Sunday 26 April 2015

Weep, Zealandia, Weep!

Cry The Beloved Country: Is this really where we are, 100 years after Gallipoli? Is this how far we’ve come? From a bigoted British Israelite and union-buster;  to a “relaxed” golfing partner of the US president and a “playful” hair-fetishist? From dispatching troops to Gallipoli in the name of the King-Emperor; to dispatching troops to Iraq in the name of the “Five Eyes Club”?
THERE ARE TIMES when it’s heart-breaking being a New Zealander. This past week has been one of those times.
The week began with the deafening drumbeat of ANZAC-related patriotism. Having already alienated a huge number of Australians, the almost obsessive memorialisation of the First World War is beginning to do the same to a growing number of New Zealanders.
Among all the individuals responsible for planning the centennial “celebrations” of the ANZAC landings, there was, apparently, no one whose job it was to make sure, one hundred years on, that New Zealanders had a clear idea of the political and economic motives that drove so many human lambs to the slaughter.
The historical context out of which some young men volunteered for “the adventure of a lifetime” and some did not (let’s not forget that by 1916 it had become necessary to start conscripting replacement soldiers) has been almost completely elided from the official narrative. Likewise the extraordinary curtailment of civil and political rights that followed almost immediately upon New Zealand entering the conflict.
To hear someone like Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, Chief of Defence Staff, couch New Zealand’s participation in the First World War in terms of standing up for the right and the good (just like today in Iraq!) was quite sickening. More than 18,000 young New Zealanders died on the battlefields of that terrible war – not for the right and the good, but for the greater glory and profit of the British Empire and its principal investors.
I wonder if Lt-General Keating even knows that William F. Massey, the unelected Prime-Minister of New Zealand in August 1914 (his Reform Party had won a No-Confidence vote against the Liberal’s in 1912) was a member of the British Israelites.
This bizarre sect was a curious mixture of religious and patriotic enthusiasm which believed that the British race was descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel, and that the British royal family’s bloodline extended all the way back to King David and King Solomon. The British Israelites were adamant that the English-speaking peoples were divinely ordained to rule the entire world.
Born in Ulster, Massey was also a member of the Orange Order, whose compatriots back in Northern Ireland, even as Gavrilo Princip was assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, were actively plotting mutiny and rebellion against the pro-Irish Home Rule Liberal Government of Herbert Asquith.
Massey’s religious and political bigotry would be drawn into sharper focus as the war drew towards its end and the Reform Party linked up with the newly-formed Protestant Political Association to mobilise voters against the large number of Irish Catholics who had swung in behind the nascent Labour Party.
Massey’s hostility to organised labour was prodigious. The crushing of the Waihi Miners’ Strike in 1912, and of the Great Strike in 1913, were among Massey’s first and most enduring contributions to New Zealand’s political history. Working-class Kiwis didn’t call the mounted special constables (drafted in from the countryside to smash the unionists of the “Red” Federation  of Labour) “Massey’s Cossacks” for nothing.
I could go on, but hopefully you’ll have some idea already of how little that was “good” or “right” lay behind New Zealand’s participation in the First World War. Indeed, it was only after the outbreak of revolution in Russia in 1917 (and the mutiny of the French army in the same year) that the imperial establishment decided it might be wise to shift its rhetorical emphasis from protecting innocent women and children from the bestial Hun to “defending freedom” and “making the world safe for democracy”.
So many lies – and how old they’ve grown! It is nothing less than shameful that so little of the history of the period leading up to the First World War is known to the young New Zealanders who turn out in their thousands to honour the sacrifice of those who they naively believe “died for our freedom”.
And what, I physically cringe to think, do those same young New Zealanders now make of their 53-year-old Prime Minister, who has admitted to repeatedly tugging on the ponytail of a 26-year-old waitress?
Is this really where we are, 100 years after Gallipoli? Is this how far we’ve come? From a bigoted British Israelite and union-buster;  to a “relaxed” golfing partner of the US president and a “playful” hair-fetishist? From dispatching troops to Gallipoli in the name of the King-Emperor; to dispatching troops to Iraq in the name of the “Five Eyes Club”?
And what about the likes of your humble correspondent? That endangered species known as the “Fourth Estate”? Are New Zealand’s journalists, commentators, newspaper columnists and bloggers to be guided now, in the fulfilment of their professional ethical obligations, by the shining example of Rachel Glucina?
As I said: These are heart-breaking times.
Weep, Zealandia, weep!
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 24 April 2015.


