In our short history we have seen our fair share of battlefield carnage. Arguably it has helped make us one of the most peace-seeking of nations. The popular support for our nuclear-free policy, our extensive peace-keeping deployments and the decision to stay out of Iraq reflects strong anti-war sentiment.
And yet throughout our history New Zealanders have always been ready to go to war when called. Modern ANZAC Day services are not anti-war. They respect the sacrifices made by our service men and women.
So what do we think of this paradox? Historian Glyn Harper addressed it when he gave the 2010 Jack Lyon Memorial Lecture last weekend. It is an annual event hosted by the North Shore Committee of the Labour Party to commemorate Jack Lyon, a Labour MP who held the seat of Waitemata 1935-41.
Lyon personified the paradox. He was a left wing internationalist who believed he had to fight when the cause was right. At the age of 17 Lyon lied about his age so he could fight in WW1. In 1939 he did it again, this time knocking four years off his real age, so he could fight fascism. He reached the rank of Captain, and died under German fire during the evacuation of Crete.
You can read or listen to Glyn Harper’s excellent lecture. It was a special night. Glyn read out two letters home from New Zealand soldiers in Gallipoli – letters never read in public before. The event was attended by Sophie Tomlinson, Jack Lyon’s granddaughter. Defence Minister Hon Wayne Mapp was also there and found himself in the middle of some spirited debate about whether our SAS should currently be in Afghanistan. It was a good warm up for ANZAC Day. You can read more about last year’s event too.