Manawatu Gorge road needs re-evaluating

Once again, the Manawatu Gorge road is closed by a slip. The latest slip is expected to take until mid-May to be cleared. As people who use the gorge road regularly resign themselves to another bout of waiting for it to open again or take alternative routes, it is time to consider the long term future of this slip prone road.

There is an underlying problem that people need to recognize. The problem is not in the road itself, but in the underlying geological strata, which is soft and easily erodible sedimentary material. Because of that, this is a recurring problem that engineers, road users and planners are simply going to have to learn to work around.

State Highway 3 is a major highway that runs between Woodville in the Wairarapa and Hamilton in Waikato. Probably the largest contributor to State Highway 3 traffic and benefactor of it is Palmerston North, on the Manawatu plain west of the Tararua Range.

But the slips are frequent, often substantial in size and clearing them can take weeks at a time. During this period there is significant financial penalty for the communities at either end of the gorge, and significant costs incurred by transport firms such as trucking companies which have to either delay or divert or even put their cargo on rail. Because of these and other problems, it is necessary to evaluate the options for transport and long term remedial work in the gorge.

Manawatu Gorge also has a railway line running through it, though this has numerous tunnels which protect from the slippage problems associated with the road route. One option would be to significantly increase the railway capacity for freight through the gorge. However this would be a long term solution rather than a short term one and would need input from Kiwi Rail.

Although it does not really suit road freight, a second possibility would be to upgrade the Saddle Road route. However this highlights a second problem as farmers need to stand their stock from feeding four hours before travelling so as to keep the resulting effluent to within the capacity of their rigs. It also raises the question of whether this road is really suitable for carrying large vehicles, given its windy nature and grades.

Slips are going to continue to happen in the gorge. This means that long term consideration needs to be also given to whether or not such measures as roofs need to be considered that enable the smaller landslides to pass over the road and go straight into the Manawatu River. One issue here is that slips are the cause of their toe support failing, which means the slip is likely to happen at or below road level. Terracing the potential slip prone slips is expensive and would involve significant alteration of slopes and not necessarily be guaranteed to work.

It would seem that rail is potentially the best option for freight. However there is no passenger service, due to insufficient demand, which means people needing to use the route either take the Saddle Road alternative or they drive to Porirua, over 100km to the south and back up via Featherston – a trip of nearly 250 kilometres.

But as the problem is in the geology and not necessarily the road, this is going to be a continuing issue.

New Zealand impotent in North Korean crisis; U.S. needs to be careful

As the world watches nervously the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea’s incandescent rhetoric, and the United States and South Korea showing a united front against the regime, a two island nation in the South Pacific is wondering what use it could be in the situation. And at the same time, hoping that the United States does not forget or deliberate exclude the one nation that can settle the issue decisively – and possibly without war:


So let us look at why China is central to the whole situation There are four reasons. Each is a good reason not even the U.S. can ignore.

China (1): China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to prop up the regime when it looked like falling. I would be willing to guess that if the United States too unilateral action against North Korea, the Chinese would in the first instance mass a huge number of troops on the North Korean border – possibly upwards of 500,000 with supporting armour and support from the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China (2): President Xi Jinping is a Chinese Trump. China is an adversary in many respects because Xi wants to make China a world power again too. Mr Xi has a vision, though, which is reinforced by domestic and foreign policy. He wants it to have naval reach it did 500 years ago. How Mr Xi would react to an attack on North Korea is unclear, but the implications of his vision are clear: China will not sit by and have its influence eroded by anyone including America.

China (3): China’s Communist regime will do absolutely anything to ensure that there is not any more democratic nations on its land border, especially on the Korean Peninsula. China’s human rights record is shocking because in order for the Chinese Government in its current form to survive, they must have control of citizens across an ethnically, culturally and – if it were permitted to be expressed politically diverse geographical region. Why do you think they spend almost as much on cracking down on dissent, crushing protests, jailing people, maintaining a Great Firewall of China and executing people?

