This month’s classic review is from Landfall 47, September 1958.
The cause of the struggle which began in Taranaki in 1860 and which went on for ten years to rack the North Island, cripple the government and nearly split the colony, could never again be so simply defined. The argument broke out as soon as the war itself, and at times raged a good deal more fiercely. It was praised as a war of civilization and condemned as a war of greed. Some thought it a protest against injustice and others a wilful rebellion; the government was alternately attacked for having started it and denounced for not getting on with it. The extremists on both sides hoped it would be a war of extermination. It was all very confusing, and unfortunately the confusion was in no way checked by the end of hostilities. Ever since, the causes and origins of the Maori wars – the greatest disaster in the country’s short lifetime – have been pored over with a morbid fascination; in pamphlet and in newspaper, in a bulky collection of polemic literature which began in 1861 and ended (if indeed it has ended) as recently as 1947. They have been subjected to searching scrutinies by Select Committees, Royal Commissions, judges and journalists, even by an ex-Minister of France. About the only thing this important historical problem had not received, indeed, is investigation by a good historian.