Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A Diet Of Lies.

Imperial Beast: Very few New Zealanders ever grasped what the rest of the world saw when it looked upon the British Empire: a huge blood-smeared lion whose sharp teeth and vicious claws struck terror into the hearts of all those too weak to resist them.

WE HAVE JUST CONCLUDED four years of commemorating the First World War. What amazed me about all that official amplification of 100 year-old echoes is how little new information it contained. As is the case with Sir Peter Jackson’s stunning colourisation and all-round technical enhancement of First World War film footage, we have learned nothing that we did not know before. Our troops wore khaki uniforms. Their buttons were made of brass. They sang as they marched. In a strange way, by being stripped of their black-and-white historical dignity, they have been rendered ordinary: indistinguishable from the inhabitants of the here-and-now. They look and sound like extras in one of Sir Peter’s movies.

Perhaps it was always so with official attempts to appropriate the past? To dress contemporary problems in antique costumes and pack the past’s dialogue with all the lies our masters would like us to mistake for history.

It is a task which, tragically, is becoming easier with every passing decade. Reading some of the comments to Mike Treen’s latest post, I was astounded by the number of readers who had no idea of what was happening in 1918. They were clearly astonished by Mike’s snapshot of the dramatic events which drove the Allied and Central Powers to sign the Armistice of 11/11. But, then, why shouldn’t they be astonished? The “official” commemorative programme did not appear to regard the revolutionary wave washing across Europe in 1917-18 as in any way relevant to the War’s end.

Those same officials were even more determined to keep from New Zealanders living at 100 years remove from the First World War just how authoritarian the government of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ was. Far better to simply go on insisting that the young men fighting and dying in far-off Gallipoli, Flanders and Palestine were engaged in advancing the cause of freedom, justice and democracy. Informing young Kiwis that their forebears were actually fighting to secure for Great Britain the strategic oil reserves of the Middle East might cause them to ask – given the number of wars (some quite recent) that have been fought for the same prize – whether it was worth the sacrifice of 18,000 young New Zealanders.

The historians’ problem is that they assume that everyone knows the story when, as Mike’s post makes clear, hardly anybody understands what actually happened 100 years ago. How the fighting ships of Great Britain, the world’s greatest naval power, had made the transition from coal (of which the British had plenty) to oil (of which the British had none). How the Brits key oil supplier, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, had suddenly become vulnerable to the intertwined military and economic ambitions of the German and Ottoman Empires. How the rapidly expanding German High Seas Fleet and the proposed Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway convinced the Foreign and Colonial Office that the Germans had to be stopped. How the British Government could have prevented the outbreak of war in 1914 – but chose not to. How the big losers of the First World War were, you guessed it, Germany and the Ottomans. How Great Britain’s new best friends in the Middle East all just happened to live on top of a sea of oil.

And it’s still going on. New Zealand, whose Governor-General, Lord Liverpool, declared war on Germany in 1914 without bothering to consult the NZ House of Representatives, remains a loyal member of the Anglo-Saxon “Club”. (John Key’s term for the “Five Eyes” security pact linking  Britain’s ‘white empire’: The UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; with that other great Anglo-Saxon power, the United States of America.)

The great disadvantage of being a member of the Anglo-Saxon Club is that it makes it practically impossible for most New Zealanders to see their country and its allies for what they are – imperialist bullies.

The present Coalition Government has made much of the “danger” China poses to the micro-states of the South Pacific. So much so that our Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, has declared the need for a “Pacific Re-set”. Exactly why the presence of China should pose a danger to the peoples of the South Pacific, while the ongoing presence of its former imperial and colonial powers does not, is never explained. It is simply assumed that “we” are the good-guys and the Chinese are the bad guys.

No one asks the question: Is it appropriate that Australia is essentially re-colonising Papua-New Guinea? Or wonders why the Australians have turned the tiny tropical state of Nauru into a sweltering island prison for Middle Eastern refugees, utterly destroying its democratic institutions in the process.

Most New Zealanders remain blissfully unaware that 100 years ago the New Zealand military occupation force of what had been German Samoa allowed a ship carrying the deadly influenza virus to dock in Apia. Or that, over the course of the next few weeks, that criminally negligent decision led to the death of fully one quarter of the inhabitants of the western half of Samoa. Or that, a few years later, New Zealand soldiers shot down unarmed Samoans demanding their country’s independence from New Zealand colonial rule.

We forget that both the British and the Americans, the good guys, held the Pacific peoples in such high regard that they turned their home islands into test sites for their atomic and hydrogen bombs. The radioactive fallout from these atmospheric tests poisoned the Pacific environment – along with the peoples who lived off its fruit, root vegetables and fish.

