Tuesday, 17 March 2015


11/03/15  by Arthur Palmer

The news and comments from almost all popular versions of the media seem to be lacking in any desire to look honestly at the continuing surge of violence and threats of violence all over the world. How are we to respond to this? Must our community and nation simply prepare to meet such threats with superior and more deadly weapons while denying them to all others beyond a few friends? This appears to be what our elected representatives think. Despite widespread doubts, this seems to reflect the current thinking of most voters. And that is where most politicians look for reassurance.

As we approach another Anzac Day next month, it would be good to see more evidence of a better way of remembering. Not just that our sacrifices in blood and treasure were rewarded by a victorious conclusion to a costly war. Not simply a seldom spoken assumption that this was the price of maintaining our place among the leading nations of the world. If there is no more than that on offer at this time we can expect to see few initiatives to counter the steady drift towards war, with the potential for suffering on a huge scale. Already we are being told of refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Africa. They are now numbered in the tens of millions, living under the most basic conditions, with little hope of returning to their previous homes which are now rubble. 

The help offered to these refugees is far short of what we consider to be minimal for ourselves. Pledges from the members of the League of Nations are often not honoured, while the chaos and hopelessness escalates, and the contending armed groups continue to add to the number of victims, most of these being children and other bystanders. All those in contention consider that these murderous activities must continue. Honour demands it!

Today’s NZ Herald recalls a day exactly 70 years ago. On March 10 and 11, 1945, “334 US war Allied bombers incinerated nearly 42 sq km of the Japanese capital, killing more than 100,000 people.” Today we have far more lethal capabilities, and are intent on making them even more so. And there are those who find it profitable to stir old and new fears by demonising possible challengers.

It seems to me that the first need is to see and feel the violence of the last 100 years in a truer light. Gallipoli and the Western front were horror stories, only relieved by memories of sacrifice and heroism on all sides by those who took part and didn’t count the cost. We can best do that remembering together, but have done so on too few occasions, Turk and NZer standing side by side, for instance, at least in our thinking. We now recognise our shared humanity under God. Maybe with reservations on both sides. War can leave deep scars.

We need to be reminded of the cost of war in human terms. I have recently read an account of the Vietnam war as seen by a young Vietnamese woman doctor who lived for two years with the communist troops in the south, until killed by US soldiers. A moving story, taken from her diary. “Lost voices of WW1” by Tim Cross is another glimpse of the men whom we lost through war. And a recent book entitled “The Lost Pilot” is a great help in seeing the events of WW2 in another light. It is written by a NZer, Jeffrey Holman, set half in Japan. It brings the Kamikaze teenage pilots back to life. And I recommend “Three Came Home” by Agnes Keith, the story of her time in a Japanese camp for British and US aliens in Burma. All books are in our National Library. They all teach us the empathy we must have if we are to meet the challenges ahead without more tragic loss.

I still have a number of letters from Germany to my mother or to me or my wife Rosemary in the years after WW1. I will attach one of these, written to my mother Florence Palmer in 1948. There were others very similar. Granddaughter Rose has deciphered them as well as she can, but many words were too hard to read. Bad spelling was in the original. Good reading!


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