In Afterword, following this morning’s Quaker Meeting for Worship, some attending expressed their frustration of feeling so powerless in the light of the Ukraine invasion, when another mentioned the part Aotearoa New Zealand and its military played in not only bringing a brutal war to an end but the bringing of long lasting peace. It was brought about without a shot being fired, not because they had overwhelming power but because they were powerless – no weapons whatsoever, even for self defence. Instead they armed themselves with guitars and the haka.
After Meeting, I located the documentary titled Soldiers Without Guns, a documentary thirteen years in the making, produced by TMI Pictures, directed by Will Watson, and narrated by Lucy Lawless. Strictly speaking most of the narration is by participants and victims of the conflict and those attempting to bring peace, principly New Zealand military personnel, and the women of Bougainville. Lawless helps tie it all together and informs the viewer of the history that led to the conflict.
The war in question was waged on the island of Bougainville, ran for ten long years, and cost the lives of one sixth of the population. It was as brutal as that currently waged by Russia in Ukraine and previously in Syria, with civilians being targets and victims. Sure it was not on the same scale as those wars, as the populations and resources of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville are tiny in comparison to those of Russia and Ukraine. But the methods were just as brutal. It seems to be that this pattern of warfare that is becoming only too common.
The 2019 documentary is long at 96 minutes but fortunately avoids the graphic gore and brutality of the conflict. It brings to the fore the pain and suffering experienced especially by the women and children, but also the hope, faith and strength of those who suffered the most. It show that there are alternatives to the use of violence to end violence.
At its heart I feel the documentary demonstrates how aroha (bringing together in peace, love, giving and forgiving) can be more effective than brute force in ending conflict that results in a genuine peace (not simply a lack of violence), the role women can play in bringing conflict to an end, and how forgiveness can be more effective than retribution.
On this last point, I believe that the decision not to prosecute war crimes, irrespective of who carried them out, was the correct decision and, in my opinion should be considered in the Ukrainian conflict. The reasoning was simple: Those who are guilty have nothing to lose and everything to gain by extending the war in order to avoid or delay punishment. Justice comes in many forms, and in my mind, retribution and punishment are poor forms of justice at best, and are outweighed by the process of restorative justice and the saving of lives that would have otherwise been lost by an extended conflict, not to mention the reduction of pain and suffering that could have continued for years, perhaps decades.
Some may say that forgiveness is not the Western way. Perhaps, but isn’t it a central tenet of Christianity? If Western history can teach us anything it’s that retribution is usually planting the seed of the next conflict. It hasn’t worked for the West in the past. There’s no evidence that it will work in the future. As is eloquently spoken in the documentary, “Human beings are only mistake makers. The only real mistake is the one we learn nothing from them”.
In some ways, the documentary emphasises the influence of Māori culture on NZ society and the NZ military as a significant factor in helping bring an ending to the conflict – that no other nation was capable of doing so. Perhaps in this specific example it might be true because of our awareness and valuing of non-Western culture, but I would like to think that other nations – including large, powerful and wealthy ones – are also capable of doing the same: bringing peace without the use of force. All that is required is a willingness to take the risk. I think it’s worth it. What’s your opinion?
I have located two sources of the documentary: NZ On Screen and Vimeo. WordPress will not allow me to embed the NZ On Screen video but did allow the Vimeo version. It is a powerful and moving documentary and illustrates an alternative non-violent method of resolving conflict – one that’s no less risky, but potentially with immeasurably better outcomes.