Anonymous said...

Have a drink, Chris.
You sound as if you need one.

The British Empire entered WW1 due to its treaty commitments with Belgium. Which Germany invaded. Sure, there were wider power issues involved, but It wasn't directly about selling things.
Admitedly, it was a torturous route from Belgium to invading Gallipoli.

Who had the highest death rates in the British army?
The junior officers, the leiutenants and captains.
Who made up the bulk of these officers?
The sons of the aristocracy, upper classes, and moneyed classes.
The British leadership did what they did because they thought it was the right thing to do (and because they massively underestimated the scale and duration of the war), not due to selling things.

Personally, I know I'll be driven to drink if I hear another pretty faced female 'journalist' intoning with faux solemnity about 'when we became a nation.'

Chris Trotter said...

May I suggest Chris Clark's "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War in 1914"? It would dispel a great many of the misconceptions concerning the outbreak of World War I from which you are so clearly suffering.

Anonymous said...

0ne of us is.
Don't read 'A History of the English Speaking people since 1900' by Andrew Roberts.
You head will explode.
It's a recklessly pro English as Churchill's work, but with none of his writing talent.

pat said...

increasingly concerned with the way ANZAC day has been hijacked to become some sort of mindless flag waving exercise, however at least we havnt yet stooped to sacking people for noting a few unpleasant aspects of conflicts with which we have been least not that I am aware of.

pat said...

and in there a link between the increase in jingoistic public support of this day and the demise of the conscripted servicemen whose personal accounts are no longer available to temper this?

Anonymous said...

I agree, and equally unsettling is the extent to which this patriotic fervour is entering the dominion of our primary schools. My six year old came home claiming 'they died for our freedom' and so on. It is extraordinarily difficult to explain the complexity of these situations to young children, yet it needs to be done.

In this context, this issue may become our generations 'bible in schools'...

Chris Trotter said...

Just tell your kids that we were the British Empire's "bannermen". They'll know exactly what that means.

Davo Stevens said...

An now we are sending troops to fight another battle for another Empire.

Wars are fought for 1 of 2 reasons and often both. Territory or resources. At the start of WW I there were three Empires in Europe; The Prussians in the north, the Austro-Hungarians in the south and the Brits in the west. With France stirring up all three.

Who won it is debatable but most probably it was the Spanish Flu that decimated young healthy men that became the overall winner.

One should recognise Anzac Day for what it really represents; to remember all those who died for Queen and Country. NZ almost lost a complete generation of young men in that debacle.

Kitchener was the architect of the bloodbath in Belgium and Churchill was the architect of Galipoli. Both should have been dragged over the coals for their stupid decisions.

Jonas said...

Thanks Chris, what is lost in all this is that conscienceous objectors played just as key a role in the formation of a New Zealand identity as those who joined up in 1914, and ended up in Gallipoli. Think of Peter Fraser, amongst the others. Consider also that the invasion of Ottoman Turkey was a contributing factor to the pogram of Armenian Christians. What makes me weep is the relentless dumbing down of NZ history, and the loss of the richness that made us who we are. As you say, we should truly weep.

Wayne Mapp said...

