Political and External Affairs
CHAPTER 12 — Awkward Minorities
THE explosive experiences of mid-1940 were followed in New Zealand by a period oddly reminiscent of the slackness which had preceded Hitler's attack on the West. In spite of occasional activities by raiders in the Pacific, the war remained remote from New Zealand. Its impact was one of words rather than deeds; and apart from those actually serving overseas, the country was concerned primarily with two not very stimulating forms of activity: the working out in detail of policies adopted in haste, and the continuance of normal forms of work, under greater difficulties and with more urgency, but without the stimulus of danger and of extensive change. The result was that issues great and small tended to become confused, and matters of no great intrinsic importance demanded undue attention. Overseas news indeed remained calamitous, but lacked climax. Men could not live perpetually tense; they became hardened to existence on the edge of disaster, and fearful news from abroad, while it sharpened tempers, ceased to be an urgently compelling factor in domestic politics. The gap accordingly widened between the needs, as apprehended and expounded by the leaders, and the emotional convictions of ordinary men. It was a long, uphill pull undertaken with determination; but when there were sharp reactions, they sometimes had a faint note of hysteria rather than of exaltation.
Wherever else opinions differed after June 1940 there was at least agreement on the need for conscription. Agreement in principle extended compulsion, as required, to economic resources and the assignment of civilian labour. In these fields, however, qualifications quickly entered in, and adequate precedent and administrative machinery was lacking. Conscription of men, however, meant the revival of familiar practices. It could be organised smoothly, and it met a popular demand for equality of sacrifice in the field traditionally regarded as the most significant–men in khaki marching in the Empire's battles. Voluntary enlistment accordingly ceased on 22 July 1940. Thereafter the men required were chosen page 146 by ballot from men of the appropriate class. Before very long the word ‘ballot’ became misleading: all those within certain categories were called to the colours unless some cause–medical, conscientious, or the public importance of a man's peacetime activities–was held to indicate otherwise. Appeals against military service could be made by men called up, or by others on their behalf.
Politically, conscription presented some problems that were awkward in principle, even if they bulked small, when measured in material terms, in the national picture. The possibility that its enforcement would raise a major political conflict vanished when the Labour Party as a whole accepted the new policy. That policy, wrote the Standard ingenuously, ‘provides for conscription of everything and everybody–which is what the Labour movement has always urged1.’ Yet difficulties remained. It was not always easy, for example, to determine whether a fit man was more use in the forces than on a farm or in a factory or a scientist's laboratory. Much more serious, however, was the problem of conscientious objection, which seemed for many minds to be a test case for the preservation of liberty in wartime.
1 Standard, 30 May 1940.
2 Ibid., 6 Jun 1940.
4 To a deputation from the Christian Pacifist Society on 18 Nov 1940.
The difficult task of pronouncing on the sincerity of conscientious objectors fell initially upon nine of the Appeal Boards, which dealt with all appeals against compulsory service in the chief towns of the country. These were judicial bodies of three men, including a lawyer chairman, aided by a Crown representative, and were charged to discover whether or not an appellant ‘holds a genuine belief that it is wrong to engage in warfare in any circumstances.’ In the nature of things, no precise rules could be laid down for their guidance. Long-standing membership of a pacifist religious body such as the Society of Friends was in 1940 instanced as acceptable evidence as to a man's convictions, but even this was omitted in the following year to avoid the suggestion that such membership was essential to sustain an appeal; it was expressly provided in 1941 that a Board could accept an appellant's own account of himself even if there were no corroborating evidence. In essence, although the forms were legal, and the executive officers were lawyers, the Boards had an almost unlimited discretion; nor was there any appeal against their decisions. In typically New Zealand fashion the effective administration of a centrally formulated policy was placed in the hands of almost independent local authorities.1 The wishes, even the written directives, of the Government cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of the policies actually adopted in administration.
1 Emergency Regulations 1940/117 and Amendment No. 4, 1941/73. Memorandum, Director of National Service to Minister, 10 Mar 1941.
