Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 8, July 27th, 1949.
If You Want Peace—Prepare for Peace!
If You Want Peace—Prepare for Peace!
It seems clear to me that it is utterly wrong to introduce peace-time conscription in New Zealand today. Both practical and moral considerations lead me to this conclusion. It is because I feel that all of us who care for the welfare of humanity will want to weigh the question carefully from as many points of view as possible prior to voting in the referendum, that I ask you to consider my reasons.
I take my starting point from these considerations. Both sides of the issue are not being put fairly to the voters. "Salient," 8/6/49, has an excellent article on this.
We have not been given clear factual reasons why we should support conscription. We have been told that all we hold dear, and our very existence, are at stake. I shall suggest later why I think that is not so. We are told Christianity is at stake. I shall later give more reasons for my opinion that, if Christianity is menaced, it is not menaced by Russia alone. Meantime, I remark that it is absurd to regard the conflict between Russia and the antagonists of Russia as being a conflict between Russia and Christianity. This conflict seems to be primarily between Russia and America, and is a conflict between two ways of group self-seeking for material ends. Mr. Fraser has now said that it is Russia which threatens us.
We have no good reasons to believe that Russia is threatening us, and I shall deal with this more fully also.
To Fight But Not To Vote
The persons most directly affected by the result of the referendum, the 18-year-old males, have not been allowed a vote on it. Some people in New Zealand still hold the idea that the Government should govern in the interests of the people affected. Further, if those of 18 are not mature enough to vote, are they mature enough to decide whether they should take part in war or preparations for war?
The Prime Minister and others have tried to suggest that all opposition to conscription would come directly or indirectly from Communists. This is not so. There are pacifists. Christians who regard Christianity as implying pacifisms, and others who object to war, and also those who might approve conscription in war but regard it as unjustifiable, or unnecessary, or useless here in New Zealand at the present time.
Some say our thinking and our trifling actions can have no effect upon the big political events in the world. However that may be in some cases, it is not the case here. Each of us has a vote and each vote has a small, but a definite, influence. I shall seek to show how the decision reached by these small votes of ours has tremendous ramifications and raises very deep questions. Vast political movements may be beyond our control—but our vote here and now is absolutely within our control. We must consider well how we exercise it.
The Case Against Conscription
The decision given by the referendum is a political matter in that the factors influencing the decision, and the way it is put into effect, and its immediate obvious effects, will be political. But when we consider all that these things imply, we see that the matter is much more than a political one.
It still seems to me significant to ask what right has any group of persons organised into a State, and still less of course any mythical "state," to ask any of its members to seek what that State regards as its welfare by the means of killing other human beings. These people are in essence the same sort of people as the members of the State who are being asked to kill. (It is always open to those who support such a State's policy to volunteer for active service.)
What does conscription mean? Periods of military training. This means, among other things, absence from employment, to the detriment of employer and employee, less production, the cost of housing and maintaining the conscripts, less individual responsibility for reasons including the one that under training conditions the recruit has to make no decisions other than to do as he is told. Physical [unclear: fitness] can be obtained without conscription.
But conscription means much more than these things. Its effect on the conscript is to confirm in him the attitude that the way to settle problems in the last resort is by force, to train him in methods of the most ravaging, and in these days indiscriminate, use of force and destruction. Its effect on the people generally here in New Zealand is closely allied with this. People will see that we have taken a step that has been followed by war when it has been done before. It will encourage in them the ideas that disputes can be settled by violence, that another war is inevitable. It will assist in destroying any hopes of amicable settlement.
Our endorsing conscription would be regarded as a lead by other members of the British Commonwealth. If we bring it in, it will be more easily brought in elsewhere in the Empire. Nor does its effect as an example stop there—other amicably disposed nations will also be influenced.
Perhaps greatest of its effects will be on any possible antagonist or, antagonists. Their natural reaction will be to make counter preparations, to regard our act as one of hostility towards them. Their hostility will be provoked. Our conciliatory statements or negotiations (if any) will be regarded as dubious, if not hypocritical, by these nations. The move towards antagonism will provoke antagonism.
These recent years have been witness to chaos and destruction unheard of in more remote history, producing feelings of utter devastation and despair in the minds of people all over the world. Conscription, a step to further violence and destruction, will damn any faint hopes that a few people may be beginning to feel. Hopes born of experience of friendship near, and sometimes over great distances, hopes born of experience of the values of co-operation and respect for human beings in the work of UNRRA, CORSO, FAO, in the development of trusteeship for backward peoples. Dare we take a part in dashing these hopes yet again?
Let us return to consider the meaning of conscription. We must admit it is a restriction on liberty. Some restrictions on liberty are justified in the interests of preventing harm to other people and achieving the greatest good of the greatest number. This restriction cannot be justified on that ground because in the past it has always caused more harm than good. Because it restricts liberty in this unjustifiable way at the ipse dixit of the State, it is a move towards totalitarianism.