Such is the heritage of the Anglo-Saxon powers in the South Pacific. And yet “we” are not perceived to be a “danger” to its peoples. Rather it is the Chinese: a nation which has seized no colonies; created no pandemics; and exploded no nuclear devices in this part of the world who are considered “dangerous”. The country that kept New Zealand prosperous through the Global Financial Crisis is slowly but surely being transformed into our enemy, while the country that has imposed tariffs on our steel and which demands that we endanger our own health by dismantling Pharmac, is hailed as our “very, very, very good friend”.

One hundred years ago, New Zealand was a small but vigorous limb the great heraldic beast known as the British Empire. Being so, we were able to see only the great heraldic beasts identified as our enemies: the German and Austrian eagles; the Ottoman’s crescent moon and star. Having laid them low, we hailed our victory as a good thing. Very few New Zealanders ever grasped what the rest of the world saw when it looked upon the British Empire: a huge blood-smeared lion whose sharp teeth and vicious claws struck terror into the hearts of all those too weak to resist them.

Perhaps it is time for New Zealanders to give up their diet of imperial lies and learn, at last, how to digest the truth?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 November 2018.

19 comments:

Unknown said...

The versions of history that successive generations are exposed to through the education system colour those generations with the way they see the world, the rights and wrongs of decisions and actions of former generations evaluated in view of new horizons.
I can't disagree with anything you write here but I do believe we put too much weight on re-evaluating the past from the priorities and newly evolved perspectives of today. Personally, I'm aware of many New Zealanders -especially young men - who do seek out, read and consider the past in view of appreciating a more comprehensive view of the world. These same people are the one's who travel to explore, hear and see how it is in different parts of the globe. Their experiences, and their drive to exploring deeper gives me confidence that they will constructively shape global relationships with more acceptance of new and different ways of managing the planet.
Evolution with each generation presents new issues and problems but I observe generations who are prepared to stand up to government and seek better ways of living for themselves and the generations that follow. From history new horizons are shaped.

Tom Hunter said...

In a strange way, by being stripped of their black-and-white historical dignity, they have been rendered ordinary: indistinguishable from the inhabitants of the here-and-now.

It has often been argued that war is made much easier when you don't have to see the suffering up close and personal; the comments of many fighter and bomber pilots themselves have made that point as they contrasted their experiences to that of foot soldiers.

As such I would argue that it is precisely those things that Peter Jackson has done that you think are bad, that bring us closer together in time with those men and thus allow us a greater possibility of feeling the horrors they experienced and the sacrifices they made, and the pain of their loss.

The men in those upgraded and improved films and pictures are indeed more in the here-and-now than they were, and as such, we feel for them more than we did, and thus perhaps react more viscerally than we otherwise would against the next call of war. That really does look like my brother, my son, my father - in the here-and-now, where we can better feel the pain of war. That's a good thing.

Tom Hunter said...

The present Coalition Government has made much of the “danger” China poses to the micro-states of the South Pacific.
...
Rather it is the Chinese: a nation which has seized no colonies; created no pandemics; and exploded no nuclear devices in this part of the world who are considered “dangerous”. The country that kept New Zealand prosperous through the Global Financial Crisis is slowly but surely being transformed into our enemy,....


Not just this government. People like Scott Hamilton, Marxist professor of Reading The Maps and one of our foremost intellectuals when it comes to the Pacific Islands and their peoples, are also trying to alert people to the danger. I suggest you read this article of his on China's successful efforts at colonising Tonga: Croaking Cassandra: China. His piece on the CCP's man in NZ Zhang Yikun, and the analysis and critiques by the likes of Chen Weijian and Anne-Marie Brady are must-reads. Not to mention the rest of his articles on National kowtowing to China:
Todd McClay: “Abuses of human rights are a concern wherever they occur,” says National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Todd McClay, “however, the existence and purpose of vocational training centres is a domestic matter for the Chinese Government.”

Sounds like the Apartheid South Africa arguments all over again!

Even from a purely partisan view of sticking it to the National Party, let alone the ideological satisfaction at finding more evidence of National being increasingly "bought" by China, I would have thought you'd be getting stuck in? Yet here you are munching on the dry bones of our Anglo-Saxon / British Empire / US Empire connections and fretting about making China an "enemy".

As Hamilton said in another KB comment:

National gives its support to the Belt and Road strategy that is turning Tonga and a dozen other nations into neo-colonies, and warns Ardern against ‘provoking’ Beijing by sending ships into international sea lanes. The capture of National by China is infinitely more important than who leads the party, or the 2020 election.


