Pacifists also deserving of recognition

World War 1 centenary celebrations start in 2014. A Dunedin-based group is determined pacifist Archibald Baxter and other conscientious objectors are not forgotten. Eileen Goodwin spoke to those involved.

Beaten, starved, and hung on poles, Archibald Baxter felt the might of the force he resisted by refusing to fight in World War 1.

Mr Baxter and three other New Zealanders endured Field Punishment No1, colloquially known as crucifixion, in France in 1917.

The Archibald Baxter Memorial Trust has been set up ahead of the centenary years to honour Mr Baxter and other conscientious objectors.

Vividly described in the account of his wartime experience, We Will Not Cease, the punishment involved being tightly bound to poles and left in the open in all conditions.

He was taken to the trenches, beaten, and starved, as commanders tried to wear down the objectors.

Only Mr Baxter and socialist conscientious objector Mark Briggs held out to the very end.

Diagnosed with mental weakness and confusional insanity, Mr Baxter was taken to a hospital in Britain, before being sent home in August 1918.

He and 13 other objectors - including two of his brothers - were taken to France by force from Trentham Military Camp where they had been among a larger group of incarcerated objectors.

Six of the seven Baxter brothers were incarcerated.

He returned to Dunedin after the war and picked up labouring jobs around Brighton. He married Millicent Macmillan Brown in 1921, with whom he had two sons. The younger was the poet James K. Baxter.

The older son, 91-year-old Terence, has agreed to be the trust's patron. An annual lecture in Mr Baxter's name, and an annual essay competition will be launched in 2014, probably to coincide with the anniversary of the start of the war in August.

The trust plans commissioning a memorial in Dunedin in his honour. It will be the first such memorial in New Zealand to honour pacifism. The trust hopes it will be unveiled to mark the Passchendaele centenary in 2017.

Up to $100,000 will be needed. The trust intends to raise funds from the public, and apply for war commemoration funding.

Trust chairman Prof Kevin Clements, of the University of Otago National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, said conscientious objectors should be recognised for defending personal freedom in a time of national crisis.

Their stories countered the myth New Zealand's national identity was forged in battle on the other side of the world. As it faded from memory, the war risked being idealised as a story of national identity with the military perspective swamping others.

The centenary years could become imbued with ''xenophobic nationalism'', Prof Clements believed. The point was not to diminish the bravery and sacrifice of those who did fight.

Objectors were not just anti-war, he emphasises, but standing up for personal freedom by ''protecting the libertarian space''.

Unlike World War 2, the first world war created appalling carnage without political gain.

''The second world war is a big challenge for pacifists,'' said Prof Clements, whose father was an objector in World War 2.

The concept of conscription was new in World War 1, but objectors still faced huge opprobrium and the stigma lingered over Mr Baxter his entire life.

Notable conscientious objector Peter Fraser helped form the first Labour Government about 20 years later, although as a wartime prime minister, he opposed World War 2 objectors.

A Christian socialist and humanitarian, Mr Baxter opposed New Zealand joining an ''imperial adventure'', and convinced five of his brothers to oppose it too.

The driver for the trust was retired teacher Alan Jackson (69), whose interest was piqued by a lecture he attended a few years ago about the influence of poet Robert Burns on James K. Baxter.

Given by Penny Griffith, who is now a trust board member, it revealed the father seeded his son's interest in the Scottish poet.

This prompted a discussion of the elder Baxter's pacifism. Mr Jackson, who taught for many years at Waitaki Boys' High School and retired to Dunedin, assumed Mr Baxter must have had a dedicated memorial somewhere, but found there was nothing of the kind.

Mr Baxter was derided as a coward, despite enduring horrific punishment to stand up for his beliefs. It took more courage to oppose the war machine than to go along with it, Mr Jackson said. He acknowledged the need to be sensitive to those who fought and died, but there were organisations dedicated to honouring them.

''If you omitted the celebration of a group of people who stood for peace in the middle of war, then you couldn't honestly say that you had a complete record.''

Mr Jackson, the secretary of the trust, said it was applying for a share of the funding available for centenary activities, and there was interest from local people wanting to contribute. The Dunedin Botanic Garden might be the memorial's natural home, but nothing had been decided. The site would be a focus for reflection and meditation on the role of Mr Baxter and others in rejecting warfare.

