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Something About the Symbolism of Poppies.

datePosted on 03:46, April 22nd, 2010 by Pablo

Peace Movement Aotearoa is running a white poppy campaign as a fund raiser for its activities. It is doing so one day before the RSA red poppy appeal. Some think the timing is unfortunate in the extreme. Others denounce PMA as “parasites.” I beg to differ.

There are obvious freedom of opinion and speech issues involved, all of which must be resolved in favour of the PMA no matter how misguided they may be or how they may be piggy-backing on the veneration of the sacrifice at Gallipoli. But that is exactly why the white poppy campaign should be respected.

The red poppy campaign is a recognition of sacrifice that, although in service of a foreign master and resulting in (tactical) defeat, was a prime example of the measure of the Kiwi spirit. It is to be honoured, which is why I, as a foreigner, have attended ANZAC day celebrations. But I also respect the white poppy campaign.

That is because there is the offically unrecognised aspect to ANZAC celebrations, which is the futility and subserviance of the heroic sacrifice by so many of New Zealand’s best (and not so best) men  of the day. To be honest, many died in vain. In the larger scheme of things Gallipoli was not strategically decisive. That war was not fought in defense of democracy and freedom.

Therein lies the justification for the white poppy campaign. Along with the red poppy recognition of sacrifice, it is entirely fair to recognise the futility of NZ involvement in some wars and to campaign against any such future involvement. I tend to believe that WW1, WW2 and Korea were just wars (look at North Korea now if you think that was an unjustifed conflict), and NZ involvement in the liberation of Timor Leste is commendable, but the point of the white poppy campaign is to underscore the fact that NZ, as a sovereign and independent nation, can now pick and choose its fights when it does not involve defense of the homeland. Although they may not realise that NZ has to pay its international security dues in order to receive international protection against foreign invasion (however improbable that scenario may be), the PMA crowd are perfectly correct in choosing to parallel their campaign of reflection alongside the recognition of ANZAC sacrifice. Put another way–how many Kiwis have died in a war of NZ’s choosing? It may be true that sometimes “you gotta do what you gotta do,” but when it comes to war, sometimes you have to recognise that you do not have a dog in the fight.

Of course this hurts the ANZAC veterans (or their descendents) who choose not to acknowledge that freedom of expression, governance and worship  is not what Gallipoli (or Vietnam) was about–it was about great power quarrels fought in areas of the global periphery with military-strategic importance.  Thus,  if the mythological claims of defense of freedom are to be honoured, then the white poppy campaign should be welcomed along with its red poppy counterparts. After all, it is difference of opinion that makes the defense of freedom so fundamental to the democratic ethos. Although it may not have been at play at Gallipoli, it sure is when it comes to respecting the rights of the white poppy campaigners.

I therefore honour the ANZACs for their (often unthinking) sacrifice. And I respect the PMA for their thinking opposition to war, however much I believe sometimes war is necessary ( if nothing but on lesser evil grounds).

As for the maori component of this sacrifice and current opposition,  I defer to Lew.

>>Written from Greece, where democracy is clearly showing strains but in which the right to voice is sacrosanct.<<

54 Responses to “Something About the Symbolism of Poppies.”

  1. Phil Sage on April 22nd, 2010 at 10:01

    On this one you are a useful idiot Pablo. The white poppy is not about freedom of expression but about cynical political manipulation.

    The red poppy resonates precisely because so many of us recognise the futility of their sacrifice. Intellectualising about freedom of expression does not change a damn thing

  2. Hugh on April 22nd, 2010 at 10:15

    I expect those who are against the white poppy would say that everything it purports to say, the red poppy already says. But then I’ve always struggled to figure out exactly what the message in ANZAC day commemorations is. It seems to involve noble sacrifice but also futile colonial subservience. It’s hard for me to reconcile these two – if New Zealand wasn’t fighting for its own interests, as the subservience narrative argues, what was the ‘sacrifice’? I think this is why ‘sacrifice’ is such a commonly used word, since it has room for both these interpretations, as long as one doesn’t think about it too hard. (And despite the fact that ANZAC Day is stipulated a time for reflection, it seems pretty rare for that bit of thinking to take place)

    But really for me the larger issue is one of nationalism vs non-nationalism, violence vs pacifism. Ultimately both the white and red poppy campaigns come down on the same side of the issue. Both view it as appropriate to kill and die in the service of one’s nation, they simply disagree about the degree to which the Gallipolli case study confirms this imperative.

    Gallipolli was unquestionably a tragedy, but to call it a tragedy simply because the killing was taking place under the wrong flag, well, that strikes me as eliding the central issue.

  3. Pat on April 22nd, 2010 at 12:00

    The PMA are perfectly entitled to have their white poppy day. But having it the day before ANZAC day is purely political, and frankly insulting. It is trying to contrast a commemoration of peace with a commemoration of war, with the not-too subtle inference that the white poppiests hold the higher morale ground.

    Even worse, why “sell” the white poppies, at the one time of year when the RSA does their principal fund-raising.

    ANZAC day is not just about Gallipoli. Its also about remembering a mulitude of foreign battles where NZers fought and died for our freedoms, from Ypres to Galatos to Takarouna to Cassino to the Solomons. Whether they were disasters or victories, our nationhood, Maori and Pakeha, were forged on these battlefields. Shame on the PMA.

