Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In 'lest we forget' we forget too many

I was very pleased to see Peace Action Wellington's large banner make it into the TV coverage of the ANZAC day ceremonies*. Conscientious objectors (COs) demonstated a great deal of heroism in standing up for their anti-war beliefs, despite facing a great deal of persecution and ostracism from their own society. In some cases their stance did endanger their lives.

This attack on civil rights was driven by the wartime Government of Peter Fraser.

In his 1983 book John Cookson# compares the treatment of CO's in New Zealand with other countries during WWII.
"In no other Commonwealth country - we might add the United States as well - was the proportionate number of conscientious objectors imprisoned or detained, much less indeterminate sentences imposed. New Zealand was also exceptional in the total severity of its policy. There was no recognition of objection that fell short of opposition to all war, no exemption from some form of national service, and no provision for appeals against the decisions of the local boards. The attack on civil rights extended to exclusion from government employment and, for defaulters, disenfranchisement."

So why does it remain controversial to point out that COs were also victims of war? Many were indeed 'prisoners of war' also, but behind bars in New Zealand instead of overseas (note I am not equating this with the worst of the enemy internment camps). New Zealand has a long history of intolerance of anti-war opinions. While this intolerance is not as evident as it used to be, a few of the pro-war mob in Auckland today still thought it was appropriate to attempt to pull down anti-war signs at the ANZAC ceremony in Auckland. Perhaps they though the anti-democratic wartime regulations were still be in effect?

I was also pleased to see the town of Fielding include 17 year old Turkish exchange student Kasim Turkistanli in their Anzac day service. Given the generous welcome given by the Turks to New Zealanders and Australians wanting to visit Gallipoli I am pleased New Zealand is becoming more generous in acknowledging Turkish losses - New Zealand invaded their homeland after all.

In Christchurch the "Women in Black" group highlighted other victims of war, 'In remembrance of women and children raped and killed in wars'. The response from those attending the service was mostly positive, but a few made disparaging remarks claiming that ANZAC day should be only be about the soldiers.

So if ANZAC day is to be a real day of remembrance, why are we so selective in the victims who are remembered? It should be more than the men in suits.

Span has a great roundup of posts on ANZAC day 2007 and her own thoughts here.

* But I do wonder if the loud horns were counterproductive. But I somewhat sadly I also wonder if it had made the news without the arrests or the appearance of 'conflict'.
# Cookson, John "Illiberal New Zealand: The formation of Government Policy on Conscientious Objection 1940-41"

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