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Rex Weyler, 'Greenpeace: An Insider's Account'

Rodale / Pan Macmillan, 2004; ISBN 1 4050 7735 2; Hb £18.99; 600pp

It was a pleasure to be given this to review - it's a book I'd want to buy if I could afford it.

Rex Weyler has written a history of a major part of this movement, assessing many of the personalities, and narrating some of the dramatic stories. (See interview p10-12.)

Lots of this has been told before, but this might be the first attempt to pull so much of this history together by someone so close to it. It is a pity it concentrates on the 1970s, though that means it gives a fascinating insight into the struggles to establish a Greenpeace network in the form it took.

Not exactly an official account, but certainly an insider's one. And it's pretty well written.

But... - and it's a big but - my first reaction to what is supposed to be a factual account of something with which I've had any involvement is to look for the bits I have first hand (or otherwise definite) knowledge of. And finding the coverage of events in

Britain, what do I discover? Not much that I recognise.

There are references to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the famous ND symbol, Aldermaston marches, and so on: virtually all are simply wrong. And I was genuinely surprised to discover my name in the book: turning to horror when I saw the absurd ways I was characterised, in terms which no-one who had ever encountered me politically would connect with me.

Furthermore, doubt is cast on the nonviolent commitment of Peace News itself, by falsely suggesting organisational links to the activities of someone who has had no more connection with the paper than any of thousands of people whose actions have been reported in PN's pages.

I'm not just nitpicking. I reckon if pretty much everything I do know about is wrong, then it's hard to have faith in the other parts of the book which don't come from the author's direct experience either.

Perhaps the most misleading aspect of the book, with regard to its British-related coverage, is not something which is actively wrong, but the omission of explicit reference to the London Greenpeace Group. This group, with quite independent origins, from the same era as the Vancouver Greenpeace Foundation (which led to Greenpeace International) is simply described as “activists from Peace News“.

The fact that people from London Greenpeace were disdainful of the hierarchical style being developed by Vancouver Greenpeacers was evidence - according to this account - that there wasn't a real Greenpeace group in London. In fact, it was evidence that the group was continuing in the libertarian and co-operative tradition the GP groups around Britain and elsewhere had adopted in the earliest days, and weren't prepared to take their orders from Vancouver.

Hence Vancouver set up a branch, Greenpeace UK Ltd, which became part of Greenpeace International. Relations between this and the indigenous Greenpeace became less fraught over the years. But they hit a new low in the 1990s when the then leader of UK Greenpeace issued a friendly press release for McDonald's to use in their PR assault on London Greenpeace at the launch of the McLibel case against two London Greenpeace activists.

A fascinating book, but clearly only a story of Greenpeace, and not all of it can be relied on as a historical resource.

Topics: Green