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New Zealand at War

May 9, 2011

“Between August 1914 and November 1918, over 100,000 New Zealanders went overseas to war.” (I am quoting The Film Archive)  As ‘a country from the other side of the world’, it is a matter of huge pride that we sent so many to fight this this fight…

‘We remember them’ every ANZAC Day (25th April – NZ’s red poppy day).

Of course, these men (and women) largely went through hell and I certainly admire their spirit and resilience. I support ANZAC Day for this reason, but I am curious about the way it all goes down…. We don’t remember every conflict equally, for example, and that is interesting!  What I wonder is this:  

How does our ‘Memory’ of WWI and WWII (in particular) serve to unite us as New Zealanders in the twenty-first century?

How does our participation ‘as a nation’ in these uncommunicably violent conflicts unite us from a democratic perspective?

What place does pacifism have in a democratic nation?

What place does our memory of ‘The Musket Wars’ or ‘The Land Wars’ (ref Michael King for more discussion!) have in our vision of New Zealand?

The titles and catchprases attached to television coverage of ANZAC Day suggest this act of remembering is about claiming the strength (and unity) of those ‘New Zealanders’ for ‘New Zealanders’ today. As an example, last year (I believe), Maori Television supported a massive 4-page spread in The New Zealand Herald titled:

“Kotahi te Wairua; The story of our ANZAC spirit” 

The coverage was advertised hour-by-hour across one page and dawn services around the country were listed on the opposite page.  At the bottom, was a timeline of New Zealanders at War. This timeline started with the Boer War.

ANZAC Day is at the heart of ‘The New Zealand STORY’!

From a narrative perspective in NZ, the war (WWI or WWII) gets mentioned a lot, but I haven’t really nutted it all out… Maurice Gee is one author I keep returning to when I ask questions about the representation of conflict (for example, read Plumb for a pacifist perspective… or read his O series for a vision of world war that does not see unity as a possible result of extreme conflict)


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