What did we learn from W.W.1 100 years on?


When Europe spiralled into war in 1914, there was an almost euphoric, gleeful, delightful jolly mood throughout Europe. What a jolly thing they all said. It will be all over Christmas and we’ll be having pudding on the table, with presents under the tree and a roast for dinner.

So off they all rushed to war, this jolly good European jaunt. The Commonwealth nations excited to be supporting Mother Britain all began to mobilize. The Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Indians and South Africans all put out calls for troops.

Within weeks the first casualty counts were coming in. The Germans had somehow stalled on the banks of the Marne River. No worries everyone thought. Things will get going again soon. The days turned into weeks. The weeks into months. The nights began to become longer and the days colder. The trenches that were supposed to be temporary were starting to take on a degree of permanence.

No peace would descend on Earth in 1914. Instead the first of many bloody battles up and down the Western Front over which a few square miles of land would be fought with fanatical savagery had begun. Battles costing thousands of lives a piece had happened at St. Quentin, the Marne, Albert, Yser, Ypres (No. 1 of 5) and a host of other places. The ground that would become a muddy hellhole over the next four years was starting to be ground up.

The mincing machines of the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele were still over a year away. But as the mass of pill boxes, bunkers, tunnels and barbed wire accrued on both sides of no mans land the men who sat in water logged dug outs eating, washing, and otherwise trying to live in close quarters to many other men, the task of finding ways to break the stalemate and win the war became a priority.

The plane as a weapon of war was still in its infancy. The tank was still years away. But other sinister developments were taking shape. Desperate to gain the military initiative, the Germans, French and British had begun experimenting with chemicals as weapons. The initial attempts were unsuccessful, but in 1915 the Germans introduced chlorine.

Tactics were changing too. The creeping barrage that moved in front of advancing soldiers had been introduced. A moving wall of exploding shells would proceed the soldiers across no mans land, chewing up and spitting out already mangled land and bodies. Another one, the bite and hold strategy of biting a small chunk out of the enemy lines, consolidating and moving on was another.

By the time the Somme and Verdun, two blood baths with a combined total of nearly 2 million Allied and German dead between them, were over, the French were ready to mutiny. The Russians, sick to death of their wealth hoarding Tsar and no longer able to stomach any further fighting against the Germans were ready to revolt. Food shortages in Germany and Britain were dire and no one knew how or when this giant mangling machine would end.

Conditions were no better in the Commonwealth countries. New Zealand and Australia were permanently scarred by their experiences in Gallipoli in Turkey where they had been trying to take the Dardenelles and secure a supply line to Russia. Canada, South Africa and India were also bleeding steadily. All had further bloody confrontations awaiting them at Passchendaele (Ypres III), and elsewhere.

And so, Passchendaele got underway with the misgivings of just about everyone involved. Only the Generals seemed to be keen for it to happen. The 100 days of mud and blood that followed earnt it a special place in the collection of hell’s that World War 1 was.

Whilst that was happening the Russians had the second of two revolts that toppled the Tsar. Communism became a new term in the language of politics and within months, Russia and the Germans had cut a deal that enabled the Germans to flood the western front with fresh forces.

The German offensive of 1918 temporarily terrified the Allies, moved rapidly west for a month and then, unable to sustain their supply lines, failed. Another 688,000 Germans and 863,000 British, Commonwealth, French and American lives later and it was over for Germany. Before they could recover, the Allies 100 days offensive that would end with the Kaiser abdicating and Germany calling for an armistice began. It took back everything the Germans had taken and was closing on the German border when the Kaiser abdicated.

So what did we learn from World War 1? Apparently not a lot, other than that type of war is criminal. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was apparently cowardice, for which one could be shot. Soldiers went home and suffered permanent mental break downs as a result of what they had seen and done with no redress of any sort. And in that 4 1/4 years, enough progress was made on the technological front to unleash horrors unheard of in 1913. Historians to this day argue over the true meaning of the battles that took place, though all are in agreement that it was a truly appalling time in human history.

It was meant to be the war that ended all wars. The Germans would be vanquished, and unable to conduct offensive wars ever again. It would be punished and made to pay huge reparations. Yet on 01 September 1939 World War 2: The Really Really Dreadful Sequel started.

The pill boxes and the grave yards that litter fields in Belgium and France are silent testament to four years of abject madness where political pride and military prestige were more important than the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. If nothing else, on this 100th Armistice Day Anniversary, we would do really well to remember that. They did not die for nothing.

Group of 7 farce bad for all Western nations


First there was the shock. United States President Donald Trump pulling rank on the Group of 7 declaration. Then came the exchange between Mr Trump and his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A nasty exchange that would have left the other delegates shocked. And did.

No one in the west won when Mr Trump refused to support the G7 declaration. Whilst the declaration is largely ceremonial it has the purpose of detailing what principles the summit upholds. So when one nation or another throws a hissy fit – which is what Mr Trump did – and walks away without supporting it, not only does that nation undermine the G7, but it undermines the entire western world.

