Oct 122017
 

On this date in 1915 nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (1865 – 1915) was executed by a German firing squad. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. She is well known for her statement that “patriotism is not enough, I must have no hate in my heart.” Her strong Anglican beliefs propelled her to help all those who needed help, both German and Allied soldiers. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” The Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on this date.

Cavell was born on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston, near Norwich, where her father was vicar for 45 years. She was educated at Norwich High School for Girls, then boarding schools in Clevedon, Somerset and Peterborough. After a period as a governess, including for a family in Brussels 1890–1895, she returned home to care for her father during a serious illness. The experience led her to become a nurse after her father’s recovery. In April 1896, at the age of 30, Cavell applied to become a nurse probationer at the London Hospital under Matron Eva Luckes. She worked in various hospitals in England, including Shoreditch Infirmary (now St Leonard’s Hospital). As a private traveling nurse treating patients in their homes.

In 1907, Cavell was recruited by Dr Antoine Depage to be matron of a newly established nursing school, L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées, (or The Berkendael Medical Institute) on the Rue de la Culture (now Rue Franz Merjay), in Ixelles, Brussels. In 1910 she launched the nursing journal, L’infirmière” and within a year she was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium.

When the First World War broke out, she was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk. She returned to Brussels, where her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross. Cavell had been offered a position as the matron (head nurse) in a Brussels clinic. In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funneling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. Wounded British and French soldiers as well as Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Réginald de Croÿ at his château of Bellignies near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin and others in Brussels; where their hosts would furnish them with money to reach the Dutch frontier and provide them with guides obtained through Philippe Baucq. This placed Cavell in violation of German military law. German authorities became increasingly suspicious of her actions, further fueled by her outspokenness.

She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harboring Allied soldiers. She had been betrayed by Gaston Quien, who was later convicted by a French court as a collaborator. She was held in Saint-Gilles prison for ten weeks, the last two of which were spent in solitary confinement. She made three depositions to the German police (on 8, 18 and 22 August), admitting that she had been instrumental in conveying about 60 British and 15 French soldiers as well as about 100 French and Belgian civilians of military age to the frontier and had sheltered most of them in her house.

In her court-martial she was prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, in addition to young Belgian men, to cross the border and eventually enter Britain. She admitted her guilt when she signed a statement the day before the trial. Cavell declared that the soldiers she had helped escape thanked her in writing when they arrived safely in Britain. This admission confirmed that Cavell had helped the soldiers navigate the Dutch frontier, but it also established that she helped them escape to a country at war with Germany.

The penalty according to German military law was death. Paragraph 58 of the German Military Code said that guilty parties; “Will be sentenced to death for treason any person who, with the intention of helping the hostile Power, or of causing harm to the German or allied troops, is guilty of one of the crimes of paragraph 90 of the German Penal Code.” The case referred to in the above-mentioned paragraph 90 consists of “Conducting soldiers to the enemy”, although this was not traditionally punishable by death.  Additionally, the penalties according to paragraph 160 of the German Code, in case of war, applied to foreigners as well as Germans.

While the First Geneva Convention ordinarily guaranteed protection of medical personnel, that protection was forfeit if used as cover for any belligerent action. This forfeiture is expressed in article 7 of the 1906 version of the Convention, which was the version in force at the time. The German authorities instead justified prosecution merely on the basis of the German law and the interests of the German state.

The British government could do nothing to help her. Sir Horace Rowland of the Foreign Office said, “I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell; I am afraid we are powerless.” Lord Robert Cecil, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, advised that, “Any representation by us, will do her more harm than good.” The United States, however, had not yet joined the war and was in a position to apply diplomatic pressure. Hugh S. Gibson, First Secretary of the U.S. legation at Brussels, made clear to the German government that executing Cavell would further harm Germany’s already damaged reputation. Later, he wrote:

We reminded [German civil governor Baron von der Lancken] of the burning of Louvain and the sinking of the Lusitania, and told him that this murder would rank with those two affairs and would stir all civilised countries with horror and disgust. Count Harrach broke in at this with the rather irrelevant remark that he would rather see Miss Cavell shot than have harm come to the humblest German soldier, and his only regret was that they had not “three or four old English women to shoot.”

Baron von der Lancken is known to have stated that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty and because she had helped save so many lives, German as well as Allied. However, General von Sauberzweig, the military governor of Brussels, ordered that “in the interests of the State” the implementation of the death penalty against Baucq and Cavell should be immediate, denying higher authorities an opportunity to consider clemency. Cavell was defended by lawyer Sadi Kirschen from Brussels. Of the 27 persons put on trial, five were condemned to death: Cavell, Baucq (an architect in his thirties), Louise Thuliez, Séverin and Countess Jeanne de Belleville. Of the five sentenced to death, only Cavell and Baucq were executed; the other three were granted reprieve.