That casts a different light on your undoubtedly true statement that, The country that kept New Zealand prosperous through the Global Financial Crisis. With the FTA signed by Helen Clark and the subsequent massive growth in our exports to them, we are now tied to them to a greater extent than we ever were to the USA.

peter petterson said...

Time to change sides Kiwis. You are all grown up. You might look like the Anglo-Americans but it is better that you accept the Asians as your masters? Yeah right Chris!

Wayne Mapp said...

I was tempted not to bother commenting on this item. You have your "truth," I have mine.

But at least I should point out that was Germany who invaded France, the principal aggression that bought Britain and the Empire as it then was, into the war. As you well know, New Zealand thought of itself as key stakeholder in the enterprise of the empire. Its modern existence flowing from the Treaty of Waitangi just 74 years prior guaranteed that. Therefore Britain's struggle was our struggle.

I would also suggest there was key difference between Britain, France , Germany and Austro-Hungary. The first two were democracies in the full sense of word. The world was better for Britain and France winning the war than if Germany had done so.

Anonymous said...


"the dramatic events which drove the Allied and Central Powers to sign the Armistice of 11/11."

Their allies, Turkey, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria had capitulated and the German Armed forces were getting a royal pizzling in the west. The revolutionary uprisings were the cream on the cake, not the cake. Blockade ensured there was hardly bread let alone cake.
Don't buy into the Hitlerite argument that Germany was never defeated. It was just spared.

Mick

Nick J said...

So nice to see the Empire put in perspective. Unfortunately it merely morphed into the US Empire with the same nonsense from the same ruling elites. The moneyed interests of London, New York and their representatives in NZ, interchangeable with those of Beijing no doubt.

The real question is whether the benefits of breaking away exceed the benefits of remaining? And if so how? We should not be so naive as to discount the very real benefits of belonging any more than we should ignore or be ignorant of the demerits.

Heraclitus said...

Well said Chris. Unfortunately the black hole of public memory continues to swallow fact leaving echoes of fiction behind. Just as the Empire protected its oil supply routes then, the 'West' now threatens China's oil supply with military bases positioned along the entire Arabian Gulf to China Sea route. China has no alternative supply and I can't see the Americans selling Alaskan oil to China.

Shane McDowall said...

You claim that Britain could have stopped the war in 1914. Really ? How ?.

They had no control over the German Army High Command who were hell bent on starting a war using a plan devised for a war with France alone, not a war with France and Russia.

When Plan A failed they had no Plan B and the result was a bloody four year stalemate.

And Britain went to war to defend their oil interests in Persia. Really ? And here was me thinking they went to war because of the German invasion of neutral Belgium.

As for Samoa, we took the place at the request of the British government to take out a radio station.

We should have left the place in 1919 and left the Samoans to it. Sadly, the only country to express an interest in taking over Samoa ... was Japan.

The Talune disaster was not deliberate. It was a terrible and probably avoidable disaster but it was a result of a combination of unfortunate circumstances - including Samoans ignoring customs requirements and ferrying off passengers BEFORE clearance was given. More than 20% of their population died and the shortage of labour caused a famine the following year.

As for "peaceful" and unarmed demonstrators being mown down - again the devil is in the detail. New Zealand Police tried to arrest one of the demonstrators and were attacked. Many of the Samoans WERE carrying machetes - as you do when attending a peaceful demonstration. The peaceful protesters murdered a New Zealand constable. When the police opened fire they did so at an enraged mob. Eight Samoans were killed outright and three more died over the following days.

Horrible and very tragic.

If I were PM back then I would have got the message and pulled out.

Judging how Samoa has fared since independence, I suspect they would have been in deeper economic shit than they are now as they would have had nowhere to send the burgeoning population - nowhere to get remittance money.

John Hurley said...

The reality is that nations have had to use power to survive. Look at NZ today and our "kind" PM who sees only individuals and not populations. Has she not noticed that the Chinese are taking over? http://www.scene.co.nz/queenstown-news/up-speccing-the-chinese-market/?

Tom Hunter said...

Dammit. The link to the Scott Hamilton piece on Tonga above, screwed up and I'd labled it incorrectly as Croaking Cassandra: China, which was actually the next link.

Anyway, here's Hamilton's piece on China and Tonga again, The Return of Ezekiel

Nick J said...

Wayne if you were to read The Phoney Victory by Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) you might be persuaded otherwise. Either way it will challenge a lot of assumptions.

sumsuch said...