All your comments on the cause of the war have been very interesting to read. There is no doubt that the war is tied up with imperialism. Back then however the British Empire was conceived as a liberal project. It did not start that way, but because of the extensive British settlement of Australia, Canada and New Zealand it was seen as a bastion of the rule of law, and democracy, hence the easy use of freedom. The Commonwealth still exist today because at least parts of its legacy was seen as worthwhile.
Our forbears really did think they were defending theirs and others freedoms against Germany. We thought in assisting France from invasion we were on the right side (as did ultimately the US).

Neil Anderson said...

Who had the highest death rates in the British army?
The junior officers, the leiutenants and captains.

Please just think about that for 10 seconds or so....

How many millions were slaughtered? And you think more than half of them were upper class junior officers.

Anonymous said...


The reason New Zealanders turn out is to remember personal sacrifice. It is not glorification. It is the opposite.

The reasons for war are typically stupid, but that doesn't make the personal sacrifice any less real, and that is why people gather. To mourn. To remember. To reflect.

I feel you've missed the point.


Anonymous said...

Have appreciated your columns on this but I don't think we should let Germany off the hook either- far from it.
In 1914 the social and economic structures of Germany were mired in the contradictions of the Bismarckian system. A nation that had grown rapidly in a compressed form of industrialisation still retained a social and political structure designed to cement the power of the old land-based elite and the leaders of heavy industry. Significant overseas expansion was not an option given the dominance of British and other continental imperialism, and fears of socialism in the form of the ever increasing Social Democratic Party ( itself a product of increasing industrialisation and urbanisation) cast a shadow on the conservative and reactionary elite. Public opinion was continually fuelled by expressions of anti-parliamentarianism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism at a time when the military had gained greater sway among the decision makers. Whilst not planning a foreign war to escape the dilemma in which they felt trapped, when the opportunity presented itself in the form of the Serbian crisis in 1914, together with the fact that Austria-Hungary was committed to war, Germany was ‘ready to draw the sword’. Germany, by giving a blank cheque to A-H, was prepared to risk an European conflagration partly in order to break the impasse and partly to forestall Russia before the latter attained too much power. Though impossible to quantify in the face of a number of other prevailing influences it is clear that we can legitimately lay a significant part of the blame on the origins of the Great War on Germany’s social and economic structures .

pat said...

If our forebears believed it was the right thing to do (and many of the personal accounts I have read bemoan the waste and stupidity) then why the need for conscription? Surely if we were so concerned for our "freedoms" our population would have volunteered en masse? My understanding from both personal account and reading was that once there (by whatever means) it was survival and looking after your mates...high ideals had f all to do with it....unless your speaking of our political leaders Wayne and their position was likely as idealistic as those of the politicians of today.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Wayne.

Once again, Wayne, you simply fail to absorb any facts which contradict your rock-solid Tory prejudices.

Virtually everything I've posted here points to the illiberality of the New Zealand iteration of the British imperial project.

Does Massey's government sound very liberal to you? Was the treatment of conscientious objectors liberal? Does the imprisoning of MPs sound like the act of a liberal regime? Or, the persecution of citizens descended from German settlers?

I'm sorry, but you're retailing myth not reality.

To: Anonymous@10:33

But do they remember? Or are they the victims of false memories?

Genuine remembrance would give rise to a very different manifestation of civic engagement. One which would strip away entirely the military aspects of Anzac Day.

The current involvement of the military results in New Zealanders honouring the causes of - not looking for the solutions to - the suffering of war.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The British Army lost 12% of its ordinary ranks, and 17% of its officers, junior or otherwise. (I think 40 or 50 generals even.) I can't see then how more than half the casualties could be offices. The proportion of offices to men was quite small. Unless you mean something else anonymous. In which case could you please make it clear.
Let's not forget, that in all the rah rah rather patriotism surrounding our entry into World War I there was the belief, rational or otherwise, that Britain was our defender, and that we maybe owed them some form of material assistance.

Wayne Mapp said...


I am not disagreeing with you about Massey. But even you would have to concede that by the standards of the day Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US were democracies (and in New Zealand women had the vote).

