Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Impoverishment of a Nation

A few hours after I had uploaded my previous post, the news broke that Metiria Turei, the co-Leader of the Green Party, had resigned. 

On August 8th Checkpoint’s Mihingarangi Forbes had done a powerful piece on poverty in Manurewa, in which local people voiced a lot of support for Metiria Turei.

The following day, someone who was described as a ‘close member’ of Ms Turei’s family, contacted Checkpoint and alleged the wider family found it 'galling' that Ms Turei claimed hardship as a solo parent when in fact she had been given a lot of support from the family, including financial support.

Checkpoint put several questions to Ms Turei in writing, which she did not respond to, but instead phoned them to say that she had decided to resign, both as co-leader and as an MP.  In an interview with John Campbell, she addressed and refuted the allegations but said it had all got too personal so she had to step down. 

It’s not known who the family member was, why they took until the day after the Checkpoint programme to reveal this information, or whether they had spoken to Ms Turei before deciding to betray her in that way. For make no mistake, it was a betrayal. I cannot imagine how I would feel if someone in my family did something like that to me. 

We don’t know whether this person had a political agenda but, whatever their motivation, they must have known what both the personal and political consequences would be.  

The only good thing about the awful situation was that the kindest journalist in NZ carried out that very difficult initial interview so for a while at least we were spared the smug triumphalism of Ms Turei's highly vocal critics.

So here we are.  A Mãori woman  - who came from a working class background, studied to become a lawyer, raised a child and ended up as co-leader of the country's third largest political party –  started a critically important narrative about poverty and powerlessness in 21st century NZ.

She drew on her own experience of living on the DPB to give that narrative a personal touch - including the admission that, as a 23 year old, she’d not been accurate about the number of people she had shared her house with.

it's obvious that admitting to what amounts to fraud, even if it was of a low order of offence and committed 25 years ago, was a very risky strategy. Given the depths of anti-beneficiary sentiment in NZ and the prevailing rightwing bias in the media, it was always going to be difficult to steer the narrative and keep it positive once that fact was in the public domain.

Subsequent revelations about a technical breach of electoral law and suggestions that she had lived in the same house as the father of her child whilst on the DPB, muddied the waters even further. 

But, the appeals to a threadbare morality from rightwing politicians and the rightist commentariat did not diminish her support among poor and marginalized people or among those who care about them. 

However, the suggestion that she had embellished her situation for effect could mean the all important core issue of poverty and powerlessness would be obscured by uncertainty.

It was there in a question posed on RNZ two days ago ‘were you really in poverty’ and in Matthew Hooton’s claim that Turei was ‘upper middle-class’ – which is demonstrably untrue in terms of her background but which gained some traction when her in-laws were factored in.

Perhaps the intervention of this anonymous 'close' family member, which was more damaging than any of the preceding attacks had been, was just a coincidence. If so, it's a remarkable one and when there is a story in the media about a lawyer who has been struck off because she paid Dirty Politics stars Carrick Graham and Cameron Slater to help her ruin her ex-partner's career, it's surely not unreasonable to ask whether Ms Turei’s political opponents had been on the look out for someone who could help bring her down.  

Even if Ms Turei did embellish her personal story a bit - which is by no means proven - it's vital not to allow the self-righteous blowhards or calculating ideologues to distract or detract from the core issue  – that poor people in NZ today are suffering real, measurable harm.

Metiria Turei struck a chord with people who have been left behind. She told people who are mired in poverty that there is a way out; that she knew from her own experience how things are for them, and that positive change is possible. It is a message that they should hear loud and clear from the Labour Party but do not. 

The idea that the chord Turei struck might actually become a song, that the tens of thousands of poor and marginalized people in NZ might actually become energized, might be encouraged to engage with the political process and become a political force that could change the face of NZ poltiics - that could not be permitted. It was imperative that she be discredited, and so she was. 

The message that has gone out to replace Ms Turei's message of hope is : 

"look what happens even to a powerful and well-educated person who challenges us; we pulled her down and made it look as though it was all her own fault  - imagine what we could do to you."

I don’t think I have ever felt more ashamed of so many of my fellow Kiwis, or more proud of some others. 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

"Nobody should steal from taxpayers"

Rachel Stewart weighed into the Metiria Turei debate today : 

"For me, it comes down to this. Dress it up as a morality play all you like. Rich, poor, rightwing, leftwing, tax evasion, benefit fibs. Nobody should steal from taxpayers. And no amount of diversion tactics changes that fact. Turning Turei's voluntary pronouncement into some virtuous act of heroism is so far off the mark, the Greens have ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Which may explain why they are limping."

