When I first arrived in New Zealand over 30 years ago I was surprised to find a cenotaph in every little settlement and war memorial halls large and small all over the place. Coming from a country, which suffered much more horrific loss of lives in two world wars of not only soldiers but civilians numbering millions. I was not used to this sort of what seemed to me glorification of death.
The tens of thousands of women, children, the old and frail who burned to death in the allied bombing raids on Dresden just before the end of WWII did not – in the German language and thinking – commit the “ultimate sacrifice”. The millions of soldiers suffering terrible deaths mostly crying out for their mothers in their last moments of agony were not collectively labeled and worshipped as “heroes”.
One of the differences of course is that we won and Germany lost. Another is the fact that New Zealanders never experienced the effects of war other then the soldiers actually going overseas and going through the horrors of war on foreign soil and if they were lucky to return hardly ever talking about it.
This lack of first hand knowledge and experience created the perfect breeding ground for the myths and legends sawn and nurtured by the ANZAC poppy industry. A masterstroke of PR or more precisely propaganda turning one of the greatest military fuck-ups and defeats into something to be celebrated and aspired too by the young who don’t know better.
One who should but doesn’t know better is our Prime Minister, who floated the idea that for New Zealand’s latest military adventure in the Middle East our and Australia’s troops could appear under an “ANZAC badge” in reference to that great military disaster of 100 years ago. Thinking about it this might be even appropriate but not as Mr Key believes.
Which brings me to another surprise discovery when visiting war memorials.
I was brought up under the US/British re-education regime in post war Germany. I was told that militarism was bad especially the disciplined and efficient Prussian kind and militarism had to be purged from the German mind as so many European countries had suffered under the German jackboot. I believed that it was Germany, which was the greatest warmonger of all nations having started one war of aggression (WWII) and been punished for it.
Coming here I learned that New Zealand since 1900 fought at least 9 wars all putting our jackboot on foreign soil (South Africa, WWI, WWII, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bush senior’s-Gulf WarI, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia) compared to Germany’s just 3 (WWI, WWII and the former Yugoslavia).
New Zealand seems to have an itch to join any jolly war going as long as they can impress the “club” (the five eyes nations lead by the US) or “family” (the old British Empire) even if the conflict has nothing to do with us. New Zealand even offered a frigate to join the Malvinas/Falkland war but Margret Thatcher luckily said no thanks.
This is a sad history given that New Zealand is not situated in the middle of a conflict zone but far removed at the – one would think most peaceful – end of the world. One can only speculate what might be behind this default position we are stuck in. Michael J. Savage famous words declaring war on Germany referring to the motherland: “Where she goes we go!” still seems to hold true. No rational reasons for going to war needed.
In this tradition last week Prime Minister John Key did not have to give good reasons. These were all against spending another 60 million, risking Kiwi soldiers lives and drawing unwanted attention to this far flung corner of the planet jumping up and down in the face of radicalised Muslims shouting: Don’t forget us planning your next attacks. We are your enemy too.
But sadly reason does not come into it. It seems to only be a question of ‘guts‘. John Key clearly doesn’t have it as he would not send his son into harms way.
And please spare us the often regurgitated cliche of the hardest decision a government has to make to send our soldiers into harms way and taking a moral stand and doing “the right thing” or being on the right side sounding very much like George W Bush: “You are either with us or with the terrorists”.
The simple fact is that Key succumbed to the pressure from the US and UK to pay his membership fees for belonging to the “club” and being part of the “family”. He would not risk his next game of golf with Mr. Obama. He didn’t have the guts to withstand the pressure and expectation even if that meant acting against the best interests of New Zealand.
This is only a gesture and a cheap one too. The real price for being in the club is going to be paid by accepting the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) at the moment secretly negotiated by corporations and governments without any input from civil society.
But back to the not so small matter of war.
Looking back Helen Clark will be remembered as the first and so far only Prime Minister in our entire history who had the balls not to go ‘where she goes’. The 2003 Bush junior Iraq war proved to be an unmitigated disaster built on lies. Looking at New Zealand’s sad history of going to war so easily I always have regarded it as Hellen Clark’s greatest achievement to have kept us out of it.
Now Mr Key makes an unilateral decisions for us and in our name without seeking the approval of Parliament because he wouldn’t have a majority for another war.
This example of gutlessness not to stand up to the bullies Helen Clark stood up to in 2003 does not bear well for the by far more important issue of the TPPA being forced down our throats.
If our current Prime Minister doesn’t stand up to our so called friends the US and UK what hope is there against even bigger bullies: the all powerful international corporations.