20 September 2015
Unexpected hero opening doors
This winter has seen me working almost daily at my new book, free from the distractions of sunny days and a surf beach that is tantalizingly close. However, I missed several early storms by being in the UK, joining others in an annual outdoor celebration of Conscientious Objectors, held in Tavistock Square, London on 15 May.
Ten peace groups share the management of the event, which included speakers, choirs, and the ceremony of placing a long-stemmed white carnation for a pacifist from each of seventy nations on the large memorial stone. Archibald Baxter had already been selected for New Zealand and I met people there who knew far more about him than do many in this country. I received a generous welcome and heard many moving speakers, including a young woman from Israel imprisoned for refusing compulsory military service.
There are many of these CO’s, a fact little-known outside the country and the women receive particularly abusive treatment. ‘An Unexpected Hero’ was warmly received by one of the main organising groups, the UK Quaker Education team, who responded with gifts of their own publications, and we enjoyed some enthusiastic sharing of resources. I learned much about their work promoting peaceful ways of dealing with conflict in schools. The University for Peace in Costa Rica (a country mentioned at the end of ‘An Unexpected Hero’) also has a copy of the book in their library, so students can access more about this country’s pacifist history.
In mid-April, I was invited to give a seminar on ‘What Constitutes a Hero’ at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University in Dunedin. Professor Kevin Clements of the Centre has proved very supportive, and we were equally surprised to find out we both spent part of our childhoods in small rural settlements in the Bay of Plenty.
In Dunedin I also met the hard-working members of t he Archibald Baxter Trust who bought a number of books for competition prizes. They also hold annual commemorative events and are establishing a memorial seat and plaque for him and other CO’s from Aotearoa. ‘An Unexpected Hero’ has given me a glimpse of how many people actively support non-violent ways of managing conflict. My next book promises to throw me into even deeper waters by challenging yet more ‘sacred cows. ’
I can’t wait!