Every year in this fair little country of New Zealand, we “celebrate” Anzac Day on 25th April. We remember our “glorious dead” who fought in all those wars for king and country; beginning way back then with the Second Boer War of 1899 in South Africa, supporting our British countrymen in the British Empire’s fight against the “evil” Boers, to ensure South Africa could become a safe place for English speaking white men to colonise and rule over the black man.
Since then we have had the First World War where 100, 000 New Zealand men (and some women) were shipped overseas, out of a total population of just over 1 million people. 18,500 New Zealanders were killed in that ‘war to end all wars’ and more than 40,000 wounded. Anzac Day “celebrates” the day New Zealand and Australian troops along with troops from other parts of the Empire, India, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, India, and Newfoundland as well as French forces invaded Turkey (a German ally) at Gallipoli. The “Great War”, as it was once known, was initially at least, a European war to divide up the spoils of empire, with each countries’ soldiers the cannon fodder for money and power.
‘Only’ 2799 New Zealand soldiers died at Gallipoli attempting to break the Turkish defences in the harsh hills above the beaches, where 87,000 Turks died defending their homeland. Nothing in comparison to the many thousands killed and wounded in the trenches in Flanders and other parts of France; machine gunned, shelled and gassed by the “Hun” -the Germans.
Yet New Zealand collectively now glorifies Gallipoli; it was apparently (according to later New Zealand historians who should know) our “nation-buildng” exercise. Yet after that first world war to end all wars, every cenotaph
in every little town and city across New Zealand which named their dead, inscribed the lines “Lest We Forget”. In my imagination perhaps , it is ‘lest we forget” those who died for nothing, the horror, the stupidity , the inhumanity to man of soldiers at war; not “lest we forget” our glorious war dead. Let us not forget also, those brave conscientious objectors who also chose to suffer because of their fundamental objection to war. Let us not forget either, the many thousands of women and children who suffered at the hands of those damaged men returning from the wars; the family and community violence caused by the trauma of war and death.
The Send-off: a Poem by Wilfred Owen: -English soldier poet, 1918
And then we have the “good war”; the war against the Nazis and the Japanese between 1939 and 1945, where 140,000 New Zealand men and women were conscripted to fight overseas. Kiwi soldiers, while comparatively small in numbers, played a significant role in the European war against Germany and later against the Japanese in the Pacific. Could that war have been avoided without appeasement of Nazi and Japanese supremacism? There are many historians who say , that had the terms of the Versailles Treaty not been so punitive against Germany , German nationalistic fervour would never have produced such a cancer as the national socialists. Similarly there are those who argue that had the Japanese also been able to obtain their Imperial “place in the sun” , Pearl Harbour would never have happened. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
New Zealand’s obligations for self-defence against the Japanese is inarguable; The Japanese were planning to invade New Zealand as part of their Greater East Asia Co Prosperity Sphere, along with Australia. The evil of the Nazis is also inarguable and the horrors committed by them; New Zealand soldiers helped to bring those horrors to an end. Ultimately 11,900 New Zealand soldiers lost their lives in the second world war. However New Zealand is implicated in the war crimes resulting from the bombing missions undertaken by the Allies against German dams and the firebombing of Dresden. And, we might ask, why weren’t we opposing the Japanese in their 1937-1945 horrific occupation of China prior to Pearl Harbour in December 1941?
New Zealand’s role in wars since the second world war has (aside from several small UN peace-keeping missions) been less than exemplary. 4,700 New Zealand soldiers fought in Korea between 25 June 1950 to 27 July 1953, with 49 men killed in action. New Zealand (under U.N. auspices but without Russian attendance at that security council meeting ) was a party to the genocide committed largely by the Americans carpet bombing every North Korean town and city over that period.
Fighting as part of ANZUS, New Zealand enthusiastically supported the American pretext for invading Vietnam from 1963 to 1975 ( supposedly to halt the insidious spread of Communism across Asia), while the New Zealand national government supported the bombing by the U.S. of cities and towns across Vietnam Laos and Cambodia, causing more than a million deaths. 37 New Zealand soldiers were killed in that war and many more afflicted by the impacts of “Agent Orange”, the chemical warfare “defoliant” sprayed by U.S. planes over the jungles and hamlets of South Vietnam.
Once again supporting the U.S., New Zealand inserted a small number of troops into southern Iraq near Basra during the second Iraq War. While for most of its service there, NZ troops were confined to base, it is highly likely that NZ troops were well aware of the wide-spread torture and murder of Iraqi civilians in that area by British troops . New Zealand is, by its support of that war, also implicated in the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a result of a war based on the pretext of Saddam’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.”
New Zealand continues its commitment to “freedom and democracy” by supporting the Americans in Afghanistan. Initially promoted to the public as an incursion to eliminate Al Qaeda as a threat after the 9/11 bombing of the New York towers, the war has dragged on since its inception in 2001 and morphed into the elimination of the Taleban (an Afghan Pashtun tribal entity with previous links to Al Qaeda). New Zealand troops have likely been involved in capturing Taleban fighters and sending them to the US Bagram air base in Kabul for torture. A rather dubious analysis suggest that up to 20,000 civilian casualties alone have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001- the mortality figures for direct war impacts are likely to be in the many many thousands. ( the U.S. doesnt “do headcounts” anymore.)
New Zealand continues to be a key member of the U.S. run western intelligence community “Five Eyes”, which attempts to maintain the U.S state’s power and control over most of the world, and while NZ has publicly been cast in the shadows of ANZUS because of its nuclear-free stance, it in reality maintains an extremely active role.
However , even with the huge amount of information provided by internet and phone tapping provided to “Five Eyes” intelligence ‘experts”, it is clear that those security operatives have over the years since the second world war, acquired a farcical level of incompetence and lack of intelligence and judgment. Their wild misinterpretation of other states’ and non-state entities’ intent and motives has resulted in massive suffering to millions of human beings. It is highly likely that incompetence is not going to be changing any time soon.
In summary, ANZAC Day; that tribute of poppies and wreaths and guns , celebrates not our glorious dead, but the utter farcical futility of war and the greed of the powerful.
As the late and great Pete Seeger sang: When will we ever learn?