Saturday, 28 November 2015

Window Dressing A Dark Reality: Why I Won’t Be Signing On To “HeForShe” Anytime Soon.

Through A Glass Darkly: Emma Watson's passionate advocacy of Popular Feminism at the UN Women's launch of the "HeForShe" initiative in September 2014 broke with 40 years of feminist process by inviting men and boys to become part of the struggle to end gender inequality. Bitter experience had taught Second Wave feminists that this was a struggle best fought by women, for women, and on women's terms. In the immortal words of Frederick Douglass: "Power concedes nothing without a demand."
“I AM INVITING YOU to step forward, to be seen to speak up, to be the ‘he’ for ‘she’. And to ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when?” That was the challenge thrown down to men and boys around the world by the British actor, Emma Watson, at the launch of the HeForShe movement in New York City last year. The brainchild of UN Women, the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, HeForShe openly solicits the support of men in the struggle for gender equality – tacitly acknowledging the success of patriarchal resistance to the further extension of women’s rights internationally.
Watson spoke movingly of her own conversion to feminism and of the many “inadvertent feminists” who had made it seem natural for her to be treated as an equal. But she also made reference to the declining influence of feminism as a mobilising ideology.
“I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”
Watson’s speech thus resurrected the line of argument which some of the early advocates of what came to be known as “Second Wave Feminism” deployed in their quest for male allies.
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence … Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.”
Subsuming the struggle for women’s rights in a grander battle for the freedom of both sexes did not, however, strike many 1970s feminists as a particularly effective strategy for securing their own liberation. Their personal experiences as political activists told them that any movement for gender equality in which men participated as full and equal partners would inevitably end up being dominated by men, and reflect a masculine view of the world. Women found their own voices much more readily in groups with a “Women Only” membership rule.
This herstory is well known to the New Zealand spokeswoman for HeForShe, Sue Kedgely. As one of the Founding Mothers of Second Wave Feminism in New Zealand, she is well aware of the movement’s organisational evolution. All the more surprising, then, that she should be the one inviting all good Kiwi blokes to don their shining armour and ride to the rescue of the world’s damsels.
Never backward in coming forward, Kedgely kicked off the New Zealand HeForShe effort, launched in Wellington on Friday (27/11/15) afternoon, by signing up the realm’s leading knight – and Governor-General – Sir Jerry Mateparae. Other high-profile fellas signing on to this noble, global quest to secure gender equality by 2030 include broadcasters Wallace Chapman and Jack Tane; economist and philanthropist, Gareth Morgan; and comedians Te Radar and Jeremy Ellwood.
If you’re a bloke and also feel moved to support this new cause of “Popular Feminism”, then simply pay a visit to the website and sign on.
Just be aware, though, that not every feminist shares Emma Watson’s views. Responding to her New York speech, feminist columnist, Clementine Ford, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 September 2014:
“It’s true that a person like Watson is very well placed to inspire people who may still be labouring under the weight of stereotypes regarding feminism, and that is undoubtedly cause for celebration. I applaud her for being brave enough to speak out when so many others haven’t. But feminists have been battling these stereotypes for decades and we will almost certainly be battling them for years to come because the unfortunate truth is that gender inequality is about power – who has it, and who wants to retain it. No amount of window dressing (for that is surely what the HeForShe campaign amounts to, given its entire breadth seems to be asking men to click a button and download a twibbon) is going to change the systemic global oppression that results in women’s degradation, subjugation and death in persistently high numbers. And it isn’t, as some have suggested, ‘tearing another woman down’ to want to discuss that reality.”
To which, as a “He”, I am happy to stand and say to that particular “She”:
“Right-on Sister!”
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Saturday, 28 November 2015.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Build Now - Save Later

Little Edens: These new houses bear testimony to the success of the Waimahia Inlet Special Housing Area in Weymouth, Auckland. At between $350,000 and $540,000 each, however, these houses are still far beyond the resources of those in the most urgent need of accommodation. Houses for the poorest New Zealanders are still in critically short supply. Tackling homelessness now will reap significant social benefits in the years to come.
WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT so reluctant to get its hands on the housing crisis? Reviewing its performance over the past seven years, it is clear that John Key is prepared to do just about anything to reduce homelessness – except build the houses that people so desperately need.
In Auckland, where the crisis is most acute, Dr Nick Smith keeps announcing the creation of Special Housing Areas (SHAs) to streamline the building consent process. Nine more of these were promulgated by the Minister for Building and Housing on Monday, bringing the tally to 106 SHAs – space for upwards of 48,000 new homes!
Dr Smith is inordinately proud of his creation. But, having made space for all these mini-Edens, the Minister, like the Creator God of the Book of Genesis, has simply blessed the property developers, instructed them to “be fruitful and multiply”, and withdrawn from the scene.
Actually building houses, in numbers sufficient to significantly reduce homelessness, is not something this government believes the state should be doing. It is the National Party’s firm belief that the actual process of house construction should be left to the market’s “invisible hand”. (Presumably, the one wielding the invisible hammer!)
Unfortunately for Dr Smith, the Market has so far displayed minimal interest in constructing homes for poor people. (Or even, it must be said, for tolerably well off people.) According to the Labour Party’s Housing Spokesperson, Phil Twyford, the Auckland City Council has been able to account for only 102 houses completed in Dr Smith’s SHA’s since 2013.
“We now officially have more Special Housing Areas than actual houses built in them”, quips Mr Twyford. “The consenting rate still languishes at 4300 below the 13,000 new homes Auckland needs every year just to keep up with population.”
It’s important to understand that this exchange between Dr Smith and Mr Twyford is not about homes constructed for the poorest New Zealanders. These two politicians are merely debating the building of homes per se. In some parts of Auckland, the average price of one of these per se homes is fast approaching (or long ago exceeded) $1 million dollars. Hardly the sort of small change your average, poverty-stricken Kiwi family is likely to find down the back of the sofa!
Labour’s housing policy (assuming it remains Labour’s policy) is called Kiwibuild. It envisions the construction (by private developers) of 100,000 “modern affordable homes” over ten years for first-home-buyers.
Just how the very poorest New Zealanders are supposed to pay for a “modest entry-level home” priced at around $300,000 Labour does not explain. (And that $300,000 figure, cited when the policy was first released back in 2012, has likely inflated to around $500,000 in the current Auckland property market.)
Kiwibuild would, however, assist a great many young, middle-class couples into their first home – which is, unquestionably, a good thing. But, it would do little to address the acute shortage of low- and no-cost emergency accommodation which is presently forcing Maori, Pasifika and immigrant families into doubling- or tripling-up with relatives and friends. That’s when they’re not driven to sleep in caravan parks, under bridges, or in their cars.
The Finance Minister, Bill English, has, for some time, been arguing for a whole new approach to managing the burgeoning cost of New Zealand’s welfare state. By intervening early, says English, the State can save millions – quite possibly billions – of taxpayer dollars. Children raised in poverty, whose lack of a stable home environment often requires a host of extremely costly state interventions in later life, could, if targeted early for state assistance, end up becoming net contributors to society.
The rapid construction by Housing New Zealand of thousands of units of emergency accommodation would not only contribute to the well-being of thousands of New Zealand’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, but would also largely pay for itself. Well-designed, warm, and energy-efficient, such units could be provided free-of-charge – at least initially – while their occupants lives were restored to some sort of order. Once family life had stabilised, regular rental payments could begin.
English’s actuarial approach to welfare would require considerable political courage to implement. The trick, electorally speaking, would be to demonstrate the huge potential savings in Vote Health, Vote Education and Vote Corrections. National’s slogan could be: “A tax-cut to every voter who provides a future for every child.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 November 2015.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Leaving Jiangxi: Tat Loo Marches Out Of The Labour Party.

