New Zealand’s strategy in the Second World War was successful. Its security was ensured by the success of the Commonwealth war effort, albeit within the wider Allied context in which the Soviet Union and the United States eventually became the key players.
Far from being physically damaged by the war – apart from the loss of 11,625 lives, the highest percentage of population in the Commonwealth – New Zealand emerged from the war better-developed than in 1939. A series of war measures had expanded its secondary industry, while its primary industries had been sustained by bulk-purchase arrangements. Careful financial management had ensured that inflation was kept under control and that New Zealand, which devoted a third of its national income to the war effort, had largely paid for its war effort.
The war had affected every element of New Zealand society, not least race relations. Māori and Pākehā had been brought together in unprecedented fashion. This brought tensions but also greater familiarity – and respect. The performance of the Māori battalion was widely acclaimed. A Māori migration to the city had begun, and accelerated after the war.
As in 1914–18, women had participated in many facets of the war effort, whether in the armed services, in factories or on the land. They gained new confidence in their roles and abilities, even if most returned to the traditional homemaking role in 1945.
New Zealand escaped serious damage from enemy action, but the war had a significant impact on the landscape. Pillboxes and other defence installations dotted the coastline. After 1945 memorials of various functional kinds – such as halls and swimming pools, rather than monuments – soon began to appear.
The war enriched New Zealand’s literary and artistic landscape. This included the mammoth official war history, a vast array of memoirs, some novels and many artworks produced by both official and private artists.
New Zealand came of age as a state during the war. Forced to act in its own right on the international stage, it established diplomatic relations with several states and formed a rudimentary foreign service. In 1945 New Zealand played an active part at the San Francisco Conference that brought the United Nations into being, campaigning – not wholly successfully – to ensure an effective security organisation.