To maintain control.

China (4): China could crush North Korea tomorrow. It has the economic, political and military means to do so. But it won’t – at least not without Beijing’s authority and influence being assured by the U.S.

So, where does this leave an island nation in the South Pacific with regards to North Korea?

The long and the short answers are both: largely impotent. The most we can do, is what we are already doing, except that perhaps having talks with South Korea about what we could do in terms of offering more non-military support other than backing them in anything that happens with regards to North Korea in the United Nations.

What is the meaning of A.N.Z.A.C. Day?

On A.N.Z.A.C. Day at a memorial service, a man and his 12 year old son had an angry exchange with peace activists. The activists were . In doing so it seems to have triggered a debate about the true meaning of the day when New Zealanders and Australians come together to commemorate their past in war.

There is no doubt that the interpretation of what A.N.Z.A.C. Day means differs considerably from one to the next, from person to person; from group to group. The accuracy of what people think as opposed to what its stated purpose is, is even more diverse. According to the Returned Services Association (R.S.A.), the meaning of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is to acknowledge the past sacrifices made; to understand that war is not nice and to make sure that what happened in past wars is not forgotten, and the horrors never repeated again.

My own interpretation of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is the similar to that of the R.S.A. There is nothing about it that tries to glorify war. Do the veterans that are still alive think that it was fun and that they enjoyed themselves? Hardly. Normally when you talk to them about comrades that they lost and  the mental scars it inflicted on them . When they hear The Last Post and the three volleys that often follow, for many of them it is quite a painful moment tearing up at the memory of all those whose funerals on foreign battlefields that they attended.

This contradicts activist groups such as Peace Action Network who frown upon nations having a military for defence. For them there is no need for an armed military capable of protecting a nations sovereignty. Peace Action Network  and their fellow organizations have 364 other days of the year in which they can protest. They can protest (peacefully!)when dignitaries come to visit New Zealand from other countries. They can write letters, e-mails, create/sign petitions, organize debates and so forth.

It is true that I have some sympathy for their work. The amount of expenditure going on in terms of individual nations defence against perceived and real threats is quite staggering, and some arms programmes such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a totally unneeded venture. The destabilization of nations in order to pursue the obtaining of raw materials is often carried out in order to justify defence expenditure that would otherwise have been cut.

But on A.N.Z.A.C Day I solemnly believe the day to belong to the people who have served in the New Zealand Defence Force in the past and not come home; the people who served and came home, but possibly have painful memories or were wounded. And finally it is for those that current serve in the armed forces, irrespective of rank.

But it is not for Peace Action Network and like organizations.

Time to compensate nuclear test witnesses

There is something eerily beautiful about the signature of the most sinister, most terrifying invention man has conceived. Watching a mushroom cloud rise after a nuclear weapon has been detonated is one of the most – for all the wrong reasons – shockingly mesmerising sights. Even veterans of nuclear test veterans have been impressed by the clouds.

Numerous New Zealanders in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailed to various test sites around the Pacific to witness tests. Mururoa (French Polynesia) and Christmas Island (British/Indian Ocean)were common destinations. But from those clouds came something truly dreadful. As the fire ball expanded in the sky in atmospheric or above ground tests, as the water of calm aquamarine lagoons exploded in tests at places like Johnston and Kwajalein (U.S. sites), Mururoa (French), and Christmas Island, vast quantities of gamma rays were emitted. Although the servicemen were stationed on ships or observation points some distance from the explosion, they would have felt the heat from the initial flash and seen the flash, particularly if the exploding device was a thermonuclear one with a yield in the megaton range

Many of the New Zealand sailors involved witnessed British testing during Operation Grapple. These were a series of nuclear weapons tests during the early stages of British thermonuclear weapons development. The yields ranged between 24 kilotons and 3 megatons. New Zealand Navy ships acted as weather vessels during the test. They would remain near the tests for a time after the explosion when fallout was occurring.

