War has been a continual trend in the history of our world, with conflict devastating many countries and societies. New Zealand as a nation has not been exempt from warfare cultivated from issues concerning power, race, religion, land, or lack thereof. However it was the belief of Archibald Baxter and the conscientious objectors of New Zealand during World War I that the most patriotic thing you can do for your country is to keep it out of war. Their view was based on strong socialist, pacifist or religious views, as well as a deep rooted belief in humanity, but was not always tolerated nor accepted by society. However it was the standing of these men which established the peace traditions New Zealand holds today and which has since influenced our nation’s global interactions and set a world leading example. It is my belief that such ideologies be upheld for the advancement of our country, for future generations, for global harmony, and for the honour of Baxter and our nation.
At a time in New Zealand history when war incited the countries patriotism and loyalty
towards the ‘father nation’, there was an assumption that people would aid in the war effort in whatever way possible, especially men for whom conscription was an expectation and later compulsory. Society was not accepting of conscientious objectors like Baxter who opposed military service and labelled them ‘shirkers’ and cowards’. While his beliefs were not commonplace or accepted in society, he shared his views with a minority of other men
refusing conscription and active service. Of the some two hundred and seventy three
conscientious objectors who were imprisoned for their non-cooperation in the war effort
during the First World War, fourteen of the most steadfast were deported by the New Zealand Government to the western front line in Europe. Subjected to terrible conditions and undergoing horrific punishments for their beliefs, the barbarity that occurred towards them from their fellow countrymen was, though on a much smaller scale, almost equal to that occurring between the Central Powers and the Allies. Such treatment only served to
strengthen Baxter’s resolve; in the midst of the conflict of the Great War, he was fighting his own battle on principle to serve no part in what he termed the ‘military machine’. I believe, however, that these men showed the upmost bravery and patriotism in wartime through their actions to preserve New Zealand’s peace.
The irony of all war is its objective to achieve peace, yet surely the path to harmony is not
through destruction and killing, rather it be through tolerance and humanity; qualities which Baxter demonstrated throughout his lifetime. Most men enlisted for the war out of what they believed to be patriotism, pride and honour. Yet through the course of the war their actions became inhuman and the killing of the ‘enemy’ became synonymous with protecting the fatherland as they became swept into the military machine. Erich Maria Remarque comments on this in his book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’; “The things men did or felt they had to do” In examining Baxter’s ideology however, it becomes clear that a far more patriotic course of action was to keep your country out of conflict; to serve no part in the mechanisms of war.
A countries decision to enter a state of war has enormous repercussions in all areas of life.
Money into military engagements puts the nation into economic downturn, political
affiliations are strained and broken, and the social cost and loss of life is of course enormous. New Zealand specifically lost 18,000 men during World War I. Baxter’s ideology was firmly grounded in a belief in humanity, that no man should kill another, and no such murder can be justified in terms of the existence of the ‘enemy’ or the ‘greater good’. He states that “The only apparent justification that war ever had was that by destroying some lives it might clumsily preserve others”. Yet given the horrific impact of war, the most patriotic course of action would be to set peaceful ideals and to protect the nation by passively resisting to the ‘military machine’. One person may not stop a war, but it is there legacy and their influence which can be the force of change into the future, as demonstrated by New Zealand’s conscientious objectors of World War I. Patriotism: loyalty towards your own country, should surely about doing the upmost to make it a peaceful society and to avoid the destructive consequences involved in war.
“The military machine is turned against that communal life which is the seed-bed of future
generations of mankind” The words written by Baxter in his book ‘We Will Not Cease’ raises a point of huge significance; war destroys the very foundations of society on which future generations grow. Not only does it cause horrendous destruction to the current social, political, and economical spheres and comes at a high cost to the personal lives of many, but also dramatically alters the climate in which children are raised and their prospects and perspectives for the future. War must not be waged under any illusion that it will not have serious consequences for generations to come. Indeed, the ramifications of both the First and Second World Wars are still being dealt with today. Reparation payments continue to be made by Germany and the defeated countries to the Allies of World War I and World War II.Relatives continue to mourn those lost to them in the wars. Countries must adapt to a postwar world. Generations of youth grow up to believe warfare is necessary, and so it becomes normalized, in effect breeding conflict as it is passed through our children into the years to come. All such consequences are undeniably horrific, and all are derived from war. Thus, it becomes a moral obligation and social responsibility to do our upmost to keep our country out of war. For not just the present but for the future of a nation, pacifism is the truest form of patriotism.
Not only is it extremely important for a country’s own prosperity to keep out of warfare, but New Zealand as a country also has the opportunity to remain a world leading example for peace and passive resistance. Baxter and his fellow objectors of World War I, as well as all pacifists since, have laid strong foundations for New Zealand’s peace traditions. They were undoubtedly an influence to Anti -Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s and it was again the principals of peace they paved which led to New Zealand becoming the first country to hold an anti-nuclear stance. It is now our responsibility to uphold such pacifist traditions in Baxter’s honour and in order to strengthen and to build our nation. This is particularly pertinent at the current time, with the present conflict in the Middle East involving the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As the New Zealand Government justifies its involvement in the war and debates future courses of action, I believe we should take into consideration the both our nation’s history and future. Such is the importance of Baxter and his beliefs to New Zealand history that modern day decisions involving military engagement should be considered in relation to his influence. He would strongly advocate for New Zealand to aid in implementing peace and recovery strategies rather than sending in troops to further fuel the ‘military machine’ At this point in time we have the choice to uphold our historically peaceful stance and set ideals for our global future by desisting from violence and conflict. Through this, we must attempt to uphold his legacy and moral strength in order to foster a New Zealand which Archibald Baxter would be proud to call home.
Baxter and his legacy have become an integral part of New Zealand history, and it has now
become our own obligation to express our patriotism and national pride by upholding pacifist ideals and moving towards a more peaceful world. A world in which there is no fighting over any cause, be it just or unjust, may not be in our immediate future, but is certainly an ideal that we should strive for. With the foundations of our past on which we stand, perceptive actions in the present and a vision for the future, New Zealand can continue to be at the forefront of a global movement towards peace. Today, therefore, as in all times past or since, patriotism is indeed fighting; not through violence, but through pacifism.