Dragged into somebody else’s war,
For that’s what the double entente is for.
Punch, early August 1914
Commemorating the start of a disaster
By Roger Childs
All round New Zealand, and overseas, people have been remembering the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War One. In Wellington there was even a 100 gun salute on August 4. It seems ironic to use the technology that killed millions to commemorate the beginning of the biggest disaster of the 20th century. Why is the government spending so much taxpayer money on recalling an appalling conflict which caused so much death and destruction? Will we do the same in 2018 on November 11?
Fixated on war
In Wellington there is a major project to establish a spacious war memorial park. No expense is being spared and there is a race to get it finished by 25 April 1915. Why? Well it’s the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. But that was a disaster: thousands of New Zealand and Australian troops were landed in the wrong place on a narrow beach, only to be slaughtered by well prepared Turkish defenders.
The Gallipoli campaign was a military disaster in which New Zealand forces played a very small part. The most successful aspect of this incompetently managed offensive was the subsequent withdrawal in early 1916 which involved no fatalities.
Millions of dollars are being spent next year on the Gallipoli commemorations, and we need to be asking why. It is appropriate on Anzac Day each year, to remember the men and women who gave their lives in wars from South Africa to Afghanistan, and the millions of innocent civilians who died in those campaigns.
But why emphasize Gallipoli? It is a myth to claim that it shaped our identity as a nation and most of New Zealand’s casualties in World War One actually occurred on the western front in France.
Give peace a chance
We should not forget the conflicts of the past in which New Zealanders fought and died. 25 April is the right time to remember all the casualties of these wars, but let’s not waste money on extravagant commemorations of past disasters.
New Zealand should never have become involved in the First World War, thousands of kilometres away, where millions died from gunfire, drowning and disease. Has the world learnt any lessons from the war to end war?
In the future we should avoid getting involved in overseas conflicts, where so many lives have been lost and wasted, and heed the words of former governor general, Dame Silvia Cartwright, spoken at Gallipoli in 2003, It was somebody else’s war. Turkey was not our enemy…