Despairing Of Reform: Dunedin-based Labour Party dissident, Tat Loo (aka "Colonial Viper") told fellow members of the Anderson's Bay-Peninsula Branch that the Labour Party "is now lost at sea but does not appear to recognise that fact." Their response was a vote to put the branch into recess. Loo advised his comrades that he wanted  "no part of propping up the Thorndon Bubble careerist ‘pretend and extend’ set" and was "moving on to new political projects".
TAT LOO, like the ceremonial Chinese lion, is a potent mixture of playfulness and ferocity. Intelligent, articulate, passionate, politically impatient and singularly unwilling to suffer fools gladly, he set his sights on the Dunedin Labour Party about three years ago – and has only just run out of ammunition.
At a Special Formal Meeting of the Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch of the Labour Party held in South Dunedin on Sunday afternoon (22/11/15) Loo and about twenty others announced that they were putting their controversially resurrected branch back into the constitutional limbo from which they had called it forth. Loo, himself, relinquished his executive role – but not before using-up all his remaining shot and shells in a scathing farewell to a Labour Party he had, finally, despaired of reforming.
“Several of the current officers and LEC delegates of the ABP Branch have become deeply dissatisfied with the performance and direction of the Labour Party both locally and in Wellington and no longer wish to remain in their roles or continue supporting the party.” Loo explained in a posting on the Labour-aligned political blog, The Standard.
“Labour’s inability to be consistent in opposing the neoliberal corporation-drafted Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the softening of the stance against the 90-day right to fire, the ethnically divisive and ineffective tactics against Chinese property buyers in Auckland, the voting for National’s inequitable and discriminatory social welfare reform legislation, and the support of National’s spying and anti-terrorism bill,” said Loo, “all point to a Labour Party which is now lost at sea but does not appear to recognise that fact.”
Loo’s conclusion was grim. “The palpable sense conveyed has been that apart from minor tinkering, there are no likely or viable prospects for positive, real progressive change coming from the Labour Party in the foreseeable future.”
The veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, writing on the POLITIK blog, suggested Loo’s departure was not something over which the Labour hierarchy was likely to lose much sleep: “In fact [President Nigel] Haworth and leader, Andrew Little, might well regard the move as a minor victory in their quest to make the party more relevant to mainstream New Zealand.”
According to Harman: “Anderson’s Bay was exactly the kind of left wing Labour branch which enabled Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the British Labour party, a move which now threatens that party with divisiveness and possible electoral ostracism.”
This is nonsense. Corbyn was nominated by a clear plurality of “constituency organisations” – the equivalent of New Zealand Labour’s “LECs” (Labour Electorate Committees). The disaffection in British Labour extended throughout the entire party and its affiliated unions. Had support for Corbyn been restricted to a handful of left-wing branches the 66-year-old backbencher could never have been elected.
New Zealand’s “Corbyn Moment” came three years ago at the 2012 annual conference held at Ellerslie in Auckland, when the party rank-and-file rebelled against the parliamentary caucus. It was around this time that Loo’s public profile began to grow, especially after his Standard pseudonym, “Colonial Viper”, was “outed” by Dunedin-based opponents of the Labour Left’s champion, David Cunliffe – of whom Loo was a strong and vocal supporter.
Indeed, it is almost certainly the “Peace of Palmerston North” – shorthand for the restoration of more-or-less cordial relations between the party rank-and-file and the parliamentary caucus that was plainly in evidence at the party’s 2015 annual conference held in Palmerston North earlier this month – that accounts for the timing of Loo’s decision to recess the Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch.
After the long list of political “sins” detailed in his statement, Loo was clearly devastated by the party’s quiescent response to what he saw as the Caucus’s continuing perfidy. The “revolutionary moment” had clearly passed, and with it any good that the rebel Anderson’s Bay-Peninsula Branch might have hoped to achieve. The curious failure of David Cunliffe to fire in the 2014 election, and the catastrophic defeat it presaged, has reduced the Labour Left to a demoralised and thoroughly chastened rump.
