Wednesday, March 22, 2006

14. The Greenpeace to Amchitka by Robert Hunter

Greenpeace pictureIn 1971 a group of men chartered an old fishing boat, the Phyllis Cormack, rechristened the Greenpeace, to take it to Amchitka island, on the far side of the Aleutian chain to protest a planned nuclear test by the American military. Though they never made it to the island and the test went off (it was the last test done there, however), their trip created a wave of publicity and they formed the Greenpeace organization upon their return. Robert Hunter, the author of this book, was on the boat and was one of the founding members of Greenpeace. It's his memoir, written almost immediately after the trip, though unpublished until a few years ago. He put the manuscript away because he had made a pact to show a unified face to the world, to hide the many internal divisions that plagued the birth of Greenpeace.

I'm glad he did finally decide to pick it up again and publish it, because it's a fantastic read. He's an entertaining and skilled writer and was clearly cranking this out when it was fresh in his heart and mind. It really captures the feel of the time. His prose has strong resemblances to Thompson, Kesey, Tom Wolfe. And the story is quite exciting. A group of freaks, piloted by an old school captain and his old-timer engineer, chugging their way up the Alaskan panhandle, stopping in native Aleut villages and cannery towns, passing abandoned fisheries as the internal and external tension builds makes for a very gripping narrative. On top of that, there are some real conflicts with the ocean, which sounds like absolutely no joke up there. The trip through the storm at the end is as exciting as any Jack London story.

Going in, I thought the environmental politics on display here would be a bit primitive. It is sort of disheartening in one sense to see that their concerns about the planet were just about the same as today's. I say disheartening, because the sense of urgency seemed just as extreme then and we haven't done anything in the convening 40 years to stop man's mad path of destruction. The book ends on a very discouraging note as Hunter had completed the manuscript basically feeling as if the entire trip had been a failure. There is a more optimistic afterword that was written around the time of publication where he is pretty psyched by all the good work that Greenpeace has done.

Robert Hunter died last year, of lung cancer. You can read a bit more about him and his later work here. I had never heard of him before this book, but it's clear that he was a radical, a freak and a fighter and we need more people like him in the world today.

Robert Hunter picture


Crumbolst said...

This looks like my kind of read.

You know, there are too many nutty Robert Hunters in world.

meezly said...

This review makes me want to read the book... at some point this year!