When in custody, Cavell was questioned in French, but the session was minuted in German; which gave the interrogator the opportunity to misinterpret her answers. Although she may have been misrepresented, she made no attempt to defend herself. The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London. Her final words to the German Lutheran prison chaplain, Paul Le Seur, were recorded as, “Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”

From his sick bed Brand Whitlock, the U.S. minister to Belgium, wrote a personal note on Cavell’s behalf to Moritz von Bissing, the governor general of Belgium. Hugh Gibson; Maitre G. de Leval, the legal adviser to the United States legation; and Rodrigo Saavedra y Vinent, 2nd Marques de Villalobar, the Spanish minister, formed a midnight deputation of appeal for mercy or at least postponement of sentence. Despite these efforts, on 11 October, Baron von der Lancken allowed the execution to proceed. Sixteen men, forming two firing squads, carried out the sentence pronounced on her, and on four Belgian men at the Tir national shooting range in Schaerbeek, at 7:00 am on 12 October 1915.

In the months and years following Cavell’s death, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images, and books publicized her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain, and to help increase favourable sentiment towards the Allies in the United States. She was a popular icon because she was a woman, her nursing profession, and her apparently heroic approach to death. Her execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity.

The Imperial German Government believed that it had acted fairly towards Cavell. In a letter, German undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Dr Alfred Zimmermann (not to be confused with Arthur Zimmermann, German Secretary for Foreign Affairs) made a statement to the press on behalf of the German government:

It was a pity that Miss Cavell had to be executed, but it was necessary. She was judged justly…It is undoubtedly a terrible thing that the woman has been executed; but consider what would happen to a State, particularly in war, if it left crimes aimed at the safety of its armies to go unpunished because committed by women.

German laws did not make distinctions between sexes, the only exception to this rule being that according to legal customs, women in a “delicate” condition (that is, pregnant), could not be executed. However, in January 1916 the Kaiser decreed that regarding women from then on, capital punishment should not be carried out without his explicit prior endorsement.

I’ve chosen a Norfolk recipe for today because of Cavell’s place of origin: Norfolk dumplings. They are sometimes known as “sinkers and swimmers” because of the habit of some of them to float and some to sink when cooked. You should really prefer the swimmers to the sinkers. Unlike other British dumplings, the Norfolk variety are traditionally made without suet or fat. Because of the lack of fat they are a bit more digestible for invalids I suspect. They can be served on their own as a side dish, but they are usually cooked in stews. This recipe is absolutely plain and basic, but you can add some flavorings such as parsley, if you prefer.

Norfolk Dumplings

Ingredients

½ lb plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt

Instructions

Sieve the flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Mix all the ingredients together with enough water to make a light dough.

Turn the dough on to a floured board, knead lightly. Then pinch off small pieces and form into round dumplings.

The dumplings can be cooked in gently boiling water for 20 minutes, or added to a stew 20 minutes before serving.

Dec 302016
 

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Today is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday that commemorates the execution of patriot José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, popularly known as José Rizal, on this date in 1896 by Spanish colonial authorities. He was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. His sole “crime” was that of writing in opposition to Spanish rule. I am a great admirer of rebels like Rizal; they show how powerful writing can be, and how much writers are to be feared by the corrupt and inhumane. Guns, tanks, bombs, police brutality etc. etc. are certainly things to be mortally afraid of, but it is the words of the poet that endure.

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Rizal was born in 1861 in the town of Calamba in Laguna province. He had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm owned by the Dominicans. Both their families had adopted the additional surnames of Rizal and Realonda in 1849, after Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed the adoption of Spanish surnames among the Filipinos for census purposes (though they already had Spanish names).

Like many families in the Philippines, the Rizals were of mixed origin. José’s patrilineal lineage could be traced back to Fujian in China through his father’s ancestor Lam-Co, a Chinese merchant who immigrated to the Philippines in the late 17th century. Lam-Co traveled to Manila from Amoy in China, possibly to avoid the famine or plague in his home district, and more probably to escape the Manchu invasion. He finally decided to stay in the islands as a farmer. In 1697, to escape the bitter anti-Chinese prejudice that existed in the Philippines, he converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Domingo Mercado and married the daughter of an indigenous Philippines resident. On his mother’s side, Rizal’s ancestry included Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog blood. His mother’s lineage can be traced to the affluent Florentina family of Chinese mestizo families originating in Baliuag, Bulacan.

