Does writing military history mean I must have read war comics?

twopeoplesIt’s coming up for eight years since my main book on the New Zealand Wars, Two Peoples, One Land, was published. It’s a book about relationships between colonists and colonised, and I’m still finding thoughts from readers and reviewers about it.

In the latest – published a while back, but new to me, a New Zealand arts commentator said he had the impression I was drawn into military history through a childhood spent reading war comics.

Me, on the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Me, on the Bridge over the River Kwai – yes, THAT bridge. Neither a Commando comic nor Alec Guiness in sight.

Two Peoples isn’t really a military history, but picture the scene! Wright, the malleable child, so shallow he was helplessly conditioned into a life of military enthusiasm by stupid one-dimensional caricatures? Donnerwetter!

Of course I’d prefer people asked me for the facts instead of inventing ideas about me that fit their own prejudices.What did I actually read during my childhood? Physics texts. I kid you not. I’ve never actually read any war comics.  Though I did write a book once on the psychology of military heroism, the antithesis of schoolboy glorification.

heroesI mention all this because it reminded me that when I was a student at Victoria University, the arts faculties were filled with the breathlessly indignant youth of the post-Vietnam, post-Colonial generation, desperate to demonise warfare and any interested in it. Not warfare as it was, but warfare as they imagined it from their position of sanctimonious ignorance and emotyive anger; a shallow, polarised, cartoon caricature of the realities. A polemic that became their truth.

It was, I suppose, how this generation defined themselves – half-educated kids, away from home for the first time, raging at their powerlessness before a world they could neither understand or control. Blucher! And so they pursued their causes with the intolerant zeal of the self-righteous. Any who showed a hint of what they demonised was instantly classified with the whole of their stereotype, whether it was true or not. I suppose most of them grew up and got jobs. Für Sie ist der Krieg vorbei.

I found it curious to see the logic echoed, thirty years on, in the reviewer’s fantasy about the supposed origin of my interests. War comics – blokishness – shallow military enthusiasms. Of course. They all go together.  Essen Stiefel, Fritz!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014 


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20 thoughts on “Does writing military history mean I must have read war comics?

  1. I’m afraid this applies to the person writing about any subject the reader does not like. Luckily it says more about the reader than about the writer.

    1. It certainly does! What I find intriguing about this sort of experience is that it’s not hard to get hold of me. So they could check up on the facts before spouting off about my character or motives. Do they? Nooooo…. 😦

      1. Ah, but they’re not interested in the facts. They’re usually only interested in a bunch of like-minded people patting them on the back. And making stuff up is so much easier than searching for the truth.

  2. An arts commentator? Doesn’t he know that war comics *are* art. Or maybe even better than art, seeing as art has had to imitate the war comic (Roy Lichtenstein’s “Whaam!”, anyone?).

    1. I couldn’t speculate! What got me was that even a whiff of military content provoked the speculation. You’ve read ‘Two Peoples’ – it’s not exactly hard core military history. By design, of course. I had to cover that aspect to rebut what Belich asserted, but the specialist military-historical rebuttal of Belich’s more egregious claims had already been published by Chris Pugsley, and he’d done his usual brilliant analysis to which there was nothing much that I could add at that time. I’ve dug up some more stuff since, which I’m publishing this year in a revised edition of my other book on the NZ wars, so we’ll see where that goes.

  3. Gosh, when I was growing up, unless you read “Archie” or something like that, a sizeable proportion of the comics were “war” comics — Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, stuff like that — or action comics of one sort or another. Hm. Do the later comics (or early graphic novels, if you prefer) based on Robert E. Howard’s character Conan the Barbarian count?

    My point would be exposure to so-called “war comics” in the 1950s and 1960s was almost unavoidable, at least here in the States. “A childhood spent reading war comics” sounds like a shallow comment, meant as a put-down, without any perceptible substance my poor war-comic-influenced brain can perceive.

    Soldier on, mate! 😉

  4. Apparently, not everyone from Victoria U grew up, apparently. This reminds me of my time in California where I befriended a group of folks based on a mutual fascination with Fantasy, The Hobbit, and LOTR. Unfortunately, similarities ended there. When I realized my flight sim (Combat Flight Simulator 2) could be reconfigured to feature any ww2 conflict anywhere on the globe, and my own campaigns could easily be created, I started creating aerial campaigns over Malta, the Russo-Finnish conflicts, over the Karelian Isthmus, and the air battles over Port Darwin. While in California I was still serving the US Navy Reserve, so guess where my head was at? I always loved military history, but the California way was to hate all things military and belittle and demean anything associated with it. I tried to educate my errant cohorts, but it was here that I crashed against the bulwark of fanaticism. I had a co-worker who argued that Israel had “always” used American equipment and thus always had the best (this is wildly incorrect – they used French aircraft primarily during the heaviest battles), I tried to correct her error. I know about this because I’d studied this conflict (and custom-built the plastic models as a result) from the age of 12. And here this woman told me, “You need to READ about this more before saying anything.” *gasp* I’m still wondering what she was “reading.” She also felt that Katyushka Rockets were literally the equal of a bottle-rocket. A thirty-second Google search could easily correct this misunderstanding if one were merely interested in…”reading.” *sigh*

    1. It was the reading about matters military that was lacking when I was at Vic. Pity as it is an integral part of history and the human condition. We have to accept it as happening and the onus is on us to understand. Apropos the Israeli air force – I built a Hasegawa model of one of their Mirage 5s/Kfirs many years ago Definitely not an American aircraft! 🙂

      1. True. It is part of us. Let’s hope at least that we learn from our mistakes. I should hope we never again go to war of “Domino Theory” [rolling eyes]. The Kfir is one of my faves. A gorgeous plane. The US actually bought some from Israel (few would believe that) for use as a mock Aggressor in the training squadrons. We call it F-21, here. One of the rare cases where the US military bought foreign-made equipment.

        1. I recall reading about the DACT Kfirs. They were a wonderful looking aircraft and that canard made all the difference to their manouvreability. Didn’t they have a J79 instead of the Atar? Can”t recall now.

          1. Yes. The Mirage 5 was the result of Israeli-directed revisions to the Mirage IIICJ. They wanted better attack capability. Later, they took just one of the two J79 engines from their aging F-4 Phantoms and placed it in the Mirage 5 airframe. From parts cobbled together from two aging aircraft they created a world-beater for the time in the Kfir.

  5. Gott in Himmel, Herr Wright – for you, ze war writing is over, ja? Hands hoch, Englander schwein! Yes, have to confess to reading the odd war comic as a kid but can’t remember a thing…

    1. I was never allowed war comics as a kid. Blucher! Somewhere, in a box of papers in the back shed, is the ‘war comic’ I wrote as a student by way of lampooning the student in-crowds. I would dig it out and publish it on this blog but (a) there are amoeba on Saturn that can draw better than I can, and (b) I have many boxes of papers in the back shed and I have absolutely no idea which one this is in…It might even be papier mache by now. Donnerwetter!

        1. Yes, war comics are not unique to the British. And I’m aware that not all of them are shallow rah-rah ‘boys own’ stories. But the popular IMAGE of them veers towards that, certainly when they are described by those who oppose them.

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