It’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.
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.
I 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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