2nd Place: Jodie Llewellyn, Columba College

New Zealand’s participation in World War One catalysed an era of evolution in the
public sentiment towards New Zealand’s involvement in war. This evolution shows a
stark contrast between the modern perception of War and the enthusiasm displayed by
New Zealanders in 1915. The experiences from World War One shaped New
Zealand’s identity in the global community in that it provoked a growing Pacifist
movement and a desire to be an independent nation. It can be concluded that the
coming together of New Zealanders for the British Empire under the banner of war
would be unrealistic today.

Modern New Zealand society has evolved since World War One to have an identity
that has a far greater sense of independence. It would be unlikely that New
Zealanders, if faced with a situation where the Britain requested military aid, would
respond with same degree of patriotism-fueled enthusiasm that was shown for World
War One. New Zealanders in 1915 responded to the call for arms in World War One
with enthusiasm that is hard for a modern society to comprehend. It appeared as is
‘war fever’ had overcome New Zealanders and this ‘war fever’ was derived from the
patriotism and loyalty to Britain at the time, as well as other logistical factors that
meant New Zealand’s ties to Britain were not simply sentimental. This ‘patriotism’ is
defined by New Zealand Historian Sean Brosnahan as “dedication to the King and the
entire Empire, not simply the islands of New Zealand.” (1)  An article from the Toitu Early Settlers’ Museum Exhibition (2015) also provides evidence for the immediate
enthusiastic response to World War One, “Dunedin people were proud citizens of the
British Empire. When war was finally declared in 1914, the response was
overwhelming. Men signed up to fight and women lined up to sew.” (2) The identity that
New Zealanders had in 1915 was built on the foundations of British Imperialism and
the attachment New Zealanders had to Britain in this time.

Upon closer examination of the ideologies behind this particular public sentiment, it is
clear that New Zealand relied on Britain for a lot more than a sentimental bond. New
Zealand relied on Britain to uphold their economy, largely through the exportation
within the agricultural sector. New Zealand was selfish to some degree; they knew
that they would need protection from Britain’s navy during the actual war with enemy
forces in the Pacific. Jock Vennell (3), a New Zealand historian gives his interpretation
on New Zealand’s reliance on Britain, “With the country heavily reliant on Britain for
its economic survival, the shield of British sea power was seen to be vital to a small,
isolated South Pacific Country facing a possible threat from European and possibly
Asian nations […]”(4) It is clear from these economic and security-influenced prospects
that New Zealand was far from being independent at the time of the First World War.
A cartoon from ‘The Observer’ in August 1914 titled ‘The Magnet That Draws’ (5) is
primary evidence that is very useful in showing the views of the society in which it
was produced. It demonstrates the view that Britain acted as a ‘magnet’ to New
Zealand and had an unyielding attraction and bond with New Zealand.

New Zealanders display objection to fighting in Wars for other countries. In a ‘New
Zealand Herald’ Opinion Poll on ‘Should New Zealand join the coalition against the
Islamic State?’ (7) the following viewpoints were expressed, substantiating the
reluctance to fight on the behalf of countries such as the United States and the United

“Situation created by the US and the UK. Let them sort it out.”

“This is all about John Key and sucking up to the Americans […] Once again old men send young men to war for the sake of their egos.”

“Of course, the real reason Key wants to send troops to Iraq […] is to appease the US and ensure we are seen as reliable partners in America’s global objectives.”

This evidence shows the huge disparity between the response of New Zealanders to
fight for Britain in World War I and the response of New Zealanders to the prospect
of contributing forces to fight for other countries. John Key’s desire to contribute New Zealand soldiers to conflict in the Middle East has been interpreted by the New
Zealand public as an act to please the United States and further New Zealand’s
relations with them. Most importantly, his attitude in wanting to contribute soldiers
has been condemned, showing the modern attitude that prevents us from being treated
submissively by other nations.

To closer examine the evolution of New Zealand’s identity, it is important to consider
the direct results of New Zealand’s commitment to the British Empire in World War
One and the hints of independence New Zealand gained from this. The desire to be
independent is subsumed within a wider belief in the protection of our men, the men
of New Zealand. This protectiveness is however, another aspect of this newfound
identity of New Zealand and appears in the form of a modern pacifist movement. The
concept of Pacifism that was born after the soldiers in World War One returned home
with experiences of death and mass destruction that were shocking to a young country
that had not had any concept of what the casualties of war could be. This Pacifist
movement is a collective group of New Zealanders who are united in their objection
to the violence and physical destruction of human life in conflict involving military
intervention. The most significant and defining act in the modern Pacifist movement
was the 2008 ‘Waihopai Peace Protests’. (9) In this act of pacifist activism, three peace
activists entered the Government Communications Security Bureau base at Waihopai
and damaged the spherical cover in protest of the ‘US War against terrorism’ that is
known to include violent military intervention in the Middle East. The ultimate
evidence of the evolution in ideologies surrounding pacifism and its heightened status
in a modern context is the fact that in court, the men claimed that they were acting for
the greater good of humanity and that the US military controls the Waihopai that
contributes to war and torture in Iraq. The jury acquitted the men on all counts,
demonstrating that their defence of acting on their pacifist views was accepted and
understood by this jury. In contrast, had these men committed such an act at the time
prior to World War I, they would have likely received much harsher consequences
from the justice system and also public condemnation.