We know from our experience of other individuals and of groups that antagonism, hostility and violence provoke antagonism, hostility and violence. Conscription in New Zealand is an antagonistic move. It will provoke or increase antagonism in any group that imagines we have directed our action against it. Conscription therefore leads to an increase in the attitude of violence at home and abroad. I repeat it will impair our good faith in negotiation. In short, conscription is a step towards war. A step which some people in the Government ask us to take! If we value human life, human happiness, friendship, and what until recently has been regarded as our way of life, we cannot and must not take this step.
Mr. Fraser has accused Russia of being expansionist and aggressive. It seems to me that Russia has been, in some respects, expansionist, and may perhaps be aggressive. It seems clear, for, instance, that less than half of the population of Czechoslovakia favoured the Communist form of government when the Communists took over there. But it seems clear also that the United States of America has done even more that can be regarded as expansion and aggression. To mention only a few instances, America has given substantial military aid to Greece and Turkey. The Americans argued that Greece needed aid to restore her war-ravaged country. So she did. But not all the American loan was used for that purpose. The same argument was urged in regard to Turkey. But Turkey was scarcely touched by any form of physical destruction in the last war. Yet the United States of America made Turkey a loan equal to that made to Greece. As another instance, it can be mentioned that the United States of America has a considerable number of military bases outside her territory. Russia has very few, if any, military bases outside her territory. Expenditure on armament is higher in the United States of America than anywhere else in the world. America gave material and military support to the Nationalists in China. Russia did not give such assistance to the Communists in that war.
To those who say that wars are inevitable, I would say surely we should delay or reduce any moves toward war, because the intervening periods of peace are, at the very least, happier than those of war. To those who say that the more prepared we are now the less sacrifice will occur in the next war, and that our preparation will shorten the next war, I reply that such preparations in the past have only stimulated counter measures, and the cumulative effect has been the devastating wars we have seen.
Must War Be?
But wars are not inevitable. It is the minds of people which (in the last analysis) direct all forces except natural forces. It is human beings who switch the machines on or off. War must be related to the minds of people. We, as people having considerable influence over our own minds and activities, and also [unclear: over] the minds of other people, should throw such influence as we have toward the increase rather than the destruction of human happiness.
Look At The Cost
For our decision, let us try to assess the value or otherwise of war by considering its nature, effects and consequences, and measuring these in terms of happiness of the people in the world (the individual persons, you and I and the Germans and the Indians and the Russians). The consequences of war are conceded by all to be terrible beyond description. Atom bombs, guided page 2 missiles, death sprays, flamethrowers, and bacterial warfare offer small hope indeed that the next war, if we have one, will be one whit less agonizing and indiscriminately destructive than the last one. The economic waste caused by war will also have its inevitable repercussions. Hopeless, destitute, despair-pitted people will again die of slow starvation, of slow burns, of all the ravages and aftermaths of war. Some have said the next war will mean the destruction of what has been called Western Civilisation. Cold reason seems to show that fairly simply. War is never the lesser of two evils.
War has in the past always cost even the victor far more than it has been worth. Measured in terms of wealth or in terms of happiness, or of both, it seems clear to me that it would be better to let an invader walk in rather than risk the terrible agony, havoc, and dying that war brings. The next war will be worse.
Even if this price is said to be worth it, in no case in the past has a war achieved all the things it was ostensibly fought for. War has not worked as a means to a good end in the past. And in the case of us in New Zealand, to restrict freedom by conscription is to deny the very principles for which we ostensibly fought and won two wars (and to give in to totalitarianism after all).
Conscription Not A Total Solution
Even if war were worth it, and did achieve the things the war leaders argue it does (freedom, justice, and peace), it could still be suggested (as a solution to the problem of living together) to only one nation or group of nations, never to the whole world. But isn't it obvious that all people have been born on to the earth, and have to find a way of living together? A solution in terms of one nation or group, since it does not cover everyone in the world, is not a real solution at all.
Neither war, nor violence, nor preparations for those activities, will ever do anything to help the whole world to live together. These things are the culmination of self-seeking. Self-assertion only makes others respond by the same sort of activity. Since the more we have the more we want, and there are not enough things to satisfy everybody's wants, clashes must occur so long as the policy of self-seeking is being pursued. This applies to individuals, to groups, to natons. In this world of limited bounty, self-seeking leads to conflict and destruction. Conscription prepares us for more direct self-seeking—it envisages action that excludes co-operation. Do we not recognise from our own experience with individuals that aggressive activity on our part never produces a true solution? And doesn't our experience of nations in history bear out a similar conclusion?
"We must love one another, or die." (W. H. Auden.)
We are here concerned primarily with nations, however. The way of assertion and violence does not solve the problem—that is, it is not a practical solution. It must lead to destruction. Are there any alternatives? There is only one solution that I can bring to mind. It is the solution of conciliation, co-operation, friendliness. This is the hope that can be realised.
