Tributes to Owen Wilkes
Tributes to Owen Wilkes
Tributes: Peace Movement Aotearoa Green Party Linda Kennedy Peter Hayes Peter Wills Stephanie McKee Charlie Northcroft Don Borrie Pete Lusk Sister Monica Nick Wilson Ross Brown Pauline Tangiora Barney Richards Anna Cottrell Jeanne and Bill van Gorkom Paul Landais - Stamp Kevin Clements Lyndsay McMillan Mia Tay Tim Jones Margaret Mander W. Chapman Jim Falk Roland G. Simbulan Bevan Taylor Paul Bruce Patti Willis Ray Goldstein
I have only found out that dear Owen Wilkes is dead. I ‘googled’ his name because I had a question to ask him (16 years later!) and am greatly saddened with the news of his death. Like many others I met Owen in Wellington in the 1980’s and was myself an activist in Peace Movement Aotearoa. I was also working on a video documentary for the ‘relatives of the disappeared’ in Guatemala entitled, ‘The Widows and the Generals’.
To me Owen was a ‘text book’ Kiwi bloke, a self styled adventurer. During the 80’s we worked silently side by side in Taranaki Street. We both shared a love of research and analysis. He had a generosity of spirit that affected everyone around him. I always think of him as Owen of the ‘big hair’, and what a lot of it there was! As a former PE teacher, I admired his stamina and healthy lifestyle. I did think that he would live longer. I would have thought that he would have plummeted to his death by climbing some mast or other! I remember when he returned from Scandinavia having been a ‘guest’ of the prison service and remarking that I was glad to see him back otherwise we (in PMA) should have to spend a lot of money retrieving him. I also remember saying ‘Surely you weren’t spying?’ to which he replied ‘Of course I was Linda!’ We both fell around the place laughing. We have a saying in Irish, ‘Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile’. Which literally translated means, that it takes one earwig to know another? Rest in Peace, dear man.
Tears come to my eyes as I reflect on this tremendous loss to all who came in contact with Owen, especially during the years of trying to combat misinformation and covert actions by those who would keep us bound to the US empire and silence or cripple our independent views on the need for social justice at all levels. I met Owen through Toby Truell and was energised and attracted to their combined efforts to further real peace through communicating factual information distilled from a variety of sources to a group of activists and journalists and thus to a wider public. They changed my life for the better and how many people like that do we encounter in a lifetime? As I turn 65 and have a heart condition similar to Owen's, I wonder if I could ever have the courage of his convictions. Probably not. Owen (and Toby) I miss you more than you could ever have imagined. I'm sorry I was unable to attend commemorative ceremonies for Owen, but he'll live on in my heart till I die.
I write on behalf of the Pacific Campaign for Disarmament & Security (PCDS) to express our sadness at the death of Owen Wilkes. When PCDS was established in the mid-1980s, Owen was a key member of the PCDS Research Network. We came to rely on him for information and analysis, especially on nuclear communication infrastructure. Upon the publication of our first Information Update (a digest about militarism in the Asia-Pacific), Owen provided a lengthy, single-spaced, typed (with a fading typewriter ribbon) letter, signed in his spiky handwriting, critiquing our efforts. He prefaced his general rebuke with, "I hope you will not be offended." Always sharp and to the point, he didn't mince words. Though smarting a bit, we were heartened that he even took the time to send us his thoughtful feedback - feedback that informed the publication for many years to come. I have kept the letter in our files and it sits on my desk as I write this.
I met Owen just once in 1985. As part of a cross-Canada tour, he and Roman Bedour came to Nanoose on Vancouver Island (site of a Canadian Forces base used by the US to test antisubmarine warfare technology). Roman and Owen were kind of like peace movement "rock stars", holding court to a room full of enthusiastic local activists. Our visitors' most important contribution to us was to place our local struggle in the larger context of a nuclear-free Pacific, thereby giving our work enhanced significance and linking us with activists throughout the Asia-Pacific region. And oh yes, in terms of Owen's attire for the event - I wish to confirm that it was mid October in Canada and he sported shorts.