  4. Pablo on April 22nd, 2010 at 14:59

    Phil: We can disagree without resorting to name calling.

  5. Michael on April 22nd, 2010 at 16:53

    I just want to pick up on what Hugh said about the lack of reflection on Anzac Day. It seems to me this cuts to the heart of what Anzac Day is about today – not reflection, not commemoration, but, paradoxically, forgetting, amnesia and myth-making.

    For Pakeha New Zealanders, Anzac Day is a time when we can forget about all the awkwardness associated with Waitangi Day, our other national day, and instead construct a national myth in which, as Pat’s post indicates, Maori and Pakeha built up a shared sense of New Zealand nationhood.

    This is a myth in every sense of the term. Nearly everything about it either is not true, or distorts the truth or glosses over it. A sense of New Zealand nationhood was not constructed at Gallipoli, on the Western Front or even in the Second World War. This is obvious to anyone who has put in the least amount of research. Until the 1950s, (Pakeha) New Zealand’s identity was primarily imperial. The British Empire was A Good Thing; New Zealand identity was founded on being a loyal outpost of Empire in the South Pacific, eagerly defending Britannia from her enemies and, indeed, on actually being British. I’ve studied New Zealand election campaigns in the first half of the twentieth century; all political parties appealed to a sense of British identity, and on pride in the Empire. I recall National Party newspaper spots from the 1949 campaign that proclaim that ‘True Britishers Vote National!’

    It seems to me that the contradiction Hugh perceives in public attitudes to Anzac Day can be explained by the competing imperatives at work in Anzac Day commemorations. If the sacrifice was ‘pointless,’ or at the behest of foreign, British commanders callously and ineptly throwing away Kiwi lives, then that reinforces the nationalist aspect of Anzac commemoration; the world wars were the moment when New Zealand realised it needed to forge its own way ahead in the world. On the other hand, New Zealand’s involvement in overseas wars *can’t* have been pointless; the sacrifice must have been *for* something, as all sacrifices must be. Otherwise, we would have to reflect (!) too much on exactly what New Zealand soldiers were doing fighting, dying (and killing) at Gallipoli, on the Somme, at Cassino or in the jungles of Vietnam, and by extension on the less savoury aspects of New Zealand’s policy in the past, our implication in the imperialism of our British masters, which we signed up to with gusto, without compunction or any hint of shame.

    These contradictions mean too many things are missing from Anzac Day to for it to be an authentic day of reflection. It is simply too hard to reflect honestly and at the same time construct an acceptable national myth. The result is that Anzac Day commemorations are utterly anodyne and completely devoid of any honest thinking about our past. Anzac Day comes to be about ‘sacrifice,’ ‘comradeship,’ ‘suffering’ – but the suffering and horror is commemorated not with any attempt to figure out *why* we suffered in the first place. If it is emphasised, it is only to marvel *that* the soldiers suffered, not to examine why they did. It is given meaning with more unexamined platitudes – about ‘freedom,’ about ‘the price of democracy,’ without any thought going into whether the soldiers who bled to death in water-logged shell holes on the Somme did so in the service of anything that could be described as ‘freedom.’

  6. Michael on April 22nd, 2010 at 17:00

    Also, Anzac Day is about soldiers, not civilians. War is presented as being something that happens to men in uniform, not French peasant girls fleeing from the front or Vietnamese villagers running from American napalm bombs or German civilians starving to death because of the Allied blockade. Anzac Day is militaristic in character.

    The emphasis on the soldiers’ suffering means, too, that we don’t focus on the flipside of war – not the endurance of suffering, but the infliction of it. War is presented as morally uncomplicated.

  7. Bruce Hamilton on April 22nd, 2010 at 18:28

    My problems with the while poppy appeal are the cynical timing, combined with the prominent claim ” The white poppy is an international symbol of remembrance for all the casualties of war … “. That’s potentially misleading prospective purchasers..

    The red poppy appeal money supports veterans and widows, whereas the white poppy money goes to peace scholarships.

    Do those purchasing the white poppies know they are funding research entitled ‘A Gendered Approach to Police Reform: Addressing Masculinities in Policing Projects in Timor-Leste’?.

    In my youth, in various jobs, I worked alongside several ex-soldiers from WWI and WWII. They didn’t go the reunions, as that past life was another country.

    They never talked about their service to anyone, even ex-fellow soldiers. They remembered, and they would not socialise with others who chose to only remember good times.

    They avoided the RSA, and despised the glorification of being soldiers, but every one of them would attend an ANZAC service to remember the fallen.

    ANZAC day is about remembrance of citizens answering their governments’ call to arms to support freedom, and all the mental and physical sacrifices that entailed.

    It’s not about wars, evil or good, it’s about remembering the ultimate sacrifice and shattering of youth upon the wheel of national identity.

    Remembering those lost futures may help deter frivolous campaigns far more than self-serving and absurd peace scholarships.

  8. Pablo on April 22nd, 2010 at 19:04

    I do not see the two campaigns as mutually exclusive, but instead as two sides of the same coin. The red poppy symbolises remembrance of dedication and sacrifice; the white poppy symbolises a desire for peace and avoidance of war. Thus the tie-in of the white fund-raising campaign with the traditional red poppy fund-raising seems to me to be a natural. It may seem like a cynical ploy but it is simply a matter of opportune consciousness-raising.

