Stevan Eldred-Grigg lecture: Why go to War?

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NEW ZEALAND WAS NOT THREATENED with invasion by any overseas state in the two world wars. Yet we chose to go to war anyway. Why? Our governments in 1914, 1939 and 1941 gave several reasons for going off to fight countries in Europe and eastern Asia. One set of reasons was supposedly based on rational or ‘hardheaded’ thinking. War would safeguard the country against armed attack; likely attackers were believed to be ‘Huns’ in 1914, ‘Nazis’ in 1939 and ‘Japs’ in 1941. War would also safeguard the New Zealand people by protecting the New Zealand economy.


A second set of reasons was more ‘softhearted’ or based on emotion. War would safeguard freedom and democracy both at home and throughout the world. War would be a way of showing duty and loyalty to Britain, the ancestral homeland of a majority of New Zealanders. All of those reasons need to be interrogated closely. We need to ask whether the decision to go to war was actually in the best interests of the people of New Zealand. Was going to war good policy? Or was it quixotic?

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