Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: War, now and then

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  • Lilith __,

    The new additions include the 2005 documentary Sedition – The Suppression of Dissent in World War II New Zealand. New wartime laws affected media coverage or even discussion of pacifism. It’s available for viewing in full. Lest we, you know, forget:

    Look forward to viewing this. My father was a conscientious objector in WWII, and although his deeply religious pacifism was attested to by the bishop, no less, and he was allowed to continue to work and live in the community, he was a social outcast because of it. There were various other sanctions: he was kept on the wages of an army private for the duration of the war. But the worst thing was being socially humiliated and shunned.

    My mother's family was military and they all-but-disowned her for marrying my Dad, and never forgave either of them.

    Both sides of my family were idealistic and held strong principles, and both suffered greatly both during the war and after.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Lilith __,

    Lilith- what a strait and toxic position for families to be in…very well done your father…
    My father wanted to be an airforce pilot* – was discovered to have serious heart disease (he died of it in 1958) and wound up a supplies sergeant in the RNZAF. I think it blighted the last of his
    short – but very public, prolific & otherwise productive- life.
    *He certainly had the physical & mental & reactive & spatial skills ( which all his kids gained, genetically) and an added hunting/killing skill (which 3 of his acknowledged kids have) which would've made him a gun -fighter pilot.
    Dead just now.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Islander,

    and wound up a supplies sergeant in the RNZAF. I think it blighted the last of his short – but very public, prolific & otherwise productive- life.

    My grandfather was a skilled brickie, and was required to stay home in case his skills were required. There obviously was no shame in that, and he was a fine man, but I think he may still have carried a sense of failure in being prevented from serving as a soldier.

    The RSA culture was so powerful in the post-war years. It can't have been good for a man of his generation to be excluded from it. We also think he had previously been turned down for police recruitment, despite at least one glowing reference that I've seen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Russell -there was none of the white feather stuff going on in the "2nd World War"
    but there was enormous pressure for people who seemed like suitable young male recruits to BE so- one my beloved uncles was discovered to have tuberculous-scarred lungs and so couldnt go overseas with his 2 best hunting mates...outside of family areas he was frequently hassled as being not in uniform (and for being Maori!) No-win/no win.

    And that RSA culture- fuck o dear.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    My father was in the Dutch army at the outbreak of WWII. He fought, was a PoW, escaped (apparently not that hard), was part of the resistance, was captured, escaped ...

    I know almost nothing about his experiences let alone his feelings associated with those experiences. He simply couldn't and wouldn't talk about them.

    I think one thing New Zealanders forget is that there is a not insignificant part of our community who had a different experience of WWII in particular. The large Dutch community almost all experienced invasion and occupation. I think for my father one part of the reason for coming to New Zealand was the desire to go somewhere where war was not likely to ever occur.

    For those New Zealanders, because that is what they became, there was no resonance with the kiwi war experience. The RSA was not attractive. At least thats the way it seemed to me based on what I observed of my father and the few dutch friends with which they kept in contact.

    One thing that did stand out for me from my father was his utter contempt for the media's portrayal of war and the propaganda associated. I never once saw him watch a representation of war and say "yes it was like that".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3349 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I know almost nothing about his experiences let alone his feelings associated with those experiences. He simply couldn't and wouldn't talk about them.

    That sounds very much like the condition of so many NZ veterans. Beyond the shallow comradeship of the blowhard heavy-drinking RSA culture there was a sense of things that could only be darkly hinted at in the cheerfully determined postwar world.

    In a way all returned soldiers are aliens in their own country, with experiences they're forced to contain. I'm old enough to remember the hostile attitude of middle-aged WW2 veterans towards a pacifist generation who "wouldn't fight the next war". Presumably these were much the same people who as old men at my father's RSA funeral were keen to unburden themselves in an almost confessional manner about what it was really like. But even then they'd shy from talking too specifically. We're so lucky to have avoided all that.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I know almost nothing about his experiences let alone his feelings associated with those experiences. He simply couldn’t and wouldn’t talk about them.