"Nobody should steal from taxpayers."   

There we have it - the classic knee jerk juxtaposition of 'taxpayers versus non-taxpayers’  which lies at the heart of all the moralising claptrap posing as rational argument and political analysis.

The divide between tax-payer and non-taxpayer is an ideological weapon - fashioned and wielded by people with a powerful ideological agenda.  

There is no simple divide between tax-payers and non-tax-payers but there is a simplistic one which is very active in the hearts and minds of those who want to demonise the poor and keep them in their place.  

The fact is that in NZ everyone’s a tax payer. The poor pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the affluent because they have to spend every penny they receive - whether in benefits or wages - and just about everything in this country is subjected to GST.  

'Ah, but beneficiaries are paid out of what hardworking tax payers earn."

As are politicians and the police and army and teachers and medical staff and civil servants....

A lot of beneficiaries will have paid tax in the past on what they earned - and would no doubt be happy to pay tax again if there were jobs for them which paid a living wage.  Many of them will have working parents and other family members who pay tax.

Tax is a contribution to a social fund which is a vital part of the social contract that binds a society together - which enables it to function. The vast majority of tax payers get far more value from their tax than the simple sum of what they pay as individuals.

A corollary of the simplistic tax-payers versus non-taxpayers argument is that the more tax you pay, the greater the say you should have in how it is spent - which would mean that big business, as the largest contributor, should have the power to dictate social policy.  

The fact that the poorest and most marginalised in our society attract both the greatest attention and receive the most vitriol says a lot about the health of our social contract - and none of it good. 

Businesses which hide their profits off-shore; rich people who tuck assets away in family trusts so they can be eligible for the $50k+ a year aged care subsidy;  people who employ accountants to minimise family income so that their kids qualify for state assistance while at college; landlords who price gouge when rents are being paid by the state; people who avoid GST by working for cash .... they may all be said to be stealing from the public purse but that sort of conduct is accepted as legitimate or even praised for being smart.

There is a deep vein of cavilling mean-spiritedness in NZ which is the bedmate of the irrational belief that the current social order is meritocratic. 

It’s a combination that results in some seriously unpleasant conduct - which is never more on display than when someone like Metiria Turei is in the frame.

The awful fact is that a disturbingly large number of Kiwis’ reaction has been to want to give her a kicking - and make no mistake, some of them would like that be a literal kicking. 

I happen to think that Metiria made a strategic error in admitting she'd lied to WINZ. She should have anticipated the backlash and the fact that it would be used to divert attention away from the Right's delinquency.  I believe her motives were genuine - she wanted to reach out to the people she knows are hurting under the harsh regime that's been imposed by another working class Mãori woman with a similar back story to hers.   I don't subscribe to the notion that she was looking for affirmation or whatever other pop psych explanations columnists can dredge up. Perhaps she wanted to follow Helen Kelly who openly admitted breaking the law in order to highlight its iniquities. 

Whatever, if you don't get the fact that this both exemplifies and exposes the class divide which the politics of the past 30 years has been all about both opening and obfuscating, then you are a fool or an ideologue - or in the case of David Seymour, both. 

So Rachel, for me it comes down to this : you are very clever, very articulate and now very influential and you just helped put the boot into a Mãori woman who came from a working class background, and who is an environmentalist with a strong belief in social justice.  

Way to go.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Fight or flight

I found this comment on Slaterblog some time ago. It was a response to the question of who was the ‘worst politician. It has a certain currency in light of recent events.

"The too sweet to be wholesome Aussie COMMIE REFUGEE NORMAN.Also the little fat ugly frog TUREI.Two pathetic assholes who seem to think we are all stupid and we cant see their hidden agenda of turning NZ into another North Korea."

Russel Norman is of course no longer co-leader of the Greens and Metiria Turei is back in the sights of the loud-mouthed and bigoted bullies whose knee-jerk reactions are so violent they have knocked themselves stupid.

I once questioned the ethics of horse racing on a Yahoo site and I was called a 'rabid PETA whore'; another genius came up with 'granola-eating kook'. There were several in similar vein – full of sound and fury and signifying – a great deal actually.

There are significant cognitive differences between those who have liberal political views and those who have conservative political views. These differences influence and go beyond, how they vote. 