Practical Without Destroying
The first and loudest objection that seems to be made to this method of conciliation and co-operation is that it is not practical. I suppose by this the critics mean not practical on a political (large) scale. The most obvious, but most necessary, thing to say first in reply to this is: Assertion, aggression and violence have only been practical in the sense that they destroyed millions of people and dealt tremendous hardship, pain and suffering to millions more. Each of these last two sets of so-called "practical" measures have culminated in war, and have merely manufactured conditions in which the surge of more aggression and retaliation, the tendency towards another destructive war, is almost overpowering. Is not any alternative at all worthy of the most sincere trial, the most genuine and firm support; that each and every one of us can give?
Even could I draw you no further than this, I would urge that a vote against conscription has been Justified.
The Greatest Alternative
But to those who disagree, and to those who would proceed yet more deeply into the issue, I say: The hope is not as slender as the foregoing might (for you) imply. We have a tremendous alternative. Whether it be in matters concerning individuals, groups, or nations, the method of toleration, co-operation and friendship would work in that it would enable all people on the earth to have as much as is possible of the earth's limited abundance, and would enable people to live in happiness while having their just material share. If we all made up our minds to carry it out, bearing in mind the fact that it involves sacrifices to those who have more than their fair share (and that probably includes us), then it would work. Any step in that direction is a constructive step. As I know of no other courses than, in essence, exclusive self-interest on the one hand and co-operation on the other, any other step seems to me to be tending to destruction. The course of co-operation and friendship (which, I repeat, would involve sacrifices, but none so terrible as a war inflicts upon us) will solve the problems of all people, of all groups, of all nations. He utters a hollow cry for peace who is not himself prepared to give or suffer something for its achievement. We may have to make sacrifices as individuals and as members of a nation. It would mean ultimately that justice would have to be put into effect all over the world so that each person obtained an equal right to live on this earth, though this does not mean that everyone would have to be absolutely equal. Diversity, coupled with true friendliness, makes community possible: This justice is founded ultimately on the Christian ideal of loving one another.
What Christ Did
There are some of us who believe that Christ came on earth to show us, among other things, the way to live together. By His teaching and His life He showed us that it is the way of caring for each other, bearing one another's burdens, friendliness, and love, that enables us to have life most abundantly. References to some illustrations of this life and precept may be of value: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22, 39). "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7, 12). "But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies, do good to them which hat you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." (Luke 6, 27-29.) "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt. 5, 38, 39). And Matthew 26, 51 and 52: "And behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priests, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." These are not isolated instances of Jesus' teaching and examples—they are in harmony with His whole life on earth. Furthermore, they are specific, practical directions. We must meet evil, not by returning evil, but by loving those who would do us evil.
I am of the opinion that Russia is not menacing us. But even if Russia were menacing us in the most terrible way, the course of action of those of us who call ourselves Christians is to vote against conscription. Our action as Christians is to vote against conscription. Our action as Christians should not rest there, of course, but in New Zealand today it may be said to commence there. We must also lose no opportunity of showing our care for our fellow-men, both close at hand and in all nations. Many Christian groups, among them the Society of Friends (Quakers), are trying to do this, and are in small but significant ways bridging the barriers between people and nations. We can take more practical steps by supporting these groups. Nor are groups designated Christian alone in these activities.
The True Loyalty
The method of friendship, indicating so far as the referendum is concerned a vote against conscription, does not mean that we are avoiding our responsibilities to our fellow-men, either in New Zealand or abroad. It means that we think that the best method of carrying out our obligation to our fellows is by being friendly with them over all the earth, and by showing, by consideration in this way of even those who disagree with us, that we think there is a better way of life, a way in which we can, if we will, live together. This course will never avoid the problems of having each individual person follow it for himself or herself. But this point just shows, in one particular, how it is that such a solution as this does not submerge the individual in the mass: it depends on each one of us.
I have put this before you to show that there is a positive alternative to war or preparation for war. We must extend our friendship to the uttermost bounds of the earth.
The case against conscription in New Zealand today, then, is briefly this: We are faced with antagonistic activities between nations which are difficult to assess. The referendum makes it necessary to consider what these facts are, and also the implications of our decision. The State's compulsion to killing cannot be justified. If wars are inevitable we should delay them. But wars are not inevitable. Conscription must be considered in the full light of its consequences. From these I have shown why conscription leads to war. War produces more harm than good in the short run and in the long run, and so far as both [unclear: victors] and vanquished are concerned. Violence and war never bring human wellbeing when all the consequences are considered. Any alternative must therefore be better. Even so, more hope can be offered. The method of conciliation and friendship can work, and wherever it has been tried faithfully it has worked. I suggest we can make it work, and that if we make it work we will achieve the greatest possible well-being for people on earth. Conciliation will work if it becomes love in the Christian sense. Christ's spirit and teaching and life show this, and also give as specific advice as to how we should act in regard to evil or possible evil. There is a better way than conscription—it is the way of friendliness; of caring for all people. For us at this time, whether Christians [unclear: or] not, this means many things.
It Certainly Means we Must Vote Against Conscription.
—E. B. Robinson.