 'indigenous diggers'.

Rachel Buchanan's article 'The dementia wing of history' is a really insightful critique of the “Tomb of the Unknown Warrior”. Here is a sample:

The absence of any reference to New Zealand's first wars at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior or at the National War Memorial that looms up behind it, suggests that these wars are moving even further from the centre of national collective memory. The wars of foundation are certainly not forgotten but they remain peripheral, problematic and contested, unable, somehow, to be integrated into popular, bicultural rituals of commemoration.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Some thoughts on the 'Camp Gallipoli' saga

I knew nothing about the 'Camp Gallipoli' concept until today when I heard about it on the radio. For the price of a mere $100, New Zealanders would be entitled to the privilege of camping out under the stars in Ellerslie Racecourse, honouring the memory of the brave Anzacs by sleeping outside and being woken at dawn for a special memorial service. Local band Evermore would provide the theme tune to the event, and high profile New Zealanders such as Sir Richard Hadlee, Sir Graham Henry, Annabel Langbein and Nigel Latta were backing the event alongside the RSA.

Unfortunately for the organisers only 102 people bought tickets, and they have had to cancel the event because it is not viable. It was planned to attract between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A reminder about my other blog

I try to keep this blog solidly focused on Anzac / WW1 related topics, everything else I write goes on my other blog 'Pseudo Reality Prevails'. Sometimes there is ambiguous overlap though, and I recently wrote a piece on Ormond E Burton which falls into two categories. Its more about his socialist politics though, and how this relates to more obscure issues like Esperanto. Check it out here:

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Deceptions of Remembrance: how does the Anzac myth frame WW1 history?

(This is an edited version of an earlier post, which was much longer and politer. As April 25th approaches I am inclined to increase the anger and outrage on this blog. Lest We Remember.)

There are two massive photographic images which border the entrance to the 'Dunedin's Great War' exhibit currently on display at the Otago Early Settler's Museum. One one side a small boy is saluting a large Union Jack flag. On the other side is the picture of a young Otago Anzac soldier dressed in a kilt. As you walk in to the exhibit you are surrounded by brightly lit photos of the faces of the young men from Otago who died during the first world war, large panels of bright red poppies and gravestones. These images are deceptively innocent, powerfully framing the way in which we are supposed to 'remember' our history of involvement with the imperialist bloodbath which took place during the years between 1914 and 1918.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

“All that clack about the British Empire”

In my previous posts about the 'Dunedin's Great War' exhibit, I discussed the use of the prominent images depicting 'Empire patriotism'. I argued that the images emphasised a 'monolithic' view of New Zealander's attitudes towards the British empire in general and the first world war in particular. The political views and identities of people who didn't fit into this dominant patriotic code are pushed into the margins of history: Irish nationalists, the many Maori people who took positions similar to that of Te Puea, pacifists, socialists and anarchists.

Just how big was this motley collection of 'disloyal' New Zealanders? In a recent interview , Stevan Eldred Grigg suggests that it was a fairly significant minority:

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A few thoughts on Stevan Eldred-Grigg's 'The Great Wrong War'

I read this book very recently, and have been meaning to write a 'proper' review on it for some time. Unfortunately I have too many other projects on the go, so I it might never happen. So instead of a 'proper review' just a few thoughts.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Wass'ah Riots

I've spent a considerable amount of time recently researching the so called 'Battle of the Wazza'. It's a fairly marginal and neglected segment of 'Anzac history', which involved a series of riots in Cairo during the war. The perpetrators of the riots were mostly Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were undergoing training in camps very close to the city of Cairo. The people on the receiving end of the violence were the prostitutes and pimps in the Wass'ah district of Cairo. The phrase 'Battle of the Wazza' is misleading in three ways:

Friday, 27 February 2015

Anzac rhetoric and the Iraq war

I recently posted a comment on facebook expressing my outrage and disgust at Hekia Parata's comments in support of the move to send NZ troops to Iraq. Like many other people in New Zealand I'm angry at the Key government for maneuvering us into this misguided war. My emotional response was further inflamed by these words quoted in a recent (26/02) Herald article :

Education Minister Hekia Parata said in a fiery speech she was raised on the history of war heroes and turning out for Anzac Day and the point of having a defence force was to carry out such deployments. She said the country could not evoke the emotion of turning up to Anzac Days but then turn away when the practical reality of what that meant presented itself.

The article continues with sickening details from Parata's speech. She links Anzac “values” with the content of the New Zealand school curriculum, and argues that we should send troops to be true to that legacy of courage, responsibility and wisdom.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Curator's Reply

The short history of this blog has so far been a fairly lonely one. I have received a few positive comments from like minded friends and people who share my perspective on New Zealand's role in WW1. While these are appreciated, I had hoped to receive some critical comments too. Many of the opinions expressed in this blog are clearly opposed to the more mainstream views of Anzac day seen in Newspapers, TV and various magazines. I provided a link to my blog at the official government “WW100” site, and various other internet sites which related to this topic. The results were a handful of views, but no comments on any of my posts.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Letter to the Otago Early Settler's Museum

I'm a regular visitor to the Otago Settler's Museum, it's a great place for my 2 year old boy to run around in and occasionally look at the exhibits. The 'Dunedin's Great War' exhibit has been going for several months now, and over time I have managed to look at a few snippets of it when I am not busy looking after my boy. The title of the exhibit, and the central image of the small child saluting the union jack, I find highly objectionable. The emphasis on remembrance of the dead and military history, and the marginalisation of almost all other aspects of the war is not really very surprising. These more or less obvious ideological points aside, I was motivated to write a letter to the curator because of some factual innaccuracies and omissions. I think I have succeeded in being polite and reasonable sounding, while at the same time not pulling any punches: