War and remembrance

Page 5 – Who or what were we fighting for?

In announcing the decision to send New Zealand troops overseas for the first time in 1899, Premier R.J. (‘King Dick’) Seddon spoke of the ‘crimson tie’ of Empire that bound New Zealand to the ‘Mother-country’. In supporting Britain in the Transvaal, South Africa, it was accepted that a strong empire was essential to our own security. In August 1914 when King George V declared war on Germany this was effectively a declaration on our behalf, which was duly confirmed the following day when the news reached Wellington. When the Second World War broke out 25 years later the need to resist Nazi aggression seemed compelling. Yet Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage also reminded us of our ties to Britain: ‘Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand’.

There are a number of ways you and your class can examine why New Zealand has at various times in its history made the decision to send tens of thousands of its people overseas to fight. While the First and Second World Wars dominate, there is an opportunity to consider some of the changes that occured after 1945. This period was shaped by our opposition to the spread of communism during the Cold War as well our commitment to peacekeeping duties on behalf of the United Nations. The War and Society section of NZHistory is a good place to start any such inquiry.

Who or what is worth fighting for?

Brainstorm some of the reasons why you might consider it appropriate to go to war. Are these individual or personal reasons as opposed to ones considered universal?

1. With reference to a specific conflict, e.g. the First World War, organise a class debate pn whether we should send soldiers or not. The debate could be set at the time of the war or the present day. To help prepare for the debate divide your class into groups of four:

  • half of the groups are to prepare arguments that support going to war while the other half prepare the opposite argument
  • Each group then adds their thoughts to a ‘master list’ for their position, i.e. there is one list for and one against.
  • Now select six members of the class to debate this question, applying the usual rules of a formal debate with a team in the affirmative, a team in the negative, speaking times etc.

2. Design a diagram or some type of graphic presentation that outlines why New Zealand went to war.

3. Imagine you are the Prime Minister of the day. Prepare a speech to give to Parliament explaining why your government has made the decision to go to war.

4. Letter to the editor
In letters to the editor people can express their opinions and views on particular topics of interest. There are normally guidelines given in the letters to the editor page in the newspaper, for instance, about the length of a letter. Have a look at the letters to the editor page in your local newspaper to get a feel for how a letter might read.

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper outlining why you either support or oppose our decision to go to war. Make sure your letter is no longer than the word limit specified in your local paper.
  • A selection of these letters could be read to the class and or published as part of a class letters to the editor page.
How to cite this page

'Who or what were we fighting for?', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/war-and-remembrance/what-were-we-fighting-for, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 6-Aug-2014

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