Hence they all validly thought they were defending the values of democracy and freedom. And the US, and especially Wilson had no love of empire

Yes, part of it is myth - in most of the Empire the people did not have a say in their government. But a large part of it is truth, especially as it related to us.

We were the beneficiaries of empire - our origins as a nation (post 1840) stemmed from it. And we thought of ourselves as a modern democracy. In fact we thought of ourselves as the most modern in the world (and to a significant extent still do).

You of all people know you don't have to agree with a particular govt for the basic premise to be true.

And Neil, I suggest you re-look at the meaning of the phrase "highest death rates". Because on your analysis New Zealand has little to complain about with 18,000 dead since as a proportion of the whole of the WW1 dead, it is quite small. But for us it was 2% of the population.

Anonymous said...

Here in a rural village in Otago, we had the usual sweet lies at the cenotaph.

Then we went inside and talked of peace, and the lack of difference between nations.

I do not think we are a typical community, but I think it is a sign of the changing times.

We will continue to remember, for whatever the reasons, whatever the lies, the sacrifice of those young men was real.

But we will start to remember the promise made not long after then, a promise made and a promise forgotten every day since.

That promise was "never again". It is about bloody time we all remembered that.


Anonymous said...

Remembering the needless dead is part of the solution to war. People are remember the awful human cost.

It's also a coming together to assert pride in a national identity not based on race. It's based on standing up for our way of life. It's symbolic.

That's why 100s of thousands turn out. It's become our national day of pride.

Anonymous said...

Neil Anderson - death rate as in chance of getting killed. Surely this is obvious from context. Obviously the numbers of officers and men were not the same.

Chris is correct to rail against the self congratulatory mythmaking style of war commemoration (as practiced by TV channels).
However, I think it's easy to go too far the opposite way into the 'Toffs deliberately get the working classes slaughtered to increase their bank balance' school of history , which is equally false.

peteswriteplace said...

Do have faith in our kids. They won't stuff up as we and our ancestors have.

Kat said...

The truth always seems to come out in the end, however slowly. Every year the fallen are remembered and the debacle of Galipoli comes under closer scrutiny.

This scrutiny can only be positive and ultimately healing. Unless the truth is revealed and the lies are exposed then nothing will have been gained.

Replying to a question on the impact of the 1981 Springbok tour John Key once made the comment: "history is a thing of the past and we should really be more aspirational and look forward"......

It is not hard to weep for Zealandia.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

My father was always suspicious of the rah rah stuff. He refused to join the RSA until quite late in life, because he thought they glorified the war – well his war. I thought he was being a bit harsh to be honest. Many of these guys never had the same sort of mateship as they had in wartime, so naturally that was what they remembered. And the RSA sent somebody to his funeral to scatter poppies on the grave which I thought was nice.
But then I think of his uncles and grandfather who joined up some before World War I, some during. Some joined for a square meal, some because they were caught up in the patriotism. Two grandfathers and a step grandfather only one emerged relatively unscathed. One lost an arm, one eventually lost a leg, and the other's lungs were never quite the same but not so bad. He'd been a miner anyway.
And I often wondered what they thought of the whole affair. But they never talked about it except the funny bits. I sort of wish I'd got hold of a tape recorder and recorded them for posterity. None of them wrote much, functionally illiterate basically – well not my dad.
Let's face it, it was a war between empires, and I think that guy that suggested we would have been better off to sit it out was probably quite right. We should probably sit out this Middle East one as well.

Grant said...