Just commenting on your headline and first para. Contemplating today how there was so little firmity in my relations with others. All of us were compromised by the 'crooked ladder' we'd risen on. If 'mother's morality' applied to the world we wouldn't have to worry. The real crime of Italy, Japan and Germany was being late, but being (over-) directly inspired by imperialism. Inaptness.

Appreciate you speaking truth.

Geoff Fischer said...

Nick J wrote: "real question is whether the benefits of breaking away exceed the benefits of remaining? And if so how? We should not be so naive as to discount the very real benefits of belonging any more than we should ignore or be ignorant of the demerits."
Our various views on the merits of the wars of the past 120 years are shaped, even determined, by our tendency to either nationalism (and internationalism) on the one hand or colonialism (and imperialism) on the other.
Nationalists will be sceptical or even critical of wars in which the Realm of New Zealand fell in behind an imperial power (Britain, and latterly the United States) and sacrificed its own youth for the sake of empire.
Colonialists will defend such wars with the argument that it is "the price of belonging to the club" (meaning the price of being a colonial state within an imperial system).
So the question then is whether the price is worth paying. Should New Zealanders "discount the very real benefits of belonging"? In other words what would New Zealand look like if it had not engaged in the Boer War, WW1, WW2, Korean, Malayan, Vietnamese, Iraqi and Afghan wars?
I suggest that if New Zealand had stayed out of those wars it would be a much happier place than it is now. The domestic human suffering from the two world wars was huge, and the impacts can be felt two, three or even four generations later. These two wars, and the later "minor" wars, were also politically divisive. They pitted fathers against sons, divided ethnic communities and provoked violent internal conflict.
The supposed benefits - continued favorable trading relationships with the imperial powers - were entirely illusory. Neither Britain nor the United States expressed gratitude to New Zealand through guaranteed access for New Zealand produce to the imperial marketplace. Instead, Britain joined the EU, and the United States imposed punitive tariffs on New Zealand goods.
The next question is "What would the world look like if New Zealand had not joined in all these wars? To be frank, it may not have looked very different. The Russian army and proletariat would still have risen up against the Czar. Britain and France would have still have defeated the Second Reich in Germany and paved the way for the Third. Germany and Japan would have been defeated in the Second World War, Korea would have been divided, Vietnam united under the Viet Minh, Iraq reduced to chaos and Afghanistan would have slowly reverted to the Taleban.
The world would not be very different to the way it is now, except that Aotearoa might have shone as a small beacon of sanity and reasonableness throughout the madness of the twentieth century.
The last, and most critical question, is what will happen to New Zealand if it continues down the track of the past 180 years, the path of colonialism? For the answer look to those other small British multi-cultural colonies: Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Palestine, Malaya, Fiji and Sri Lanka.
If New Zealanders as a whole choose to reject colonialism and constitute themselves as a nation there will be difficulties to overcome, but the end result will be a safer, more secure, prosperous and harmonious society. The benefits of such a course for New Zealand are incalculable, and the flow-on benefits for the rest of humanity would be not insignificant.
If, on the other hand, New Zealanders believe that the question "Colony or nation?" is immaterial, or that the benefits of colonialism outweigh the costs, they are walking blindly into the abyss.


greywarbler said...

Unknown
This is the last generation to have agency. We haven't time available from Nature much less our human nature to think we can work it out over many decades , centuries. The young had better drag themselves away from playing John Wyndham's 'logical fantasies' on their keyboards, or seeing it on the films, and think, consult, do. monitor quickly check whether the action/s are achieving goals and helping all people in some way; then repeat. The mountains of mendaciousness and cupidity are high with new uprisings all the time. This morning on Radionz someone was talking about the Dark Web or something, that is being used to trade in drugs. He has funding for a three year exploration of this. That is not preparing new systems and thinking for the new, harsher future. In NZ apparently we can phone a drug order for fast delivery from some country that is expanding in all lucrative directions. We're soaking in this stuff already, which is a symptom of our real problems. We need to identify and seek solutions with close study by those who are humane as well as clever, which is received by similar politicians and leaders who can implement what is needed to start and advance plans in interlocking stages and fast. And have constant meetings and explanations with people round the country who want to see NZ continue as a decent country; a bit of Wild South but not the Wild West.
(I suggest that at meetings, people are encouraged to write one question down, and that each one will be answered, and all recorded. The nay sayers can be buggers for hogging the floor and the time available, and also the long-winded.)
Evolution with each generation presents new issues and problems but I observe generations who are prepared to stand up to government and seek better ways of living for themselves and the generations that follow. From history new horizons are shaped.