    If you prefer to see the two campaigns as opposite, then Peter Creswell at Not PC notes that the “markets” for the two are different–buying white will not cut into the red market share.

    Were I in NZ I would buy one of each.

  9. Tom Semmens on April 22nd, 2010 at 19:17

    If you didn’t already think ANZAC day was little more than a exercise in pagan ancestor worship by a hollowed out society ignorant of religion, the vigorous persecution of these white poppy heretics should remove all doubt.

  10. Lew on April 22nd, 2010 at 19:48

    What an excellent discussion. Pablo, I was thinking the same thing but with the conditional as “if I weren’t such an iconoclast”. I also don’t see the two campaigns as mutually exclusive. But I can see how that inference would be taken, and I think it is a reasonable inference to take.

    The timing is key. It’s one myth encroaching on another, to use Michael’s terms instead of PC’s, when the two myths do in fact detract from one another. Not for people who hold ambivalent views about war, but for those whose views about war are less equivocal — whether due to personal or familial involvement, or due to their view being more strongly formed by the prevailing national mythology. I know my late grandfather, who’s in the former category, would be livid at this, and would probably need to be physically restrained if one of these earnest white-poppy-sellers were damfoolish enough to situate themselves near the Portsider in Port Chalmers. This is perhaps unfortunate, but at the same time somewhat understandable.

    L

  11. Daniel on April 23rd, 2010 at 12:50

    I’ve always supported ANZAC Day because I believe we forget the horrors of war at our peril. And yes, the courage of the soldiers also deserves commemoration. But lately ANZAC Day has been becoming a glorification of war, which I’m not happy with.
    World War I wasn’t fought “for freedom” (unlike World War II), it was a squabble between empires that got out of hand. The ANZACs were sent to the wrong place on the Turkish coast and slaughtered. We must never forget them, but nor should we excuse those who sent poor young boys off to die to preserve the wealth and power of the wealthy and powerful.
    Also to be remembered are the pacifists, the conscientious objectors (“conchies”). They weren’t left behind to live in the peace they desired; they were dragged out to the front lines and made to risk their lives, unarmed, every day of the war. Soldiers who showed them compassion were also punished. They’ve never been acknowledged at ANZAC Day, and it’s time that was redressed.
    The people who sold me my white poppy were themselves each wearing two, red and white together. If I meet an RSA poppy-seller this year (I never seem to bump into them) I’ll buy red — if they understand that my white poppy is not a gimmick, not an act of disrespect, not a gesture of defiance, but a solemn remembrance of those who have been forgotten too often.

  12. PhilBee, Auckland on April 24th, 2010 at 10:33

    Why did Peace Movement Aotearoa choose to sell its white poppies in the lead-up to Anzac Day? Simple. It wanted to “cash in” on the decades of good RSA roddy poppy day publicity. PMA decided in 2008 to deliberately move to the Anzac period – there can be no disguising its intent. It’s no wonder NZers are angry! It should return its white poppy selling to its original position on Hiroshima Day – and go the long haul to make the day its own, not try and piggyback on the blood, sweat and lives of our servicemen and women.

    http://yardyyardyyardy.blogspot.com/2010/04/seeing-red-over-white-poppies.html

    PhilBee, Auckland

  13. Stuart Mackey on April 24th, 2010 at 22:15

    PMA’s action, while they certainly have every right to do as they are doing, should not be mistaken for being anything more than a fundraising drive for their own sectional, political, interests. I doubt it has anything to do with remembrance of anything except when their bills fall due.

  14. Stuart Mackey on April 24th, 2010 at 22:36

    .
    World War I wasn’t fought “for freedom” (unlike World War II), it was a squabble between empires that got out of hand.

    I would imagine that the inhabitants of Belgium and France may disagree, it was their inhabitants who were massacred, it was their nations who were invaded and occupied for the aggrandizement of German power and prestige.
    You also forgot to mention that it was the invasion of Belgium that got us involved, it was not hostile action on our part, it was a desire not to see nations invaded and overrun by despots.

    Indeed all the planning of the era was predicated around hostile German action, which was well, because German planning was for purely offensive action, indeed the offensive German plan, the massive hook into France via Belgium, was the only plan the Germans had!
    The war was most certainly about freedom, freedom from not being invaded (again, in the case of France) by a nation who, within living memory, had gone to war three times for the purposes of territorial expansion and was suspected, based on recent events, of wanting to do so yet again, a suspicion that was proven correct.

  15. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 01:23

    Imperial Germany from 1871-1918 was no more or less imperialist or expansionist than all the other great European powers. As for your talk of ‘freedom from invasion,’ you can take that to the peoples of the Middle East, to Africa, to all the places in the world where President Wilson’s big words about the self-determination of peoples apparently did not apply if your skin was not the right colour.

    The First World War was in no way some grand fight for freedom. From start to finish it was about the imperial rivalries of the European great powers, with little or nothing to choose between the two sides for the vast majority of the world’s population.

  16. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 01:35

    As for liberal democracy as the Great Allied Cause, it’s instructive to remember that Britain in 1914 *still* did not have even universal manhood suffrage, let alone grant the vote to women. Of course, Britain was definitely more democratic than either the German or Austro-Hungarian empires, but then again Russia, on the Allied side, was far more despotic than even those two states.