@ Wayne Mapp 27/4 12.09

You might want to check your facts re dates for universal suffrage there Wayne. The UK didn't have universal male suffrage until after the war; 1918. and for women 1928. The actions taken by the British establishment to counter the movement for womens suffrage were brutal. The USA had theoretical universal suffrage by 1920 but for blacks this wasn't implemented properly until 1965 (if then). As for "native" populations in most of the British empire, voting was a distant hope far over the horizon. Germany had universal male suffrage by 1871 at the latest and Austria by 1896 for men and 1918 for women. If ordinary working class people in the British Empire thought they were more free and democratic than Germans and Austrians they were deluded.

pat said...

was never a day of pride for the servicemen I knew....was a time to remember the people they served with and the ones that didnt come home, often it bought feelings of anger to the surface.

John said...

A story for you partner and I were on the Gallipoli penninsula in 2009,mid winter at a hotel in Eceobat.Only us.I called in to a small shop to buy a beer and one of a few Turkish men said 'You are a Kiwi' 'I am' I said. 'How did you know?' He paused then said 'Kiwis eh" Boer war,1st World War, 2nd World War, Korean War, Vietnam War' I spotted where he was heading and triumphantly said 'But we are not in Iraq' He looked at me for a while and said 'Perhaps you Kiwis are starting to learn something' I often think of that man.

Paul McGrail said...

One diamond amongst the rough was the MTV documentary on Saturday night, Tides of Blood fronted by Sam Neill. One of the best made pieces of television on the ANZAC history and tradition I have ever seen. And absolute exemplary piece of Television.(A NZ/Aus Film Commission series?)
It was stunning. Incredibly well written, presented, shot, edited. By far the best take on this history, I have ever seen.
Available on line and highly recommended.
History and our take on it changes ever so slowly. In concert with the times.

Jamie said...

Swiss armed neutrality - The defence strategy NZ should be following

100+ years and nothing learned

markus said...

Re: Some men volunteered / some did not = so need for conscription by August 1916

I'm sure I read somewhere (probably when studying history at Uni in the 90s) that farmers and farmers' sons were the very least likely to volunteer in that pre-conscription (1914-16) period. And the gist of the article was that this refusal went well beyond any notions of farming as some sort of essential industry.

They weren't, of course, alone. A survey carried out in 1915 found that about 40% of all eligible NZ men were not interested in serving. But farmers appear to have been disproportionately among that group. And unlike the highly-principled conscientious objectors, they didn't have the courage of their convictions. They got to quietly stay at home without the terrible consequences that the COs had to live (and quite often die) with.

Which is interesting when you consider that farmers (particularly Dairy farmers) formed the backbone, the key support-base, of Massey's right-wing, deeply reactionary Reform Party. The Party that was all about King and Country and loyalism and the British Empire and not being a 'socialist shirker'.

Tuấn said...

"SBS sport reporter Scott McIntyre has been fired for posting ‘disrespectful’ tweets about Anzacs on Anzac Day."

So reminiscent of the appalling and disgraceful treatment of "those bloody conchies" by the self righteous ANZAC society during and after the First World War.

The Flying Tortoise said...

Great post Chris...

Brewerstroupe said...

"defending the values of democracy and freedom"

Jeez Wayne. If a foreign war has ever been fought for these values I have yet to hear of it.
If it was indeed a serious motivation how come we are not at war with Israel, Saudi Arabia and a host of oppressive regimes with which we chum up?

Here's a clue: Victors use their political dominance to create a version of historical events based on their own propaganda.

If you seriously believe that WWI, WWII, Iraq I, Iraq II, etc. were fought for democracy and freedom I've got half a dozen bridges up here in Northland I can let you have cheap.

Chales E said...

Are you not guilty of historical revisionism, as a habit? You judge the past, and worse, it's always either bad because the right ruled or good because it was a great achievement of the left. Do you see all history as an evil Tory plot against the wonderful innocent and pure left?

And secondly, I'm pretty sure this current phase of crass nationalism and jingoism etc and ridiculous bull about our nation 'coming of age' at Gallipoli took off under your Helen Clark regime. She pushed it like mad. I don't know why. I presume you would have to say it's because she was a closet tory?

Patricia said...

