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The 109 fighting boys from the Mitchelltown School and District
by Graeme J. Davidson
11 November 2006

After interviewing frontline soldiers at the end of World War II, Brigadier S L A Marshall found that only about 15 percent of riflemen and 25 percent of elite special forces squeezed the trigger on an enemy they could see. Some soldiers even said they’d rather die than kill.

....At the top of Aro Street in Wellington, across the road from the bus terminal, there’s a memorial “erected in memory of the boys from the Mitchelltown School and District, who served abroad during the Great War of 1914-1919”.
....The Mitchelltown Welcome Home Association and Friends erected the monument. Yet, of the 109 who went on the great adventure to fight for God, King and the Mother Country, over a sixth never came home and many who did would have suffered lifelong physical or emotional scars. Seeing their names, a number obviously from the same family, brings a lump to the throat.
....Eighty-eight years ago today, in 1918, the guns fell silent. An armistice finally put an end to the mass carnage caused by using twentieth century technology with nineteenth century tactics.
In hamlets and towns throughout New Zealand, there are about 500 memorials to the 18,500 Kiwis who died and the 50,000 who were wounded in that war. Back then, those casualties represented nearly 7 percent of our population, and when the welcome home committees erected those monuments, we prayed that their sacrifice would bring peace in our time.
....That didn’t happen. 21 years later came World War II, and then our involvement in Asian and Middle Eastern wars, and, more recently, in anti-terror and peacekeeping missions in war zones.
Despite our peace rhetoric, do we have a dark violent side? When roused, will we kill to protect our interests? Or send our sons and daughters to do it for us?
....Actually, apart from an estimated 4 percent who are psychopaths, most of us are very reluctant to kill other humans, especially when we see the whites of their eyes. After interviewing frontline soldiers at the end of World War II, Brigadier S L A Marshall found that only about 15 percent of riflemen and 25 percent of elite special forces squeezed the trigger on an enemy they could see. Some soldiers even said they’d rather die than kill.
....To overcome this pang of conscience, the military now conditions recruits by using realistic human targets so that in the heat of battle they will automatically shoot to kill. As a result, during the Vietnam War and since then, over 90 percent of soldiers aim to hit the enemy.
....But there’s a cost to turning fighters into efficient killing machines quite apart from the waste of human lives through their deadly fire. Soldiers who maim and kill at close range are much more likely to suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
....In contrast, those who kill from a distance with shells, bombs and missiles have less personal fallout. Their victims are faceless targets who are collateral damage. Maybe, we too would agitate more for peaceful solutions to conflicts, and congratulate more the work of our peacekeepers, if we saw a less sanitised depiction of the victims of war in our media.
....When the Mitchelltown boys went to war, Crusader values from the Middle Ages echoed in Christian thinking. God was on our side. Sermons justified our cause. Prayers were for courage, victory and the safe return of our heroes. The enemy, of course, thought much the same as we did, leaving many cynical about religion and feeling that God was a lousy war referee.
....The idea that God might not have a favourite side is reflected in the prayer 22-year old Flying Officer Ernest Davey wrote before he was killed in action in 1944. It includes these words: “I ask no help to strike my foe. I seek no petty victory here. The enemy I hate, I know to thee is dear.”
....These days, the Church militant is a lot less militant. Tomorrow there will be the ritual Remembrance Sunday services throughout the nation, including at the Cathedral of St Paul, Wellington. Until recently, the military paraded their colours there with an armed escort. Tomorrow, the guard will surrender its weapons at the door.
....November 11 is when we reflect on those who fell. But Remembrance Day sermons and prayers will also emphasise the need for better understanding and cooperation between peoples, the work of our peace teams, and that those who have committed atrocities will face justice.
....In the UK, some people wear white poppies instead of red. They do that lest we forget our fallen – or how those who strive for peace are indeed blessed.





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