Field Punishment No 1 reviewed – reminder that the war’s not over

Posted: April 24, 2014 by Admin in Imperialism and anti-imperialism, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Political prisoners, Protest, Workers history, WWI

ceasebgby Don Franks

In a week of  sickly sentiment-coated militarism,  TV One’s Tuesday movie Field Punishment No 1 rocked the boat wonderfully. The Archibald Baxter book We shall not Cease, on which the film was largely based, is one I read in my early twenties.

Then, it made an indelible impression on me. Not so much for the pacifist outlook of the writer, which I found unconvincing.

What impressed me was the radical stance and courage with which Baxter and his comrades fearlessly delivered their message. In a clear, irrepressibly buoyant voice, Archibald Baxter records a level of sustained, committed protest action that has seldom been equalled.

As well as being welldirected and -acted, Field Punishment No 1 is true to the spirit and message of Baxter’s book. The result is an exposure of the futility of WWI in terms of its impact on ordinary working people. The film does not set out the underlying imperialist causes and currents of the war, but it lays a firm basis for that discussion to take place.

This stone of subversion in the ANZAC Day propaganda flood has already made waves.

After paying quite fulsome respects to aspects the film’s worth, Dominion Post film reviewer Jane Clifton nervously cautioned:

“Any dramatisation of the men’s stories will necessarily have a bias, and leave viewers with unanswered questions. Quite how they reconciled their pacifist stance with the possibility that their own democracy, the very freedom they so cherished, was at risk and needed defending was never quite traversed.

“That they were effectively refusing to protect or defend friendly countries in distress was not tackled satisfactorily either. The ‘conchies’ were the presumptive heroes. This – no pun intended – non-neutral perspective will have aggravated some viewers, especially given the renaissance in reverence for those who did put their lives on the line in that war.”

“Defending democracy at risk” – “defending friendly countries in distress”?

Jane Clifton only lacks a basket of accusing white feathers.

In the space of a few well-worn words we are whisked back to the capitalist propaganda of a century ago. The deception could hardly be more crass.

When New Zealand and other Commonwealth troops attempted an invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli they were part of British imperialism’s move to carve up the Ottoman Empire – a previously “friendly country” – now in distress because of Commonwealth firepower. Which killed 85,000 Turks trying to defend their invaded homeland.

WWI has gone, and now the last soldier participating in it has died, but the class war is not over.

Clifton’s repeated propaganda myths are well-worn and wrong, but they still linger. Capitalism cannot entirely relinquish this propaganda, because they require the same blind obedience from the working class for their future wars.

We owe it to former anti-war activists and ourselves to continue the struggle against the profiteers’ war mongering (or, as they prefer calling  it today, “Peace Keeping”) .

For more ammunition to counter capitalism’s war propaganda, see other articles on this site.

Also, for an alternative ANZAC Day special, tune in to Don Franks Music  783 AM, this Friday 7.30 pm. (Programme  Podcasts on line.)


  1. PhilF says:

    It’s rather difficult to rewrite WW1 as a ‘good war’, given that it’s so obvious that it was an inter-imperialist conflict that redivided chunks of the globe. That, however, hasn’t stopped the attempt to rewrite it.

    A few days back I saw bourgeois historian Glyn Harper on TV claiming that German war aims in WW1 were essentially the same as in WW2. Utterly ahistorical and utterly nonsense but, needless to say, this risible claim went unchallenged by the interviewer.

    As for Jane Clifton – she sometimes has some useful insights into bourgeois politics in her ‘Listener’ column, but she clearly knows bugger all about World War 1.

    Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s ‘The Great Wrong War’ is an excellent counter to this kind of nonsense.


  2. Don Franks says:

    Dougal McNeil has just written a very good comprehensive article on this subject.

    “ANZAC Day: against the carnival of reaction”

    It’s published on International Socialist blog‎