Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Reluctant Jeremiad (Thoughts On The Latest Vice-Regal Appointment)

A Career of Blameless Excellence?: We must all hope that Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae is, indeed, that rarest of beings: a senior military officer who has never failed to do what was right - in a shooting war. It's certainly not something that can be said of the last Governor-General with a military background - Sir Bernard Fergusson. Not unless you consider torture and murder to be accepatble instruments of military policy.

THE APPOINTMENT of Lieutenant-General Jeremiah "Jerry" Mateparae as New Zealand’s next Governor-General has puzzled many New Zealanders. Hardly surprising, given that the last vice-regal appointee from a military background was British-born Sir Bernard Fergusson, way back in 1962.

Since Fergusson’s term came to an end in 1967, all those appointed to the position have been native-born New Zealanders – and none have been soldiers.

Sir Arthur Porritt was a distinguished doctor. Sir Keith Holyoake and Dame Catherine Tizard were politicians. Sir Paul Reeves was an Anglican Archbishop. All the others: Sir Dennis Blundell, Sir David Beattie, Sir Michael Hardy Boys, Dame Silvia Cartwright and the present Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, were judges.

There’s a very good reason why Fergusson was the last Governor-General with a military background. How many senior military officers are there who, at some point in their careers, have not found themselves involved in matters that really couldn’t stand the light of day? When the application of deadly force is the essence of one’s profession, moral failure is practically inevitable.

Fergusson was no exception to this rule. Had he been forced to withstand the same degree of scrutiny to which Presidential nominees to the United States Cabinet are subjected, Fergusson would never have made it to Government House.

It is highly unlikely that Keith Holyoake, New Zealand’s Prime Minister at the time of Fergusson’s appointment, was unaware of the very large skeleton rattling around in his new Governor-General’s closet. That it was not deemed sufficiently important to block Fergusson’s nomination merely confirms how subservient to the "Mother Country" New Zealand’s politicians still were in the early-1960s.

Their reticence is understandable. It was a time when the United Kingdom absorbed more than three-fourths of New Zealand’s primary exports. "God Save the Queen" kicked off the programme in every movie theatre. And royal visits sent normally undemonstrative New Zealanders into paroxysms of royalist fervour.

If Downing Street and the Palace considered Brigadier Fergusson the right man to take up the same vice-regal duties as his father and grandfathers, then not even his role in the torture and murder of an 16-year-old Jewish boy was going to persuade the New Zealand Government to disagree.

The tortured teenager’s name was Alexander Rubowitz, and he’d been murdered 15 years earlier in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.

Members of a Special Police Unit had arrested Rubowitz as he was pasting up posters on behalf of Lehi – a Zionist resistance organisation. He was bundled into an unmarked car and driven several miles down the Jericho Road. There he was tortured by the counter-terrorist unit’s leader, Captain Roy Farran. When Rubowitz refused to reveal the names of his comrades, Farran repeatedly struck him on the head with a stone, killing him. Farran then ordered the boy’s body stripped and disposed of in a roadside ditch.

The counter-terrorist unit responsible for Rubowitz’s death was the brainchild of Palestine’s Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Colonel Bernard Fergusson. He had persuaded his superiors to set it up in February 1947 to seek out and destroy the Zionist terrorist cells against which the British army of was fighting a vicious guerrilla war. The unit itself was made up of former SAS soldiers and modelled on the "Special Night Squads" established by Orde Wyngate (with whom Fergusson had served in Burma during World War II). Wyngate’s units – which were little more than death squads – had been highly effective in quelling the Palestinian Arab Revolt of the 1920s and 30s.

It was to Fergusson that Farran confessed the murder of Rubowitz on 7 May 1947. The record shows that the British authorities first instinct was to cover the whole thing up. Indeed, had it not been for the dogged efforts of a British CID officer the disappearance of Rubowitz (whose body was never found) would have remained a mystery. Even so, Farran escaped any punishment for the boy’s murder. At the trial, Fergusson’s refusal to testify – on the grounds that any answers would constitute self-incrimination – caused the prosecution’s case against Farran to collapse.

Fergusson, himself, was packed-off back to the United Kingdom where his staunch defence of a self-confessed murderer, and involvement in the cover-up of a war-crime, did not appear to do his career the slightest harm. He retired from active duty with the rank of Brigadier in 1958.

That Holyoake and his advisers were aware of Fergusson’s record in Palestine seems highly likely. The rumour-mills of the armed services grind away with no less energy than those of other large institutions. In the early 1960s, however, Fergusson’s moral failure would never have surfaced in the New Zealand press. Nevertheless, the fact that the New Zealand Government never again allowed Downing Street and the Palace to choose our Governors-General, and that no military person has been appointed to the position for 44 years, strongly suggests that Fergusson’s role in the "Farran Affair" made a strong impression.

Which is why the appointment of Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae is such a puzzle. Our news media has come a long way since 1962. In today’s much more transparent political environment, the slightest hint of a skeleton lurking in the closet of a Governor-General Designate is certain to be revealed.

Did no one in authority pause to consider the sheer unlikelihood of a senior military officer, in command of military forces engaged in the subjugation of a guerrilla army, in a theatre of war rife with reports of "terrorist suspects" being tortured and murdered, emerging from the process entirely innocent of even one serious moral failure?

It is surely a critical weakness of our current constitutional practice that the proper scrutiny of those chosen to fill the role (in the Queen’s absence) of New Zealand’s Head of State cannot be undertaken until after their appointment has been announced.

