Editorial: Wars are not easy to avoid

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signs the Munich agreement in 1938, an attempt to prevent war. He pursued the ...
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British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signs the Munich agreement in 1938, an attempt to prevent war. He pursued the path of peace but war still happened anyway.

OPINION: In the 1930s, the lessons from World War I had been learned.

Sparked by an assassination, the conflict escalated as country after country made good on their alliances, found expression for their ambitions and moved to settle old scores. The war was widely viewed as one giant and terribly costly mistake.

There must be better ways to resolve international grievances, it was rightly reasoned. Out of the ashes of the Great War came the League of Nations, designed to settle disputes in a civilized fashion.

Anzac Day is a chance to remember the sacrifice of New Zealanders in war.
JARRED WILLIAMSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Anzac Day is a chance to remember the sacrifice of New Zealanders in war.

But disputes were not settled and the world marched toward a second global conflict.

READ MORE: 
* Anzac Day numbers on the rise
* Young and old remember Anzacs
Interactive: The Gallipoli story
* Heed lessons of the past

 

War-wariness was at its height when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to appease German leader Adolf Hitler by agreeing to Nazi occupation of part of Czechoslovakia. When Chamberlain declared "peace for our time" had been secured in 1938, he did so amid a cheering crowd of Britons.

Less than a year later, he declared war and condemned Hitler. "His action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force."

In 1940, when Chamberlain resigned, his language was stronger still.

The overwhelming lesson from World War II is this: Pursuing peace does not always result in peace.

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As Anzac Day nears, the lessons of both wars are to the fore in a volatile world.

There is no perfect formula or ideology that makes war obsolete. Humans are as flawed as they always were, and countries and groups of people have interests to protect. For the idealistic, the trouble is that might makes right: The powerful always have the upper hand.

Putting politics aside, the power of Anzac Day is in its uniting message: We shall remember them.

Australian war correspondent and historian Charles Bean's great conviction was that the loss of 60,000 Australian lives in WWI ought to make a difference in the future of that country.

More than 18,000 New Zealanders lost their lives in WWI. And in New Zealand, Massey University war historian Glyn Harper has made real-life accounts of the Great War accessible, even to children. For it is ordinary lives that have been ended, wrecked and immeasurably harmed in WWI and other wars. 

There are no easy answers, but understanding the sacrifices of war – balanced by the need to stand up for what's right – can only be helpful.

Gallipoli - The first day

 - Stuff

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