Chelsea Manning a whistle blower of another kind

Yesterday I mentioned whistle blowers of the domestic sort, exposing criminal activity in the civilian sector. The case I mentioned was one involving a manager at the New Zealand Transport Authority who has just started jail time for fraudulent activity involving over $725,000.

As a follow up example of another sort of whistle blower, it is worthwhile mentioning Chelsea Manning, the soldier in the United States Army who disclosed highly classified government data to Wikileaks. Private Manning who has been in jail for the last 7 years was released from jail on 16 May 2017. It is true what Private Manning did was highly illegal under any circumstances, and any other country would probably have deemed her a traitor with a potential life sentence.

But in this case, by virtue of the nature of the classified secrets – an attempt to hide war crimes in Iraq – this was a very risky but very brave move. President Obama, perhaps acknowledging that the actions she undertook in sharing with Wikileaks these secrets, exposed improper activities by the Government, pardoned Private Manning three days before he left office. Those activities included completely avoidable civilian deaths in Iraq and the abuse of detainees. They and other activities led the U.S. Government to end the Ambassadorships of several ambassadors around the world.

Would a New Zealander be this brave? And what would the authorities and other New Zealanders say? Would they understand on principle that there are exceptions that need to be made, when exposing highly sensitive information covering up the misdeeds of Government departments and the military. And would they accept as a result that just very rarely, this is a necessary act?




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.

U.S. enthusiasm for war should concern N.Z

New Zealand is considered a very close friend of the United States by American diplomats, and likewise considers itself to be close to the United States. And there are many mutual benefits in both directions from this close relationship.

However there is one hugely disturbing aspect about America that should massively concern New Zealanders from Prime Minister Bill English downwards: America’s propensity for going to war. 15 years after 11 September 2001 it is still mired in conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq – conflicts that started in 2001 and 2003 respectively as part of the so-called “War on Terrorism”.

Because here we are, possibly at one of the most dangerous times in modern human history, where the United States Government of Donald Trump, drunk on war, ambling about on the world stage is potentially agitating for a fight with two world powers. The potential wars that would be fought are thousands of kilometres apart, but they involve rivals of the U.S. who seriously feel that their sovereignty and their strategic interests are at stake.

In Syria, we have a vested in interest of Russia. We have seen from the large Russian investment in protecting the Assad regime, the fact that it has moved military forces of its own into combat zones and has used its own weapon systems, that Russia very much wants the Assad regime to survive. And that it looks like this time Russia might be prepared to fight.


And this is not 1991 when the U.S.S.R. as Russia was a part of then, was in the late stages of total collapse. Unable to sustain spending 17% of its G.D.P. a year on its military, riddled by years of corruption and ineptitude at the highest level, exposed by the Chernobyl nuclear power station meltdown and the fallout from it (not just the radioactive debris that was flung high into the atmosphere), the U.S.S.R. could not take on the U.S. in the Cold War any longer. Its vast military began to fall into disrepair. Half finished warships lay rusting in shipyards and dry docks; nuclear weapons were left behind by departing Russian forces in the former Soviet Republics. Planned aircraft types of all sorts were abandoned.

Likewise, despite growing distrust of the North Korean regime it has spent so many years protecting, in Kim Jong Un there is a buffer between democracy and Chinese one party totalitarianism. The huge investment that China has made in being a one party state with no time for dissent is not something that Beijing will ever let be undermined, and for all the problems that a fat 30-something year old Korean with a silly hair do might pose, the problems a huge flood of refugees caused by a collapsed North Korean dictatorship could undo or pose questions about the existence of China’s one party state.

China will never let that happen. 

Whether China would go to war over it is another point all together. But, again, this is not 1991. Back then China had the largest armed forces in the world following the Soviet collapse. At 2.9 million they were certainly a formidable force, but their technology, training and tactics were well behind the U.S. Not anymore. Aside from being a nation whose defence spending has increased by an average of 7-8% per annum for every year since 1995, China now has an arsenal of sosphicated modern arms, that it has developed. They include stealth combat jets, an aircraft carrier that it purchased from the Soviet Union, a submarine ballistic missile platform among others.

I seriously wonder whether America would have the same enthusiasm for war at any level if they had been subject to the living, abject hell that was heaped on the countries of Europe during World War 2. I wonder because listening to Fox News talking about the “Massive Ordnance Airburst Bomb”, also known as “Mother of all Bombs”, you would think that dropping the largest non-nuclear ordnance on suspected Islamic militants in a cave in Afghanistan was somehow a great day for America.

