Grand-daughter Kyla asks her grandfather Arthur some questions.
Interview: December 2011
KM: What is your first memory where you realised you could never kill another human being?
A: When I was about 11 or 12 I read everything I could get hold of. Well before that, in fact, but the reading options were limited at first. Then I read a succession of books written by British Empire enthusiasts. The heroes were young men in some outpost of empire, facing armed insurrection in some dastardly form. “With Clive in India” is the only title I can remember now. (With Google’s help I find the author’s name – G. A. Henty.) I recall an episode that troubled me. The hero is one of a valiant band which has rushed to rescue a group of helpless white women who are prisoners of revolting (in both senses) Indian sepoys, recruited by the British army in India. He silently creeps up on the sepoy guarding the entrance to the fort and cuts his throat. The author feels this has to be justified, so goes into details about what horrors have been inflicted by these barbarians who are planning more of the same. We cannot allow it to happen. (Google tells me that this book is now available in ebook form on the internet – go read it.) I wondered why I could not imagine me killing anyone like that. Was I a coward?
KM: Did traditional Christianity fall short of your pacifism as a young man?
Traditional Christian faith, as lived and taught by our parents, and as encountered in most church activities, was not something I felt out of tune with. I did my best to honour and be true to that, even when some of it seemed hard to understand. But how could this faith be squared with what most people seemed to take for granted in the everyday world of business and politics? I felt liberated when I read books that made it clear that the accepted wisdom of much of our culture was in conflict with the words and actions of Jesus. I felt inspired by a new and exciting vision that promised real power in the costly way of love and caring. I saw hope there of a new world struggling to be born.
What role did Methodism play in the development of your philosophy and outlook?
I am grateful for what I received through Methodism. In the Thirties we had some outstanding Methodist leaders in NZ, both ministers, laymen and youth leaders. And in contrast to all the other Churches, Methodist youth activities in NZ were entrusted to a band of dedicated young Christians who were not afraid to break new ground. They were thinkers and concerned to witness to a relevant faith that faced up to the challenge of economic and racial and imperial injustice following a terrible war. At Bible study groups, and especially at Easter Camps and Summer Schools, I listened to the questions and expositions, and the only ones that inspired me and gave me hope were those that challenged the acceptance of war and violence as necessary evils. Henry T. was our minister during my last two years at school, and his passionate advocacy of the pacifist way was a big help to me then.
However, two other ministers left me cold. One was the son of a prominent Auckland businessman, and later became that himself. The second was a conventional sitter-on-the-fence in all justice and peace issues, with no strong faith in anything, as far as I could tell. Both of these men believed in going with the flow and being successful in the real world as they saw it.
How were you called up to account for yourself at the courts – how did you make it known that you were refusing to fight?
For the first year after war was declared, volunteers flooded in to join the armed Services. There was some opposition to conscription, but in the name of fairness it was bound to come. So I received a notice to report for medical examination. In response I wrote to say I was a conscientious objector who opposed war, and also all laws designed to wage it more efficiently (or something to that effect. It was a very negative response.) I also wrote a letter to the editor of the North Auckland Times, which two of my friends also signed, stating why we were C.O.s. We were later called to appear before an Appeal Board that was to judge whether we were sincere or not. The presumption at this Board was that unless you were willing to serve in the medical corps you were insincere. Case dismissed. Of course medical personnel were in Army uniform and were subject to army discipline. If I were there, someone else would go to the infantry in the front line.
What was the standard argument they used against ‘conchies’ at court?
It was assumed as beyond argument that this was a national crisis, in which all fit young men were required to play an active part in the Armed Forces. Now, why are you refusing? It is surely obvious that you cannot stand idly by while others man the ramparts. What would you do if you were shielding a number of nubile females/sweet mothers etc etc and were threatened by Japanese (could be others but Japs were the favourites here) with worse than death, and a gun was conveniently at hand? Would you shoot? Lots of variations on this scenario. Usually a bit of time was spent on the Bible, but not too much, since they were likely to hear words that didn’t echo army themes. And if you objected, as I did, that their scenarios had no similarity to empires in collision, they dismissed this as evasive. Answer yes or no. Would you shoot? The No 1 Appeal Board from Auckland was well known for making no attempt to understand what your convictions were. All three members, plus Crown Prosecuter Samuel, manoeuvred to make you appear foolish and insincere. Later another Appeal Board from a more local area was much less confrontational in its leading members, who asked really difficult questions. But they too wanted Yes or No answers. If you set the stage with care you can make what seems to be a case for such diabolical deeds as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
[To be continued]
This was Part One of Kyla's Questions.
Click here for Part 2 of Kyla's Questions
Click here for Part 3 of Kyla's Questions
Click here for Part 4 of Kyla's Questions