Time to go. Loo’s parting shot was delivered with considerable accuracy at the Grant Robertson-led faction of the party, which, he believes, is slowly-but-surely gaining the upper-hand in the Little-led caucus. “We want no part of propping up the Thorndon Bubble careerist ‘pretend and extend’ set any further and will be moving on to new political projects.”
Like Mao Zedong, Tat Loo is gathering what remains of his revolutionary army and setting forth on his own “Long March” to Ya’nan.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Wednesday, 25 November 2015.

Dictatorship Or Chaos? The Only Choice Left In The Middle East.

A Room Full Of Spiders: Shia militiamen training in Iraq. Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. The curtailment of civil liberties that characterises dictatorial regimes has often been considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
“SADDAM WAS A FAT BLACK SPIDER high up in the corner of the room. You knew where he was, and kept as far away from him as possible.” As a description of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the metaphor was memorable enough, but what the young Iraqi woman said next was unforgettable. “Now that Saddam has gone the room is full of spiders. You can’t watch them all, and you can’t keep out of their way.”
Living with dictators is never easy, but if events in the Middle East since 2003 have taught us anything, it’s that living without them is impossible. There’s a simple reason for this. The conditions that give rise to dictatorship are generally so appalling that the curtailment of civil liberties that inevitably follows their establishment is considered an acceptable trade-off for the peace and stability they bring with them. People living in these circumstances know that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t democracy – it’s chaos.
Let us give the West the benefit of the doubt and say that its leaders failed to grasp this obvious truth. Let us assume that when Tony Blair declared Saddam a monster, and insisted the world would be a better place without him, he was being sincere. Let us accord the same honour to President George W. Bush, and assume that he, too, was speaking sincerely when he told the US Congress, in his 2007 State of the Union address: “The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity.” Where does it leave us?
It leaves us contemplating a number of brutal truths. The first, and the most brutal, being that, even allowing for Blair and Bush harbouring only the best of intentions, the answer to “the great question of our day” is that America and her allies cannot build free societies in the Middle East. And that the men and women living there will not be sharing the political rights of Westerners any time soon.
That being the case, the West’s choice is no longer between dictatorship and democracy; it is between dictatorship and chaos. And, given that chaos is the only thing the West’s intervention in the Middle East has created, there is really only one positive choice to be made, and that is to back those military/political leaders with the best chance of maintaining, and/or restoring, peace and stability.
In terms of the present security crises precipitated by the Islamic State, and the deadly chaos of Syria’s civil war (out of which the Islamic State emerged) this can only mean recognising what the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has understood from the very beginning; that the best hope of peace and stability in Syria, and eradicating Islamic State, resides with the Baathist government of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is what Emile Simpson, former British Army officer and author of War From the Ground-Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics, is calling the “cold realism” of the  West’s diplomatic and military future. Writing for the conservative American magazine, Foreign Policy, Simpson predicts:
“The post-Paris war on terror will affirm the West’s commitment to fighting radical Islamic terrorism, but, in the process, it will reject the idiom of revolutionary, moralizing democratic change inherited from President Bush. Syria was the end of the line for that approach. This new phase will assume that terrorists are nonstate actors, and will take the view that if you have an international system built around strong sovereign states — no matter how brutal or unconcerned with human rights — life becomes much harder for nonstate armed groups, including terrorists. This is simply a reflection of the new realities we face, not a celebration of that shift.”
Democrats will stand aghast at this unapologetic re-emergence of Nineteenth Century realpolitik. They would, however, be wise to curb their outrage. The Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Assad family were, indisputably, ruthlessly oppressive in the context of political rights. When viewed from the perspective of the economic and social rights these secular Baathist regimes delivered, however, the picture changes. Modern systems of public education and health opened up the prospect of a more prosperous life for both men and women. Large-scale state interventions generated both jobs and, by Middle Eastern standards, prosperity. Most important, in both Iraq and Syria, the Baathists kept Islamic fanaticism under tight control.