On my return from two years in South America (mostly Bolivia) via Europe in 1976, I hitched up to Oslo in January, and though Owen didn't know me before hand, he put me up for a week at his home - we ski toured to his office! - and discussed the rubbishing of Antarctica alongside his own activities.
I first got to know Owen, around 5 years ago while accompanying DOC staff in re-burying exposed pre-European human bones. His knowledge on the history of the land, and its people, were nothing less than impressive. Owen later accepted an invitation to become one of our part time historians on the 'Lady Kawhia' vessel, doing heritage cruises on the Kawhia harbour. I found him to be an extremely humble and gentle man. He will definitely be missed...
It is with a heavy heart that I share this internet tribute for a friend, co-peacemaker and an outstanding peace researcher and advocate, Owen Wilkes, who passed away last May, 2005.
I first met and got to know Owen in 1981 at an international peace conference in Tokyo, Japan. We were both speakers in that large conference of almost 800 participants, and Owen at that time was a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute(SIPRI). Owen immediately impressed me as SIPRI's highly knowledgeable technical expert on foreign military bases and facilities, specifically as a specialist on communications and signals intelligence(SIGINT). He could look at photographs of any kind of logistics/communications facilities and interpret what they were used for. He knew by just looking at the set-up of foreign military bases and facilities, or the configuration of naval and airforce vessels and determine whether they were nuclear-armed and nuclear-capable. I was glad he was on our side, a veritable walking think tank for the international peace movement.
And yet, he was so modest, was so full of humility and had a good sense of humor. His sense of humor was in itself so sharp, as one time when he remarked to me that he was unsure of the shooting effectiveness of the elite US Rapid Deployment Force(RDF) because he was so sure that they too, as human beings, would be suffering from jet lag after an 8-10 hour trip with different time zones! And when I once asked him why he always wore shorts and sandals even in the very formal international peace conferences in Japan, he just smiled and said, "this is me".
Owen's research and work - both published and unpublished - on foreign military bases and facilities especially when he was with SIPRI, was of vital importance to the peace advocates and organizers of the peace movement all over the world and in that sense had an important role in ending the Cold War. In the Philippines, Owen's work inspired me and others to do more serious peace research IN SUPPORT of peace advocacy and organizing.
I saw Owen so vigorously full of zest and fulfillment during the Beyond ANZUS Conference in New Zealand in 1984, on the eve of the Labor Party's election victory that eventually made New Zealand nuclear-free. Owen had just then come back from Europe to finally do full-time peacework in his beloved country. It was during my lecture tour in both Australia and New Zealand where I likewise addressed the Beyond Anzus Conference at Wellington that I invited Owen to visit the Philippines. It was in late 1980s that Owen finally did visit the Philippines where he visited the vast and then still active US military bases and facilities, especially at Subic Naval Base and at Clark Air Base. Owen's technical expertise helped us interpret the bases' role in the context of the American global nuclear infrastructure. I had my disagreements with him though, especially on the particular nature and placement of the facilities, their counter-insurgency role, but our discussions were very productive, constructive as well as instructive. The technical information about the US bases and facilities that Owen shared with us especially in the light of the nuclear weapons-free1987 Philippine Constitution, helped in no small way in the Philippine Senate's decision to reject the proposed bases treaty of renewal, thus ending 470 years of foreign military bases in the Philippines.
Thank you Owen, as we join others in celebrating your life, your outstanding intellectual advocacy, and what you have given so much to the international peace movement.
I knew Owen as an extraordinary peace researcher - technically brilliant, generous with his knowledge, and tenacious and brave in his work. He was always a pleasure to exchange ideas with, and had a good sense of humor. That was a long time ago. He seemed to go into hiding, and now he is gone, forever. I think we are all the poorer.
Certainly we can be grateful that the spotlight he threw on the network of bases lives on - in the more autonomous foreign policy of New Zealand in particular, and in the work of those who oppose the extension of nuclear militarisation everywhere. But it is very sad that his contribution and life were cut short. He was a great guy and he made an exceptional contribution.
Although I met Owen only occasionally, I often saw him on TV and had great respect for a very thorough peace researcher, and great admiration for his courage. So often he spoke out, when it would have been so much easier to keep quiet, to be 'safe' and to let the world go by!! I can remember wondering just how he would be treated, by media or politicians, or other members of the public, and knew I would find it hard to speak out as he did. We need people like Owen, and I'm sad he has died.
