Let’s for a minute assume that the world is divided into three groups; the brave, the cowards and fools.
If you believe that the biggest cowards are always those whose immediate response is to use the toughest words, then it follows that those who are the quickest to action are likely to be the brave and the foolish.
After attending the premiere of “Eco-Pirate” in Auckland last night, and listening to Paul Watson’s Q & A session afterwards, I think we can safely conclude the man is no coward.
Which leaves the question; is he brave or foolish?
Paul Watson is of course the big guy from Animal Planet’s Whale Wars series; generally dressed in black with a shock of white hair, and a beard set below a pair of menacing brown eyes.
The film charts his early days as one of the first and founding members of Greenpeace in 1970s, when he became notorious for his direct action against the seal clubbers, to his present day battles with the countries of Norway, the Faeroe Islands and of course Japan. For those interested in learning about the evolution of Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and the Green movement more generally, the film provides a useful background, and also details how and why Watson was thrown off the Greenpeace governing body. Needless to say, it had something to do with his no-nonsense approach to dealing with those participating in the seal slaughter, which nearly got both himself and another Greenpeace member killed.
Having seen the heroic pose Watson struck on the publicity poster for the film, I was fearing the film might be little more than an exercise in sycophancy. I am relieved to say this is most certainly not the case. The film fortunately does not try and psychoanalyse Watson. But from the range of allies, enemies and previous friends that were interviewed, it was clear no-one regarded the man as an angel. In fact, as he said at one point in the film; “I know I have a big ego. But I need it to do what I do.” And after witnessing some of the predicaments he has got himself into (and out of) during the course of his extraordinary career, there is no question the ego has been an essential tool of his survival. Watson is gruffly honest about this. No one is going to change him, so if you want to be part of his life, don’t bother trying. A couple of honest interviews with his daughter and ex-wife provide fair evidence of that.
So while his style may come at some cost to those in his personal life, it is unquestionably proving a successful tool in his battles with his enemies. Watson is under no illusion that an appeal to the morals of his enemies is going to work. He wants to hit them where it really hurts; in the wallet. And whether it be an increase in insurance premiums, security costs or additional lobbying, his aggressive approach succeeds in making the activities of the whalers and the illegal – fishermen increasingly hard to justify economically. “It’s a war of attrition. And we are getting stronger and they are getting weaker.”
Which leads one to the conclusion that the man is no fool. Which leaves one last option.
I remember reading many of the comments on the NZ Herald website after the fuss about Peter Bethune’s release from a Japanese prison after his craft had collided with a Japanese whaling ship near Antarctica. The guys with the most bile and the nastiest words (“He should rot in that Jap jail” “Got what he deserved” etc etc) didn’t seem to see how their attempt to look tough simply revealed them to be class act cowards.
Men like Watson are unfortunately a rare breed; you certainly won’t see any in the party political broadcasts currently screening on TV. Indeed, he had only scorn for the NZ government’s “gutless” approach to dealing with the Japanese.
This film is one of your few opportunities to see a brave man at work. Don’t miss it.
The film will be screening at The Vic shortly.