All of which raises the worrying question: Was it really dictatorship that the West was determined to eradicate from the Middle East – including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States? Or was it Baathism? Were the men behind Blair and Bush actually betting that their long-term interests would be better served by “a room full of spiders?”
If so, then they lost the bet.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 November 2015.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Labour And The Art Of Deckchair Rearrangement: Andrew Little Re-Shuffles His Shadow Cabinet.

Doomed Exercise: The proverbial rearrangement of the Titanic's deckchairs has come to symbolise the sort of activity that serves no useful purpose. Andrew Little's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle comes perilously close to fitting this description. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas, rather than people, that he needs to start bringing forward.
SOMETIME THIS WEEK (the date keeps changing) Andrew Little will announce his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The refreshed line-up of senior Opposition spokespeople will be the electorate’s best guide as to who will be doing what in the next Labour-led government. Barring unforeseen circumstances, and unforgiveable cock-ups, Little’s promotions, reappointments and demotions will be the last such exercise before the 2017 General Election.
Very few New Zealanders will pay much attention to Little’s final choices. Labour’s ranks, thinned by successive and increasingly severe defeats, contains nobody upon whose shoulders the burden of the electorate’s hopes has yet descended.
This is not 1977, when the occasion of the Mangere by-election threw up the gargantuan figure of David Lange. This lawyer-turned-politician was not only larger-than-life but also (and this was the crucial point) larger than the incumbent Labour Leader, Bill Rowling.
For the next five years, the big question, both in and out of the Labour Party, wasn’t if Lange would replace Rowling as leader, but when. Observing the deep impression the new Mangere MP’s ebullient personality, vicious wit, and soaring rhetoric was making on the public imagination, those Labour MPs determined to steer their party in a new direction lost no time in recruiting him to their caucus faction.
The "B-Team" - aka "The Fish and Chip Brigade". David Lange, Michael Bassett, Roger Douglas, Mike Moore.
The Party President of the time, Jim Anderton, referred to this faction, derisively, as the “B-Team”. The truth of the matter, however, was that Roger Douglas, Mike Moore, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and, of course, Lange himself, constituted the most creative and dynamic group of politicians to be found within Labour’s parliamentary ranks. Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the ideas they were espousing, there was no disputing that theirs was the team to beat. Everybody understood that when Rowling fell (as he did, eventually, in 1982) things were going to change.
That is the way it is supposed to work in parliamentary democracies: Change is supposed to find her champion, and then, through the ballot box, acquire the power to make things happen. For good or ill, Lange guided the country out of the cul-de-sac into which Sir Robert Muldoon had led it, and the policies of Sir Roger Douglas (and his Treasury advisers) went on to change New Zealand fundamentally.
Nothing and no one of such prodigious capability lurks in Little’s caucus. Not only has Change failed to encounter a champion among its ranks, but she also struggles to find anyone interested in making much happen at all. Such reforms as Labour promised at the elections of 2011 and 2014 have been ostentatiously wiped from the agenda. And such rhetorical skill as Little is able to summon to Labour’s cause is of the sort that serves only to polish the achievements of the past. Lange’s extraordinary oratorical power; his ability to paint a future in which New Zealanders were eager to take up residence, is nowhere in evidence.
Certainly, there is nothing about his finance spokesperson which calls to mind the incandescent passion of Roger Douglas. Grant Robertson is not the sort of person who quotes Neitzsche, writes alternative budgets, or publishes a book entitled There’s Got To Be A Better Way. Although entrusted with heading-up a special party commission dedicated to The Future of Work, there is scant indication that Robertson’s investigation is likely to produce anything that The Listener wouldn’t be proud to publish.
The Wellington Central MP could, of course, be hiding his light under a bushel, and the final report of The Future of Work Commission could end up calling for a dramatic reduction in the length of the working week; a radical reformation of the law regulating workplace relations; state-subsidised retraining; and the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. But a Labour caucus willing to embrace economic and social policies of such radicalism is unlikely to look and feel as somnambulant as the one Little leads.