In 1981, the Peace Movement New Zealand (now Peace Movement Aotearoa) National Office was established in Dunedin, where it remained until moving to Wellington in 1984. Peacelink magazine was also established in Dunedin, before moving to Christchurch and then Wellington.
Some of us involved in establishing the office and the magazine had a history of involvement in the peace and anti-nuclear movement, and already knew Owen personally. Others, like myself, were comparatively new to the peace movement, and needed to learn a lot in a hurry. Once he returned to Aotearoa, we often turned to Owen Wilkes as someone who could always be relied on to provide detailed, reasoned explanations of complex issues, both for us and for the readers of Peacelink. I was especially impressed that Owen was willing to give so freely of his knowledge and time when there were many other demands on him, and that, unlike many people I'd come across during my years at University, he did not hoard his knowledge to himself.
Many people have already mentioned other things I'll remember about Owen: the bare legs and corresponding imperviousness to the weather, for example. But it's his kindness and willingness to share what he knew that I'll remember most.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to write tributes to Owen Wilkes.
We enjoyed working with Owen. Here is a little snippet. Owen was invited to attend the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Commemorations in the early 1970's in Japan. He really appreciated the Buddhist way of remembering the soul by floating lanterns down the Hiroshima rivers. It was something that could be done here in Christchurch, New Zealand, so Owen brought back the simple lantern design. It was a couple of pieces of wood, some wire, some nails and some paper, and any self-respecting Kiwi possessed all of these in their shed. An enterprising young Quaker decided it was do-able and, before we knew it, there were a couple of working bees at the Friends Meeting House involving most peace groups. Since 1976 annual lantern-floating has been an unbroken tradition in Christchurch.
Owen, we thank you for your gifts to us, your simplicity, steadfastness, honesty, your ability to work in so many different ways that you were able to reach and inspire so many people. Thank you for the footsteps you left for us and may we all work to bring more peace and harmony into this world, at all levels.
Just like to add I met Owen a couple of years ago and he was most helpful with some research I was doing for a book on Ongarue, Central King Country. I was so sad to read of his death, Owen was a neat guy.
Like all of you I was shocked to hear of Owen’s untimely death. This is a terrible blow to Peace Researchers and the New Zealand and Global Peace Movements. Owen was an inspirational pioneer for peace. He always understood the importance of solid research and analysis in the preparation of anything - whether it was sustainable housing on the West Coast or campaigns for an independent foreign policy.
He lived his beliefs very directly and was always keen to make sure that his footprint on the planet was a light one. I was always impressed by his capacity to walk and cycle everywhere. He cycled in Norway, New Zealand and many other countries. He had a strong build and the seemingly immortal qualities that go with robust muscularity. He seemed impervious to weather. On bleak cold days in Christchurch Owen would turn up at meetings in his leather shorts and a woolly jersey while the rest of us froze wearing many more clothes than he did. He argued the necessity for sustainable development and respect for the environment long before it was fashionable to do so and was actively involved in a number of experiments in communal living in the 70s.
He knew the importance of understanding the military machine in as much detail as possible. Sometimes one felt that he had too much detail but I was always amazed by how useful this detail eventually turned out to be. Owen was a generous person. He never hoarded his research or treated it as private property. It was always available to anyone who needed it for analytic and or political purposes. Many of us put his research to good purposes in research and in many political campaigns.
I lost touch with Owen in recent years but I have always been impressed at how many people in the peace research community all around the world knew him and who asked after him very fondly. Just two weeks ago in Tehran, Iran, Nils Petter Gleditsch and I (not realizing Owen had died) were talking about him and what he was doing and had done in Norway and New Zealand. We both agreed that we would look him up and let each other have his current address etc. Unfortunately, neither of us were able to reconnect with him. This is a sad blow to all of us. A kauri has fallen in the peace movement forest. We must all dedicate ourselves to keeping Owen’s vision of a peaceful, sustainable world, alive in our work, in our politics and in the way that we live our own lives. Arohanui from across the Tasman.