    As for the issue of atrocities, dare I remind everyone of Surafend? It’s a place most New Zealanders have probably never heard of, probably because it’s uncomfortable to remember (that word again!) that even “our” side could, and did, commit crimes against humanity.

  17. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 03:28

    Imperial Germany from 1871-1918 was no more or less imperialist or expansionist than all the other great European powers. As for your talk of ‘freedom from invasion,’ you can take that to the peoples of the Middle East, to Africa, to all the places in the world where President Wilson’s big words about the self-determination of peoples apparently did not apply if your skin was not the right colour.

    Actually, in terms of miles conquered, Germany was considerably less so than either France or the UK, but that is also irrelevant, indeed it is a strawman argument as WW1 was not about colonies.

    The First World War was in no way some grand fight for freedom. From start to finish it was about the imperial rivalries of the European great powers, with little or nothing to choose between the two sides for the vast majority of the world’s population.

    That is nonsense, indeed quite apart from the fact that it was Germany and Austria that clearly launched a war of aggression, it was quite clearly about unreasonable demands over an assassination, it had nothing to do with Germanies ‘sausage factory in Tanganyika’ or anyone else’s colonies. The best you can argue about imperialism and that war is that it was a source of tension when you look at the issues around places like Morocco and the Kaisers ill informed posturing, but thats about it.

  18. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 03:43

    As for liberal democracy as the Great Allied Cause, it’s instructive to remember that Britain in 1914 *still* did not have even universal manhood suffrage, let alone grant the vote to women. Of course, Britain was definitely more democratic than either the German or Austro-Hungarian empires, but then again Russia, on the Allied side, was far more despotic than even those two states.

    What does that have to do with it? A nation must be free to make its own choices, kind of hard to do if your nation is being trampled over by some one else’s army.

    As for the issue of atrocities, dare I remind everyone of Surafend? It’s a place most New Zealanders have probably never heard of, probably because it’s uncomfortable to remember (that word again!) that even “our” side could, and did, commit crimes against humanity.

    Are you trying to place that act, a one off act committed by war weary soldiers, and put it on the same moral level as state sanctioned systematic murder?
    I hope not, to do so would be profoundly ignorant to say nothing of disgusting.

  19. Alex on April 25th, 2010 at 13:15

    If you’re going to say that WW1 was fought by the allies out of a desire not to see the freedom of other people trampled on, it’s perfectly reasonable to raise the issue of colonies. I needn’t say much more, only that it was apparently a desire to see the freedom only of other white people, not the people in colonies (colonies held by both sides) in Africa, India and elsewhere (their freedom was never even an issue) – hardly a noble cause. You can’t fight for freedom at the same time as denying it. So really, it was just an imperialist s***fest.

    If we want Anzac Day to have any real meaning, we should be saying sorry, not thank you, to the soldiers and to the civilian victims on both sides.

  20. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 13:46

    The reason the British were drawn into European politics in the first place, and took up with the French and Russians in particular, was Germany’s programme of naval construction in the first decade of the twentieth century. This they interpreted as a threat to the Royal Navy, which was what held the British Empire together, and in the event of war with a Germany with equivalent naval strength and an equivalent chain of bases around the world (i.e., with an equivalent power projection capability) would have been at risk. That is, fundamentally, why they (and by extension, we) went to war. Belgium was only a casus belli.

    For its part the Ottoman Empire, to take one example, went to war to recover its former imperial possessions in the Balkans, and to fend off its imperial rival Russia. When the war ended, and despite all the assurances of the Fourteen Points (which were only ever dreamed up at the end of the war to try to split up the sprawling multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and were never intended to be taken seriously), the rest of the Ottoman lands were carved up between the victorious powers, who awarded them to themselves as League of Nation ‘mandates’ (that is, colonies). No-one asked the peoples of those lands if they wanted to make their own choices, and they certainly had very little choice about ‘their land’ being ‘trampled over by someone else’s army’ – which armies, by the way, and not very long after the Great War ended, were engaged in exactly the same sort of ‘state-sanctioned systematic murder’ which you apparently believe the Germans were the sole perpetrators of the entire war in, presumably, Belgium.

    At the peace conference in 1919, the Allies redrew not just the map of Europe, but the map of the world, to reflect their own interests, which were mainly to ensure that Germany could never rise again to threaten them on the European continent or in their overseas empires. The peoples who exchanged imperial masters (and, in many cases, were made to fight their masters’ battles), of course, had very little choice in the matter.

    The war was imperial through and through.

  21. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 13:47

    If you’re going to say that WW1 was fought by the allies out of a desire not to see the freedom of other people trampled on, it’s perfectly reasonable to raise the issue of colonies. I needn’t say much more, only that it was apparently a desire to see the freedom only of other white people, not the people in colonies (colonies held by both sides) in Africa, India and elsewhere (their freedom was never even an issue) – hardly a noble cause. You can’t fight for freedom at the same time as denying it. So really, it was just an imperialist s***fest.

    That would actually be relevant if colonies had anything to do with it, but it demonstrably did not. The cause of that war was the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian response and the chain reaction that it caused. Our involvement only occurred the moment German armies swung through Belgium, and was to secure the independence of Belgium and France, nothing more.
    You will notice that colonies do not feature in this chain of events. If colonies do not feature in the start of WW1, QED, it was not an “Imperialist s***fest”. Indeed, to describe it as such is to ignore basic historical facts.