The latest public opinion polls in the UK are registering a sharp upward spike in support for the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party among the 18-25 and 26-35 year-old cohorts of voters. Though well behind David Cameron’s Conservatives in overall terms, this surge of support from the young is of enormous importance to British Labour’s future as a viable political party.
As Little prepares to lead his re-shuffled shadows into Labour’s centenary year, he needs to consider whether his party’s future is likely to be rescued by people, or policies. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas that he needs to start bringing forward.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Monday, 23 November 2015.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

What I Believe - A Social-Democrat's Credo


Challenged by the uncompromising content of my latest posting, “Capitalism Kills”, some readers of Bowalley Road have challenged me to state my own beliefs. Accordingly, I have hunted out part of a presentation I delivered to the Labour Party Summer School held near Thames in January 2007. For all those who have been asking me to spell out what I stand for – this is my answer.

I BELIEVE that human societies arise out of need. The need for food and shelter, the need for intimacy, the need for nurturing, and the need for protection – both from natural dangers and the aggression of our own species. To secure these needs human beings must work, individually or collectively, but always with the ultimate purpose of keeping strong those innumerable threads that bind our communities into a functioning wholeness.
The source of fulfilment of these human needs is the natural bounty of the planet on which our species dwells. Human beings are but one of the countless life-forms which inhabit the Earth’s surface and we share with them a fundamental dependency on the planet’s life-giving properties.
Alone among all the creatures of the Earth, humankind possesses the power to radically alter the fragile environment of its home. Such power bears with it an awesome responsibility. Our own future, and the future of all other living things, depends upon our willingness to accept that what is possible is not always desirable. To ensure its survival, the human species must recognise the limits of its power.
In New Zealand, two peoples co-exist in differing states of awareness of the essential collectivism and dependency of human communities. The indigenous people possess a clear and poignant vision of humanity’s place in these islands. But the colonising peoples would not rest until the ideas and institutions of their respective cultures had taken root in New Zealand. To the extent they succeeded, the conflicts and contradictions of their homelands were also transplanted here. Resolving these conflicts and contradictions, and discovering the best means of prospering together, is the historic task of the two peoples fated to share these islands – Maori and Pakeha.
As a social-democrat I am dedicated to furthering in all aspects of my country’s social, political and economic organisation the essential equality of human beings. Social-democracy defines equality in terms of the universality of human need. Old or young, male or female, Maori or Pakeha, we are all defined by the human and ecological relationships indispensable to our existence. None of us live but by the bounty of nature and the collective exertion of our fellow human beings.
That being so, we must reject all claims hostile to the reality of our interdependence. Individuals and groups who through inherited advantage or simple good fortune are endowed with disproportionate wealth and resources, enjoy their property on the sufferance of that vast majority whose daily labours make possible a functioning society. Only for as long as, in the judgement of the many, the accumulation of property by a fortunate few serves the interests of the community as a whole, will the private control of wealth be permitted to endure. Any attempt by a minority to transform this dispensation into a system of permanent and unchallengeable privilege cannot be deemed just.
As a social-democrat I look to the state, as the institutional expression of our interdependence, to secure for all citizens a healthy and abundant life. The provision of gainful employment, education, health, housing, and the guarantee of protection against the arbitrary curtailment of the citizens’ capacity, individually, to determine freely, within the constraints imposed by their interdependence, how best to pursue their own happiness, are rights due to all New Zealanders. Political institutions and the laws they create exist to secure these rights, drawing their authority from the freely given consent of all responsible citizens. Those charged with governing our country, hold in trust the resources – both natural and social – that are the common property of all our people.
Being a social-democrat, I cannot countenance the arbitrary dispersal of the New Zealand people’s resources, nor the slow fragmentation and dilution of their rights. Neither will I surrender the sovereignty of my nation to the interests of foreigners. Though the fundamental kinship of all human beings is indisputable, New Zealand’s destiny, finally, must be the enterprise of New Zealanders alone.