Nick J
The real question is whether the benefits of breaking away exceed the benefits of remaining? And if so how? We should not be so naive as to discount the very real benefits of belonging any more than we should ignore or be ignorant of the demerits.

I hear people talking about a possible future, that is a return to past good times, or develops in impossible ways. Your point features a view that we all must adopt; what is the best thing to do out of all the unpromising routes that we now perceive? When none is obviously good, we have to think. And remember Rutherford: "We haven't got the money, so we'll have to think”. We haven't, the world is trillions out of balance. Think, brainstorm, foresee outcomes and look for unintended consequences,
then look to see what keen people power can achieve, and direct money to where it can best be utilised, on many small projects, and not just on big ones where Mr Creosote can have too much of the pie.

greywarbler said...

John Hurley
I guess if you were in Ms Ardern's position you would be so coool. She may be using the diplomatic velvet glove with a firm hand beneath approach.
But I wouldn't trust most of you armchair political directors to make a successful movie of a cake stall.

Nick J said...

Grey, I always lo e it when Mr Creosote is mentioned, yes he is a big analogue for today's condition I reckon that before we can debate the real issues we need to recognise their incompatibility with today's common viewpoints.

Robert said...

Mr Trotters line about the United Kingdom about the UK being somesort of ruthless right wing global power controlling and interefering in the third world to maintain a stable order for capitalism is at least ninety years out of doubt. Whie it is true that there was some sort of British intervention iN iran in 1953 to overthrow some Chavez like regime which put the Sha in power, the justice and equality intended by the Iranian left was probably very much a unlikely assunption for most. Many saw the Shar as responsibe for quite a lot of enlightened reform particularly relating to the rights of women and the sane can be said for a lot of middle east military regimes notably those in states like Egypt and Tunisia. Those like Mr Bair and Hillary Clinton who choose to declare suppor for any self styled arab result with declares itself democratic and is usually some sort of islamic brotherhood front and a guarantee for violence and instability are not fit to rule and actually mean Putin and the Russians had some justification for increasing their magnitude of interference and supporting every disruptive interest in western elections to disrupt the Hillary Clinton campaign. THis is not unusual in the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet embassy in Canberra and Wellignton were heavily active in financing union opponents of Muldoon and Fraser and sponsoring activities and trip to Russian and Cuban peace festivals to encourage oppostion to visis to NZ or Australia by effective nuclear armed warships - I mean what sor of armament do they think the steam powered mega carrier US America 85,000 tons was carrying when it steamed into Wellington harbour in 1968 for rest and recration in 1968 with Vigilantee, Intruder, Skyhwawk and Corsair bombers , I would assume about 150 plus nuclear weapon and as many as a hundred on the Shangra La which visited in 1969 or the Intrepid which came in 1970 with A-4s, Crusadner F-8 fighters and anti sub helicopters. Its now a museum ship in New York.
Serious British intervention ended with its prolonged defence of Malaysia and Singapore from 1950-to 1966 that is why serious British defence efforts remained so long in this part of the world and the Royal Navy retained as serious air craft carrier strike force with the Ark Royal, Eagle and Hermes carrying Buccanear heavy long range missile and nuclear armed strike squadrons until the 1970s. Britain has not had a serious military since and France is actually the main ally of the United States. It is the French technique and systematic ultra violence developed in the war against Algerian rebels in 1956-1964 which is the whole basis for the US approach in Iraq and Afghanistan and the same French advisors and approach shaped the war by the Argentianian generals agains the left in Argentina that is why the Argies had Exocets, Entendads and FRench frigates

Robert said...

The point here is that France and Japan have been the only serious US allies since the end of the cold war. The French have a real aircraft carrier and can be relied on to have second thoughts about the morality of caoliton operations and not have embarrasing investigations, run by their media or Hager and Morse inspired personal courts of inquiry into waht are basically other nations military operations with NZ tagging along as as auxilary support really contributing no more than a flag.

Britain blair/ cameron age interventions in support of the US in Afghanistan and Iran/ Iraq have all been based on the presumption that the rest of the world is keen to accept he superiority of western morality and society and is keen to role over and change to being vigorous capitalist entrepenuers and acceptance of their women and offsprings being sold on the pen market. These assunptisn by christian wet boy Blair and his rather less and more disingenous Oxford advsiors are of course nonsense and shoud be regarded as evident today was a monthy pyghon farce, which is essentially what Britain is today It is certainly true that the Britsh army was keen to blood itself again in combat and completly misled Blair about their own competence and military reality. At the Time of the Falklands and even Sebia in 1995 the British army was still led by those whose memories and opeartional experience dated back to the end of WW2, Korea, Malaysia and Aden. .