    My grandfather was an army doctor, and he never ever talked about those five years except (we think) with his ex-army buddies. His standard and final response to questions: "You wouldn't understand."

    He returned home depressed and short-tempered and never recovered his pre-war temperament. His relationship with my grandmother became bitter and alienated.

    During the war he sent letters home to my Mum and auntie and uncle which are heartbreaking in their cheerfulness, with reports of the scenery and local people and animals and no mention of anything else.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    Attachment

    My parents found this in the Salvation Army archive, Mum brought me a copy when she came over here last October. That's her father, first trombone on the left, on his way to Gaudalcanal. He served there on ambulances then AA artillery, then worked his way up Italy to Trieste on a mobile artillery piece. I remember him telling me all kinds of crazy stories about the bizarre, strange or just silly things they got up to in their spare time, but then his eyes would go far away and he'd say, "War is hell, Chris, war is hell."

    We’re so lucky to have avoided all that.

    Absolutely.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2072 posts Report Reply

  • John Madden,

    My old Dad spent his war in North Africa and then Italy. He never said a lot but had a stack of photos, including one taken from under a truck in the middle the desert. In the far distance can be seen a German fighter curving around. My Mum tells me he had shout out loud nightmares for years into the fifties. His health was a mess and he died at 54. Mum's boyfriend later on was a North African veteran as well, and as he got older he talked more and more. One night in my Mum's kitchen with him and my son (who had a brief dalliance with military life but couldn't hack the discipline), he started talking about Cassino, bodies and bits of bodies, and being terrified all the time. Then this big old fella in his eighties began to cry and could talk no more. He'd been carrying this shit around for 50 or 60 years.
    I work now with a young woman engaged to a bloke in Afghanistan, beats me how she lives with tension of the constant flow of bodies and maimed back to Britain. Right or wrong, its no way to make a living whether you get sent as a conscript or a regular.

    United Kingdom • Since Mar 2012 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The large Dutch community almost all experienced invasion and occupation

    I was horrified to hear from a Dutch family friend some of her experiences in Amsterdam during the famine of 1944. She was a child at the time and had vivid memories of being sent out by her mother to scavenge and beg for food.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    There’s a good overview of conscientious objection to the war (WW2) here.

    When conscription was introduced in July 1940, conscientious objectors could appeal their military service. But the Appeal Boards were made up of older, conventional men, and the government expected them to ‘prevent the coward and the slacker from sheltering under a convenient conscience’. In New Zealand, of the 3000 appeals against conscription on conscience grounds, only 600 were allowed. Most of those turned down gave in to the law and served as required, but 800 refused to comply. As lawbreakers, with no right of appeal, they were sentenced to detention – a ‘scheme of concentration camps designed to be less comfortable than the army, but less punitive than gaol’. The term of their confinement was an indefinite sentence, while the war lasted.

    [….]

    In New Zealand, in spite of lobbying from supporters, more than 200 ‘military defaulters’ were still in camps or prisons at the end of 1945. In December, the RSA national executive made an unsuccessful attempt to get the government to keep the men detained for 12 months after the end of the war – and disenfranchised for a further 10 years. The last detained conscientious objectors in New Zealand were not released until May 1946, nearly 10 months after the war finished.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    Sexual orientation and the armed forces today...
    http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/32/article_8645.php

    And at the moment, one of the poster men for same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom is Corporal James Wharton (23), an Iraqi War veteran.

    C.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 370 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    I wasn't overly impressed with Laurence Fearnley's The Hut Builder as a whole, but that middle section where the narrator is stuck halfway up Mt Cook with a conscientious objector for several days was brilliant. Before that I didn't really know much more than that there were a few Conscientious Objectors and that they weren't overly popular.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2072 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lilith __,

    a good overview of conscientious objection to the war (WW2)

    Thanks for that. I've known a few people whose parents were 'conchies', always for religious reasons. Recently I got to read Ian Hamilton's Till Human Voices Wake Us (thank you Ian Dalziel). Hamilton was a relative rarity in that his reasons for resisting military service were entirely political. I was surprised to discover the wide variety of 'types', as Hamilton classified them, of conscientious objector, including a pair of literally grass-eating vegetarians.