This essay was posted by The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Sunday, 22 November 2015.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Punishing The Barbarians

Imperialism To The Rescue? United States infantry storm the walls of Beijing as part of the Eight Nation Alliance's successful attempt to put down the "rebellion" of Boxer terrorists and restore "civilised values" to the benighted people of China. But, the actions of the imperialist powers in 1900 are regarded very differently with the hindsight of 115 years. How shall the West's imminent actions in the Middle East be judged in 2130?
IT WAS CALLED “The Eight Nation Alliance” and it had but one purpose: to punish the Chinese people. In 1899, the Shandong peasantry had resolved to drive all “foreign devils” out of their country, rising in their thousands under the leadership of a secret society known as the Brotherhood of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. The British, with characteristic disdain, referred to these patriots as “Boxers”, and dubbed their uprising the “Boxer Rebellion”.
By 1900 the Boxers were close to achieving their goal. They had shamed the Empress Dowager, Cixi, into supporting their movement and with the assistance of the Chinese army had the “foreign devils” bottled up in Beijing’s diplomatic quarter.
It was the unthinkable prospect of these legations being over-run, and their terrified inhabitants slaughtered, that persuaded the world’s leading imperialists: Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, the USA, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Japan; to announce the formation of a joint force to lift the siege and restore the status quo ante.
The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, felt obliged to mark the departure of his own nation’s contingent with a speech. If you ever wondered why, in both world wars, the German’s were referred to as “The Hun” – wonder no more:
“Should you encounter the enemy,” said the Kaiser, “he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”
Confronting the Yellow Peril: The Christian West is enjoined by the archangel Michael to strike down the Asiatic threat from the East.
Needless to say, the Eight Nation Alliance – whose forces numbered in excess of 45,000 soldiers and marines – made short work of the poorly armed and inadequately led Chinese forces. Beijing was sacked and the Forbidden City ransacked of its treasures.
Never again would the imperial powers of Europe and Japan go to war alongside – as opposed to against – one another. Just 15 years after the subjugation of China, the members of the Eight Nation Alliance were tearing themselves to pieces in the First World War.
Of course, had you been reading the newspapers of the period, the foreign intervention in China would have seemed entirely reasonable. In an era when the Christian churches of the West were filled-to-bursting every Sunday, the stories of Christian missionary families being beheaded, burned alive, raped and even crucified by the brutal Boxer mobs, left Europeans feeling stunned and sickened.
These were not civilised people to be reasoned with. Indeed, the suicidal tactics of the Boxer “rebels” – many of them armed only with swords and spears – charging headlong into the murderous fire of the allies’ Maxim guns (an early type of machine-gun) struck the “reasonable men” of 1900 as the very antithesis of civilisation. In their ears, the bombastic racism of Kaiser Wilhelm did not sound nearly so shocking as it does in our own.
Perhaps the leaders of the world’s great powers should pause to contemplate the difference 115 years can make to way people interpret the behaviour of their forebears. In the minds of Presidents Hollande and Putin, the case for bringing together another Eight Nation Alliance to crush the barbaric Islamic State no doubt seems as strong as the arguments for punishing the murderous Boxers and their treacherous Empress Dowager, Cixi.
That the egregious behaviour of the imperial powers made such an uprising inevitable would have been dismissed by the political leaders of 1900 as an outrageous slur. The British Government’s open support for the 19th Century opium trade, and its callous indifference to the enormous suffering it inflicted on the Chinese people, went largely unremarked. With the benefit of 115 years hindsight, however, Britain’s culpability is as obvious as it is detestable.
How shall our own generation of political and military leaders appear from the perspective of 115 years in the future? Given the West’s numerous interventions in Middle Eastern affairs since World War II, will the atrocities committed by Islamic State strike our great grandchildren as any more worthy of historical condemnation than the atrocities of the Boxers?
As China is today, so may the Islamic world be in 2130. What will its judgement be?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 November 2015.