The politically liberal tend to be more open minded and open to change; they tend to want to understand phenomena and, if what they find out doesn't fit with what they think, they're more likely to adjust their beliefs and their behaviour. The extreme end of the liberal spectrum could be a relativism that prevents meaningful political action. A person who argues that we cannot stand in judgment of other cultures/religions, and therefore we cannot impose our values on them even when their values are in direct contradiction of our laws ties themselves in both moral and political knots.

The politically conservative are more likely to respond with fear or aggression to things that challenge their world view, less likely to change attitudes or behaviour and, in the absence of facts, they may make up stuff to support what they already believe. The extreme end of the conservative spectrum is an absolutism that can lead to terrifying consequences.

Studies have indicated that those cognitive differences are matched by structural differences - most notably that the amygdala (flight and fight control centre) is larger and more active in the brains of people who are politically conservative.  

Whether that's genetic is simply not known, and in any event, how any given genetic inheritance is expressed depends on the social environment.  It's not nature versus nurture, it's nature combined with nurture. 

It might also be that the size of the amygdala is not the issue but how quickly and efficiently the more evolved parts of the brain kick in and rebalance and recalibrate the system -  for the simple reason that it is not evolutionarily advantageous to exist in a state of persistent fear, rage or disgust.

The bottom line is - when we are running on adrenaline we are less capable of being rational.  All systems seek homeostasis – acute or chronic imbalances can be highly destructive. If you lack a fear / aggression response you may be less able to survive the actions of predators - from within your own species as well as others. If you are in the grip of persistent fear / aggression, you may have a short-term survival advantage in some situations, but the hormonal storm will harm you in the longer term. This harm can take the form of being exiled from your group as well as the physical damage to a biological system that is unable to restore homeostasis.

Horses are a good exemplar.  As prey animals whose primary defence is flight, they have a hair trigger flight / defence response to perceived threats. This autonomic response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system powered by the hormone adrenaline which propels them instantly and explosively into flight. The energy maintenance hormone, cortisol, sustains effort.  It’s why we can make horses do things they would normally avoid – like racing at a flat out gallop over longer distances than any predator would chase them, leaping huge obstacles etc etc. 

But, rapid flight carries risk of injury and is energy intensive so, in horses which have acquired experience of the world, the brain assesses the nature of the threat and if it’s not worth expending energy and risking injury, the parasympathetic nervous system acts to re-establish homeostasis. 

It’s all very interesting and complicated but it has allowed me to construct a caricature to counterpose against those used against the Left, if there is a ‘loony-left’ it is only fair and just that there be a ‘ranting Right’ aka the Amygdala Brigade, the Right’s storm troopers.
I'm fascinated by the thought processes of the Amygdala Brigade.  I watch them with same sort of wary fascination as I would a 4-metre crocodile. 

Rightwing propagandists concentrate a lot of their malign energy on caricaturing environmentalists and the Left in general as 'loonies' and 'tree-huggers' or as 'closet commies' out to destroy our current -  demonstrably unfair, uneconomic, inefficient and ineffective - way of organising production. They do this to keep the Amygdala Brigade on full alert.

We should not be too surprised when the members of the AB behave as if they are totally Upminster (8 stops past Barking) when you consider that one of their most prominent members, John Ansell, in an interview with New Zealand’s premier morning news programme in the lead up to the 2014 general election, referred to Russell Norman as  ‘the Australian communist’.

Largely unchallenged by interviewer Susie Ferguson, Ansell was allowed to rabbit on at length about ‘the people who supported the thinking behind leaky homes could soon be in charge of state housing, Russell Norman, the Australian Communist (SF laughs) could be in charge of finance in 1 month’s time (SF laughs again) that sort of thing that's what the Nats are going to have to be running with (SF still laughing) the Cunliffe cabinet is going to be 1/3rd Green…”

The reason why became obvious later when John Ansell admitted he’d gifted his dubious talents to a campaign which made claims about Green politics which verged on the deranged. The idea was to damn the Greens and, by association, damn Labour, or more specifically, David Cunliffe.

Some time ago Ansell announced he was fundraising to form a single issue political party – to get rid of 'racial politics' in NZ. It seems he’d also fallen prey to the notion that Mãori are not NZ’s indigenous people because the Scots got here first, ergo the Treaty is invalid.  The Treaty is between the Crown and Mãori so in legal terms he was not on safe ground – but given the shaky anthropological ground he’d ventured out onto, that was the least of his worries.

But he was right about one thing – how to appeal to the classic ‘low-effort’, conservative thinkers who retreat to the safety of what they think they know.  They are out in full force over the recent Metiria Turei revelations. 

