NZ teenagers – read this book!


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I remember one of my English teachers doing his best to exhort a class of reluctant-reader teenage boys to read Erich Remarque’s book “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He described it as the best book about the reality of life for soldiers in the trenches of the First World War.

I finally read the book earlier this year when I came across it at a house I was staying in and I think my English teacher was right. It’s a stunning book which makes a mockery of the glorification of war which dominates the public narrative around ANZAC day each year.

The book isn’t overtly political but at the same time it is deeply political – so much so that in the 1930s the Nazis banned and burned the book as unpatriotic. (The story is the perspective of a young German soldier, fresh out of school, serving on the Western front)

New Zealand teenagers are on the front line of the propaganda war still being fought over the meaning of WWI. They are encouraged to believe that although the war was horrible it was an honourable battle of blood, death and sacrifice where those that died did so “for the freedoms we enjoy today.” Bullshit.

I’m not a fan of Peter Jackson for his nasty anti-union tirade and loyal support for Hollywood moguls but this week he made an important contribution to discussion of World War I when he said New Zealand soldiers knew little of what the war was about but saw it as the chance to travel overseas for adventure.

He’s right. They were sucked into a clash of empires where patriotic fever was whipped up by the political elites on both sides who sent young men in their hundreds of thousands to be slaughtered.

New Zealand should remember that we did patriotic fever better than anyone else and per head of population sent more people to fight than any other country. Nowhere in human history has a greater number of soldiers travelled a greater distance to fight a war. Yes that was us. Nothing to be proud of and a lot to be embarrassed about.

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With so many commemorations around the anniversary of the First World War teenagers are in danger of being sucked into the vortex of lies about WWI which seem to pervade as strongly today as they did 100 years ago.

The best antidote is to read Remarque’s magnificent book.


  1. Another good book about what you’ll see during the glory of wartime, you know, while we’re all overseas doing good for the sake of democracy, is “The Gallery” by John Horne Burns. It’s a political and social takedown of what war is, when you aren’t actually shooting at “the bad guys”.

    A more capable review says:

    “Without sentimentality, Burns explored the average man’s resentment of the military, his struggle to assert his individuality within the complex war effort, the tension between officers and enlisted men, the psychological effects of dislocation, economic and social inequality between the Americans and those they defeated, the experience of homosexual military personnel, and the popular life of Naples in 1944 under the Allied occupation.”

    The chapter of the military staff arguing with themselves is especially startlingly real, frustrating, and depressing.

  2. Yes, the glory of war whether it be Gallipoli or the Western Front!

    The grimmest anniversary: World marks 100 years since first use of chemical weapons in chlorine gas attack which left thousands of victims ‘drowning in their own lungs’

    German forces launched first attack using gas on April 22, 1915
    150,000 tons of gas were used by German and Allied forces in WW1
    Around one million soldiers were exposed to gas and 90,000 killed
    Prohibition of Chemical Weapons organisation to hold memorial event

    We are a charming lot aren’t we?!

  3. Yes it was a good film as well….captured the veteran schoolboy soldier well when he went home sitting among all the old farts who were trying to glorify the old days of musket and grapeshot….

    The main character just sat and stared at these out – of – touch – buffoons.

    Mud , dirt , rats , lice and death. So much for their ‘adventure ‘ overseas.

  4. I agree completely with the thrust of this article… I would add that it has become rather worrysome to me that this escalating glorification, and romanticising of war is part of the “softening up” process, the general polpulation are being subject to in preparation for a protracted, and widespread conflict being planned by our American “friends”, and johnny the hateful clowns owners…

  5. The remembrance of Anzac Day is not the glorification of war – it remembers sacrifice. I saw that film and I enjoyed it. I don’t support the sending of so-called trainers to Iraq. The Kurds are the ones who could destroy ISIS if they were properly armed – but the Turks are too scared to have an armed force that would seek Kurdish independence across the region.

    • Agree…there’s been a lot of hatred towards the Kurds historically…geez….and yet they seem to be the ones who are in there pitching and shouldering a disproportionate amount of the weight…

      Reckon they should be granted a homeland as well tbh…as should the Israelis and the Palestinians…ALL should be able to live in security and see their families grow up healthy and strong.

      And leave each other alone and happily trade and play sport together.

      And to be able to walk tall and be solid , confident , humble and creative human beings….with dignity!!!

      As we all should , dammit all !!!

  6. Can any one tell me why this young ladies employer DID NOT PUT A STOP TO THIS OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR right at the beginning? This repetitive assault is offensive, and the perpetrator needs to be punished accordingly – we do have laws in this country. John Key, his wife and Security staff are the pits.

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