From an early age, Rizal showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, he dropped the last three names that made up his full name, on the advice of his brother, Paciano and the Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, he later wrote: “My family never paid much attention [to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child!” This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links to Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (popularly known as Gomburza) who had been accused and executed for treason.

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Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguished himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that were critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. In 1891, the year he finished El Filibusterismo, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, “All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name…”

Rizal first studied under Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna, before he was sent to Manila. He took the entrance examination in Colegio de San Juan de Letran but he then enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated as one of the nine students in his class declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas where he did take up a preparatory course in law. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to switch to medicine at the medical school of Santo Tomas specializing later in ophthalmology.

Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. He also attended medical lectures at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. In Berlin, he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the Anthropological Society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg”, which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West.

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At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker. There he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope (invented by Hermann von Helmholtz) to later operate on his own mother’s eye. From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.” He lived in a Karlstraße boarding house then moved to Ludwigsplatz. There, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and stayed with him in Wilhelmsfeld, where he wrote the last few chapters of Noli Me Tángere.

Rizal’s amazing multifacetedness was well known. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. Rizal’s life is one of the most documented of 19th century Filipinos due to the vast and extensive records written by and about him. He wrote in several languages and translated many for publication. Overall he was fully conversant in 22 languages. He was also well traveled. He lived and worked in various parts of Asia and Europe, and also visited the United States.

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Rizal’s two most famous novels were originally published in Europe:  Noli Me Tángere, published in Berlin in 1887, and El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent in 1891. These works angered both the Spanish colonial elite and many rich, educated Filipinos. Among other things,They are critical of Spanish friars and the power of the Church. Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austria-Hungary-born professor and historian, wrote that the novel’s characters were drawn from real life and that every episode could be repeated on any day in the Philippines.

Blumentritt was the grandson of the Imperial Treasurer at Vienna in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and a staunch defender of the Catholic faith. This did not dissuade him from writing the preface of El Filibusterismo after he had translated Noli Me Tángere into German. As Blumentritt had warned, these books (and many other published essays on conditions under Spanish rule) resulted in Rizal’s being prosecuted as the inciter of revolution. He was eventually tried by the military, convicted, and executed. This act triggered an enormously adverse reaction in the Philippines and helped fuel the Philippine Revolution of 1896 which ended Spanish rule.

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Moments before his execution on December 30, 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, a backup force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot the executioners should they fail to obey orders. His last words were those of Jesus Christ: “consummatum est”, – it is finished. He was certainly a deliberate martyr. Rizal was arrested in Spain en route to Cuba and transported back to Manila for trial. During the return journey he was given ample opportunity to escape but refused to take it. He was 35 years old when he was executed.

He was secretly buried in Pacò Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave. His sister Narcisa toured all possible gravesites and found freshly turned earth at the cemetery with guards posted at the gate. Assuming this could be the most likely spot she made a gift to the caretaker to mark the site “RPJ”, Rizal’s initials in reverse.

His undated poem, “Mi último adiós” believed to be written a few days before his execution, was hidden in an alcohol stove, which was later handed to his family with his few remaining possessions, including the final letters and his last bequests. During their visit, Rizal reminded his sisters in English, “There is something inside it”, referring to the alcohol stove given by the Pardo de Taveras which was to be returned after his execution, thereby emphasizing the importance of the poem. This instruction was followed by another, “Look in my shoes”, in which another item was secreted. Exhumation of his remains in August 1898, under US rule, revealed he had not been buried in a coffin, and whatever was in his shoes had disintegrated. Now he is buried in Rizal Monument in Manila.

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In his letter to his family he wrote: “Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated…Love them greatly in memory of me…December 30, 1896.” He gave his family instructions for his burial: “Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries.”

This last request was not honored. Rizal Day was first instituted with a decree from President Emilio Aguinaldo issued December 20, 1898 and celebrated December 30, 1898 as a national day of mourning for Rizal in Malolos, Bulacan and all victims of the Spanish colonial rule of the Philippines. Daet, Camarines Norte was the first town to follow the decree, building a monument designed by Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, led by Sanz and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre, and financed by the townspeople of Camarines Norte and the rest of the Bicol Region.

With the victory of the US over Spain in the Spanish–American War, the US took control of the Philippines. In an effort to demonstrate that they were more pro-Filipino than the Spaniards, the US Governor-General William Howard Taft in 1901 named Rizal a Philippine national hero. A year later, on February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 345, which made December 30 a public holiday. To underscore the solemnity of the event, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 229 into law on June 9, 1948 that prohibits cockfighting, horse racing, and jai-alai every December 30. The law also requires that flags across the country remain at half staff throughout the day.

