Australia and New Zealand were filled with first and second-generation migrants happy to rally to defend their mother country:
- 12 per cent of the population of New Zealand volunteered to fight; and
- 13 per cent of the male population of Australia volunteered to fight in World War 1.
The people and governments of New Zealand and Australia of that time were British to their boot straps. The Union Jack was in their flags for a reason.
In the September 1914 election, both opposition leader Andrew Fisher and Prime Minister Joseph Cook stressed Australia’s unflinching loyalty to Britain, and Australia’s readiness to take its place with the allied countries. Labor Party leader Fisher’s campaign pledge was to:
… stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to the last man and the last shilling.
Labor defeated the incumbent government to win majorities in both houses. Billy Hughes and his nationalist party won the 1917 election in a landslide.
New Zealanders had even a better chance to reflect on the war-making choices of their leaders in 1914. Our election was in December of 1914. The passions of the moment had some chance to calm, and the fighting has started for real.
The will of the people at the December 1914 Parliamentary elections was a 90 per cent vote for the war parties. New Zealanders could have voted for the Labour MPs, several of whom were later imprisoned for their anti-conscription activities or for refusing military service.
In New Zealand, after that wartime election, the Prime Minister was an Irish Protestant who formed a coalition with an Irish Catholic as his deputy.
Do you know of a superior mechanism to elections for measuring the will of the people? Are elections inadequate to the task of deciding if the people support a war and that support of the public is based on well-founded reasons?
The reasons for New Zealand and Australia fighting are the just cause of fighting militarism and territorial conquest, empire solidarity, regional security interests such as the growing number of neighbouring German colonies, and long-term national security. A victorious Germany would have imposed a harsh peace.
New Zealand and Australian national security is premised on having a great and powerful friend. That was initially Britain. When the USA arrived in 1941 as a better great and powerful friend, the British were dropped like a stone.
Cabinet and other papers published in the Dominion Post recently show that in 1939 the socialist government of New Zealand knew that war was imminent in Europe. A government led by several people imprisoned for resisting the First World War decided that it wanted to declare war on Germany a few moments as possible after the UK did so. The telegraph messenger was delayed in London by air-raid alert and New Zealand’s declaration of war was delayed to later in that day.