Blog Archives

Balancing the probabilities, Christopher Pugsley

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton and Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

“What is it that we don’t understand? We’re going to lose this fucking war if we don’t stop killing civilians”: General Stanley McChrystal’s outburst at his morning staff briefing in the summer of 2009 reflected his concern about the steady trickle of Afghan civilian deaths from operations conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). He wrote that the “instinctive way we reacted to alleged incidents made it worse”.  Investigations and apologies meant little if the incidents continued as they did. As a group of Afghan elders told one of his fact-finding teams: “Afghans hear with their eyes, not just with their ears.” In essence, it is not what you say, but what you do – which is the story of Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour.

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New Zealand’s bloodiest campaign, Steven Loveridge

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
Ian McGibbon
Bateman, $80.00,
ISBN 9781869539269

Efforts to explain and/or convey WWI’s Western Front have endured for a century. Libraries could be stocked with military histories investigating the operation of armies, the performance of commanders and the fortunes (often the misfortunes) of this critical centre of the war. Social and cultural studies contemplating subjects ranging from soldiers’ experiences, interpretations rendered in memoirs and monuments, and the wider legacies etched on belligerent societies, have flourished as avenues of inquiry. Popular cultural representations have likewise worked in establishing and transmitting a sense of the subject – the humour within Blackadder’s irreverent summation (“the mud, the noise, the endless … poetry”), for example, hinges on evoking accepted and shared touchstones with the audience.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Powerful peace, Robert Sullivan

Te Whiti o Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka Danny Keenan Huia, $45.00, ISBN 9781775501954 This account of the non-violent resistance movement founded by the prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at the Taranaki settlement of Parihaka begins

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction, Review and War

Imaging war, Stella Ramage

Behind the Twisted Wire: New Zealand Artists in World War I Jennifer Haworth Wily Publications, $50.00, ISBN 9781927167212 Recently, I had the privilege of watching the magnificently restored WWI propaganda film, Battle of the Somme (1916). Shot by official cinematographers

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Posted in Art, Non-fiction, Review and War

Memory and amnesia, Giovanni Tiso

To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials Jock Phillips Potton and Burton, $60.00, ISBN 9780947503024 Think of it as a road guide to New Zealand of sorts, one that maps your route both spatially and chronologically: for almost every town

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Behind bars, Roger Robinson

The Prison Diary of A C Barrington: Dissent and Conformity in Wartime New Zealand John Pratt (with an introduction by John Barrington) Otago University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9781927322314 When did you last think about being in prison? Not the theory

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Mud, blood and misconception, Damien Fenton

First Day of the Somme: The Complete Account of Britain’s Worst-ever Military Disaster  Andrew Macdonald, HarperCollins, $40.00, ISBN 9781775540403 Experience of a Lifetime: People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War  John Crawford, David Littlewood and James Watson (eds)

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With the Second Division, Tony Simpson

A Bloody Road Home: World War Two and New Zealand’s Heroic Second Division Christopher Pugsley Penguin, $70.00 ISBN 9780143571896 It might seem strange that we have had to wait seven decades from the conclusion of WWII for a comprehensive history

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Rescuing an heroic figure, Jane Westaway

Petals & Bullets: Dorothy Morris, New Zealand Nurse in the Spanish Civil War
Mark Derby
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9781927213766

In the preface to Mark Derby’s new book, Spanish War historian Angela Jackson writes of the challenge in recounting the lives of so-called “do-gooders”. Such figures – often female – aren’t sexy. They tend to live beyond the public eye, the corridors of power and the celebrity-mad media. Thus, they leave behind precious little of the source material biographers and historians rely on. Derby notes a related difficulty – that of making a dedicated life “appear interesting” – even though his subject is Dorothy Morris, a Christchurch nurse who worked in Spain during the Civil War, caring for horribly injured civilians and soldiers, as well as starving and traumatised children and refugees.

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Posted in Biography, History, Non-fiction, Review and War

Mingling the sacred and the profane, Martin Edmond

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing
Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean (eds)
Penguin Books, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573098

Oddly enough – or perhaps not – when this book arrived at my door I remembered one of the more arcane customs recorded in Te Rangi Hiroa’s The Coming of the Māori: “Warriors before setting out on a military campaign,” he writes, “each in turn bit (ngau) the cross beam (paepae) of the latrine.” These were cliff-side toilets in hill forts and the cross beam was what you held onto while you shat into the void below. There was a strong tapu upon it, to prevent the theft of faecal matter for the purposes of sorcery; and the ceremony of the biting of the bar was attended by a tohunga chanting karakia considered protective of Te Hokowhitu a Tu as they went off to make war.

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