    What is unreasonable is to look at history from the viewpoint of sectional political issues of this day and age, to try and impose that morality on those issues when, even if they were a concern to the players of the age, certainly had no bearing on the choices they made at that time, in those circumstances.

  22. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 13:56

    If we want Anzac Day to have any real meaning, we should be saying sorry, not thank you, to the soldiers and to the civilian victims on both sides.

    I should have just said this!

    We should, in fact, be especially apologetic to the civilian victims of war, who tend to be overwhelmingly greater in number than its military victims, and are, I think I can safely say, *entirely*, not merely largely, but entirely ignored in our Anzac Day commemorations.

    This is one of the facts that leads me to label Anzac Day as militaristic.

  23. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 14:07

    That would actually be relevant if colonies had anything to do with it, but it demonstrably did not. The cause of that war was the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian response and the chain reaction that it caused. Our involvement only occurred the moment German armies swung through Belgium, and was to secure the independence of Belgium and France, nothing more.
    You will notice that colonies do not feature in this chain of events. If colonies do not feature in the start of WW1, QED, it was not an “Imperialist shitfest”. Indeed, to describe it as such is to ignore basic historical facts.

    This seems to me like a kind of almost wilful amnesia. Yes, those were the immediate causes of the war. But there was a much larger context in which all of these events played out. Great powers are perfectly capable of ignoring violations of small countries’ neutrality or territorial integrity when it suits them. Why should Belgium have been so special? And why should Britain have been interested so apparently altruistically in the independence of Belgium and France?

    The reason, of course, is that if they had not, Germany would have been far too powerful on the continent of Europe, and by extension might have threatened Britain’s global position. An altruistic interest in freedom would have been, I can assure you, the last thing on the minds of British decision-makers, except, perhaps, as a self-serving delusion to cover their real reasons for going to war, all rooted in continental and global (read: colonial) power politics.

  24. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 14:10

    The war was imperial through and through.

    I think that that is not entirely intellectually honest, if for no other reason that colonies were at best a source of tension, and that the RN was more than able to contain the German navy. Moreover, to allow a despotic nation to dominate in Europe would have been the height of folly, and a clear repudiation of the democratic direction of British and French societies.

  25. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 14:21

    This is one of the facts that leads me to label Anzac Day as militaristic.

    Lol, thanks to those soldiers, you would not know what militarism was if it belted you.

  26. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 14:26

    The reason, of course, is that if they had not, Germany would have been far too powerful on the continent of Europe, and by extension might have threatened Britain’s global position. An altruistic interest in freedom would have been, I can assure you, the last thing on the minds of British decision-makers, except, perhaps, as a self-serving delusion to cover their real reasons for going to war, all rooted in continental and global (read: colonial) power politics.

    Yeah, lets just ignore that the British cabinet would have collapsed if the Germans had not invaded Belgium, as it was there were only some resignations on points of principle. You do not have the ability to read the minds of the long since dead, so don’t try to subscribe to them thoughts that you cannot possibly know.

  27. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 14:30

    I think that that is not entirely intellectually honest, if for no other reason that colonies were at best a source of tension, and that the RN was more than able to contain the German navy. Moreover, to allow a despotic nation to dominate in Europe would have been the height of folly, and a clear repudiation of the democratic direction of British and French societies.

    The RN may have been *able* to contain the German navy, but I don’t think that’s the point. They perceived a potential threat in the German naval construction programme, whose intent was precisely to be able to challenge the Royal Navy in open battle. What else could it have been for? It would have been considerably more unlikely for the British to have gone to war had it not been for the fact that they perceived this threat to their global (again, read imperial) dominance.

    I don’t know where you get the idea that Britain and France were somehow concerned with the advance of democracy, or that this on its own would have been enough to persuade them to go to war. For one thing, they were allied with *Russia*, for goodness’ sake. Secondly, large parts of the French elite would have preferred to undo all of their history since 1789, or at the very least 1870. Similarly, large portions of the British political elite had opposed every extension of the franchise in 1832, 1867 and 1884, and had vigorously opposed reform of the House of Lords just a few years before the outbreak of the Great War.

    French reactionary opinion wanted a war with Germany, hell, probably more than anyone in Germany wanted another war with France, let alone a France now allied with Russia, offering the prospect of a two-front conflict. And the reason the ferociously conservative French right (the same people, remember, who would shack up with the Nazis in 1940) wanted a war with Germany was absolutely nothing to do with Republican ideals – it was about revanchism, recovering Alsace-Lorraine, and wiping out the stain on French military honour of 1870.

  28. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 14:34

    Lol, thanks to those soldiers, you would not know what militarism was if it belted you.

    A lot of New Zealand schoolboys up until the 1960s would have been belted for refusing to take part in cadet week, a week of paramilitary training for New Zealand’s future wars.

  29. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 15:10

    A lot of New Zealand schoolboys up until the 1960s would have been belted for refusing to take part in cadet week, a week of paramilitary training for New Zealand’s future wars.

    We are not living in the 1960’s.
    You also forget why that was done and why we don’t do it, and its not much to do with militarism.

  30. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 15:24

    We are not living in the 1960’s.
    You also forget why that was done and why we don’t do it, and its not much to do with militarism.