1 The percentage of appeals allowed in the United Kingdom was higher. See Hayes, Challenge of Conscience, pp. 382–3. Also, comparison is difficult owing to the absence of special provision in the United Kingdom for defaulters' detention. Objectors who persisted after their appeals had been rejected seem on the whole to have been treated with more leniency than in New Zealand, though there were some starting exceptions.– Hayes, op. cit., passim, particularly p. 172.
In these circumstances, the hearing of appeals became for many young men a gruelling ordeal, made all the more grim in some cases by the vigour with which some tribunals expressed their own and the community's condemnation of conscientious objection. In some cases it was widely believed that chairman and Crown representatives departed seriously from the judicial attitude prescribed for the Boards, and mature, legally trained men acted as advocates rather than as dispassionate inquirers after truth. Even an unsympathetic press made occasional protests, and the Director of National Service thought it appropriate to remind Appeal Boards in 1943 that they must not show hostility to appellants whose views they personally rejected. Proceedings, he said, ‘must be clothed with both the fact and the appearance of complete impartiality2.’ The Director, indeed, emphasised that he was rebuking no one in particular, but it soon became notorious that Appeal Boards differed widely in their attitudes towards conscientious objectors: the proportion of appeals allowed by the different Boards varied from 33 per cent to 14 per cent. This fact reinforced the feeling that in some areas at least the administration of the law did not conform to government policy, and that at least some young men of deep sincerity had been unfairly bullied and branded as law-breakers who were little better than traitors. The failure of the Government to grapple with this problem was, and remains, unexplained.
1 Cf. remarks in confidential circular from Director of National Service to Appeal Boards, 30 Jul 1943.
3 National Service Emergency Regulations 1940, Amendment No. 5 (27 Aug 1941).
Apart from financial considerations, however, there was a strong current of thought which insisted that conscientious objection to service was anti-social. There were accordingly recurrent suggestions that objectors should be dismissed, especially from employment where they might influence opinion. In particular, difficulties arose in the schools, and opinion grew strong among Education Boards–which represented parents–that conscientious objectors should not be allowed to remain as teachers.1 The Government at first maintained that teachers should come under the same rule as anyone else, but by the end of 1941 it had deferred to pressure. Thenceforward, any teacher who appealed against service on conscientious grounds was placed on leave without pay for the duration of the war, even if the appeal were allowed. Those whose appeals were rejected and who became military defaulters could be dismissed. Altogether, 123 teachers appealed on conscientious grounds, though some of these subsequently served. In 1942 Canterbury University College Council, which also administered schools, applied the same principle to its university staff. It was the only university authority so to act.
With the partial exception of the teaching profession, comparatively little difficulty arose in the community with respect to conscientious objectors whose appeals had been upheld. It was otherwise with the unhappy 800 whose appeals had been rejected, and who still refused military duties. In the First World War such men, after imprisonment, could be forcibly impressed into the Expeditionary Force, subjected to field punishments, and actually sent into the front line. Such extremities were now rejected, nor was it felt that defaulters should be equated with ordinary criminals. The attempted solution was defaulters' detention, a scheme of concentration camps designed to be less comfortable than the army but less punitive than gaol. Camps of this character were established in November 1941.2 Thereafter the normal procedure was for those convicted by magistrates of being military defaulters to be sent to gaol for a period of up to three months, and then to be transferred to detention camps, with compulsory labour, for the duration of the war.
2 Regulations gazetted on 12 Nov 1941.
Defaulters' detention was an attempt to deal with an insoluble problem–a compromise disliked by all and bitterly resented by some. There were indeed a few who resisted by all non-violent means available to prisoners. The main substantial criticisms by those inclined to admit that provision had to be made for men judicially pronounced to be defaulters were three: that the labour exacted was mainly of a primitive and ineffectual kind; that in contrast with British practice, confinement was for an indefinite period; and that, again in contrast with Britain, there was no provision for appeal against the decisions of the Armed Forces Appeal Boards on which detention was based. The Government, however, firmly rejected offers of alternative service by defaulters, and it was not until the fighting was virtually over that anything effective was done to meet the other main criticisms. Even then it did not admit the possibility that Appeal Boards' original decisions could have been mistaken. In June 1945, however, it set up Revision Authorities empowered to release on parole a defaulter who could convince an Authority that he held ‘a conscientious belief that would prevent his participation in war’, and who would undertake to participate in no activity prejudicial to the war effort or to the public interest. There was no appeal from an Authority's decision, but an applicant who had been rejected could re-apply for consideration.