By promoting non-violence, it was relevant to social problems today, particularly violence towards women and children.

He admired the fact Mr Baxter, while Christian, did not rely on his faith to save him by seeking protection from a particular denomination.

''He just said: 'This is where I stand as a man'.''

The question of the role played by religion in Mr Baxter's pacifism will be explored in a book whose planned title was In Defiance! The Baxters' War Against War. Its author is Ms Griffith, whose lecture spurred Mr Jackson's initial interest.

Ms Griffith is certain religion did not play a key role.

He did not belong to a church until much later in life. He had contemplated joining the army at the time of the Boer War, but around that time heard a talk by a local MP, Alfred Barclay, that ''overnight'' turned the nascent socialist into a lifelong pacifist.

His interest in socialism was fed by prolific reading. The Baxters were an ''intelligent bunch'', and Archibald was their leader.

Archibald McColl Learmond Baxter was born in 1881 at Saddle Hill, one of eight children of farm labourer John Baxter and wife Mary McColl, Te Ara encyclopedia of New Zealand says in its online biography.

The family was poor, and he left school at 12, eventually becoming head ploughman at Gladbrook station. He also carted coal and worked as a roading contractor.

Conscription was introduced in late 1916, and Mr Baxter was soon after balloted and arrested. He ended up in Trentham Military Camp, before Colonel H.R. Potter decided to relieve overcrowding by sending 14 of them, including brothers Archibald, Alexander and John, on the troop ship Waitemata to the front line.

Of the field punishment, Ms Griffith noted it would have been given to anyone who refused to fight or fulfil an auxiliary role. It did not reflect their politics, or the fact they were conscientious objectors, which she felt needed to be understood.

For the book, which would be published in 2014 or the year after, she interviewed about 80 people. It was both a biography of the Baxter family, and an examination of Mr Baxter's pacifism.

He was now a little-known figure, especially outside Dunedin, she said. It would tell the ''extraordinary love story'' of his relationship with Millicent, a young woman from a prestigious academic family.

The physical and psychological effects from his wartime experience were immense, and despite living a full and satisfying life, he never fully recovered.

He died in 1970.

In his own words
Excerpt from We Will Not Cease, by Archibald Baxter, published in 1939.

''[The sergeant] took me over to the poles, which were willow stumps, six to eight inches in diameter and twice the height of a man, and placed me against one of them. It was inclined forward out of perpendicular. Almost always afterwards he picked the same one for me.

''I stood with my back to it and he tied me to it by the ankles, knees and wrists. He was an expert at the job, and he knew how to pull and strain at the ropes till they cut into the flesh and completely stopped the circulation.

''When I was taken off my hands were always black with congested blood.

''My hands were taken round behind the pole, tied together and pulled well up it, straining and cramping the muscles and forcing them into an unnatural position. Most knots will slacken a little after a time. His never did.

''The slope of the post brought me into a hanging position, causing a large part of my weight to come on my arms, and I could get no proper grip with my feet on the ground, as it was worn away round the pole and my toes were consequently much lower than my heels. I was strained so tightly up against the post that I was unable to move body or limbs a fraction of an inch.

''Earlier in the war, men undergoing this form of punishment were tied with their arms outstretched [on a wagon wheel]. Hence the name of crucifixion. Later, they were more often tied to a single upright, probably to avoid the likeness to a cross. But the name stuck.

''A few minutes after the sergeant had left me, I began to think of the length of my sentence and it rose up before me like a mountain. The pain grew steadily worse until by the end of half-an-hour it seemed absolutely unendurable. Between my set teeth I said: 'Oh God, this is too much. I can't bear it.'

''But I could not allow myself the relief of groaning as I did not want to give the guards the satisfaction of hearing me. The mental effect was almost as frightful as the physical. I felt I was going mad.''


Other's freedom

Granth, that is quite offensive. Those men fought and many died for freedom for all and to suggest they were deluded is akin to denying the holocaust. You are free to your opinion but it's not always appropriate to share it.


