A talk by Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen on the effects of World War I on Dunedin

One quote of the age is “War is the health of the state”, another by John A. Lee was “The Army can do anything to a man — except make him pregnant”.

The capital for the war project came from the people.  It led to the introduction of income tax in New Zealand.  The true patriot is the one who regrets he has only one life to tax for his country.  It also introduced a new idea into the history of New Zealand: inflation, suddenly the cost of living began to rise.

New Zealand provided one Division to the allied imperial forces.  The majority of the New Zealand Division were New Zealand-born.  This was unusual.  The majority of the divisions from other British Empire dominions were British-born.  During this period colonials could have multiple identities: British, New Zealander, English, Scottish, Irish.  There was no contradiction.

Conscription was imposed on young men under the age of forty-five.  There was no one on hand in Dunedin to do the historic statistics that showed that was 16% of the population of Dunedin which was about half the number of other main centres.  Dunedin paid the sacrifice in its young people, including the living who chose not to return to the city.  Dunedin has always been an exporter of young people.  Because of its cost on its people conscription became opposed by labour interests in the city.

It was the interest of the Australian and New Zealand governments to secure the imperial hegemony over the South Pacific.  They managed this by expanding into New Guinea and Samoa, German-held territories.  After the war they held onto these mandates.

Our ancestors fought in life’s great adventure.  They fought for England, the Empire, the freedom to be citizens, or just to travel the world.  We can’t say they should have chosen the path of peace.  That would be ahistorical.  It was the age they lived in.  The age we live in has seen a revival of the ANZAC spirit.  A generation of people who embraced peace protests and anti-nuclear policy are the same people who see themselves as the inheritors of the ANZAC tradition.

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