We must all hope that Jerry Mateparae is, indeed, that rarest of beings: a senior military officer who has never failed to do what was right – in a shooting war.


Anonymous said...

So Fergusson, by Trotter's logic, is morally culpable for the actions of his subordinates.

Specious at best.

And let's examine the actions of those subordinates: a Jewish terrorist happened to expire while under examination of the activities of other Jewish terrorists. Where, exactly, is the harm? More of this sort of examination might have led to a free Palestine and avoided all, read (for all you Left-wing scumbags that backed the Jewish State despite it's many crimes against humanity this point is emphasised) ALL of the problems that the West currently experiences politcally and economically with the Middle East.

Chris Trotter said...

That's right, Anonymous, especially when those subordinates are simply following the lead of the person who set up their unit and defined its mission.

The "terrorist" you refer to as "expiring" under "examination" was, in fact, Alexander Rubowitz, a 16 year old boy. Your deliberately distancing language betrays an indifference to suffering and an absence of empathy that confirms you as either fanatical or pathological - or both.

Those of us who retain sufficient humanity to be outraged by the murder of teenagers long ago learned to be wary of those who see the murder of Jews as the final solution to ANY sort of problem.

But thank you for revealing yourself to be a Nazi sympathiser - it saved me the trouble.

Sanctuary said...

"...So Fergusson... morally culpable for the actions of his subordinates..."

Never worked out why the boss has the big office in the corner and gets paid more than you, then?

Here is a newsflash for you sport: It isn't cos he/she works harder than you or is even necessarily smarter than you.

It is because he/she is responsible.

Anonymous said...

Why are doubts being cast on Jerry Mataparae? Do you know something we don't Chris? Personally think its great that a Maori has been chosen. Suck on that Henry :) John Chapman

Lewis Holden said...

"It is surely a critical weakness of our current constitutional practice that the proper scrutiny of those chosen to fill the role (in the Queen’s absence) of New Zealand’s Head of State cannot be undertaken until after their appointment has been announced."

It is indeed Chris - something that strongly motivates myself as a republican to advocate for change. The process is secretive, non-deliberative and moreover undemocratic. Even the so-called conventions of consultation doesn't appear to have been followed - Keith Locke stated the other day that the Greens weren't consulted in 2006 or 2011 over the Governor-General's role.

Anonymous said...

"We must all hope that Jerry Mateparae is, indeed, that rarest of beings: a senior military officer who has never failed to do what was right – in a shooting war."

I would put it to you that a senior military officer who has failed to do what is right is the exception rather than the norm.

But all in all an interesting piece. Also what shooting war? Joined before Vietnam so are you countng UNTSO or Timor as this ? If so a bit of a stretch..

BevanJS said...

So the Queen represents an organisation that "has never failed to do what was right – in a shooting war."

Anonymous said...

Chris I normally like what you write but you are wrong here - and your comments indicate exactly what is (doctrinally) wrong with the left today and why the right won in 2008 and will win in 2011.

Let's look at the other governor generals: not ONE of them was a servant of the state. Some were politicians, one was a doctor (who was undoubtedly a capitalist), and the others were judges (who undoubtedly were ALSO capitalists and many of which were probably also business owners and thus parasites)

Lt Gen Mateparae began as a private - not an officer - and yet his skills saw him elevated rapidly through the ranks. His career bears some similarities to Georgiy Zhukov, who should be a hero to all who supposedly espouse left wing values. He has always served the state, the epitome of socialism, and unlike those others you name has never gouged others for profit.

Any crimes he may have committed - and you have no examples - pale in comparison to even the mildest of those committed every day by lawyers in private practise.

Anonymous said...

The real flaw in appointing Mateparae as GG, is that he is the recently retired head of our armed forces, and current Director of the GCSB - one of 2 NZ spy agencies.

Either of these roles should preclude any candidate - we need genuine separation of powers. Military and spy heads should not be running the political wing or judicial wing of government. Even if the GG role is mostly symbolic, it has dramatic and very real legal powers!

Mad Marxist.

Tiger Mountain said...

A casual observer might assume that would be GGs need but possess two main qualities. 1) To in some way or another be connected to the ‘loop’ of current or very recent political office holders and 2) Have a significant capacity for sausage rolls and cocktails.

The only exemptions I would extend re recent Governors General are to Paul Reeves for a genuine performance with regard to racism in NZ, with a tiny honourable mention to current Gov. Mr Satyanand who acquired impressive Maori language skills, and as TV3’s doco portrayed, has way more earnt ‘kiwi cred’ than his erstwhile critic Paul Henry.

If we are saddled with this reheated meatloaf of an office then the least offensive types should preferably be chosen. The ‘pie and penthouse’ SIS bumblers are one thing but the GCSB could possibly be expected to be a wee bit more up to date and hence a worry for a still employed spook to be bestowed the Governor Generalship. However between them the two agencies could not save the big rubber ball at Waihopai from unarmed peaceniks. So how worried should we be? Somewhat at least given the new search and surveillance powers.

Mateparae is a pretty good fit on the face of it for tory selectors. Yes he is Maori, but clearly of the Hekia Parata branch. So it will be interesting to see where he turns up around the country, but not quite so interesting if he has to act or rubber stamp during a parliamentary crisis or impass, let alone support even more anti democratic laws.