I have just learnt of Owen's death from a friend. Thank you for giving the opportunity to pay tributes to Owen on the PMA website.
I met Owen when I travelled to NZ/Aotearoa in 1986 during a gap year from my undergraduate degree course. I wanted to do some research on the peace movement that could form the dissertation for my final degree in Peace Studies. I wasn't sure what I wanted the research to focus on; my travel came soon after the bombing of the Rainbow Warrier and I - like many peace campaigners worldwide - was in awe of the banning of nuclear warships from NZ ports.
Owen (and everyone else at PMA) took me under his wing. In his inimitable forthright manner and with a glint in his eye he told me the most helpful research would be to look at how opponents of the ships ban were attempting to undermine it through overt and covert means. I was lost - the mountain of newspaper cuttings, journal articles, and books that seemed to fill every available space at PMA were nothing compared to the immense and profound knowledge of such issues held by Owen. I remember many days and nights spent at the PMA offices reading, photocopying and most of all talking to Owen about the Pacific, nulcear weapons, the peace movement and politics. As we got to know each other Owen would talk more about personal things and on many nights we shared takeaway fish and chips and a few beers as we talked into the night. To this day the research I did and my time spent in Aotearoa remains one of the most profound experiences of my life. My dissertation was published in 1989 and I remember the pride I felt when Owen wrote to say how pleased he and everyone else was with the book.
I only knew Owen for a short time but he remains one of the most inspiring, intelligent and wickedly funny people I have ever met. When I left Wellington for the overnight coach journey to Auckland before flying back to Britain, we had a small farewell party at PMA. Owen had 'mocked up' Dominion headline boards and pasted them on the wall in the office. One read 'Pom shoots through... "Tragic" says Lange' , another 'Paul Stamp leaves Wellington - Nuke Ban Collapses!' As I was boarding the coach he placed in my hand a Maori fish-hook necklace. I have never stopped wearing it as a reminder of a truly inspirational man.
Owen was a beacon to us Peace Movement people in the 70s and 80s because of his courage and lack of fear about pulling punches.
He set a tone for us New Zealanders to think for ourselves and challenge attempts to lead us by the nose. We are greatly saddened and diminished to hear of his passing.
I made two programmes for TVNZ's Close Up programme in the 1980's on Owen: one was when he was engaged in peace work in Sweden and charged with being a spy and the next when he returned to the West Coast of the South Island ... that was a logging issue I think.
I remember well the planning, actions and the huge marchs through the City of Wellington against US nuclear-armed warships in the early 80s. They were heady days. And I remember well the planning sessions which included Owen at the old PMA headquarters in Taranaki St, Peace House, near Parliament, and so many other venues.
Owen was a good organizer and planner and he never got excited. He was cool, calm and methodical. Wellington was declared a nuclear-free city and the whole of NZ later on. Owen played a big part. We will never forget his contribution.
Haere atu ra te Rangitira, haere atu ra. We have memories of Owen's leadership over many decades, his unstinting loyalty to making our world one of peace for all humanity, thank you Owen for your dedication. Rest now in peace.
He took risks, but was invariably the great survivor. He survived a plane-crash in Antarctica, and grappling with poisonous snakes in Papua New Guinea. Living in a collective outside Stockholm he swam in a lake soon after the ice had melted and, at Hellesylt in the west Norwegian fiords, in 1980, I watched him swim far out into chilled waters - I gaped as much as the blue-eyed spectators. On that same trip he biked around the mountains and fiords for a fortnight in icy wind and rain, into long dark tunnels with the occasional thundering articulated-truck sweeping past him, and sleeping in barns and caves, always soaking wet and hungry. Once he visited my home in north-east Oslo in mid-winter, turning up on a ladies-bike with missing spokes and a dangling light and useless brakes, woollen hat iced-up and solidified with his frosted beard, hands like claws: he had biked about 15 kms in zero temperatures. 'Coffee or tea?' I asked. 'Nah, I've been thinking about your home-brew for an hour!' Good-oh. Another time, interested in a possible 'harmless' tower which may be an electronic surveillance site, he clambered a mountain in up-and-down Telemark county, Norway, was caught in a snow-storm - well, it was winter, what more could you expect - and just tucked into his sleeping-bag under the feathery snow for the night. Maybe he had a PGWodehouse novel with him to read by torchlight - he enjoyed this writing and sometimes took a day off from peace researching, lying in bed and reading.
