Flying the flag for peace

Dunedin author Raymond Huber. Photo by Christine O'Connor.
Dunedin author Raymond Huber. Photo by Christine O'Connor.

PEACE WARRIORS<br><b>Raymond Huber</b><br><i>Mikaro Press</i>
PEACE WARRIORS<br><b>Raymond Huber</b><br><i>Mikaro Press</i>

In his latest book, Dunedin author Raymond Huber highlights the power of peaceful protest, writes Shane Gilchrist.

It might seem impeccably timed, yet the publication this week of Raymond Huber's Peace Warriors has nothing to do with Anzac Day commemorations.

''I've been working on it for about four years now,'' the Dunedin children's book author explains.

Accidental or not, the release of Peace Warriors does encourage debate about military action at a time when our nation looks back at the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

The fact New Zealand troops have recently been sent to Iraq is not lost on the author either.

''The title says it all, really,'' Huber says.

''Those two words might seem opposed to each another, but it's about the idea that peacemaking does require some courage and is an active thing; it's not weak and passive and requires some brains to figure out nonviolent solutions to problems.''

Launched on Thursday night at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, Peace Warriors includes a foreword by Prof Kevin Clements, the centre's director, who states: ''It's essential that there will always be individuals and groups who have a commitment to peace and nonviolence. Without them, the violence and military structures of the world would be unchallenged.

''Those who oppose war and support peace are creating a space where non-military options can be discussed and used before force.''

Yet strip away any militaristic aspects and Huber's book has a simpler message, too; in offering examples of protest, he is encouraging young people to stand up for their beliefs.

''There are a lot of young people in the book who fought against injustice. They believed that just one person could make a difference. And often that one person would multiply.''

In telling the stories of people who chose nonviolent resistance in times of conflict, Huber includes examples from New Zealand as well as around the world.

''When I started, it was going to be a book about New Zealand conscientious objectors, pacifists, nonviolent protest, that kind of thing.''

Peace Warriors features the story of Dunedin conscientious objector Archibald Baxter.

Imprisoned several times before being sent to the battlefields of France in 1918, when officers regularly punished him because of his refusal to fight, Baxter eventually returned to New Zealand and continued to protest against war.

''I was amazed New Zealand had all these examples. Take a look at Parihaka,'' Huber says, referring to the storming, occupation and dismantling of the peaceful Maori settlement by government forces in the late 19th century.

''That was one of the first documented and photographed people-power events in the world. Even though it was unsuccessful, it did have ripple effects that spread to the Maori land marches and further afield.

''I started finding these stories from around the world that seemed to fit the same theme, so I made it international. I realised all the stories fitted into the theme of people power.

''It's an eclectic mix. It's not just about nonviolent resistance during wartime; there are also aspects of people power and resistance against dictatorships.''

A father of three, Huber was a social worker who ran a drop-in centre at one time. However, he changed tack, retraining and working as a primary school teacher.

Huber's 2009 fiction debut, Sting, has sold more than 4000 copies (in Australia and New Zealand) and was named a finalist in the 2010 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards.

He followed that up with Wings in 2011.

His 2013 picture book, Flight of the Honey Bee, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, has had international acclaim and was a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

He has also reviewed thousands of children's books through the years for the Otago Daily Times and other publications, as well as short stories and poems.

Since 2000 he has also written about 30 science and English workbooks for primary school level.

Which brings us back to Peace Warriors.

Put out by Mikaro Press, an independent niche publisher based in Wellington, the book's key aim is as a conversation starter.

As such, it could sit well as a classroom resource, Huber hopes.

''I hope it will be used in schools because I have included a lot of tricky questions about war and peace. I think we need a wider debate and that needs to start with young people.''

Huber goes beyond merely presenting facts and places, weaving in fictionalised narratives before offering readers a chance to learn more about each episode.

''I realised I could only present a very small slice of the action, if you like. Therefore, I used dramatisation to focus on one key moment and put in references at the end of each chapter to enable readers to go on and learn more about the full story.''

Intended for readers between the ages of 10 and 14, Peace Warriors features a writing style full of hope and notions of empowerment.

Yet it is tempered by realism.

In one breakout chapter, Huber asks if protest always works.

The answer is no.

Sometimes, the replacement of one power structure allows another to fill the vacuum (Egypt and Syria are just two recent examples).

''You can look at those examples and what's happening now and feel cynical and hopeless, but I ... think we need the passage of time in order to look at events with perspective,'' he says.

''I believe writing for children and young adults should provide hope.

''Writing about a subject such as war might not seem to provide much hope. But, in fact, when you look at all these stories, there is inspiration.

''Violence is not the greatest force and there are many alternatives to military action.''

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