Monday, April 21, 2008

The other side of the medal

Auckland museum - Auckland War Memorial Museum, I should say - is the focal point for the biggest Anzac Day commemoration in this part of the country, so it's no surprise that museum staff have been busy these last few weeks preparing a programme of displays and talks about New Zealand's long history of involvement in overseas wars.

In November the museum commemorates Armistice Day, which marks the end of World War One, and staff have been asked to submit ideas for some sort of presentation covering that conflict. I figure other folks will have the Gallipoli and Somme angles pretty well covered, so I've submitted a document which emphasises the strong opposition to the war that existed inside New Zealand. Most Kiwis are well aware of what happened in the Dardanelles, and of what the Maori Battalion was, but few know about the big anti-conscription movement back home during World War One, or about the iwi who drove Maui Pomare and Apirana Ngata to distraction by refusing all invitations to exhibit their fighting prowess in the trenches of Europe and Asia Minor.

In many countries, the outbreak of World War One was greeted with great enthusiasm, and men and women volunteered for service in large numbers. As the bloody conflict dragged on, though, the supply of volunteers declined, and a desire for peace grew. Conscription was introduced in many places to keep the supply of troops flowing to the front. But opposition to the war continued to grow in most countries, and in 1917and 1918 it led to the series of protests, mutinies, and revolutions which did much to bring the conflict to a close.

In Australia, repeated attempts to introduce conscription were defeated by public referenda. Perhaps mindful of the experience across the Tasman, the Massey government decided to bypass the voters and ram a conscription law through parliament in 1916. The law was welcomed by some New Zealanders, but it was unpopular with a number of Maori iwi, with parts of the labour movement, and with some religious organisations. Many members of these communities refused the call to conscription, and thus came into conflict with the New Zealand state. Some were imprisoned, others went into hiding, and a few died because they refused to fight.

Tainui and Tuhoe were the most important anti-conscription iwi. Both felt that they had no obligation to fight for the New Zealand state which had first invaded and then confiscated their lands in the nineteenth century. In his biography of Princess Te Puea, Michael King describes how Waikato and the other peoples of Tainui defied conscription:

While the parliamentarians were activating the Maori traditions of Tumatauenga, god of war, Te Puea was reinforcing those of Tawhiao, prophet of peace. And Waikato's refusal to serve became a growing embarrassment to the government... in February 1918, Te Puea sent word to all waikato and Maniapoto men of conscriptional age to join her at Te Paina [a marae in Mangatawhiri, near Mercer]...Te Puea's message was 'If we are to die, let us die together'...

Police invaded Te Paina and dragged away the conscriptable men who had gathered there. Of the 550 Tainui called up for service, only 74 ever wore a uniform, and not one served overseas. One hundred and eleven Tainui men were imprisoned, and four died of influenza because of the poor conditions they endured in captivity.

The Tuhoe prophet and political leader Rua Kenana refused to recognise the authority of the government in Wellington, and discouraged his followers from enlisting in the army. In his biography of Rua, Peter Webster reports an opinion of the war that the prophet gave in 1915:

Oh yes, we have got a King in England...He no good, he bad. The Germans win. The Germans win...

In 1916 armed police invaded the settlement Rua had established at Maungapohatu, deep in the Ureweras. After a gunbattle two of Rua's followers lay dead, including Rua's son Toko. Rua himself was sent to Mt Eden Prison.

The most famous Pakeha to be imprisoned for opposing World War One was Harry Holland, the first leader of the Labour Party. Like many left-wing members of the trade union movement, Holland believed that the war was essentially a fight between competing groups of capitalists. He argued that New Zealand workers had no reason to kill German or Turkish workers, and that they would be better off uniting and creating a new international order based on socialism. Similar views inspired the revolutions in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1918.

In his study of Holland, PJ O'Farrell describes the sufferings the man endured in prison:

He was very glad to leave prison. It had depressed him...his cell was too cold for comfortable reading. It was often too cold for sleep. The monotony was unbearable.

