Highly Commended: Josh Scadden, Kings High School

Patriotism is an ideal many of us possess. Most of us are attached to our country and strongly identify ourselves as natives of that country. This devotion, in the past, has been used to manipulate us into senselessly throwing ourselves into foreign conflicts that we have no grasp of or have no reason to be involved in.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this, patriotism can be used to keep our country alive. It can be used to keep our blood from staining the earth in the field of battle and to keep families from having to look at an empty seat at the table. In the past, our patriotism has lead us like lambs to the slaughterhouse. When the First World War rolled around, we enlisted en masse. Thousands of our sons enlisted and embarked to strange foreign lands to fight a war we had no reason to fight. Of the 9288 men leaving on the first ship on October 16th 1914, 1732 would die because of the war. 100,000 would end up serving either willingly or forcibly and 18,000 of these men and women would end up dead. Families were torn apart by this war, many of them sending upwards of 7 and 8 sons to the war, and very rarely did all of them return.

One case is that of the Hartnetts. Originally from Deloraine, Tasmania, 7 of them, who had been living in New Zealand for several years before hand, enlisted in the NZEF during WW1. Tim, William and Percy were lucky enough to return, but their brothers John, Denny, Cyril and Philip remained as rotting corpses in foreign fields. Some, such as the Bremners, only had 3 children and all of them went to war. In the case of the Bremners, the father served as well but he outlived his sons, being the only one to return from the field of duty. Overall, 8 New Zealand families lost 4 of their sons and another 55 lost 3. These are just from a small, young Pacific nation of 1million people and an army of 100,000.

Around the world there are numerous cases of families who have suffered even more. The Restoricks from Birmingham lost 8 sons with a 9th severely wounded, the Canadian Corporal G. W. Moss lost 4 brothers, a cousin, a brother-in-law at the front as well as his wife and 2 children during the Folkestone Air-Raids and the Croydon based private Thomas Smith lost his 4 brothers and father on July 15th 1916 at the Somme, while his mother and 3 sisters were killed by air raids, leaving Thomas as the only surviving family member. These families could have stayed together, if it were not for the twisted patriotism that drew their sons and countries into war. Corporal Moss could have celebrated his children as they grew up, rather than mourn as they were buried, Private Smith could have watched his siblings get married and the Restoricks could have had grandchildren. They were patriotic, they believed that they were doing what was best for their country, yet it wasn’t.

Being patriotic doesn’t mean sending your nation off to fight in a foreign country, it means doing what is needed to make your country strong, not necessarily militarily, but economically. War has a huge economic impact on the nations involved. It can destroy economies by increasing the amount of arms produced, often at the expense of other industries that are vital to keep the economy alive. War left powerful countries, crumbling under the heavy debts that war had loaded onto them. These countries took years to repay the debts they incurred, even then they still haven’t finished. During the war, many skilled workers fall victim to the conflict, leaving them incapable of working, depriving society of these skilled workers which shrinks the work force.

Both of these scenarios can lead to two very different economic crashes. In the first scenario of huge debts, particularly in countries paying reparations, hyperinflation can ensue. For example, after WWI, the newly formed German Weimar Republic had a huge amount of reparations to pay, so they printed excessive amounts of money in order to pay it off. This caused hyperinflation which is where there is an excess of money so the prices of things suddenly increase exponentially and the value of the currency decreases just as much. For example, during this time, the currency had been so devalued that it was often used as wallpaper, or if people were going to buy something, they often had to carry their money around in wheelbarrows. The other scenario, the loss of skilled workers shrinking the workforce, could cause the opposite scenario to hyperinflation, a depression. This is a situation where there isn’t enough money in circulation due to low amounts of production, in this case caused by a lack of skilled workers, the majority becoming casualties of war.

If only the ministers and leaders had been patriotic enough to realise that war wasn’t the answer to the problems they were facing, but that they could be discussed in a peaceful tribunal. Men, and their families, don’t have to fling themselves into bullets to resolve an issue. We can talk, discuss, confer with the opposing parties and come to a compromise that both groups support. War doesn’t just have an effect on the armies, it has an effect on the landscape where the war takes place. The countryside is destroyed. Beautiful rolling meadows dotted with shrubs are transformed into muddy quagmires, causing artillery shells to sink in and remain there, undetonated until an unfortunate farmer strikes it with their plough many years later, becoming another casualty of a long finished war. The citizens of a war torn country are more affected during the war itself. The fighting cuts off lines to supplies causing widespread famine and disease amongst the innocent. Their homes are destroyed and cities razed. Their families are caught in the crossfire. Not just soldiers but old men, women, children and animals who have done nothing to deserve the ultimate punishment. They lived their lives peacefully, wanting no harm to come to those around them only to have their troubles rewarded with bullets in their wives, husbands, parents, brothers, sisters and children. They are gratuitously gifted famine and disease which, when accompanied with the departure of the medical men and women who are the only ones who can save them, causes catastrophic suffering. The suffering forces them to leave, hunting for greener pastures. “Greener pastures” generally referring to the deplorable squalor that abounds in the many refugee camps that, unfortunately, are still luxurious compared to what they were experiencing in their home towns.

If only the patriots who were fighting for their people, had realised what this would do to them. Rather than create a better life for their people, it destroyed the world they did have, leaving a large vacuum rather than a new society. Rather than allow them to live their lives in peace on their traditional lands, as complete families, it destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones either through famine or by getting caught in the crossfire. Many of these families have sent young men off to war, young men that they needed to run their farms and businesses. Young men who will see things that no man should ever bear witness to. The ones that survive will witness the mutilation of their friends, the squalor of the front line and the fear of combat. They will return to their families as shadows of their former selves, incapable of performing the jobs that they need to perform. For those who die, their families will be worse emotionally than if they had returned but largely still the same in terms of their businesses. Families will go bankrupt, businesses will liquidate, homes and heirlooms will be sold. All this because the warped patriotism that was infused into these men pushed them into the front lines of war, fighting battles supposedly for their nation’s benefit. If they had been true patriots, they would have realised that a war is not what they need to make their country strong and great.

A good country isn’t defined by its military, it is defined by the people it produces, the rights it gives to its citizens, its economic stability, the living conditions its people are subjected to and the rate at which it is developing. Countries that claim to be patriotic are often lead by warmongers or people who believe in military might. These countries have historically not done well. They usually end in demise, such as Nazi Germany or the Roman Empire, countries that were lead by military men who believed in strength in military, who were destroyed by military. Other countries that do succeed despite having a belief in military might, develop a war economy. This is an economy that will collapse if the country is not at war. A notable modern example of this is the USA, who require a war to keep their economy strong. These men are seen as brave patriots, but the true brave patriots are the pacifists. Pacifists like Archibald Baxter who was brave enough to stand against the mainstream of society to keep his beliefs of peace, Mahatma Gandhi who used peaceful methods to bring independence to the Indian people and Martin Luther King Jr. who used non-violence to gain equal rights for blacks in the USA. These brave people powerfully demonstrate that pacifism, hence not going to war, is the most patriotic thing you can do for your country.