Two distinguished lawyers were appointed to act independently as Revision Authorities, and began work in June 1945. Four hundred and seventy-six men, three-quarters of those then detained, submitted themselves to a Revision Authority, and of them 283 were released. A number of others were also released because age or medical grading put them out of the categories required by the Army. At the end of March 1946, however, 259 men were still in custody. Defaulter detention ceased finally on 20 May 1946.
Public clamour, the necessity to maintain national morale, the desirability of blunting criticism from political opponents and the RSA–these factors inevitably influenced government policy and complicated its assessment of the public interest. Administrative policy tended to soften issues where possible. The Army's initial insistence that those allotted to non-combatant duties had no guarantee that they would not be called upon to fight was overruled, for instance. In contrast with the First World War administration was in the hands of civilian departments, and it was ruled that appeals on grounds of conscientious objection should not be heard until any other appeal had been disposed of, and the doctors had pronounced an appellant as fit for overseas service. On the other hand, the Government yielded to public pressure in respect of teachers, was unsympathetic to suggestions of alternative service by those whose appeals had once been rejected, and refused to allow page 152 cases to be reconsidered. Moreover, defaulters, including those released by the Revision Authorities as being genuine conscientious objectors, were still disenfranchised in 1946.1
Objection to war was not only a matter of individual conscience, which was focused by conscription, but of public action; for there were those who claimed the right not only to oppose New Zealand's participation in war, but to endeavour, as citizens, to convert the community to their way of thinking. This claim necessarily brought established political principles into conflict. If the will of the majority is to prevail, minorities must loyally accept policies of which they disapprove, until such time as they have converted themselves into a majority. Yet an endeavour to have a policy changed in the future may very readily be confused, both by the public and by the Government, with an effort to obstruct the present enforcement of a policy which in the meantime represents the will of an overwhelming majority of the people. On the other hand, as the fruit of prolonged political struggle and sacrifice, British political practice recognised that there were limits to the State's authority over the individual. Liberty was something more fundamental than the right to participate in formulating a national policy which then became binding upon all.
In 1940, in an atmosphere of national crisis, with insistent public demand for greater unity, these issues were raised from two contrasting directions, and in forms embarrassing to men with British background and ideas. On the one hand, the small Communist party continued its sharp but unconstructive criticism both of the general direction and the detailed working out of national policy; and certain pacifists indomitably proclaimed a totally different view of the citizen's duty.
No reconciliation in viewpoint proved possible. The Society for some time forbore to organise street meetings, its only method of gaining a public hearing. In March 1941, however, it announced its decision to resume such meetings, whether or not they should be prohibited. ‘Free men preserve their freedom only by exercising it. It can not be defended by violence in the desert, but only by resolute men standing and toiling for their convictions here and now.’ Week by week speakers were put up by the Society and one by one were arrested and imprisoned.
Meantime, prompter and more drastic action had been taken against more directly political forms of opposition, and against propaganda more closely approximating to usual conceptions of subversion. In accordance with the promise to put a stop to subversive publications, new and extremely drastic amendments to the Censorship and Publicity Regulations were announced on 29 May 1940. These gave the Attorney-General power to order the seizure of any printing press if he was ‘satisfied’ that it had been used for printing subversive statements and had ‘reason to suspect’ that it was likely to be used for printing further subversive statements. In such circumstances he could order any periodical to cease publication or prohibit any person from taking part in publishing a periodical during a specified period. Appeals against orders under these regulations could be made to a judge of the Supreme Court, but no order was to be revoked unless the judge was satisfied page 154 that ‘the acts which the order was intended to prevent are not likely to be committed1.’