There’s not much we can do about them, but there are a lot of other people who are more open minded and reasonable.  What we must do is to keep pointing out to them which track National's train is really on and that it’s the shortest possible route to a socio-economic and political version of Tangiwai;  what we must not do is sacrifice Metiria Turei.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Human Kindness is Overflowing - Not

Metiria Turei took a political gamble in exposing herself to rightwing, media and bureaucratic scrutiny in advance of a critically important election. It was a naive move because the moment she admitted having lied to WINZ she put herself in the State’s power and risked losing control of the political narrative.

It was obvious those omissions, and anything else that emerged subsequently, would be used against her and would place her party and its political allies in a very difficult position. 

The Labour Party’s new leadership quickly decided it had to distance itself from her so as not to jeopardise its honeymoon with the media.  Turei resisted calls for her to resign as MP and co-leader and she was not thrown under the bus by her allies and colleagues but instead ‘voluntarily’ gave up her seat on it. 

The PLP could have stood beside her; it could have said that what is of far greater importance is that the system is weighted heavily against the poor and that the compassion gap both in the system and in society needs to be closed.

But they listened to the commentariat and the pollsters with their carefully worded questions and the howling of the Amygdala Brigade and Jacinda Ardern pointedly stated that if Turei had not stepped off the bus voluntarily, she would have pushed her off it. 

So, Turei is punished and Labour’s new leader has proven she’s tough enough to make it in the macho melee that is national politics. 

Labour’s so-called ‘dream team’ has set out its stall with the jaunty catch phrase “let’s do this’ - the provenance of which is less than auspicious given Clinton used it to respond to Trump’s nomination, after which Trump’s campaign took it up and threw it back at her.  It's sad that the first act of the ‘let’s do this’ campaign was to step aside while a Mãori woman threw herself off the campaign bus.

Turei is a decent and caring woman who, long before she even became an MP, took a decision to withhold information from WINZ so as not to have her benefit cut and who decided to confess to that in order to highlight an on-going and worsening reality for beneficiaries. 

But that’s lost to everyone except those who understand that sometimes you have to balance morality and principle against the letter of the law - especially when that law was written by ideologically motivated politicians and is being applied by ideologically directed bureaucrats.  

As to all those little people who Turei wants to help and whose plight she was trying to raise awareness of - they might have to wait as clearly it’s all still about fighting for the hallowed middle ground. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Lords of Misanthropy

A young man, not long out of his teens, walked to a concert venue carrying an explosive device designed to cause maximum damage to a large number of human bodies, his own included.  

He had chosen the softest of soft targets - a pop concert that attracted a mainly young audience. He detonated the device as people were leaving the venue.  The blast and the shrapnel killed and injured dozens of those softest of soft targets. 

Of the 8 people who have been identified as being dead at the time of writing this, 7 are women and girls. The youngest was just 8 years old.

In carrying out that act of appalling cruelty, the young man had to overcome two deep human senses - self-preservation and empathy towards other human beings. 

His preparedness to die and his inability to empathise with his victims were probably rooted in both a belief in an afterlife full of rewards for what religious ideologues define as acts of faith, and in a disconnection from, and disillusionment with the society in which he had lived his whole life.  

It's likely that a further ingredient in that already corrosive mix was a vicious misogyny that finds ready succour in fundamentalist sects within patriarchal religions.  

Judged by any rational and humane standards, the killing and maiming of the defenceless and the young, is as counter-productive, cowardly and dishonourable an act as it is possible to imagine. 
We are all entitled to ask what sort of god is it that demands such a cruel sacrifice as proof of faith?

The truth of course is that a vengeful, bloodthirsty god is both the creation and the reflection of vengeful bloodthirsty and power-hungry men who seek to elevate and justify their actions with the notion of divinely ordained right to take an eye for an eye.  The British state kills defenceless young Muslims by dropping bombs  on them, ergo it is justifiable for Muslims to kill defenceless young British people in retaliation. 

In order for a person to take that vengeful path and to stay on it to its bloody end, they either never had or have switched off the connection to other people's emotions and states of mind that marks us as properly formed social beings - as fully human. 

It's probable that this young man had been exposed to people who systematically stripped him of any empathy he had and filled in the resulting hole in his being with bitterness, intolerance and hollow certitudes.  

But, I have to wonder whether, for that to happen, he must already have been a deeply flawed person.  There are many people in his situation who feel deep anger and bitterness towards those they see as oppressors but who could never carry out such an atrocity.  