The effects of the experiences of World War I are compounded by the weakening of
New Zealand’s bond with Britain. At the end of World War II, it was clear that
Britain no longer had the power to defend New Zealand in the Pacific. With the
knowledge that New Zealand could not rely on Britain for security during times of
conflict, it was clear that the bond between the two nations was rapidly diminishing.
New Zealand’s economic ties to Britain were heavily impacted in the 1970s (9) when
Britain cut off meat and dairy exports. This blow to the New Zealand economy
solidified the public sentiment of New Zealanders that wanted to further themselves
from Britain.

The factors that influenced the evolving public sentiment can be seen through various
responses of the New Zealand public over time. New Zealand responded to World
War II with the scars of World War I still fresh in their minds. Sean Brosnahan, an
experienced historian and the curator of Toitu Early Settlers’ Museum acknowledged
that the response to World War II was still driven by a sense of duty to serve Britain,
but also emphasised how the men “did so knowing that this would mean death and
destruction on an immense scale […] There was less enthusiasm and more quiet
determination.” (1)

The Anti-Nuclear movement in New Zealand of the early 1970s to the mid 1980s was
a bold stance that saw New Zealanders expressing independent views despite the
pressures of more dominant countries. David Lange, the Prime Minister of the time,
declared at the Oxford Union Debate in 1985, that “Nuclear Weapons are Morally
Indefensible” (10) and was adamant that no Nuclear Ships would be allowed into New
Zealand Harbours. Lange discounted New Zealand’s relations with the United States
and the United Kingdom in declaring New Zealand a ‘Nuclear-Free zone’. New
Zealanders displayed an independent mentality again during the 1981 Springbok
Tour. The unyielding drive to uphold the principles of racial equality made New
Zealand appear isolated in their views, however this isolation only defined New
Zealand’s identity as an independent nation.

The treatment of the Conscientious Objectors of World War I is recognised as a
shocking breach of human rights and in the context of a modern ‘pacifist’ society,
Conscientious Objectors can be seen to be ‘glorified’ for their anti-war actions.
Professor Brooking states, “Whether fighting in a uniform or refusing to put it on,
both were acts of bravery” (11) demonstrating the modern admiration for the pacifist actions of Conscientious Objectors in World War I.

New Zealand currently has defined stance on the world stage. New Zealand was
granted a seat on the UN Security Council for 2015 and 2016, an ultimate display of
the representation of New Zealand as a nation with an independent and valuable
voice. New Zealand has been entitled with this position because of our confidence in
expressing views that show our independent thinking and genuine understanding of
what is best for our own country and other small independent nations around the
world. New Zealand is not a nation that is easily manipulated or reliant on other
nations and is defiant in upholding principles. New Zealanders’ display of patriotism
in the past revolved around loyalties to the British Empire. With the realisation of the
consequences of being so deeply tied to other nations, New Zealanders’ displays of
patriotism in today are based on loyalty to our own country. With the understanding
of the tragic consequences of war and a determined pacifist movement, New
Zealanders can be seen to oppose involvement in conflict. This opposition is seen as
the most patriotic thing they can do for New Zealand.

World War I holds significance in the development of New Zealand’s identity in the
way it prompted a united desire for peace that has evolved to a modern objection to
war. This united desire for peace is a defining aspect of New Zealand’s identity as an
independent nation and it can be concluded that it is impossible to distinguish
between the theme of Pacifism and New Zealand’s identity in the 21st Century.

1. Interview with Sean Brosnahan, Curator of Toitu Early Settlers Museum (conducted on 12th June 2015)
2. Toitu Museum ‘The Great War Exhibition’, accessed on 28/05/15 and 05/05/15
3′.The Forgotten General- New Zealand’s WW1 Commander Major- General Sir Andrew
Russell’, Jock Vennell, Allen & Unwin, Wellington, 2011, (Return of the Soldier Pages
4. ‘New Zealand and the First World War’, Damien Fenton, Caroline Lord, Gavin McLean,
Tim Shoebridge, Penguin NZ, 2013 (Chapters 1,2,5 Pages, 1,10,11,12,13)
5. PapersPast: ‘The Magnet that Draws’, August 1914- Observer, Volume XXXIV”
6. ‘The Call of The Empire, The Call of War’, The Telegraph, Patrick Bishop”
7. “‘Should NZ join the Coalition Against the Islamic State?’, The New Zealand Herald, ‘Your Views’, 08/10/14- 26/02/15″                                                                                                   9. Economic history of NZ in 19th and 20th Centuries, John Singleton
10. Great NZ Arguments, The Oxford Union Debate 1985, David Lange
http://publicaddress.net/great-new-zealand-argument/nuclear-weapons-are-morallyindefensible/                                                                                                                     11.http://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/323316/men9conscience!(Men of
Conscience,Bruce Munroe)