Under these new powers the People's Voice was suppressed and its press seized. Since previous prosecutions and convictions had produced little modification in the policy of the paper a good case could be made out for this drastic action. This was hardly so to the same extent with the action against Tomorrow. It is true that the editorial policy of this paper in the last year or so of its existence had developed along communist lines or along lines sympathetic to communism, but the magazine had not indulged in the type of tirade against the war then favoured by the People's Voice, and no prosecutions had been brought against it. It was an organ for the left wing of the Labour Party, and in its columns J. A. Lee published the articles that had earned him expulsion from the party. It was, in short, much clearer that the magazine was an annoyance and an embarrassment to the Government than that it was a menace to public morale. If the case for its suppression was a doubtful one, the mode of suppression would seem even more questionable and underlines the dangers of the powers that had just been taken. The printer, who was already in trouble with the police for issuing a pamphlet without adequate imprint, was warned by the police that his press could be seized if he used it for printing subversive matter. Accordingly, he informed the editor that he could not take the risk of continuing to print Tomorrow and the magazine passed out of existence.
1 Amendment No. 2 to Censorship and Publicity Regulations, 1940/93, 28 May 1940.
2 Public Safety Emergency Regulations 1940, Amendment No. 1, 1940/122.
This comparative tolerance was due in part to the party's unimportance. In the early days of the war it expected suppression and went partially underground, meeting in small groups, and hiding incriminating material. Nevertheless, the police knew a good deal about its activities–incidentally satisfying themselves that, contrary to current talk, it was not subsidised from abroad–and reported that membership remained small. In 1941 there were believed to be about 690 members, which was a small but not alarming increase on pre-war figures; and in 1939 the circulation of the People's Voice had not much exceeded 7000. In any case, drastic action against the communist organisation was not seriously in question after Russia entered the war; for the party line, though remaining critical of the Government, now insisted that the struggle against Hitler had become a People's War. Nevertheless, the Labour movement continued firmly to reject collaboration with the communists. In November 1941 a joint statement by the Federation of Labour and the Labour Party called on workers to ‘redouble their efforts in field, factory and workshop to provide the maximum assistance to Russia.’ The statement, however, criticised the past attitudes of the local Communist party, whose policy ‘is not and never has been determined by democratic methods nor by reference to the needs and purposes of the people of New Zealand.’ This vigorous statement caused some criticism, but was reaffirmed by the Federation of Labour in the following year.1
Alarm had at least this germ of justification, that the German government and its agents and sympathisers had before the war done their best to create active pro-Nazi groups in the Dominion. The officials of the German consulate, it was suspected and later proved,2 far exceeded their consular duties. Contact was sought with Germans of military age, and indeed with all those of German blood. Confidential information was gathered about Jewish business men. Some cultural organisations were diverted towards political activities. Able propaganda was vigorously distributed and followed up in short-wave broadcasts from Germany. Attempts were made to revive German sentiment in Western Samoa. The total result was of negligible importance, however, in peacetime, or even so long as the warfare remained geographically distant. A skeleton Nazi party was indeed created. Contacts were made with keen individuals, including some Germans who had virtually forgotten their country of origin, and contacts made, maybe, with a few sympathetic New Zealanders too. Yet, in the official view, it was hard to see what damage was likely to be done, and in any case the police had a sound enough general idea of what was going on. So far as Italians were concerned, most of them were of peasant origin. The danger, such as it was, arose essentially from poor assimilation. Though the problem was then scarcely recognised, there was a considerable element among Italian fishermen who had no enthusiasm for Mussolini's Italy, but likewise had little knowledge of or love for the country of their adoption.