My Grandfather, George Samms, who had left school at 12 and became an apprentice iron molder, ran away to the Boer war when he was 15! (Apparently what the British did in SA was unbelievable although he never talked about it) He came to New Zealand in 1909 and by 1916 when conscription came in he had two children. He didn't register the second child because, he said, they would have said he had the second child to avoid being conscripted. He was called up as a man with one child. He refused to go, and refused to say his beliefs were on religious grounds, that war was just so so wrong, so he was sent to jail. (He went to Court with his suitcase and just didn't come home). My mother said the teachers at school were hard on them, that they got white feathers in the letter box and that times were hard even after the war because he couldn't get a job. (How did they pay their mortgage I would like to know). How I wish I had asked him and my Mother more. So now when I hear the drums of war beating I just wish that there were more and more men and women who would also say NEVER AGAIN. But somehow I doubt that there will
be. Watch the 1957 film Paths of Glory. It is a good anti war film.

Davo Stevens said...

This is a good description of what Galipoli was all about.

Brewerstroupe said...

"Are you not guilty of historical revisionism"

Interesting choice of words. At what point, Charles, do you consider History should be declared inviolate? How should this be achieved? By legislation? Should those "guilty" of holding History to the mirror of our evolving morality and knowledge be prosecuted?

What do you think, for example, of the revisionist view that slavery involved gross injustice? Should that particular History have been frozen at the point where the practice was generally accepted as part of the natural order of the universe, part of God's plan? Do you think the History of the United States or this country should be freed of the revisionist view that the indigenous people were mistreated?

Personally I find it difficult to conceive of any honest, relevant and informative History that is not constantly revised.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Personally I find it difficult to conceive of any honest, relevant and informative History that is not constantly revised."

Exactly. He's generation of historians revises previous generations' views of historical events, either because new evidence has come to light, or we view the old evidence of a new light, or just to make their reputation. But, there is some extreme fringe revisionism going on seeking to rehabilitate Hitler and so on. Best to stick to recognised historians :-).

jh said...

I think the renewed interest in ANZAC day could be because we are being swamped by a multicultural nothingness?

jh said...

Powell: No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.

Thatcher: Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.

Powell: No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.
The progressive answer is open borders (via the back door) and suppress dissent as "racist". Isn't that what Spoonley does when he calls a register of foreign house buyers "a throwback to racism" and states (re the influx from India and China) "we need their skills for the NZ economy!".

Charles E said...

Ok I accept 'historical revisionism' is best not used as a criticism, as it is always done of course and mostly quite validly & usefully. What I meant as a fault is judging the people in the past by taking ourselves back to that time, say 1914, and then moralising in our current shoes and hats. Whereas only if we were born and raised in the years leading up to 1914, could we know really what we are talking about, and what we would have thought & done. That can't be done.

Chris Trotter said...

Dear Lord, Charles, but you are a simpleton!

Have you never heard of primary sources?

The written records of the time?

Newspapers. Official publications? Poems. Popular songs. Works of art and literature. Personal correspondence.

Read, look at, listen to and absorb the primary sources and you will garner a very direct understanding of what people thought and felt in the past.

Here, for example, is a poem of the day, published in the Truth newspaper just after the outbreak of WWI, and written by the American socialist, Ralph Chaplin:

The Red Feast

Tear up the earth with strife
And give unto a war that is not yours;
Serve unto death the men you served in life
So that their wide dominions may not yield.
Stand by the flag – the lie that still allures;
Lay down your lives for land you do not own.
And spill each other’s guts upon the field;
Your glory tithe of mangled flesh and bone.
But whether in the fray to fall or kill
You must not pause to question why or where.
You see the tiny crosses on that hill?
It took all those to make one millionaire.

So, you see, Charles? Not so different from the feelings of a great many of us who walk this earth a century later.

Sometimes (if I may paraphrase the old adage) it is wiser to do nothing and be thought a fool, than to engage with your keyboard and remove all doubt.