    *facepalm*

    firstly, New Zealand society was extremely militarised even before the First World War; secondly, it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do today; we’re arguing about back then; thirdly, any and all of the justifications for conscription/compulsory military training/establishment of the Territorial Army/whatever would have been couched in imperial terms, as nearly all speech about New Zealand identity or New Zealand’s place in the world prior to about the 1960s was.

  31. Hugh on April 25th, 2010 at 15:24

    I just wanted to say that a country can be Imperialist without having overseas colonies. Ottoman Imperialism, for instance, didn’t require them to participate in the Scramble for Africa, nor did Austro-Hungarian Imperialism. Few would argue these weren’t Imperial powers.

    If you guys mean ‘Colonialism’, say it.

  32. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 15:51

    I just wanted a catch-all phrase to cover everything that I was saying; indeed, in one of my posts I even lumped the Ottomans together with the rest of Europe for their desire to recover their lost Balkan possessions. I don’t think there’s an important enough difference between ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism’ to spill yet more e-ink differentiating the two.

    And when I use the word ‘imperial’ to discuss New Zealand identity before about 1960, that’s simply *the precise word* that was used in those days – imperial defence, Australian Imperial Forces (to use an overseas but particularly obvious eg). They (‘we;’ our ancestors) were unabashedly imperial, indeed proud of it.

  33. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 16:05

    I didn’t really mean to re-litigate yet again the rights and wrongs of the outbreak of the First World War (‘you started it! You invaded Belgium!’), merely to point out some of the more salient symptoms of amnesia in our ‘remembrance’ of the Anzacs.

    Some of those symptoms are –

    -an absence of focus on the civilian victims of war

    -an absence of focus on the true ‘meaning’ of war, or rather, a one-sided focus on the meaning of war, i.e., war means not just endurance, suffering, heroism, but the *infliction* of suffering, the fact that war means killing, as well as dying; that even the most legitimate war in history (which is the war against Nazi Germany, and I *specifically* mean the war against Nazi Germany) still involves inflicting suffering on innocents (how many Italian civilians were killed, or made homeless, by New Zealand artillery in 1943-5, for instance?)

    -an absence of focus on New Zealand’s implication in imperial (colonial, if you like) adventure; the Sinai/Palestine campaign in WWI, or, to drive the point home more obviously, in South Africa 1899-1902.

    Those are the main ones. I could go into others (for instance, we concentrate on the fact that the Anzacs endured; we marvel at it. What about the ones who didn’t, or couldn’t, endure, however? Is war endurable at all? Is it fair to ask people to endure that? There seems to be a subtext going on: *they* endured it; so, too, should you be prepared to. Sometimes, in fact, I get the distinct, and uncomfortable, feeling that many NZers *want* a war; they want their own heroes; 5-10 battle deaths in Afghanistan wouldn’t go amiss, just to keep the ‘Anzac spirit’ alive. Witness the mini-war hysteria over Willie Apiata’s VC, for example. It’s been little remarked on, in fact, not remarked on at all, as far as I can tell, what a magnificent PR exercise that was for the NZDF. Not to say that what Apiata did wasn’t brave or commendable, however.)

  34. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 16:14

    firstly, New Zealand society was extremely militarised even before the First World War; secondly, it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do today; we’re arguing about back then; thirdly, any and all of the justifications for conscription/compulsory military training/establishment of the Territorial Army/whatever would have been couched in imperial terms, as nearly all speech about New Zealand identity or New Zealand’s place in the world prior to about the 1960s was.

    Hey, you were the one who brought up militarism in the context of ANZAC day, militarism has nothing to do with it.

  35. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 16:15

    -an absence of focus on New Zealand’s implication in imperial (colonial, if you like) adventure; the Sinai/Palestine campaign in WWI, or, to drive the point home more obviously, in South Africa 1899-1902.

    …or, to drive the point home even *more* obviously, the New Zealand occupation of Samoa in 1914, and the subsequent and occasionally brutal, often incompetent, colonial regime that we ran for decades, and is nearly entirely forgotten now.

  36. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 16:16

    Hey, you were the one who brought up militarism in the context of ANZAC day, militarism has nothing to do with it.

    It is nearly by definition militaristic.

  37. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 16:29

    Those are the main ones. I could go into others (for instance, we concentrate on the fact that the Anzacs endured; we marvel at it. What about the ones who didn’t, or couldn’t, endure, however? Is war endurable at all? Is it fair to ask people to endure that? There seems to be a subtext going on: *they* endured it; so, too, should you be prepared to. Sometimes, in fact, I get the distinct, and uncomfortable, feeling that many NZers *want* a war; they want their own heroes; 5-10 battle deaths in Afghanistan wouldn’t go amiss, just to keep the ‘Anzac spirit’ alive. Witness the mini-war hysteria over Willie Apiata’s VC, for example. It’s been little remarked on, in fact, not remarked on at all, as far as I can tell, what a magnificent PR exercise that was for the NZDF. Not to say that what Apiata did wasn’t brave or commendable, however.)

    What is your point? you are making a lot of assumptions without much to back it up. You talk of people wanting a war, yet no one I have ever spoken to has ever desired one: Is it fair to ask people to fight? would it be fair not to, in the right circumstance?

    As for Apiata and his VC, I don’t see your point, it was the first VC awarded since WW2, what did you expect?

    As for ‘amnesia’, give me a break, no one has forgotten, but ANZAC day is not the appropriate place for it.