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Adobo is an obvious dish to celebrate the life and work of Rizal. I gave a recipe for chicken adobo here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/araw-ng-kasarinlan-independence-day-philippines/ Now it’s time for pork adobo. This is not just a change in meats, but in cooking style in general. Although the name adobo is taken from Spanish, the cooking method has evolved from techniques indigenous to the Philippines. Cooking meat in vinegar and salt dates back to before the Spanish conquest and was used for both pork and chicken. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they encountered this cooking process. It was first recorded in the dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala (1613) compiled by the Spanish Franciscan missionary Pedro de San Buenaventura. He referred to it as adobo de los naturales (“adobo of the native peoples”). Dishes prepared in this manner eventually came to be known by this name, with the original term for the dish is now lost. Chinese traders introduced soy sauce which has replaced salt in the dish. However, there are adobo purists who continue to use salt in their adobo.

There are, of course, numerous variants of the adobo recipe in the Philippines. The most basic ingredient of adobo is vinegar, which is usually coconut vinegar, rice vinegar, or cane vinegar (although sometimes white wine or cider vinegar can also be used). Almost every ingredient can be changed according to personal preference. Even people in the same household can cook adobo in significantly different ways. Adobo without soy sauce is known as adobong puti (“white adobo” or “blond adobo”), which uses salt instead, to contrast it with adobong itim (“black adobo”), the more prevalent versions with soy sauce.

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The following is just a suggestion from the hundreds of possibilities. The kind of vinegar you choose makes all the difference. I use rice wine vinegar which is not very traditional, but I prefer the flavor to harsher vinegars.

Adobong Puti

Ingredients

2 lbs (1 kg) pork belly, cubed
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1  bay leaf
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 (or more) black peppercorns, cracked
cooking oil (for deep frying)
1 tsp sugar

Instructions

Combine the pork, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, and 1 cup of cold water in a large stock pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender (at least 1 hour).

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the broth and leave it to dry on the surface. You can pat it with paper towels if need be.

Heat the oil to 350°F/175°C and deep fry the pork in small batches until it is golden on all sides.

Return the pork to the broth and simmer until the liquid has been reduced by a half. Add the sugar and adjust the seasonings to taste. I often add a little extra minced garlic and some freshly ground black pepper at the end. Simmer a few minutes longer.

Serve hot in deep bowls with rice and a tomato salad.

Serves 6

Feb 272016
 

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On this date in 1902 Australian lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant (along with his comrade in arms, Peter Handcock) was executed by firing squad by the British army after being convicted for murder during the 2nd Boer War. Morant, and Handcock, along with lieutenants George Witton, Henry Picton, Captain Alfred Taylor and Major Robert Lenehan – of the Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC), an irregular British force active during the Boer War – were all brought up on charges of murder which were, in part, prompted by a “letter of complaint” signed by James Christie and 14 other members of the BVC, stating that lieutenant Morant had incited the co-accused to murder about 20 people, including the Boer commando Visser, a group of eight Boer prisoners of war, Boer civilian adults and children, and a German missionary named Heese. Morant and Handcock were acquitted of killing Heese, but were sentenced to death on the other two charges and executed within 18 hours of sentencing. Their death warrants were personally signed by Lord Kitchener (before the verdicts were read).

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It was not until 1907 that news of the trial and executions was made public in Australia when Witton published Scapegoats of the Empire. The Australian government ensured that none of its troops would be tried by the British military during World War I, but by then Australia was a nation, whereas during the Boer Wars Australia was a series of colonies which came directly under British rule. The official court records have never been found, prompting accusations of a British cover up.

Conflicting opinions continue to swirl around the trial and execution, not least because of interest aroused by continued publications, and the release of the 1980 film Breaker Morant. The facts of the matter have never been in dispute, and were never denied at the trial. Morant had ordered the summary executions of Visser and 8 prisoners of war. Controversy continues concerning the reasons for the trials of these men at this time. As one of the characters notes in the movie, the Boer War was “a new kind of war for a new century” – what we now call “total war” and what became normative in the 20th century.

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Total war, which, it can be argued, started with the Boer War, involves such tactics as the lack of differentiation between combatants and non-combatants since opposing sides can consider nearly every human resource, even that of non-combatants, as part of the war effort. Thus, civilians and other non-combatants and their resources can become “legitimate” targets of war – evidenced by the carpet bombing of industrial cities, such as Coventry and Dresden in World War II, or the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, in which large numbers of civilian men, women, and children died. Total war can also involve commands to take no prisoners as a tactic.