With this background, pre-war action was kept to a minimum. The police investigated specific cases brought to their attention, and towards the end kept a list of aliens who entered the country, but beyond this nothing systematic was known of the whereabouts, ideas and employment of aliens. Nor was the action planned by the ONS, based on experiences of the First World War, at all drastic. On the outbreak of war, all aliens over 16 years of age, together with naturalised British citizens who had once been subjects of an enemy state, were required to register with the police, unless exempted by the Attorney-General. They then had to notify changes of address, and ask permission for absences from home lasting more than twenty-four hours, and they could not work on wharves or ships. The Attorney-General could order the internment of any alien whom he judged to be disaffected, or whose liberty he thought to be a source of public danger. Policy was, however, to intern as sparingly as possible: in December 1939 nine men were interned, a number increased by the following June to 16, together with 15 men from Western Samoa. When Italy entered the war, 30 more men were interned, mainly from the local Fascio.
These proceedings, though no doubt adequate to a period of relative slackness, were in many ways unsatisfactory. As before the outbreak of war, the police acted only if there was some specific reason, some accusation positively made, some information gathered by postal censors and passed on. Accordingly, it could well happen that some of those men whose cases needed investigation came to no one's attention. Further, if need arose, the police gathered their information and then reported with a recommendation direct to the minister; in effect they were both prosecutors and judges. On the other hand, the system was naturally irksome to many individuals–to New Zealand residents who had long thought of themselves as ordinary loyal citizens, and to refugees who had crossed the world to avoid belonging to Hitler's Germany. Such persons had no chance of convincing anyone of their loyalty. Further, as soon as public attention was aroused, the system was seen to be so loose as to give no confidence that the ranks of aliens were being properly combed for possible disloyalty.
The numbers involved were still small. In September 1939 there were about 7000 unnaturalised aliens in New Zealand, of whom roughly 700 were Italians, and about 1100 were classed as European refugees. Nevertheless, judged by New Zealand standards, the last year or so of peace had brought something like an influx. In the two years ending March 1940, for example, 674 Germans and Austrians came to New Zealand, as compared with a yearly average of 37 from 1933 to 1938. Tiny as these figures were when the desperate need of Hitler's victims is remembered, enough refugees page 158 arrived to make a considerable impact on the New Zealand community. Of necessity, little was known of the new arrivals, and at a time when public feeling was tense, when all dissident minorities were intolerantly criticised, when papers were full of disasters and stories of successful spying and sabotage, and when the Government was fiercely attacked for inadequate activity, it was natural that a close check on aliens within the country should be insistently demanded.
The Government, while firmly rejecting the drastic solution of interning everyone, agreed with the need for action. The regulations, after some experimentation, were accordingly recast on 18 June and given more permanent form on 24 October. The basic principle now became that the case of every alien, not merely those against whom specific accusations had been made, should be studied and pronounced upon by a judicial authority. The police became gatherers of information, without the responsibility for judging it. An Aliens Authority–a local professional lawyer–was appointed in each police district, and sometimes more than one. These authorities examined every alien and all information concerning him, and reported to the minister, who still had the responsibility of decision. There was, however, a threeman Aliens Appeal Tribunal headed by a Supreme Court judge to hear appeals against the recommendations of Aliens Authorities, and to advise the Minister of Justice on any matters which he might refer to it. This machinery was set to work in November 1940 to classify all ‘enemy aliens’, a task completed by March 1941; it was then charged to examine similarly aliens drawn from non-enemy states. Classifications ranged from that recommended for immediate internment, through varying degrees of restriction, to complete exemption from alien status. While investigations were proceeding, restrictions on enemy aliens were progressively tightened, and covered, for example, firearms, maps, motor vehicles, travel and so forth.