    Hamilton's highly individual account of the often inept physical and psychological mistreatment he experienced and witnessed is probably as subversive today as when it was published in 1953. Instead of presenting conscientious objectors as an exceptional class of maligned innocents, he seems to conclude that the vast majority of prison inmates were equally victims of a needlessly punitive system.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Instead of presenting conscientious objectors as an exceptional class of maligned innocents, he seems to conclude that the vast majority of prison inmates were equally victims of a needlessly punitive system.

    Grouping wartime government with the peacetime justice system seems like drawing a long bow. I mean, aren’t conchies more like political prisoners, in that they’re imprisoned for their beliefs and for civil disobedience?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lilith __,

    Long bow?

    Extremely so. While I have the luxury of not necessarily agreeing with Hamilton's conclusions, I certainly respect his intelligence and experience. Long-term indefinite incarceration seems to foster a tendency to see things in rather broader terms than in everyday life. Hamilton identified the enemy of humanity as tyranny, whether it be an external fascist threat or simply of being incarcerated by your own government. To him all tyranny has its roots in ideology, including the ideologies, religious or not, of many of his fellow "conchies". As he noted about the supposedly gentle Jehovah's Witnesses, they may refuse to serve in an earthly army, but they eagerly anticipate taking part in a promised apocryphal battle against the forces of evil.

    In a little while, said Tchekov's hopeless character to himself, wandering through the park, caught up in a labyrinth of internal and external misfortunes; in a little while a solution will be found, and then a new and splendid life will begin. But after you've been in the boob you give up even the thought of solutions and splendid lives. All you want is a direction. You have to have ideals, yes you have to. But they should be vague, taking the form of a shadowy guide, a third figure, a tradition; a substitute perhaps for the ancient function of the church. As soon as they become specific, as in Catholicism at the time of the Inquisition or in every other ism today, then all hell starts in their name. Once you say to someone, you do this and this and this, you finish up by saying, Or Else. Then come the law and the prisons and the concentration camps, the beatings, the tortures and the killings. To me, Or Else stinks; and that's the reason, above all others, I'm a pacifist. That little Or Else has swelled into an enormous octopus of terror, stretching its tentacles into the loneliest places on the earth, now that we know just what it can mean. Now that we know there's no limit to the degradation which human beings are prepared to inflict on their own kind. No limit and almost no shame. Only perhaps, after it's all over, a little specious justification.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    To him all tyranny has its roots in ideology, including the ideologies, religious or not, of many of his fellow “conchies”.

    He talks like an anarchist. Which is an ideology, too.

    I doubt many people want real anarchy, I think most of us believe the state must enforce some control, and our battles are over how and when that control is exercised.

    I think it's regrettable that conchies were imprisoned during WW2. Whatever their individual faults may have been, they made a principled stand, and were prepared to suffer for it.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Conscientious objectors now have some protection in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Amnesty International says:

    The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion. The right to conscientious objection is a basic component of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

    […]

    Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person liable to conscription for military service or registration for conscription to military service who refuses to perform armed service or any other direct or indirect participation in wars or armed conflicts for reasons of conscience or profound conviction. Their profound conviction may arise from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical, political or similar motives. But regardless of the basis of their objection, the right of such individuals to refuse to carry weapons or to participate in wars or armed conflicts must be guaranteed. This right also extends to those individuals who have already been conscripted into military service, as well as to soldiers serving in professional armies who have developed a conscientious objection after joining the armed forces.

    Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely because they have been refused their right to register an objection or to perform a genuinely alternative service, Amnesty International will adopt that person as a prisoner of conscience. Its world-wide membership in more than 190 countries around the globe campaigns actively for the immediate and unconditional release of such imprisoned conscientious objectors

    Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20080515005528/http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR010041997?open&of=ENG-2EU

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lilith __,

    I think it's regrettable that conchies were imprisoned during WW2. Whatever their individual faults may have been, they made a principled stand, and were prepared to suffer for it.

    Naturally I agree. Again I feel that it's something of a luxury to pass judgement on the views of someone like Ian Hamilton, as his taking the line of greatest resistance probably went some way towards mitigating the treatment of prisoners of conscience in NZ. His account of how people's resolve was broken by an often stupidly brutal system, including his own failed hunger strikes, is a remarkable piece of NZ history.

    BTW I'm old enough to have caught the tail end of having to register for national service. I still have my little conchie card. There was a one-legged WW1 veteran who would appear as a character witness if your number came up, and even though he didn't know me from Adam he assured me over the phone that he'd show up to "give the buggers hell". Fortunately he wasn't needed. While official data on such things as immigration records is embargoed for 99 years or thereabouts, you can freely access Department of Labour records about who registered as a conscientious objector at the Archway site.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    BTW I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of having to register for national service. I still have my little conchie card.

    If it's not a rude question, when was this?*

    So many things about 20thC NZ that I don't know. I was surprised to see in the first part of the NZOS doco in Russell's post how silenced the local media were during WW2. I've always liked to think that freedom of speech and a free press were a given here in NZ.

    ETA: *based on this, it looks like the 1960s. So recently!

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lilith __,

    If it's not a rude question, when was this?

    Not at all. I was born in 1948, so 1969 was my year. I think the Kirk Government abolished National Service. Unlike Australia there was no risk of being sent into combat. As a Commonwealth citizen resident in Oz, aged between 18 and 21, you could be conscripted and spend a significant part of your two years service in Vietnam. They still reputedly took a harsh line with conchies. I was keen to go to Australia, but I made damn sure I'd turned 21 first.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Lilith __,

    I’ve always liked to think that freedom of speech and a free press were a given here in NZ.

    Dear Lilith (if I may) that has *never* been the case since Europeans arrived.

    Mind you, it wasnt happy comments/free for all at *any* time here. (Two nasty wee killing-feuds were started here in the South because of words...)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Islander,

    Dear Lilith (if I may) that has *never* been the case since Europeans arrived.

    I'm happy to be dear :-) but it's funny the comforting notions we can assume are true, eh?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3443 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Lilith __,

    Indeed...I think the underlying assumption is a truth= words have power, cutting & killing power, as well as nourishing & healing power (not to mention plain old explanatory & enlightening & generally what-makes-us-human power (ever since we discovered that interesting ability to make spoken words last for a very long time)

    May that ability continue/long last-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    I found this on Papers Past a while back. He was a very distant relative, now deceased. While he appears to abide by the Christian pacifist principles that he shared with the previous two generations of his family, he was much more inclined to render unto Caesar than most of the unfortunates described by Ian Hamilton. There were a few examples mentioned in that book though of country boys who, if they'd only been a little more articulate, could probably have satisfied both the Armed Forces Appeal Board and the pacifist principles of the religion they'd unquestioningly been born into:

    Evening Post, Volume CXXXII, Issue 26, 30 July 1941, Page 10:
    ONE ALLOWED
    CONSCIENCE APPEAL
    DECISIONS OF BOARD
    Stating that he took no part in social life and did not exercise his right to vote, Jack James Morgan, a clerk employed in the Health Department, appealed before the Armed Forces Appeal Board yesterday afternoon for exemption from military service on the grounds of conscience. The appeal was allowed.
    Appellant said he was a Christadelphian and was prepared to help his country under civil control. "We feel that England will win the war, but we do not feel that we have to take part in that side of the nation's activities," said appellant.
    Mr. C. O. Bell (Crown representative): Would you pray for victory for our side?—I would pray that God's purpose should be fulfilled. As far as I understand it, it is his purpose that England should win.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3468 posts Report Reply

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