He survived the rubbish trials in Oslo and Stockholm when military hawks and spy-hunters were out to get him. A foreign peace researcher suggesting that naive-guiltless Norway was in the hands of the Yank War-Machine maniacs was unnacceptable. At the hearing before his Oslo trial I took my place beside him in the court, both of us wearing Kiwi short-pants. When the learned judges arrived everyone stood up except the irreverent Kiwis. We heard a whisper 'Get up, get up', and obliged, yet not quite understanding the ritual and fuss. Christ, we were Kiwis, everyone was equal, eh! Later we took a few beers with his lawyer, the great and now-deceased Ole Jacob Bae, at the nearby 'Justisen' (The Law) drinking-den. (I took Owen and May Bass there on his last visit to Norway).
The charge in Oslo was that Nils Petter Gledistch and and Owen Ronald Wilkes were to be convicted of unlawfully having caused, or having been accessory to something being reveald which ought to be kept secret by reasons of security of the realm vis-a-vis another state. Note: NOT espionage!
I worked nights at Norway's successful tabloid VG (Verdens Gang) in August 1981 when an article appeared before me about his arrest by SAPO, the Swedish Special Police. It was a shocker! He had been arrested, according to VG's contact in Sweden, the tabloid Expressen, while photographing the Swedish combat-plane Viggen in an air-field in central Sweden, and had been apprehended with his camera before entering his car. I got hold of the desk-chief and a journalist (both, rabble-rousers, often indulging in terms like 'using taxpayers money' when lamblasting Peace Research, are now editors with massive villas and extraordinary company perks! - enough!) and put it for them that Owen W neither owned a camera or car. 'But is he a Communist?' was the rejoinder. (To get the facts right, Owen was picked up by SAPO-police in Stockholm leaving a ferry after cycling around the Baltic islands of Gotland and Oland with a lady-friend, making sketches of suspicious towers and taking pix on a camera, not his own, of daisies and cow-pats (he was no great photographer) and held in solitary confinement for five days - 'Not too bad,' he told me, 'as I could lie on my back and think about things I had nearly forgotten.' He didn't think about the Ranfurly Shield!)
I followed up the trial in the Svea Court of Appeals in Stockholm, either by being there or phoning Owen and others, and sending reports to NZAP in London. Curiously, Owen had support from the conservative paper Dagens Nyheter but was harrowed by the very-rightist Svenska Dagbladet which disparaged him as being 'Pro-Soviet'. Other detractors in Scandinavia claimed he had spent some time in the Soviet - actually, two hours at Moscow airport on a flight from Japan to Sweden. Point is that few commentators actually knew what was going on. Owen also didnt help much here. He seemed too rough, exotic, by no means a desk-bound Peace Researcher in suit and tie and with massive files and books in the background. Facts were in Owen's head. Interviewed once on serious Swedish TV you couldnt help noting his uncombed hair and unkempt beard and scruffy shorts, pummelled kitbag beside a desk. Very, very odd in perfectionist Sweden, with all those beautiful, lovely, decent people keeping to lifestyle rules and whispering about an abstract 'peace'.
Owen Wilkes was an outstanding peace activist and researcher. The rigour and quality of his research on peace issues and their international scope was particularly impressive. To me he was very inspiring and I appreciated how generous he was in sharing his knowledge. Going on a walking tour with him was a real delight given his vast understanding of archaeology and the local environment. Given Owen’s contribution in so many areas, it would good if someone (with the right skills) wrote a book about his life and work. This would help us better understand how civil society could benefit from having a lot more Owens.
Owen Wilkes - What can you say about a man who walked lightly on the earth, championed causes for peace, supported those in need and wasn't afraid to take risks. It would appear that Owen has been taken before his time, but his absence will speak louder than words for many years to come. May he rest in Peace.
One of the great strengths of Owen's research was showing up the US military by publishing damning information from their own sources.