I find it hard to express how I feel about the sort of people who are easily manipulated by patently absurd propaganda - whether that be religious or political, who have a deformed sense of self and a crude and one-dimensional world view.  I understand and deplore the social conditions that led to some of them becoming so morally and psychologically malformed.  I might even feel pity for them - but probably not - their actions are just too awful and the consequences of them are too far-reaching. 

The consequences of their actions are not confined to the immediate deaths and injuries they inflict – they also serve to support the interests and extend the influence of malign men who would destroy the whole world rather than yield even a little of their power or budge an inch from their ideological position.

So, while I reserve my deepest loathing for the puppet masters who manipulate others from places of comfort and safety – I cannot forgive their puppets. 

And in case you think I am speaking only of radical Islamists - I draw no clear distinction between the likes of this morally defective young man and the pilot of an attack helicopter who guns down civilians in an Iraqi street, or the operators of a drone that slaughters civilians at a Yemeni wedding. 

They are all props holding up a global system, run by corporate cowards and political poltroons, that depends on bringing out the very worst in people. 

The way to counter that malign influence is to strive to bring out the very best in ourselves. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Trust Issues

The British Tories' proposal to take personal assets to pay for long term care for the elderly and people with dementia has proved so unpopular they have resorted to buying up Google ads in an attempt to stop people from reading about it and directing them to their website where their spun version of events is available.

Here in NZ there is a government subsidy for aged care which is payable when people have personal assets of less than $220k. Assets include savings and privately owned property, like houses. 

On the surface that seems reasonable - if you have a lot of assets you can afford to pay for your own care which frees up state provision for those who have no assets. However, dig beneath the surface and it’s demonstrably unfair and is heavily weighted in favour of the already affluent who are far more able to, and adept at protecting their assets because they can afford to employ accountants and financial advisors who know all the ways in which tax can be minimised, and access to state benefits can be maximized. 

They do things like create a Family Trust into which they settle their private assets. This can be done by selling the assets to the Trust or gifting them.  The settlors may make themselves discretionary beneficiaries, which allows them full and unfettered use and enjoyment of those assets until their death or the termination of the Trust, when their designated heirs - the final beneficiaries - inherit all the Trust’s assets or income from it.

The debt that is created when ownership of property is transferred to a Family Trust is considered to be an asset because the Trust owes the settlor/s the value of the property sold to it.  One way round that is to write off or forgive the debt.  Up to 2011 that could be done at a rate of $27k a year without incurring gift duty. 

So, if you had property worth let’s say, $1.5 million, which you settled in a family trust making yourself and your partner the discretionary beneficiaries and your children the final beneficiaries, writing it off at $27k a year meant it would take 55 years to completely forgive it.   

If you needed care, any monies that were owed to you were considered in the calculation of assets.  So, if you had forgiven $1m of the debt, the Trust owed you $500k which would take you over the asset threshold for aged care subsidy. 

In 2011 the National Party changed the law to allow people to forgive Family Trust debts in total and to gift additional assets without incurring duty.  One of the benefits of this was that people could transfer assets into a trust and forgive the debt more quickly, leaving themselves free to claim the full aged care subsidy - as long as the bulk of the gifting was done 5 years before claiming the subsidy which currently is in the region of $50k per annum.

It is not uncommon for people in retirement homes to have their license to occupy a unit owned by a FT which allows them to qualify for the state subsidy and receive a full state pension.  I know someone who - by virtue of having a microwave in her unit - also claims independent living supplement on her pension although all her meals / laundry / cleaning etc are provided by the facility.

My mother (who had assets over the threshold courtesy of the insurance settlement on her earthquake destroyed home) and who did not have the wherewithal to create hiding places for her assets, paid the maximum cost of her care until she died.  She was also personally liable for all the ‘extras’ the aged care sector pile on top of the $890-970 per week government subsidy (depending on area).  Pretty much anything that makes life in residential care a bit more tolerable, carries a significant additional charge.

There are other similar iniquities. If a person in receipt of an old aged pension or any other form of social welfare payment, is in hospital for more than 3 months, their pension or benefit, minus a small amount of pocket money, is clawed back by the government to offset the costs of the medical care. 

Only the state pension is treated in this way.  Someone can have substantial personal assets and be in hospital long term and not be expected to pay a penny but a pensioner on the basic state pension will simply have the bulk of it taken off them after 3 months.  

If the loss of that income threatens the person’s ability to maintain their home (payment of rates, insurance etc) they can make a case for those costs to be covered, but as with so much else, the onus is on them to do that, often in circumstances in which their ability to protect their own interests is at the lowest ebb.

