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May 4, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Campaigns Officer’s Column

During the recent controversy surrounding VUWSA’s decision to maintain a neutral stance on Anzac Day, it appeared to me that some people hold some pretty twisted perceptions of history. My role as Campaigns Officer is to promote discussion and action on public issues, so I thought I’d hit the library, clear up some of the more common inaccuracies, and plainly state some historical facts.

Number One. At no point during WWI was New Zealand under threat of invasion, by anyone. More than one person has recently tried to tell me that I would be ‘speaking Japanese’ if not for the Anzacs in WWI. This is false. Imperial Japan was our ally throughout WWI.

Number Two. We did not come to Britain’s defence in WWI, because Britain did not enter the war defensively. Britain declared war on Germany after it violated the neutrality of Belgium. We supported Britain’s declaration of war, and elected to join the war on the side of Allies. Historical discourse generally concludes that Britain invaded Germany to crush it as an emerging trade competitor. If you choose to believe that the British Empire was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Belgian people, that’s fine.

Number Three. The Anzacs were deployed at Gallipoli to repulse the Turkish advance towards the Dardanelle Straits, with the wider intention of knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war entirely. The Dardenelle Straits needed to be neutralized so that British and French supply ships had a secure line of supply through the Mediterranean to Tsar Nicholas II in Russia. The Tsar desperately needed supplies so he could continue fighting on the Eastern Front, and the Anzacs were deployed to ensure he received those supplies. In 1917 Russia withdrew from the war before its end, when the Tsar was overthrown by his own people as a result of the attrocities he was committing against them.

Number Four. By 1914, New Zealand’s economy was being strangled by foreign debt. We had recently transformed our economy from one based on extraction, to one based on agriculture, and British investors had largely paid for it. At the outbreak of WWI, New Zealand was completely dependent on Britain economically. We relied on British markets for our agricultural exports, and our reliance on British capital was becoming heavier. William Massey realised the importance of ensuring British markets stayed open to our exports. In 1915 he sent 19.4 per cent of our young male population to fight alongside the British Empire. That same year he concluded an agreement with the British government whereby they would commandeer every ton of agricultural bi-products we were able to produce, and their markets have remained open to our agricultural exports ever since.

There is no political motivation behind this column. Some people believe that the Anzacs should never have fought in WWI, while others are deeply offended by the notion. Either way, everyone deserves to know the facts. On Wednesday at 1pm VUWSA will be holding a Student Representative Council in Mt Street Bar. If students demand it we will lay a belated wreath in honour of the Anzacs and publicly apologize for rejecting the invitation to officially commemorate Anzac Day.

Sam Oldham, Campaigns Officer


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  1. Magonagal says:

    This article demonstrates that hindsight is 20:20. The fact that the troops were sent to fight by their govt. under false pretences does not devalue their sacrifice. when we place wreaths in remembrance it’s not to remember the govt of the day or to glorify war it’s to honour those who fell in battle.

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