  38. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 16:31

    It is nearly by definition militaristic.

    Prove it, or >>be quiet.<<.

  39. Stuart Mackey on April 25th, 2010 at 16:32

    …or, to drive the point home even *more* obviously, the New Zealand occupation of Samoa in 1914, and the subsequent and occasionally brutal, often incompetent, colonial regime that we ran for decades, and is nearly entirely forgotten now.

    You must have missed the German occupation bit.
    Quite correct about our incompetence however.

  40. Pablo on April 25th, 2010 at 16:34

    Interesting discussion. I am surprised that no one has brought up the issue of “servitor Imperialism,” of which NZ is often offered as a good example. There is a book with that title for those who might be interested in the phenomena of colonials serving in their master’s wars.

    One small reminder (particularly to Alex and Stuart in this thread): we do not allow vulgarity of any kind on this site, including well-known insult acronyms. It may seem prissy but it helps keep the discussion civil.

  41. Alex on April 25th, 2010 at 17:49

    Prove it, or >>be quiet.< <.

    “Australia and New Zealand Army Corps” Day.

  42. Michael on April 25th, 2010 at 21:26

    Prove it, or >>be quiet.< <.

    oh for goodness’ sake.

    I was going to let this drop, but this is just too much.

    Firstly, this:

    “Australia and New Zealand Army Corps” Day.

    Secondly, you couldn’t have come up with a better argument for my position if you’d tried your hardest. This is Anzac amnesia in action. As soon as anyone comes up with anything that questions the permissible Anzac Day narratives, as I have, as the white poppy crew have, they are told, quite literally it would seem in this case, and with much defensiveness, to shut up.

    As for your point about Samoa, I’m afraid I don’t see it. You seem dangerously close to insinuating that “Our” imperialism is preferable to “Their” imperialism.

    You’ve bought hook, line and sinker into the Allied propaganda about the Germans in the First World War. I never thought I’d see the day.

  43. SPC on April 25th, 2010 at 23:03

    Ignoring the involvement in the Boer War which was not related to a threat to Britain or the wider empire, but only to its South African “colonialism”, ANZAC involvement in the defence of the British Empire as part of a war with other imperial powers is the coming of age of the two colonies in world (security/defence/foreign policy) affairs.

    The other salient detail is that in WW2 Australian involvement in the Pacific, while our forces stayed in the ME, marked a turning point that continues to this day. Australia focused on its own defence and was reliant on the support of the Americans to achieve this. While we secure in their focus on their front-line defence could operate on a wider brief. Which is why we could choose the non-nuclear option and be an important guest at a nuclear weapons non proliferation gathering.

    So while both of us were important players in the forming of the UN in 1945, we have taken a different foreign policy path since the 1980’s – however the seeds for that different path were apparent from the different choices made in 1941.

  44. Pablo on April 25th, 2010 at 23:38

    One last point that I neglected to mention in the post or comments. As others have noted in the negative, the switch of the white poppy campiagn from world peace day (Hiroshima Day) to the ANZAC weekend appears on the face of it to be a cynical ploy to coattail on the RSA red poppy campaign for increased revenue generating purposes. That could be true.

    But it is also true that the switch was designed to better raise consciouness on the full spectrum costs of war. The original white poppy day, World Peace Day, is not a government holiday, officialy sanctioned and commemorated with dawn services. It celebrates a high ideal on the anniversary of a a far-away and emotionaly detached event that, although it did impact NZ, did so at a distance. It has virtually no discernable impact on the majority of everyday Kiwis.

    ANZAC Day, on the other hand, celebrates an event with immediate impact on NZ, something that elicits primal emotions as it reverberates through the generations. No NZer can escape its message, repeated annually and mythologised in the collective historical memory over decades. The message is clear: to be ANZAC is to be a New Zealander.

    But what about NZ’s long history of pacifism, a history which, if not as long as the ANZAC tradition and not as venerated by the majority, is nevertheless part of the NZ political identity? How about, as others have mentioned, the tradition of conscientious objection that was particularly strong in the Viet Nam era, and for which hard sacrifices were made by those choosing to do so?

    In order to better drive the pacifist point home (again, as the other side of the ANZAC coin and with no disrespect to the ANZACs), the white poppy campaigners were wise to swtich their commemeration of a “detached” event to one firmly rooted in the Kiwi psyche. That way the connection between the two sides of the coin is made more immediate, and consciousness thereby better raised on the less acknowledged aspect of NZ’s modern stance on international conflict.

    It might seem cynical, but in fact it was just a better way of conveying the message.

  45. Ag on April 26th, 2010 at 03:24

    ANZAC Day, on the other hand, celebrates an event with immediate impact on NZ, something that elicits primal emotions as it reverberates trhough the generations. No NZer can escape its message, repeated annually and mythologised in the collective historical memory over decades. The message is clear: to be ANZAC is to be a New Zealander.

    Having been away from NZ for over a decade, I was surprised to see how much Anzac day had changed. I remember attending as a Scout in the late 70s, when there were still some WWI veterans attending the services. Back then the function of the service was to remember the men who had died in the service, and on the futility of the Gallipoli campaign as a representation of the evil of war. I thought it was an appropriate and mature way to deal with war.

    Now it seems a touch jingoistic to me – NZ’s pale version of American nationalist militarism. I like it a lot less now.

