Tuesday, April 26, 2005

1914 - What if we hadn't gone

What would have happened if New Zealand had declined to participate in WW1?

(I realize this was never an option at the time - Pakeha of that era thought of themselves as British in much the same way as NZ expats of today regard themselves as Kiwi).

Would the outcome of the war have changed?
Probably not. WW1 was predominantly a war of numbers as opposed to quality of troops. Not having New Zealand troops would have made very little difference - unlike the USA, whose belated intervention was one of the decisive factors. It is possible that the Gallipoli landings would not have gone ahead without NZ troops - this would probably have helped the Allied cause, although some believe that the Dardenelles operation ensured that Turkish troops could not be deployed on the Western front, preventing German conquest of France.

What would have happened to New Zealand?
NZ relations with Britain would undoubtedly have suffered in the short term. However, Britain maintained friendly relationships with numerous states that were neutral in WW1 (for instance: the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Spain). Conversely, two of the WW1 allies (Italy and Japan) were on the enemy side in WW2. Britain had a primitive agricultural industry that was depleted of labour by the war and thus needed New Zealand's exports both before and after WW1 - thus making friendly relations even more imperative.

Non-alignment would however have removed the sense of NZ as an offshore province of Britain. NZ may well have followed a path similar to Eire - as a country linked by family, language and commercial ties but politically fully separated).


Greg Stephens said...

I would have thought that no matter what the British would have gone into Gallipoli, indeed most of the troops at Gallipoli were Indian. The ANZACs played an important role, but they were not the sole troops there.

If NZ had not gone I think it would have hit NZ in the long term, when the UK joined the EEC I doubt there would have been as much leeway sought by the UK for NZ.

Rich said...

You are probably right on that. My background on this was mostly Roy Jenkins' biog of Churchill. The Gallipoli campaign lacked support in the General Staff, who saw the Western Front as paramount. (As you probably know, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and was often at odds with Kitchener, the War Minister). Possibly a refusal by NZ to commit troops would have been the tipping point in forcing a rethink on the Dardenelles campaign.

Joe Hendren said...

Interesting post Rich,

Would be interesting to speculate what would have happened if NZ had not introduced conscription in WWI - Anti-conscription was one of the key issues of the early labour party and savage and holland were both involved in this. Without this, (and i am not claiming WWI was a good thing here) there may not have been a labour govt in 1935.

Somewhat of an irony when Savage died in 1940 his coffin was draped in a flag from a warship.

Idiot/Savant said...

I think a bigger irony is that the same Labour politicians who went to jail in 1916 for opposing conscription backed it to the hilt the moment they were in power. Look at Bob Semple, for example; jailed for a year in 1916, released to a heroes welcome, and in 1940 was drawing the first conscription ballots. I have photos...

STC said...

While certainly that sore point remains, I think the reasons for going to war in 1914 and 1939 were strikingly different - one was a war fought solely because the big powers simply could not resolve to let their egos down.

The other was fought because the most despicable regime of racism and hatred was smashing its way through Europe.

I definately would have supported conscription in the situation in WW2 - in WW2 our troops did make a contribution that could be seen, as perhaps was not quite so evident in the Great War.

Had we not been there, I do think the outcome of WW2 would have been markedly for the worse in Europe - The British were so desperate for us to stay early on in the war they made a deal with the US to have us stay in Europe in exchange for the US to protect us in the Pacific.