Aliens, objectors, and Wobblies

This hook provides commentary on the lives of aliens, conscientious objectors, and Wobblies, all of whom were minority groups who received poor treatment by the government and its supporters. The voices, actions, and campaigns of these groups were suppressed to avoid debate on decisions of national interest and to ensure that the voice and views of the government were unopposed.

Aliens

The Registration of Aliens Act … provides that all persons … who are non-British subjects must be regarded as aliens. Curious problems have been met in connection with the matter. An American man married a New Zealand lady. By her marriage, does the lady become an American, or does she remain a New Zealander? … A man who was born in London of a German father and a Scotch mother… has never been out of the British Empire … The court had declared him a German … [but] he is liable for military service as a Britisher.

Otago Daily Times, issue 17171, 26 November 1917, page 8. Sourced from Papers Past: bit.ly/1M14N9C

Conscientious objectors

Still image from Field Punishment No 1, Produced by Lippy Pictures (NZ) Ltd.(external link)

Still image from Field Punishment No 1, Produced by Lippy Pictures (NZ) Ltd.

There are always supporters and opponents of a country fighting a war. As a nation, New Zealand took a full part in the First World War … But there were people who opposed the war, for political, religious or moral reasons. Some of these people – conscientious objectors – paid a heavy price for their stance.

Sourced from the NZ History website at bit.ly/ww100co

Wobblies

During and immediately after the First World War, the New Zealand Government enforced a strict censorship regime due to fears of political and industrial unrest. The mail, literature and speeches of radicals – especially the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the Wobblies) – was under state scrutiny, and led to raids, arrests, and deportation of those deemed seditious.

Sourced from the National Library of New Zealand website at bit.ly/1uhLo0I

Context

Having a different perspective or viewpoint to that of most other people can be difficult. It can be even more difficult to speak out and let people know your perspective or viewpoint. During the war, the government was fearful that its decisions regarding the war were unpopular and so tried to isolate and silence anyone who might not fully support them. This happens in many countries, in peacetime and in war. The government exists to act on citizens’ behalf, and so it may be important to consider whether all individuals’ voices should be heard and the ways in which they are silenced.

People who had been living in New Zealand for many years, but who were born abroad, were called aliens and often treated with suspicion and distrust. It was assumed that they might have different perspectives on the war and might speak out or act to influence the government’s decisions. The voices of people who were born and raised in New Zealand, but disagreed with the war, were also silenced. Two groups who disagreed with the war were conscientious objectors and the Industrial Workers of the World or “Wobblies”. Conscientious objectors voiced social and religious beliefs that it is always wrong to kill others and that other ways to solve the conflict should be tried. Wobblies believed that the working classes were being sent to their deaths to fight someone else’s war and that the people who would benefit from the war should be the ones fighting.

It is interesting to consider whether all New Zealanders have an equal right to debate how the country’s resources are used and whether one group has the right to silence others in order to further their own views. The treatment of aliens, conscientious objectors, and Wobblies in the war invites discussion about the meaning and requirements of democracy and about the degree to which citizens should be allowed freedom of information, speech, movement, and action.

Possible discussion questions

  • Why might you feel unable or unwilling to disagree openly with the majority opinion? What might be the consequence of this?
  • In what circumstances is it acceptable to restrict citizens’ freedom of information, speech, and movement?
  • Why might people view war in different ways?
  • Whose voices were not heard during and after the First World War? Is this the same today?
  • What happened to those who chose not, or were unable, to fight? What would happen today?
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