In the  late1960’s France undertook nuclear weapons testing of devices with yields of up to 2.6 megatons at Fangataufa Atoll (the 2.6 megaton test contaminated the atoll so badly it was not used for 6 years). Then France moved to Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. New Zealand sailors witnessed nuclear tests conducted in the 1970’s by France at Mururoa Atoll with yields that ranged between 1 ton (thought to be a safety experiment)to 955 kilotons.

To this day I do not believe a single Government in possession of nuclear weapons can truthfully say it has been totally transparent about the effects that nuclear testing has had on those in the armed forces that witnessed the tests. Only the United States, Britain and France can say that they have offered any compensation or otherwise made an effort to acknowledge the significant medical effects being exposed to the levels of radiation that they were, would have had. Certainly not Russia or China, where a lack of Government transparency means only activists and investigative journalists taking significant risks to their well being have tried in vain to expose the testing activities and the fallout consequences for those down wind.

The New Zealand Government has never fully acknowledged the effects of nuclear testing on New Zealanders who sailed to these locations. Nor have successive Labour or National led Governments made an effort to compensate those victims found to be displaying the symptoms of fallout from these explosions. The best chance for New Zealand veterans to get compensation is based on research that was proposed in 2016 by Brunei University to undertake chromosomal research into veterans of the British nuclear weapons testing programme.

The Government says that we appreciate what our veterans have been through.

No. No we don’t. Until these veterans get assessed for illnesses related to their exposure to nuclear testing, those effects acknowledged in full and in public and they receive appropriate compensation, this is a bald faced lie.

Recognizing the Geneva Conventions in war

On what is the most solemn day on the New Zealand calendar in 2017, it is appropriate to pause and reflect on the country that we are. It is appropriate to recall the the atrocities that happened and why international laws were introduced to provide protection for soldiers on the frontline – the mass murder of surrendered combatants; death and the handling of insurgents and insurgenices was the cause of much concern during World War 2. New Zealanders such as but not limited to Nancy Wake were heavily involved in the training and arming of the Free French Resistance. They ran incredible risks and would have been subject to prolonged and brutal torture by the Gestapo if caught.

With the exception of the Featherston Camp incident where 48 Japanese Prisoners of War were massacred in February 1943, New Zealand’s conduct in regards to the Geneva Conventions as they were understood then was exemplary. The reputation as being a feisty bunch was well earned, and respected by friend and foe alike. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel went so far as to describe the New Zealanders as the finest enemy troops his forces fought as evidenced by the likes of Sir Charles Upham, one of only three people to be awarded the Victoria Cross AND Bar for his bravery at Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt in July 1942.

So it bugs me in no uncertain terms that the exemplary name of the New Zealand Force is being shat on by its senior officers and the Government by their refusal to order the inquiry that will either vindicate the Defence Force or apportion blame. New Zealanders need to know and New Zealand credibility is on the line. The New Zealand Defence Force is well regarded around the world and its professionalism is held in high regard in New Zealand as an employer and referee for those that are moving into other roles.

When I pause to give thanks on A.N.Z.A.C. Day 2017, I shall also be giving thanks to the Geneva Conventions, the work of the Defence Force over the years making sure that this most important law covering the treatment personnel in time of war is not forgotten. Sacrificial lives the innocent civilians who died in the incident involving the New Zealand Defence might be to Mr Brownlee and Mr English. To a lot of other people including myself, if the allegations are true, they were people who simply did not need to die and whose deaths are big black stains on the New Zealand Defence Force. Stains that the Defence Force could have avoided.

Stains that the Defence Force SHOULD have avoided.

So, on Tuesday morning, when I go to the A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, along with thousands of others and give thanks and shall remember the many thousands of Defence Force personnel who went overseas and served this country with distinction and bravery. I shall wonder where they are now and what they are doing.

But I shall also remember those many whose lives have been immeasurably improved by the fact that in amongst the theory and conduct of war, someone had the great foresight to write the Geneva Conventions. For without them, so many wars could have been so, so much worse.