So – if the Tories get in again and the UK follows NZ’s lead in forcing the sale of family homes to pay for care, there will be all manner of tax and banking loopholes that the affluent will be able to utilize to protect their assets.

And, if the care system is anything like it is here – the assets that a person is permitted to keep will be whittled away by all the things the state provision doesn’t cover which here includes the premiums imposed by the facility for such things as an en-suite shower room/toilet, a room with a view, a larger or a sunny room etc;  specialist visits (that are not publicly funded); transport to other services or to outside social events; toll calls, private phone or cell phone; newspapers, books or magazines; personal toiletries; recreational activities that are not part of the normal programme; hairdresser; dietician, podiatrist, or other services that have not been prescribed by a doctor and are not publicly funded; glasses, hearing aids and dental care.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows that the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes

Everybody knows
-Leonad Cohen

Saturday, 29 April 2017

"War, what is it good for?"

Guest Post by Roy Myers

Why do so many Kiwis persist in lying to their children?  

The rantings of a 12 year-old to peace activists at an Anzac Day service in Wellington caused me to reflect on the 'alternative truths' that misinformed this boy.

Anzac Day focuses on the First World War and takes its direction from remembrance events which emerged after that war. We are presented with statements which are repeated like a mantra without any apparent reflection on their meaning: 

“Our glorious dead.” 

“They fought for our freedom”.

Having read extensively about war and talked to old service personnel, it is hard to find anything glorious about it.  

The First World War was the mismanaged slaughter of millions and left those who returned, with scars that we now recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder.  When I was growing up there was a neighbour who shuffled around his garden, constantly shaking and switching his head this way and that.  When I asked what was wrong with him I was told it was “shell shock”.  

As AJP Taylor states in his history of the First World War, it was run by  commanders whose strategy was based on cavalry principles, fighting mechanical and industrial technology pitting human beings against powerful weaponry, that led to such a tragic loss of life.  Not glorious at all but bloody horrific and totally wasteful of human life and its potential.  

We must also remember that society at that time was stratified by class divisions and people were expected to do what they were told.  It was the same expectation of doing one’s duty, which drew New Zealand into the war in service of Britain, the metropolitan centre of the empire.

This brings me to the second piece of misinformation - that the war was fought for freedom. This is very much an alternative truth.  WW1 was a conflict between competing Imperial powers, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. These countries had been busily acquiring colonies, suppressing indigenous populations and fighting off competitors to meet the needs of their domestic industrial bases for raw materials. The point was reached when they had to turn directly to each other’s territories and consequently there was war in Europe. The war was not about freedom in any sense but about knocking out and subsuming the opposition. Those who died in WW1 did not ‘give their todays for our tomorrows’, but in service of imperial competition.

The end of the First World War set up conditions for the Second World War, 21 years later as an indirect result of the humiliation of Germany and the crippling reparations imposed on it.  The stricture of the post war years on the German people led to their support for Hitler and a Fascist dictatorship.  So, whilst we might argue that WW2 was fought in opposition to the totalitarianism of Fascism, the conditions that led to that ideology taking hold were born as an outcome of that earlier war.

The focus here like Anzac Day itself has been on war and on military casualties but there are two other aspects that we need to consider which Anzac Day ignores and the activists in Wellington were drawing attention to.

It is convenient to ignore civilian casualties but the fact is that war disrupts civil populations and, whilst the modern euphemism ‘collateral damage’ conceals the reality, there are always significant deaths of ordinary people in any conflict.

“We will remember them” but what about the civilian populations whose lives were sacrificed – should we not also remember them or is that too uncomfortable a truth which distracts from the “glory”?

This brings me to the ultimate irony of Anzac Day, which is that instead of being an opportunity to promote peace and avoid the horrors and waste of war, we actually celebrate war. The Anzac Ceremonies are organised along military lines, parades, buglers, military hardware and service personnel or people in military dress, old soldiers and medals all presided over by priests who conveniently ignore the fifth commandment.

“They grow not old as we who are left grow old”.  This ceremony, the pomp and cant that surround it are manifestly ideological.  It is not saying “enough of wars let’s avoid them”, it is saying that there is glory in war and that dying in the service of an incompetent commander may be necessary in service of  “your” country.  These ceremonies are not so much a remembrance of the sacrifice of the dead as keeping alive the ideology of war and the need to be ready for war.  It is the living embodiment of the well known poster featuring Lord Kitchener pointing commandingly  above the legend “Your Country Needs You”.

That’s what you are doing people when you lie to your children about war.

War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!