The problem – fortunately for their history, but perhaps not so for their understanding of the living hell it creates – is Americans have not been subject to a major invasion using modern weapon systems and tactics. They have not been subject to 57 consecutive days and nights of aerial bombardment like London was in September-November 1940; the incendiary bombing of Japanese cities that killed nearly 800,000 civilians between November 1944 and August 1945. I seriously doubt that there would be such enthusiasm for aerial bombardment if they had been. Likewise, would Americans have the same view of urban warfare if their big cities had been subject to siege conditions such as those that engulfed Leningrad (September 1941 to February 1944) and Stalingrad (September 1942 to February 1943). In Stalingrad every building, on every block, on every street of every suburb was fought over with a ferocity that one would have to have been there to understand. Civilians in Leningrad were reduced to eating bread made from sawdust, and dogs and cats were considered a great delicacy.

But back to Prime Minister Bill English, who seems to think that it will be okay with New Zealanders if we get involved in a conflict that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders have intoned through polls that they do not want a bar of. Mr English seems to think that because it is America who wants New Zealand to get involved, it is automatically okay.

No Bill. Not on my watch, you are not. You need to get permission from Parliament to go to war and if you do not, may it be the cause of a decisive National Party defeat in September.

End involvement in U.S. war

When the “War on Terrorism” began on a sunny September day in 2001, Americans were united in their fury. Nations across the world stood horror struck at the audacity of al-Qaida and their brazen disregard for human lives. With the exception of Pacifists few argued against some sort of military strike. 15 years later, with the war showing no signs of letting up and having morphed several times should New Zealand still be involved?

The short answer and the long answer are both no.

A friend is a person (or this case a nation), who is both there for you when you need support/sympathy, but also someone who can tell you when you are wrong – and hope that you/nation are able to take the warning on board and learn from it. And in the case of New Zealand, we have been rather more loyal to the United States than at times we probably should have. A failure to understand and identify our own needs as being separate from America’s has led us to do things that are not normally associated with New Zealand, and it is costing us.

Time to change.

I believe we should end our involvement in the United States led “War on Terrorism”, for several reasons:

  • The military industrial complex has hijacked the “War on Terrorism”
  • New Zealand is a bit player that has no influence in the Middle East and no interests of significance there
  • The United States has quite questionable grounds for pursuing such a war when it’s own record of C.I.A. and other agencies activity in other countries includes deliberate destabilization, interference in domestic politics, bullying for resources (in particular oil)
  • The greatest risks to New Zealand’s security are not priorities for America, or even Australia (despite the latter being an ally and whose security hinges in good part on our own well being)
  • Our ideals are contrary to the ones that President Donald Trump espouses

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961, his farewell speech to America talked about the risk that the military industrial complex poses to the country and the world at large. He talked about how it could potentially become a liberty killing industry by virtue of not being able to survive without wars. In order to survive it would persuade politicians to support pet projects worth large sums of money in return for receiving substantial donations from companies involved in this industry. And if people look at the sources of large donations to both the Republican and Democrat nominees of past elections, that is precisely what has happened.

New Zealand’s interests lie in the South Pacific. We have no decent reason to be involved in Middle East geopolitics, much less participating in questionable wars whose causes are the result of foreign policy adventures gone horribly wrong. And the nations that are friends with America in the Middle East have horrendous disregard for human rights law. Saudi Arabia which receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States and Britain, is currently involved in a war against Yemen where widespread war crimes have happened, including bombing schools, hospitals and residential areas. As a nation of humane and just principles we need to distance ourselves clearly from this.

Contrary to what nationalist and conservative Americans will tell one, it is not anti-American to learn about the activities that the C.I.A. has been involved in both relating to terrorism and geopolitics. When the major intelligence agency of a nation New Zealand is supposed to be friends with commits such activities with the support of its parent Government, how serious is that Government about the upholding of both domestic and international law?

The greatest threats to New Zealand arise in the South Pacific. The island atoll nations of the South Pacific through no fault of their own are potentially a significant security threat to New Zealand by becoming failed states, with non functional Governments, high levels of corruption and conditions that could enable militant elements to gain a foot hold with a view to moving onto Australia and/or New Zealand. A sustained interest in their well being and a reprioritization of our foreign aid to the South Pacific should be top priority for a New Zealand Government both now and in the future.

Finally, as I have said before and will say again, the ideals of Donald Trump are inconsistent with those of New Zealand as a nation and New Zealanders as a people. He supports torture, whereas we do not. We believe in a fair and just world where transparent Government is a priority; America has declined in the last few years in transparency and his policies suggest no change in this is likely any time soon. Mr Trump’s rhetoric and initial announcements on cutting foreign aid suggest he is happy to remove one of the most effective tools in America’s arsenal against terrorism. His disregard for other nations and a black-and-white “you’re with us or against us” warning ignores the many many shades of grey in both global politics and U.S. domestic politics, and risks alienating the very nations whose co-operation America needs to win this “War on Terrorism”.