Let me be quite clear on my moral stance before exploring the complexities and differing opinions on this case. I am utterly opposed to violence on any grounds. I am a confirmed pacifist and cannot be moved from that position. So, in examining the various viewpoints concerning the trial and execution of Morant I begin from the stance that war under any circumstances is morally wrong and, therefore, ALL acts of war are atrocities by definition, and cannot be condoned. That said, it’s possible to examine the arguments on all sides in Morant’s case.

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Bruce Beresford, director of Breaker Morant has made it very clear what his motives were in making the movie:

The film never pretended for a moment that they weren’t guilty. It said they are guilty. But what was interesting about it was that it analysed why men in this situation would behave as they had never behaved before in their lives. It’s the pressures that are put to bear on people in war time… Look at all the things that happen in these countries committed by people who appear to be quite normal. That was what I was interested in examining. I always get amazed when people say to me that this is a film about poor Australians who were framed by the Brits.

I find Beresford’s remarks a tad disingenuous, although I understand his main point. The underlying reality is that the Boers, caught in a conflict that they felt they could not win, had begun resorting to guerrilla tactics that involved the killing of civilians and destruction of their property, as well as the execution of prisoners of war, so that the British felt justified in retaliating in like fashion. Many believe that such tactics were tacitly approved of by the British high command, including Lord Kitchener, but there were no public declarations or direct orders to that effect because such edicts would have been condemned internationally, and, hence, Morant et al were part of a show trial so that Britain could distance itself from tactics which it secretly condoned.

Then we get to the tricky question – the so-called Nuremburg defense. Can soldiers be excused acts of barbarity during times of war simply because they were following orders? Not a question with a straightforward answer. The answer in Nuremburg and Morant’s case was a resounding NO. But I can understand how a soldier, even one of high moral standards, could feel conflicted. The penalty for disobeying orders might be execution. This point, in fact, leads directly to Beresford’s central idea: modern war brutalizes people such that they are never the same afterwards. Here’s the summation by defense counsel from Breaker Morant. What do you think?

If you don’t want to watch the clip, here is an abbreviated transcript:

Now, when the rules and customs of war are departed from by one side, one must expect the same sort of behavior from the other. Accordingly, officers of the Carbineers should be, and up until now have been, given the widest possible discretion in their treatment of the enemy.

Now, I don’t ask for proclamations condoning distasteful methods of war, but I do say that we must take for granted that it does happen. Let’s not give our officers hazy, vague instructions about what they may or may not do. Let’s not reprimand them, on the one hand for hampering the column with prisoners, and at another time, and another place, hold them up as murderers for obeying orders.

The fact of the matter is that war changes men’s natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations, situations in which the ebb and flow of everyday life have departed and have been replaced by a constant round of fear, and anger, blood, and death. Soldiers at war are not to be judged by civilian rules, as the prosecution is attempting to do, even though they commit acts which, calmly viewed afterwards, could only be seen as unchristian and brutal. And if, in every war, particularly guerrilla war, all the men who committed reprisals were to be charged and tried as murderers, court martials like this one would be in permanent session. Would they not?

I say that we cannot hope to judge such matters unless we ourselves have been submitted to the same pressures, the same provocations as these men, whose actions are on trial.

Of course the judges in the court martial were military officers, so such a summation was wasted on them – coupled with the fact that the verdict was a foregone conclusion. I would hope that, if anything, the trial brings to light the fact that in modern total war, atrocities are the norm, and are habitually condoned by the high command. It’s well past time to stop using war as a political tool.

Morant's grave

Morant’s grave

I could not find a record of Morant’s last meal before execution. It surely would have been accorded him even though he was shot a bare 18 hours after the verdict was read, which meant he had no chance of appeal, and the entire proceedings had been kept secret from the public. What would your last meal be? I’ve asked this question many times of people. I think I’d have to fall back on comfort food, such as, cock-a-leekie soup, steak and kidney pudding, and apple crumble with egg custard — all British standards which I’ve mentioned numerous times before. However, I would not want to rely on a prison cook to make them the way I like, so they might be wasted choices. Considering that problem, I’d probably have to base my decision on where I was, and what dishes were available locally. Then I’d be down to questions like, “What’s your favorite dish in San Francisco? Nairobi? Tokyo? Adelaide? . . .” I can’t say what my favorite dish of all time is. There’s too many, and, in any case, my tastes change. So maybe just something gargantuan and varied. I’ve always been a fan of all-you-can-eat buffets. I use a small plate, take small portions of one or two different things, and return often.

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I don’t get many comments on this blog, so this is a perfect moment for you to weigh in. What’s your pick for a last meal?