Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 15. 1972
On Thursday 29th June five members of OHMS had scones and coffee with the Defence Committee of the RSA. David Tripe comments on the ensuing discussion.
According to Defence Chiefs of Staff, one logistic brigade is the minimum effective fighting force needed for N.Z.'s defence The joint cheif of staff are the experts after all, and so the RSA and the government believe them. But how does one then explain the attitude of the Labour Party, which wants to abolish compulsory military training and replace it with voluntary service for men and women? Does Labour know more about NZ's defence needs than the chiefs of staff, whose brigade comprises 15,000 men plus a reserve force of 10,000, who can be mainly territorials? Since the RSA say that we have only 3500 regular force troops (the NZ Official Yearbook figure is nearer 5700), either we must accept the RSA view that the Labour Party policy is unrealistic and impossible to implement, or else NZ just does not need a defence force of one logistic brigade.
The RSA actually concedes that NZ is undefendable. To repel a landing of foreign troops from our 3000 miles of coastline would require impossibly large and highly mobile defence forces. The RSA say that NZ can only be defended by collective security which is theoretically based at the top level upon the United Nations and at the second level upon the SEATO, ANZUS, and ANZUK treaties.
These collective security arrangements which New Zealand supports to the extent of one logistic brigade (the minimum effective fighting force) constitute our peace insurance. But now we get to ask the question of who is likely to attack New Zealand? China, the United States? We should be warned not to trust our allies by the French bomb tests in the pacific. Thus our collective security is a means of coercion to get New Zealanders to fight in other people's wars of imperialism and aggression. If we get rid of conscription, we might be able to find relief from our present role of American lackey.
You may gather then that the RSA argument for the maintenance of conscription is that there are insufficient volunteers. They point to the inadequacy of support for other voluntary organisations as a justification for conscription. The Civil Defence staff is grossly inadequate, but the RSA forget to point out that Civil Defence volunteer workers do not get paid. Army volunteers do.
Another RSA argument about the inadequacy of volunteer forces refers to the fact that it took two years from the time that the Labour Government instituted conscription in 1939 for New Zealand troops to get to the front line. Until the start of conscription, there had not been enough soldiers to organise a fighting force. But when New Zealand troops reached the front line, the highest losses occured in the early stages because of the poor quality of their equipment. Therefore, say the RSA, we should have conscription. The logic of this argument seems to be absent. Perhaps, since we cannot find any justification for conscription, we had better halt it. But no, say the RSA. Isn't it better to be fighting someone else's hills, not on ours? After all, as Sir Hamilton Mitchell said at the interview, Asian lives are worth less than ours. Collective security therefore means that we should kill all Asians to keep New Zealand green and free (and non-communist).
But one must not get the impression that there was no basis for agreement between the RSA and OHMS (without full stops, because otherwise it would be an affront to the queen.) Like OHMS, the RSA expresses an abhorrence of war, and therefore we must have collective security and kill Asians to avoid war.
OHMS was able to induce the RSA to tell us that they were going to try and achieve some fair publicity for conscientious objection. It was also conceded that in the R.S.A. annual report OHMS (pronounced "oms" by the RSA) might have been labelled as a subversive organisation, and that steps should be taken to remedy this. We anticipate a press statement to this effect. That was where agreement started and finished. It is very important to realise, however, that the RSA is not primarily a defence pressure group. Only a tenth of the time at this year's annual conference was occupied by defence issues, but the press blew this up out of all proportion. (The press blow everything up out of all proportion when their opinions differ from yours!) The RSA is primarily a welfare organisation, but New Zealand's welfare depends on the defence of our free society. Anyway, say the RSA, army service does a lot of good to character. You ask any employer that.
Surely it would seem sensible that, if they must have an army, the most efficient way would be to have a professional army. A professional army could afford to be well equipped, and the difficulties that were experienced at the start of the second world war would be avoided.
But the RSA is not to be criticised. OHMS was there to discuss compulsory military training, not to elaborate on the image of the RSA. We are quite prepared to accept that you have opinions, but it is not your job to criticise us, say the RSA. Perhaps that is why 60,000 of the 150,000 ex-servicemen in New Zealand do not belong to the Returned Services Association. It couldn't be their social functions that puts exservicemen off after all, as many as 70 of the 370 RSA branches have chartered clubs. (There are only 42 centres in New Zealand with a population of more than 5000.)
So much for trying to talk to the RSA. They tell us that we should not defy the National Military Service Act because it is the law of the land. The legitimate way to express disapproval of government policy, say the RSA, is to vote the government out of office. That was what Hitler said in 1932: that is what Vorster says. So much for the RSA. One may as well be like Demosthenes and talk to a roaring gale when you have a mouthful of stones.