For example, the US Embassy would state that the Mt John observatory was primarily for studying southern hemisphere stars. Owen would ferret out a military document that revealed its main purpose was fixing the position of stars with great accuracy so they could be used to target missiles. The military establishment and rightwing politicians must've hated him for this.
As a campaigner he was a ball of energy. He'd spend long hours researching in the Canterbury University library, then off to meetings, then to work at a bakery until the early hours, grab a bit of sleep and then another jam-packed day.
He was a leading light in many big protests. For example Mt John, Harewood/ Weedons, the Long March in Australia.
Although known as a researcher, Owen was an up-front activist, a great organiser, always in the front lines, never scared to face up to cops and pro-war politicians.
The late 60's, 70's and early 80's was a period when NZ was firmly bonded to the US - we were America's Mercenaries of the South Seas and in exchange got improved access to the US market for beef.
Writers of letters-to-the-editor would commonly use the expression "right-thinking New Zealander" meaning those who backed the Western alliance without question. Every New Zealander was supposed to be like this - it was such a regimented period and those who broke with the regimentation copped it.
Owen was involved in many other campaigns including that against "Foreign Control". This was an early recognition of the power of global corporates like Comalco.
He kept huge clippings files on all manner of subjects - I got the job of writing articles for the student newspaper Canta from these files. In those days libraries didn't have photocopiers, so Owen had to transcribe everything by hand.
He was largely self educated - maybe spent a year at university. In his research he would be getting information from the Library of Congress in the USA and other stuff from the NZ Womens Weekly or small-town newspapers. He developed a remarkable knowledge on the aerials that protruded from military bases. From them he would deduce the likely purpose of the base. This could often be confirmed from the most obvious sources eg technical journals, phone books. No one else tended to look in the places Owen looked.
I will join with many in saying how sad I feel to learn of Owen's death. I deeply respect his expert contribution to peace and justice. On the basis of his research on North Korean nuclear technology I was able to better understand the reality of the North Korea's search for a viable form of nuclear energy for the peaceful development of their economy; and the deliberate scare mongering and sabotage of the US designed to undermine the Koreans' desire for energy self sufficiency. Owen has been a person I could trust and value. His life has made a difference for the good of us all.
I first met Owen in Moa Bone Point cave in Christchurch when I called in to see what was going on there while bike riding one day in 1963. He recognised me as a fellow student at Canterbury University, welcomed me and soon had me with a trowel in my hand helping to excavate this historic Moa Hunter site. This was the start of a great friendship and many wonderful experiences doing archaeological research with the Canterbury Museum in Canterbury, the Heaphy river and Wairau Bar. He was a wonderful friend and just as keen on preserving Maori heritage and archaeological sites as he was in working for peace. He cooked a mean damper and his camp oven bread was something out of this world!
In the last few years he continued mapping Maori sites in the Waikato and lamented to me last year that most of the Anthropologists the universities are turning out are failing to do the essential field work to help preserve historic sites. He has probably recorded more historic sites himself than anyone else in recent times and unfortunately there don't seem to be any young researchers prepared to put in the hard slog around rugged beaches and mountain slopes to carry on his legacy.
He was passionate in everything he put his heart into and could tell a great story, often having his listeners in fits of laughter, or deeply absorbed by the unveiling of truth that had been hidden and needed to be exposed.
I remember him telling me of the change in the attitude of politicians after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Before that happened he could get no information from them when wanting to organize a protest. Afterwards he said that he would ring up parliament and ask when a certain foreign spokesman might be arriving and he would be told that "Of course I am not at liberty to divulge that sort of information, but if you had your people at the Airport at such and such a time you might see something interesting!" Often in fact the politicians would ring him and volunteer information! There was at that time a complete change of attitude to the peace movement throughout NZ, one which made all the previous years of hard work and derision easier to bear.
I enjoyed staying with him for a few days last November catching up and reminiscing over old times. I am deeply saddened by his death and wish I could wander a few more beaches with him and taste some more of his camp oven fruit loaf!
Owen was an unsung hero of Aotearoa who made a huge contribution to peace with his research into exposing the military infrastructures that were hidden from the people. My deepest sympathies go out to all his friends and family at this sad time.Haere Ra Owen. Ka hinga te totara o te wao nui a Tane.
