This book by Pamela Leach is the result of a project undertaken by the Quaker Peace & Legislation Committee (QPLC) – with an Anzac Centenary grant – to focus on alternative perspectives on war and peace, and to encourage dialogue about peacemaking. A series of talks was held in 2015 at the Friends Meeting House in Canberra, and this publication has been based on the material collected there. Pamela Leach was invited by QPLC to work from this in her own way, and the result is a substantial presentation of research, stories and analysis. Pamela (a member of Tasmania RM) was born in Canada. Her academic career has been in the field of political studies, and she is also a poet.
At the launch of the book at YM 2018, Pamela said in a message to Friends: “I have brought a particular lens to this project. As a Canadian academic…I have become an Australian during the course of writing. So I offer fresh eyes on the practices of war and peacemaking in which Australia has engaged and built its identity”. In the introduction to the book, Pamela writes that “it seeks to scrutinize peace and war, to wring greater understanding from these concepts, or perhaps the reverse: to inject deeper meaning into terms that have been so widely used that they have come to mean anything and nothing”. In particular, it draws attention to significant alternative views and facts that may raise questions about the more dominant stories told about Australia’s part in World War 1 and armed conflicts since.
The chapters encompass the experience of WW1, its impact during and after, resistance at home, artistic responses, Australians building peace, and ways forward. The emphasis on the human story of war, both at the battle sites and at home, is a major strength of the book. It reflects the marked divisions of the Australian community throughout WW1 and in later conflicts (e.g. Vietnam). The theme of Fear is developed by stories of WW2 when civilians became military targets as never before in order to terrorise – a grim foretaste of what happens today.
Some common themes of all war are explored in the book – the tendency for combatants to be ignored or neglected afterwards, the unequal treatment of different ethnic groups (especially First Nations people), the “hiding” of records of real pain and suffering to soldiers and their families and children, the post-traumatic shock and suicides, the uneven reporting that blurs what really happens in war, and the unwillingness to learn and apply nonviolent ways to respond to conflict and crisis in world affairs.
The contribution of Quakers – alongside many others – is included in the narratives. This includes the experiences of conscientious objectors, the protests against military training for boys, the ambulance work in war zones, the expressions of sympathy to Japanese people after the atomic bomb devastation, support for refugees, and ongoing opposition to increased military spending. Friends have an important record of seeking peaceful outcomes based on the affirmation of basic human dignity.
Overall this is a most valuable resource for study and reflection, for senior school students as well as adults. It can be used to continue QPLC’s aim of promoting dialogue among citizens about how Australians can become more aware of the real costs of war and act in hope to change things for the better. The challenge, as Pamela Leach says, is “for those who want to be peacemakers, by means other than militarism and weaponry, an additional task of reclaiming this ‘peace building’ term, to mean something greater than control through the threat of force”.
David Purnell, Canberra Regional Meeting
Printed copies of the book, and payment arrangements, can be obtained from QPLC at CQPLC@quakersaustralia.info
For on-line access see https://ipoz.biz/ipstore/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=503&search=Pamela+Leach