  46. Hugh on April 26th, 2010 at 09:19

    SPC – New Zealand forces did actually serve in the Pacific, particularly in the Solomon Islands campaign.

  47. Pat on April 26th, 2010 at 15:30

    It might seem cynical, but in fact it was just a better way of conveying the message.

    And a better way to raise money. Which makes it very cynical.

  48. Pat on April 26th, 2010 at 15:43

    – however the seeds for that different path were apparent from the different choices made in 1941.

    It was a difficult decision for the NZ Govt at the time, but the 2NZEF was evolving into a highly effective motorized division, with a well established base in Egypt. The assurances from the US to defend NZ and the basing of US troops here, plus the formation of 3NZEF, and the lack of an immediate threat to us (unlike Australia fighting in PNG) helped make the decision.

    Given that we almost lost the 2NZEF in its entirety 3 times (Greece, Crete and Minqar Qaim) which would have been a devastating loss, I am glad they didn’t risk bringing them home at a time when German and Japanese U-boats were running amok.

  49. Tom Semmens on April 26th, 2010 at 19:04

    Given that we almost lost the 2NZEF in its entirety 3 times (Greece, Crete and Minqar Qaim) which would have been a devastating loss, I am glad they didn’t risk bringing them home at a time when German and Japanese U-boats were running amok.

    Really? Can you name one troopship convoy disaster in WWII?

    Troopship convoys were always strongly escorted with both fleet destroyers and heavy units like battleships and cruisers. Allied breaking of the German and Japanese naval codes was used to ensure these convoys were always routed away from known enemy submarine locations. The success of the Allies in preventing any major troopship losses was a major, if unsung, Allied victory in WWII.

    The NZ division was not returned home to fight in the Pacific not because we didn’t want it to come home but because it was recognised that the world wide shortage of shipping meant it would be impossible for it to be re-deployed to the Pacific theatre in time for it to make a difference at a critical juncture. The Australians insisted on their two division returning, but the decisive actions in New Guinea were fought by the Australian militia army.

  50. Tom Semmens on April 26th, 2010 at 19:26

    I read this essay – http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2009/2551919.htm – and it distilled my unease at the uncritical ancestor worship of those who, like Olympian Gods, were present at the creation myth of our country.

    The quote that most struck me is the following:

    “…The myth of Anzac has become more significant in recent years, ubiquitous even, with what I have called the militarisation of Australian history, mightily subsidised by the Howard government in the 1990s and early years of this century. War stories have figured ever more prominently in our culture, in our school rooms, on our TV screens and in our bookshops…”

    Although she referring specifically to Australia, this is an equally valid observation for this country as well. In a sense, the white poppies represent a history receding from our memory. We no longer place in the centre of our national celebrations Archibald Baxter, Kate Sheppard or the staggering achievements of our forebears in building a modern, industrialised nation with a fully functioning democracy in a century and a half from virtually nothing. Our history is now defined by ANZAC, by Crete, and by Willy Apiata.

    Why is this so? I suspect at least some of the answer lies in the constant militarist propaganda of the U.S. content dominated pay-TV channels in this country. Sky’s history channel isn’t about history at all. It’s all about war. It explicitly presents war as the central event of hisory. In doing so it just reflects the obsession of a militarised United States with war, weapons and conflict, viewed through the lens of myopic hyper-patriotism. I suspect at least some of this has rubbed off on the Australasian psyche as well.

  51. Tom Semmens on April 26th, 2010 at 19:42

    Oh and in relation to the Great War – the enduring lesson of Gallipoli, of the Somme, of Bellevue Spur is this: Never again should the people of any country surrender their fate to unelected and unrepresentative leaders, who use their lack of accountability to hand over key decision making to technocratic experts. The sequence of events that led to the general declarations of war in 1914 and 1917 (the United States) could have been prevented had there existed in any of the main protagonist a political leadership elected by a popular franchise and thus possessing the legitimacy to reign in the generals.

    The Great War was fought in era of great uneveness of social and scientific advance. Whilst the armies had the hitting power of the twentieth century their military and political brain and culture was of that of one hundred years earlier.

  52. Pablo on April 26th, 2010 at 20:37

    Pat(@15:30):

    Surely you do not begrudge peace campaigners the right to fund-raise as efficiently as possible?

    Think of this analogy: fundraising for peace education is to RSA fundraising what preventative medicine is to acute care. One addresses the sources of conflict and how to prevent them, while the other addresses the consequences of conflict and how to ameliorate them.

    Both have equal value, and one might argue that the former has more utility than the latter simply because in the measure that it succeeds the latter is obviated.

  53. Pat on April 26th, 2010 at 22:55

    Really? Can you name one troopship convoy disaster in WWII?

    No I can’t, but Google can – Leopoldville, Dorchester, Windsor Castle. But not many given the length and breadth of the conflict, so your point stands.

  54. Pat on April 26th, 2010 at 23:00

    Think of this analogy: fundraising for peace education is to RSA fundraising what preventative medicine is to acute care. One addresses the sources of conflict and how to prevent them, while the other addresses the consequences of conflict and how to ameliorate them.

    I think a more accurate analogy would be Child Cancer fund-raising being hijacked by some outfit fund-raising to raise awareness for sick children everywhere.

    Yes, I do begrudge them.

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