Thursday, April 28, 2005



An interesting question

ObservatioNZ asks an interesting question: what would have happened if New Zealand had declined to participate in WW1? Unfortunately his answer is a little short-term, focussing mostly on WW1; I think we need to look a little beyond that.

The most obvious consequence of staying out of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's family squabble would have been staying out of WWII as well, or at least the European part of it. A post-Imperial New Zealand would likely have fought in the Pacific (and probably side by side with Australia), but would not have sent troops to Europe. I'm not sure whether this would have been decisive or not - I don't know enough about the early part of the African Campaign to decide whether New Zealand's absence would have led to the loss of Egypt and the capture of the Suez Canal. It would also have meant a definitive break with Britian, economically and culturally - meaning no easy access to the British or EEC market (so we would have had to make our own way in the world much sooner), no easy access to Britian for New Zealanders (so no great kiwi OE), and therefore reduced access to British and European culture. The latter would have been quite significant, as people returning from their OE after experiencing Europe drove much of the change in (to pick a perennial favourite topic) kiwi cusine. No kiwi troops at Gallipoli may have meant that today we'd still be eating corned beef...

10 comments:

Whilst we're on scenarios: What documents exist in the Japanese archives about their planning for New Zealand. How advanced was their thinking and decisions on the subject of governance, resources etc.? Slave colony? Shipment to Japan? Put Maori in charge of everything - play sides off each other? Take us first, then Australia? It would be fascinating.

Posted by t selwyn : 4/29/2005 02:20:00 AM

I've just come back from New Caledonia and on the flight there was a group of NZ veterans who had been stationed there during the war. One of them said that the Japanese plan was to capture NZ first and use it as a staging post for an invasion of Australia - comming down from the north at the same time. Scary.

NZ troops arrived in NC in 43 shortly before the Battle for the Coral Sea and took part in many of the beach landings that followed - the "Japanese Hell" one of the vets described it.

Posted by Sock Thief : 4/29/2005 08:38:00 AM

The legal answer is that in 1914 the Crown was considered indivisible, so that King George's declaration of war was on behalf of the whole Empire. In practice no one could have forced New Zealand to actively participate in the War, if its government had chosen that course. I doubt however that was seriously considered.

By the Second World War it was possible for a dominion to make its own decision, as was demonstrated when Ireland remained neutral throughout the war.

Posted by Gary J : 4/29/2005 08:52:00 AM

WWII Japan did not tend to make definite strategic plans too far out, they tended to have a few well-planned scenarios and pick one as the time approached.

Eg, their choice of two starting scenarios "invade the Malay peninsula and force the Brits to concede Singapore, Malaysia and Burma first... or attack Pearl Harbour first?" A dumb call on that one, I think.

But I'm not sure I believe the "NZ as a stepping-stone to Oz" theory. NZ isn't a good 'staging post' for an attack on Oz because actually we're a long, long, long way from anywhere. We are more than twice as far from Japan than Hawaii is. And the Japanese were (rightly) very worried about supply line issues: it crippled their offensive capabilities when US subs started getting at their tankers.

Posted by Icehawk : 4/29/2005 02:05:00 PM

I'd agree that it's interesting to consider what might have happened to NZ's relationship with Britain.

I think the likely degree of ostracism (by the UK of NZ) could be overestimated - many Kiwis are of British descent (a lot more then than now) and would have kept their ties with Britain. NZ might have become closer to the US (who were pretty neutralist themselves in the early 20th century).

Posted by Rich : 4/29/2005 02:37:00 PM

Gary- by WWII Ireland was a fully independent country with no links to the British monarchy, they were fully soveriegn themselves.

Posted by Greg Stephens : 4/29/2005 04:02:00 PM

Rich - i think your point about personal ties with Britain tends to point in favour of us joining the war - can you imagine the uproar from Kiwis (then) if the Mother Country was threatened and the Govt wanted to stay out of it?

Posted by span : 4/29/2005 04:53:00 PM

Our love for the mother country back then precluded any thought of our own independent actions (the keeping of our forces in the European/North African theatre being a good example).

As for the Japanese: New Caladonia is closer to us than Australia. Taking NC then us would have given them naval bases and a physical blockage between America and Australia. At the Coral Sea stage the US did not have enough subs to weaken them severely as they did later on. I think the NZ First strategy would be their preferred option.

Posted by t selwyn : 4/29/2005 05:13:00 PM

What's wrong with a bit of corned beef every now and again?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/29/2005 06:57:00 PM

You could grow a lot of rice in the Hikurangi swamp.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/30/2005 02:22:00 AM