Kandos and Rylstone History P.16
Who’s side is God on?
Presentation to Kandos High School Year 9 students by Rev Carla Archer
One of the things we have to remember about discussing the ethics of war, is that we are looking at it from the year 2000 point of view, not the 1914 point of view, and that makes a big difference.
In 1914, when Australia went to war, multiculturalism as we know it was definitely out, although there were many people in Australia that came from different races. In fact, in the first fleet there was a Negro from the West Indies as part of the first lot of immigrants. But in 1904 they passed a bill, called the Immigration Restriction Act, which in fact, could exclude anybody they wanted to.
So say John Smith wanted to come to Australia and they thought, ‘Undesirable type’, they would give you a dictation test in any European language you could not speak, and you would fail, therefore you couldn’t come in.
What they were looking for was people from the British Isles, and certainly in the period after Federation to 1914, 112,000 migrants came from the British Isles, but if you weren’t from the British Isles, you were excluded.
So when war broke out in 1915, Australians felt they were part of the British Empire, and they should go and fight for the Mother Country as they called it. The reason we have long service leave is to enable workers time to visit ‘home’ to England for their holidays. People thought of England as ‘home’.
To be an Australian, was almost to be British, and to be British, you were Christian. It was all moulded together. Most people went to church, and everyone bar a small percentage would claim to be Christian. In the census, 1/4 percent claimed not to be Christian. Aboriginals were excluded from the Census because they were not citizens until 1967 when we had the referendum to bring them into citizenship.
So when Britain went to war, Australia went to war. It would be like us fighting for Victoria or Western Australia. It was the thing to do. And they saw it as fighting against an evil power. They saw what the Germans were doing as evil, and used propaganda to express that.
This poster is appealing to the women of Queensland. Here you have the little virgin who has been ravaged by the awful Hun. The city of Moulin in the background is inflamed, reminding women that ‘this is how women and children of France and Belgium were treated. Do you realise that your treatment could be worse’, and so that’s how they started propaganda. ‘Send a man today to fight for you’. And so women were encouraged to send their husbands and brothers off to war.
Clergymen were part of the more educated group in society, and I say clergymen specifically, because the only clergywomen of the day would have been a few Salvation Army women. Clergymen were used to public speaking, and no matter what denomination they belonged to, they were for the war and thought that God was in control of everything and it would all turn out for the best. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney wrote, ‘War advances patriotism, wisdom, courage, fraternal to God, individual heroism and noble and manly virtues’ 8/8/1914, four days after war was declared.
There were some voices of opposition in the churches—one was a Methodist, and they were deprived of their living. Most people saw war as God’s way of getting rid of all the evil in the world. But on the other hand, most people thought it would all be over by Christmas. Troops actually thought by the time they arrived over there the fighting would be over.
So, in 1914, there was a very different attitude to war. Days were set aside in churches for fasting and praying throughout the nation, as they were also in Germany, Hungary and Austria, for they were Christian countries too.
Many clergymen thought the discipline of a war would make Australians live better lives and the war would bring out the noble side of people because of sacrifice. So at Christmas time, people on the one hand condemned violence and loved their neighbour and on the other hand accepted the reality of violence and carnage and destruction of war.
As the war progressed, the government had the clergy take telegrams to tell families of a death, so if you saw a clergyman coming down your street, you were really scared, because it always brought bad news.
Later on in the war, Catholics began to see things differently, because most of them were Irish and anti-British. Cardinal Mannix in particular, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Zealand, led a ‘NO’ campaign to conscriptions, because he saw it as fighting for the British, who kept the Irish down.
51 Anglicans, 8 Methodists, 6 Presbyterians and one Catholic clergy joined up as combatants. Many others went as Chaplains. Pacifism was not tolerated, because it was seen to be anti patriotic. If you were a pacifist, you weren’t Australian, you were wrong, wrong, wrong. People began to send white feathers labelled as a weakling, or coward, to pacifists.
Clergy were just people of their time and thought the same as others around them, so they shared in the propaganda the same as everyone else. Many people were glad to go to war because they believed they were destroying evil.
This poster by Norman Lindsay, the famous Australian artist, has no writing. It is of a German taking over the world, with blood spreading from England through Europe towards Australia. This is a very powerful poster.
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