If some people want to fight for other people's freedom then they should consider that other people's freedom includes a free choice not to fight. If this is not a consideration then those apparently fighting for other's freedom haven't even bothered to ask those they are apparently fighting for whether they even want them to do so on their behalf. And so therefore, are they really fighting for other's freedom - other's freedom to choose? 

Personally, I won't be asking others to fight for my freedom. But if they presume that this is in fact what they are doing, then they are both free to fight for it because they are free to believe it, and I am free to allow them to freely fight for me, but I never asked them to and who am I to judge their delusions. People are free to delude themselves.  

Chronology again

JimmyJones, at the time NZ leapt into WWII the Japanese were still minding their own business. NZ did not enter the conflict to save NZ from the Japanese.  This threat only came later, when NZ was already involved and NZers had already killed and been killed.

I'm not saying we should not fight for what's important, I'm saying we should not distort history to make up justifications.  And I seriously doubt if armies are the way to go, when you look at how efficacious small guerrilla groups are with their flexibility and ability to act in ways that step outside predictability.  Were it not for the trad-based war machine where the leaders were those who gained their positions on the basis of the last war(s), what might have happened if Hitler had been opposed by guerrilla-type groups each with a great deal of autonomy to decide which way to act/react according to the what the Germans (and later, the Japanese) did?  

Yes I know - it's an exercise in imagination, but without looking at what actually happened and what alternatives there might have been or what might be effective today, we will continue to fight every "next" war with the last one's methods, and body count.   



Fight to survive

Hype.O.Thermia: you don't like my examples of why WW2 was a crystal clear threat to the freedom of New Zealanders and our allies. If your point is that there was insufficient justification for NZ and the UK to enter the War, then I think you are wrong and the appropriate examples would show that.

In response to the direct threat to our country at the time, in what way do you think we should have "adapted our instinctive responses to material or ideological challenges"? Do you think we should have all learned Japanese and how to fold paper flowers?

As I said before, some things are worth fighting for: we, and our government, chose to inflict, and suffer, the horrors of war because our country, our freedom and way of life was worth fighting for. That's what most of us thought, and I hope that we still do.

Post hoc

As for post hoc, yes it was validated after the fact, as most things are. No plan is validated until proven.


Read my comment again more carefully. To explain further, in WWII the presumption was that the Axis needed to be stopped and the presumption was validated when the holocaust was uncovered. Jimmy makes a good point that when bombs were falling the presumptions are no longer presumptions.

I still believe current generations that haven't experienced war shouldn't pass judgement on generations that have because these are all our presumptions. Since this story ran I have discussed it with a war time soldier who was disgusted that a wartime pacifist could be honoured. They also believe the veterans giving out the funding will look on the applications unfavourably (and I put it more politely than he did). I intend to talk to other veterans too because these are the people who actually experienced the prospect of going to war. Perhaps a follow up article with a veteran's comment could be appropriate?

Chronology awry

"The threat to the freedom of New Zealanders and our allies in WW2 was crystal clear in the minds of our soldiers - very little "well analyzed presumptions" were required when Japanese bombs fell in Australia and Hawaii."

Uh-huh JimmyJones, so NZ wasn't involved in WWII till then? NZ soldiers, sailors and airmen weren't sent overseas till then? Really?

Post hoc, like, innit yeah?

"Post hoc ergo propter hoc", sv3nno - google it if you don't get the relevance to your "The holocaust appears to validate the presumptions of WWII soldiers and administrations."  At what stage did the "administrators" of WWII know about the holocaust?  When was the existence of death camps communicated to the generals, to the sergeants, to the men whether volunteers or conscripts?  In hindsight the holocaust appears to validate the war, but what actually precipitated the war, and would a less romanticised view of courage vs villainy, a more analytical examination of every factor, help us to understand the steps that lead to horrendous consequences?  Understand, and then adapt our instinctive responses to material or ideological challenges... accepting that anger and violence are always within us but we don't have to give them free rein to get loose and cause such monstrous horrors.

And earlier presumptions validate what, huh?