Owen was a Research Fellow in the Centre for Peace Studies, housed in the Department of Physics, here at the University of Auckland during the late 1980s. He lived for some of the time in a cabin aboard the Greenpeace ship that was docked at Princes Wharf. He wrote up his findings concerning American chemical weapons that had been dumped at sea off our coast after the end of the war against Japan in the Pacific.
He was an inveterate researcher who had an extraordinary impact in many countries. His investigative work, more than that of any other single person, shaped New Zealand's policy concerning military cooperation with the United States toward the end of the Cold War. In that regard I honour him as my mentor. He introduced me to many other peace researchers in Australia, the United States, Europe and the Pacific and together we uncovered a lot of evidence related to military cooperation in support of WMD activities, especially in the Pacific and especially under ANZUS.
Owen spent the last decade or so doing archeology for the Department of Conservation in the Waikato. I imagine that he has left boxes full of hand-written notes that will serve as a primary source for other investigators during the next century.
Owen Wilkes was a global peace researcher profoundly wedded to values of peace and sustainability. As a trained scientist, he applied his technical skills to urgent issues of war and peace in an era of global nuclear terror with an uncompromising commitment to his social and political values. His analytic tenacity enabled him to uncover factual information about security and military issues that were kept secret by governments although they were often glaringly obvious to the trained eye.
His research on overseas military base structures was relentlessly systematic and included that of all states, not just that of the great nuclear powers. His discernment of espionage capabilities based on simple observation of antennae and facilities, often located in full public view, was also highly innovative. He gave the public access to basic knowledge about the role of these systems hosted by many countries and previously held secret by the operators (and their adversaries who also monitored these sites by official spying).
Owen paid a price for his consistency, being arrested and deported not once but twice in Norway and Sweden for speaking truth to power. When Owen glared, governments cowered because he never toned down the intensity of his spotlight. He relished highlighting hypocrisy and double standards held by the masters of war and wealth.
Owen was the epitome of self-less, open and collaborative research. I remember visiting him in Sweden in the early 1980s to ask if I could access his SIPRI database on military bases. I was astonished when he simply handed me his multi-volume, meticulously organized database drawn from thousands of primary and secondary sources and gave me permission to copy it all. His generosity thereby saved me from thousands of hours of research in preparing to write on nuclear war infrastructure in the Pacific.
Owen never compromised his primary allegiance to building an informed civil society with bottom-up peace and human security strategies. Sometimes he zigged out of line with the peace movement's latest zag, but he always came back to his roots in civil society and the peace movement. Overall, his pen probably did more to reduce the risk of nuclear war and human catastrophe from nuclear weapons than any other individual activist-researcher in history.
He was also remarkable for how he travelled. Whenever possible, he walked. When he came to Melbourne to co-author a study of US missile testing in the Pacific, he arrived at the front door one morning unannounced, wearing his trademark shorts, and strode into the office with his long, muscular legs announcing cheerfully that he was ready to start work immediately.
Periodically, he took time to reconnect with himself, his communities, and his spiritual roots in the wilds of Aetearoa. He would simply disappear from sight except for his closest friends and kin. This time he's gone forever with no time to say goodbye.
The Green Party is mourning the loss of one of New Zealand’s leading peace activists, Owen Wilkes, who died last week.
"Owen will be fondly remembered for his dedication to changing New Zealanders’ acceptance of war and, through painstaking research, exposing this country’s close relationship with the United States military and spy agencies," Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says.
"Owen was a man who stridently fought for what he believed in. He worked diligently for the betterment of the peace movement, New Zealand and New Zealanders."
Many people admired his rugged independence and his careful research - he was an extraordinary man, she says.
We are deeply saddened by the news of Owen's death. Owen made an extraordinary contribution over many years to Peace Movement Aotearoa; and to progressing peace and disarmament globally. His meticulous research into weapons production here in Aotearoa is still the basis of our work in that area today.
Owen's courtesy and generosity in continuing to share his knowledge until a few weeks before his death was much appreciated by us. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time of mourning and loss. We will miss him very much.