No such system could be administered without difficulties, grave inconvenience, and injustice to individuals. Refugees resented greatly the legal designation of ‘enemy alien’, and pressed hard for an additional formal classification which would explicitly recognise their loyalty to the Allied cause. No solution was found to this problem. The Government, while increasingly satisfied that the great majority of refugees were perfectly genuine, refused to commit itself in respect of any particular man. Enemy aliens were necessarily exempt from conscription; and there were at times vigorous protests that aliens were flourishing, buying the property and taking over the jobs of ‘our boys’. In country districts in particular, pressure on aliens was often fierce. In face of this campaign page 159 the Government held the balance with some firmness. Specific cases were investigated. Aliens were forbidden to acquire property without permission. Naturalisation was suspended, except (after 1943) for those who volunteered and were accepted for service with the armed forces.1 In July 1942 Cabinet decided that aliens should be encouraged, though not compelled, to join the armed forces or civil defence organisations, and that all males between 18 and 45 should be mobilised for national service, and directed into essential industries. It was significant both that the civil defence organisations were at first extremely reluctant to accept aliens, and that, when after exhaustive inquiries the services of a considerable number of them were accepted, the anticipated friction did not develop.
Administrative difficulties were inevitably endless, in particular the problem of nationality. Citizens of the former state of Austria, for example, and to a lesser extent those of other countries seized by Nazis, naturally objected to being classed as Germans. No easy way out was found, though in the end most Austrians were regarded as ‘stateless’ and therefore not ‘enemy aliens’. A problem of a different kind was posed by the Italian fisherman community, naturalised or not; for their occupation inevitably carried them into or near security areas. Moreover, when Japan entered the war evidence accumulated to confirm earlier suspicions–that some at least of this community would, albeit without much enthusiasm, co-operate with the Axis and Japan if, as many now anticipated, the Allies should be defeated. Some who in 1939 had declared themselves loyal to New Zealand and prepared to defend it if attacked, said in 1942 that they were neutral and would not resist an invader.
This problem was dealt with as part of the inevitable tightening up which followed early Japanese victories. The original classification of aliens in 1940–41 had included as Category B those who should be interned if New Zealand were threatened by invasion; and in December 1941 both the police and the Aliens Tribunal urged that these men should all be interned forthwith. The Government felt that this was neither necessary nor desirable, and eventually had this group subdivided into those for immediate internment; those to be interned if the Japanese occupied New Caledonia, Fiji, or Samoa; and those to be interned if the invasion of New Zealand itself should be attempted. This plan was approved by the Chiefs of Staff, and twenty-six men were immediately interned. Those Italians of ‘B’ category who were not interned were as an alternative offered work on inland vegetable farms.
The control of aliens in wartime New Zealand was administered entirely by civilians up to the time when a man was interned. His custody then was a matter for the Army. An internment camp was established on Somes Island, in Wellington harbour, except for an interval in 1943–44, when it was held, in terms of the Geneva convention of 1929, that Wellington might become a fighting zone. In all, 221 men were interned at one time or another, of whom 19 were subsequently deported. The largest number held at any one time was 185, in December 1942. Most of the Japanese internees were repatriated in mid-1943 as part of an exchange; and following British example, all Italian internees were released and directed to essential work shortly after Italy surrendered.
The internal organisation of the camp was run by the internees themselves, with little interference from the Commandant. Three camp leaders were chosen by the internees, a German, an Italian and a Japanese, together with a committee for each main group. Internees occupied themselves with gardening, maintenance work round the camp, handicrafts, music, reading. The library was drawn in the first instance from the consular libraries, purged of material specifically Nazi or Fascist. The main problem was that of relations among internees. In particular, the professedly Nazi element was at first confident of early victory, and its activities were greatly resented by others. In Britain and Canada self-proclaimed Nazis and Fascists were segregated from the rest because of maltreatment of anti-Nazi minorities in camps, but nothing on these lines was done on Somes Island. In the official view, maltreatment was minor, and ‘the accepted policy was the downright British attitude that a German internee was a German, and therefore ought to stick to his country, and it was an underhand action to try to break down his pro-Nazi loyalty.’ This policy bore hard on waverers and opponents of Nazi thinking, who were exposed to the full blast of Axis propaganda. For some the camp proved a school of fascism; two Samoan boys, for instance, could speak no German on internment, but emerged as convinced Nazis.
The camp was closed in October 1945, and the last forty-seven internees released.
1 GGNZ to SSDA, 28 Nov 1940.