The experiences of the Tainui and Tuhoe peoples and of Pakeha like Harry Holland remind us that not all Kiwis believed that World War One was a heroic 'war to end all wars'. On Anzac Day and Armistice Day we should not forget New Zealand's fighters for peace.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! I really hate all this crap about the ANZACS - if the stupid bastards hadn't gone to war there would have been no war - wars are enacted by those who pull the triggers...

Tis ANZAC RSA hysteria and hypocrisy has always made me boil, and want to vomit forever.

I hate all those RSA bastards - moron warmongers.

Dada da da da da da d a da ad ad ad a d a add ad d d d d d d d d d d d adaadadadadaa da da da!!!!!!!!!!!

The Cafe Voltaire!! 1916!!!zzggtei

Remember the dead? - no - fuck them - they were all stupid bastards. Burn the NZ flag.

Good on the Tuhoe and other Maori!!

12:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuff Marxism, you lazy bastards should join the National Front!

3:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the NF pay well?

11:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The soviet bolshevik 1917
better conversation, better guns.

12:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Voltaire was a cunning bastard.

11:28 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Voltaire! Oh Voltaire, Voltaire! - what do I care for the hair of the good green Voltaire!?

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I hope your stuff makes it into the exhibition.
My misgivings about the coverage of Anzac
Day on Maori television were reinforced by the continual ads for the armed forces.

Most coverage on Maori TV would have been approved by Apirana Ngata himself. It took me back to my days of devouring endless war comics.

It was particulary depressing to hear Nanaia Mahuta (Tainui MP) praising all the children for attending the Anzac services, and remarking that many of their relations would have fought in the wars.
She made no mention of the tradition of Waikato resistance to war, often led by her own ancestors.


9:34 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Virtually all war is unheroic and unnecessary and encourages men (and some women) to butcher each other and of the 200 million killed in 20th Century wars - most were civilians. Wars are made not alone by "historical forces"; not by Imperialism or ideals or ideas - although these factors are all there and more - but ultimately by the ones who pull the triggers.

And in wars "heroes" are generally disliked by most combatents as they (for one thing) endanger the units fighting - what is not realised are the very large number of atrocities caused or actively committed not onlyn by the Axis forces but by the ANZACs ( e.g the killing of all but 300 of 3000 prisoners in one example at Gallipoli) - men with guns become killers (or in many cases they don't use their guns under fire - rapists. They (not all but always too many ) become monsters - the "glory of the ANZACc is is a pathetic
perpetuation" of a "myth of nationhood" - we need mass slaughter to be a nation? Clark - and anyone else who believes that who ash any knowledge - is either a fascist warmonger or really stupid if she or they believe that.

It takes most courage NOT to particpate in the killing.

10:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

E Tama, when it comes down to it, the things you have said in your comments are some of the most disrespectful things i have ever had the misfortune of reading. may Whaitiri boil your head and eat your flesh you ignorant little bottom feeder. you make it sound as though it was the soldiers fault that the war began and not that of some tangata rongonui who decides whether or not a country goes to war.
"Remember the dead? - no - fuck them - they were all stupid bastards. Burn the NZ flag.
" The dead you talk of here are not the ones that caused the war, they are the ones who got caught up in the middle. They were conscripted in 1917.

so richard taylor and anonymous, i hope your skin falls off and your family suffer many misfortunes. ka takoto au ki a makutu i runga ou mahunga

5:57 pm  
Anonymous Viagra Online said...

The Museum is one of New Zealand's most important museums and war memorial, I have been there and I saw many important things about natural history, as well as military history.22dd

8:41 am  
Anonymous viagra without prescription said...

this place is a real cool place to have a meet with the story, for the some people is full with memories and most of then are bad memories, but other people, we see the our real history.

2:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that no referenda was held about conscription. Where does that sound familiar? Kiwis are easily herded like sheep. Time for NZ to grow a backbone and stand up for itself. This issue is still unresolved 100 years on. We are lapdogs to those who tower over us.

8:43 am  

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