1914-18 when "King and Country" was the cry calling men from NZ (to defend "our" King, yes?) what were the validated presumptions, sv3nno?   How many half-truths and lies have you noticed since you were grown-up enough to notice the news, that justified other countries getting up to their armpits in other people's countries? Why is it that some persecution, some injustice, in some countries goes on with barely a tut-tut except from individuals and organisations outside governments?  And why is it that in other cases the same or lesser cruelty demands the US, UN and the rest of us "Axis of Sanctimoniousness" countries must send in the troops?  Is there any connection between eagerness to intervene, and resources wanted by the biggest players in the A-of-S?

Tojo nearly made it

Granth and sv3nn0: The threat to the freedom of New Zealanders and our allies in WW2 was crystal clear in the minds of our soldiers - very little "well analyzed presumptions" were required when Japanese bombs fell in Australia and Hawaii. The need to fight a war was blatantly obvious then and now. Even our pacifist professor seems to struggle to fit his simple black and white idealism into the context of WW2: Professor Clements says- The second world war is a big challenge for pacifists.

Today's pacifists and yesterday's Military Defaulters fail to properly understand what has been obvious to the rest of us for centuries: that, war is hell, but it is a much better choice than loosing your country, your freedom and your way of life. Some things are worth fighting for. 


Granth: The holocaust appears to validate the presumptions of WWII soldiers and administrations. 

Duty and dishonour 2

"Freedom is also what the soldiers fighting on the battlefields thought they were defending" 

You are right, jimmyjones, but only on one point. That most of these soldiers merely THOUGHT they were defending freedom. This is sometimes where thinking gets you. Sometimes, or, in this case, many times, thinking can be based on not particularly well analysed presumptions.  

Christian soldiers

Archibald Baxter was a 'Christian Socialist', an activist position that makes some Christians uncomfortable and impels others to march in the streets, or sabotage the War Machine. The'Christian Militia' of Africa and Syria are not only oxymoronic, they are engaged in 'Holy War'. We may acknowledge, at least, that A. Baxter was at The Front, as were Otago and Canterbury battalions. All were admirable in that long ago World War.

Duty and dishonour

Military Defaulter Archibald Baxter should be remembered now as he was at the time that he refused military service along with all the other Defaulters from WW1 and WW2. I see no reason why the general public should have any less contempt for these people  now, than what was shown to them at the time.

Professor Clements says that "conscientious objectors should be recognized for defending personal freedom in a time of national crisis". Freedom is also what the soldiers fighting on the battlefields thought they were defending; the difference is that the honourable soldiers were defending the freedom of all New Zealanders and others, while the pacifists were defending their own personal freedom. These were dishonourable New Zealanders and should be remembered as such. 

Professor Clements should be grateful that he has the freedom to promote pacifism - a freedom preserved for his and our benefit by the fighters of WW2 who struggled, suffered, died and were victorious. Their efforts were hindered by the Defaulters.

Honour and Duty

There is no honour in refusing your duty to King and Country, whatever the reason.

Those that did their duty will be honoured and memorials will be erected for those that fell doing their duty.

Those that refused to do their duty deserve no recognition. 

Honour or not?

The honour or otherwise of conscientious objectors is probably not appropriately judged by current generations who have only lived in peace time in this country as the decades put distance between us and the wars. I believe those who experienced the wars whether they were in the battle or at home are the only ones qualified to pass judgement on these people who refused to fight with their peers. Only they know what it was like at the time and only they were faced with putting their lives on the line. It is not for someone like myself who has never had to choose whether to put his life on the line to judge a conscientious objector one way or another. Therefore the funding this trust receives will hopefully be decided on by the veterans whose honour has no questions required of it.

Well done

This is an important subject and an interesting in depth article.  Thank you.  The constant "honoring" of war deaths is a form of enfranchised propaganda.  The soldier may be honorable, but often the government that sends that soldier to war does so for questionable and sometimes outright corrupt but hidden reasons. More than ever, the public must recognise that modern warfare is conducted for reasons of corporate profit and to meet the objectives of a class of people who avoid the personal costs of war for themselves and their families, but have no compunction about inflicting cruel horrors on others - both those fighting for and against them.

Always, always, deeply question any authority that would require or even request that you kill or otherwise hurt another human being for any reason.  

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