Assessment of the peace-makers provides blessed respite

Jim Sullivan reviews Saints and Stirrers, edited by Geoffrey Troughton. Published Victoria University Press.

New Zealand Christians who worked for peace in times of war are the "saints and stirrers" of this examination of our attitudes to military force from the Samuel Marsden missionary era through to the World War 2 pacifism of Ormond Burton.

From University of Otago academics come two chapters.

David Tombs, who holds the Howard Paterson Chair of Theology and Public Issues, shows that even a life as well-documented as that of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter deserves further research.

As a man unaligned with any denomination at a time when church membership was an important defining label, Baxter was an enigma and the form-fillers scurried from "agnostic" to "Roman Catholic" to "Plymouth Brethren" in their various efforts to describe this troublesome pacifist.

We are left with the conclusion that Baxter’s Christian faith was for him a very private affair for which he was prepared to suffer at the hands of authority figures, who emerge with no glory from his treatment.

Historian John Stenhouse digs into the story of Dunedin’s 1880s anti-sweating campaigner Rutherford Waddell and discovers that a man who until 1914 had stuck to his anti-war principles was, like many New Zealanders, appalled at the German wartime atrocities.

These horrors, sometimes exaggerated by the press in an early form of propaganda, led him to see World War 1 as a "just war", but Waddell did not become "a jingoistic holy warrior" like others of the local clergy and politicians.

What follows is an intriguing account of the pulpit and political battles of wartime Dunedin.

Clergymen and politicians who had encouraged volunteer recruitment in the early part of the war presented a less united front after conscription was introduced in 1916, as compulsion raised questions about exemption for conscientious objectors and Dean Fitchett, of St Paul’s, writing as Civis in the Otago Daily Times, agreed that the handful of genuine Quakers might be excused combat service but insisted that any other objector was "worthy of the utmost contempt, and nothing else".

Waddell spoke out strongly in support of the Quakers and their anti-war views but was never an absolute pacifist.

Stenhouse concludes that it may be time to present a more positive historical legacy for men like Waddell.

The historian of conscientious objectors, David Grant, also provides an illuminating chapter on war hero-turned pacifist Ormond Burton, illustrating that the law courts were perhaps less draconian by the 1940s and that Ormond’s own charisma survived largely undiluted.

An unexpected treat is Harold Hill’s story of the Salvation Army in New Zealand and Germany and the role of its War Cry newspaper during World War 1.

He concludes that Salvationists "were not pro-German, but at least by representing Germans with humanity, as fellow Christians and comrade Salvationists, the War Cry tried to counter the inhumanity of the times".

The Salvation Army emerges with perhaps as much credit as any of the armies.

All 11 chapters (other writers are Peter Lineham, Stuart Lange, Allan K. Davidson and Peter H. Ballis) provide insights into peace and war  that come together as a respite from the onslaught of battle books of recent times.

A companion volume covering more recent opportunities for anti-war manoeuvring is promised.

An examination of Vietnam along the lines of the chapters in Saints and Stirrers will be especially welcome.

- Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.

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