To end all wars: the one that went that way


2014 is the centenary of start of “the Great War” – “the war to end all wars”. I was tempted to borrow from the Tui billboards but it’s all been said before.

We, the children of the veterans of the next big war, went through a New Zealand educational system that introduced us to the poetry of Wilfred Owen and others juxtaposed against the paintings of McIntyre. Television and war journalism brought some of the reality of South East Asian conflicts to us.

As we’ve grown older war and conflicts haven’t diminished even if New Zealand’s involvement is wrapped in terms like “advisor” and “peacekeeper”. We selectively support “democracy” and have no difficulty in intervening in the Middle East while ignoring sociopolitical behaviours of major trading partners – so what’s new?

We continue to despise contemporary pacifists and war opponents with the same determination shown to Archibald Baxter. Tied to stakes or contained in airport holding areas and embassies? Ironically we also vilify the often very young people we use in conflict who, when placed in unimaginable situations, behave with less than comfortable armchair ethics.

In the early 1980’s I was standing on a tube station platform in London and a very, very young man was struggling with a man-sized kitbag, backpack and bizarrely his army ceremonial sword. He was reporting for duty: he was going to Northern Ireland. My sister and I helped him get his gear on the train. I carried the sword.

We went to the RAF Church in London, St Clement Danes – we cried as we read the daily memorial page. Like the kid on the tube station platform we read the details of another kid who died in World War II.

we send young men out

to war

we push them out

and close the door

we close our eyes

when they do

the things

we pay them for








anzac day

Rosemary Balu


if you look in his eyes

you cannot see

where he has been


what he has seen

at 17

he has seen more

than a lifetime

he carries it all

inside his head

his eyes don’t disclose

the dead

the dying

the bin bags

the shovels

the troubles

the killings

the sword

I never knew him


saw him again

the freaked out young man


the tube station platform

she carried his pack


I carried the sword

I met him today

hair grey and cropped close

we talked


we laughed

but the ghost of the shovel

came out of his mouth

I looked in his eyes

but I couldn’t see


he had been



he had seen

Rosemary Balu


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