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Chris Ford: Second World War Anniversary Should Make Us Think.....

Contributor:
Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The 70th anniversary of the commencement of the Second World War should make us think of the sacrifices made long ago and yet how all unnecessary they were from an historical perspective.

The Nazi German attack on Poland in the early hours of September 1st, 1939 (late afternoon of the same day, New Zealand Time) marked the official beginning of the Second World War. Yet some historians have argued and with some merit that the Second World War actually began in 1931 when Japan attacked China during the so-called Mukden Bridge Incident.

This incident began a decade when militant nationalism and fascism roamed un-checked in a world where the collective memories of the First World War and the economic pressures of the Great Depression all helped to induce the general appeasement that was engaged in by the Western powers, mainly Britain, France and the United States. There was also the spectre of Soviet-style Communism and this caused many right-wing conservative politicians and capitalists to back the Fascist horse as they saw Bolshevism to be the greater threat to their interests.

Therefore, when the first European showdown took place between the forces of Fascism/Nationalism and Socialism/Communism in Spain during the 1936-1939 Civil War, the British, French and other Western governments stood idly by while the forces of General Francisco Franco were assisted to victory with both the covert and overt military support of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. While the Soviets did have a clandestine presence in Spain and supported the Left forces of the brave International Brigade who fought on the side of the Spanish Republican forces, the shadow of Stalinism made the Communist-led forces largely ineffective as they were mostly subjected to the Stalinist purges of the period and when combined with the terrifying air supremacy of the Francoist air force (mostly comprised of German bomber aircraft and their Luftwaffe crew), the Republican forces were dealt a crushing blow.

As many revisionist historians are now arguing, it was the Francoist victory in Spain that gave the dual forces of Nazism/Fascism a huge confidence boost just prior to the outbreak of World War Two. The Germans, in particular, were able to practise their new brand of blitzkreig warfare without challenge on millions of innocent Spanish civilians and, on that basis, the flame of socialism and democracy was extinguished in that country for over 35 years until 1975.

So on that early September morning back in 1939, Hitler's forces and the dictator himself, emboldened by the successive shows of appeasement by the democratic conservative governments of Britain and France and comforted by the existence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Stalin's Soviet Union, launched one of the biggest simultaneous land, sea and air assaults in the history of modern warfare against Poland. Within two weeks, the Polish Government had surrendered leaving the country and its people to be administered by one of the most brutal occupations ever.

And on that count, France, Britain and its Dominions of Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand were dragged back into the European theatre of war, a theatre that would soon expand into Asia and the Pacific after the entry of the United States into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.

New Zealand, the only nation out of those mentioned above to be governed by a social democratic government at the time (the First Labour Government of Michael Joseph Savage) was morally better placed than any to be entering the war with a relatively clear conscience.
After all, the Michael Josepeh Savage Labour administration defied a Conservative-led National Coalition Government in Britain at the League of Nations in their support for sanctions against Mussolini after his invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 and had also voiced great misgivings about the appeasement policy being followed by Britain and France towards Germany prior to the outbreak of war. The other aforementioned British Dominions had, shamefully, all supported Britain and France in their attempts to mollify Hitler but we, for the first time, had spoken with an independent (and largely lone) voice against the dangers of Fascism and Nazism on the global stage.

Thus, when Savage, dying as he was from cancer uttered the words "We range ourselves without fear beside Britain....as where she stands, we stand, where she goes, we go" was probably (in all truth) quitely slapping Britain in the face as think again about the words "we range ourselves without fear beside Britain". Wasn't he implying that New Zealand wasn't fearful of the wrath of Britain, the nation that had taken us into a war of imperialist slaughter back in 1914 through being asked to send our troops and not being given any choice about it? Now, the war which Britain had largely helped to induce due to its punitive and then appeasing attitude towards inter-war Germany, was totally unnecessary. Therefore, perhaps Savage and some of his Labour ministers and MPs saw this to be the case and therefore the speech, while outwardly patriotic and imperialistic, was perhaps our first real declaration of independence from Britain. As a matter of fact, New Zealand declared war independently of the UK and communicated this fact to the German Government at the time whereas Australia (always thought to be the more republican nation of the two) declared war simultaneously with Britain as it held Neville Chamberlain's declaration to be binding on the nations of the British Empire (and no wonder given that Robert Menzies of "I will love her (Queen Elizabeth) until I die" fame was in his first stint as Australian PM in 1939).

At that point, New Zealand entered a war that would begin with the attack on Poland, be forever linked with the horrific sufferings of the Holocaust, and then end with the inhumane American atomic bombing of Japan. Out of all this, we must think that this war was preventable as if the West had stepped in and stopped the Japanese when they went to war with China and in particular when Franco went to war against the elected Republican Government in Spain, then all that wider suffering would have been alleviated, if not avoided. Perhaps with that in mind, Fascism and Nazism would have suffered even earlier defeats than they did.

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