But there were winners. Every dictator quietly hoping for discord and division in the west over the G7 summit farce would have been smiling at the news that Mr Trump had had a show down with the hosts, Canada. The photo that has been circulating of Mr Trump sitting in a chair at a table with various leaders standing around glaring at him tells us more about the scale of the disbelief better than a 1,000 word essay could have. The only person supporting Mr Trump was – not surprisingly – John Bolton, the hard line National Security Advisor who has never had much time for diplomacy, irrespective of what it achieves.

Contrary to the discourse coming out of the White House, Mr Trump has no intention of anything that could amount to fair or otherwise reasonable trade terms. His “America first” doctrine, smacks of the dangerous hardline nationalist sentiment that past dictatorships have displayed with disastrous results. Its brutalist nature must, when it reared its head in the ugly exchange between Canada and the United States, must have left Mr Trudeau wondering if he had been struck by a base ball.

When the words from Pink Floyd’s song “Pigs” more adequately describe Mr Trump than a media editorial, it is a hugely damning indictment on the depths which his Presidency has plumbed. When the western world needs leadership and unity, it is instead having discord and distrust sown by the most powerful person in the free world.

Nations like New Zealand do not need this. Even more powerful nations like Australia and Canada, long time friends and allies of the United States, despite having quite different leaders at the moment must be nervous about what Mr Trump has done and what it might mean for them. Mr Trudeau will be wishing that this was just a bad dream and that when the sun comes up, all will be hunky dory.

Sorry mate. Ain’t gonna happen. Mr Trump on one hand knows exactly what he is doing in that he is keeping good the promises he made to his strident supporters who hope for a second coming of a declining super power that was once respected and admired throughout the free world. On the other though he has not a clue about the damage that is being inflicted on America internationally by his politics. And that damage is harming America’s relationship with all of its allies and friends, including New Zealand.

T.P.P.A. dead? GOOD!


Last night it emerged that Canada had stalled the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement talks. The surprise move not only caught delegates off guard, but raised hopes that the controversial agreement might have been dealt a blow.

For proponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, this is alarming news. Former Minister of Trade and a staunch proponent of the agreement Todd McClay went on the record as saying that it was vitally important to restart the agreement talks this weekend and that they needed to be successful or it would collapse. Mr McClay and his predecessors believe it is important for New Zealand to be a part of a 12 nation agreement that would create a large free trade zone across much of the Pacific. Neither he nor his predecessor would address the arguments that the T.P.P.A. is bad for New Zealand. Specifically the following areas:

  • That as a result of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (I.S.D.S.) clauses New Zealand Governments could be exposed to legal action by corporations over perceived threats to their ability to make a profit
  • That the ability to write laws and uphold and improve our domestic and international obligations might be impeded by a fear of said exposure
  • That existing laws might be undermined

For opponents, this could be an early Christmas. Hopes that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement would be killed rose in January when President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order killing America’s involvement in the 12 nation agreement, which then became T.P.P.-11. They were then dented severely when the agreement showed signs of being revived despite Japanese delegates holding steadfast in their demands that Japanese industries not have protective tariffs removed. Hopes took another hit when it was announced that whilst in Vietnam there would be a further attempt to restart the talks that had nearly brought the Agreement to fruition.

Now Canada has suddenly balked. I find the claim that it misunderstood the time schedule for the meetings to be a bit far fetched. But for a moment let us suppose it is true. If true then that is an embarrassment for Canada that a Government minister could not turn up at an agreed time and place, and unfortunate for the anti-T.P.P.A. campaign because it means that the Agreement is still on.

And yet the claim “I didn’t know this was when I was supposed to be here”, coming from a Canadian Government Minister seems just a bit too far fetched to be entirely true. One shall have to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt, but if he is covering up, that raises potentially all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Time shall tell.

Politics of fear defeat democracy


Recently I have seen some acts around the world that I have had a very hard time reconciling with the Governments of supposedly democratic nations. One of these acts was the recent threat by the Australian Government to jail medical professionals who speak out over the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Even harder though was accepting the rationale for doing so – I simply refuse to, and this is why.

I am very pleased that I live in New Zealand, a country where Government has not yet succumbed to the politics of fear, though the Government of Prime Minister John Key shows an increasingly high risk of doing so. Not so lucky are nations that normally espouse democracy, such as Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. Following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 all of these nations passed law to strengthen the hand of the State in dealing with terrorism. Whilst New Zealand did as well, a combination of geographical factors and a cool public reaction to the “war on terrorism”, meant that the drums beating of the call to arms was not answered with the same enthusiasm.

These nations are also perhaps more deeply in the grip of the Rupert Murdoch-influenced news media, which constantly runs a xenophobic theme of black lawlessness, Muslim terrorists that contrasts starkly with a white law abiding, God respecting hard working society. Fox News in the United States is particularly bad at doing this. Mr Murdochs media interests however exist also in Britain, where he runs News Corp, New Zealand where Fairfax Media used to be owned by Mr Murdoch and Australia where he has been associated with Sky News. The Murdoch media are often quite virulent in their attack on the political opposition as evidenced by their support for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the last Australian election.

To me, the politics of fear is as damaging to the well being of a nation as an actual attack on it. To pass an agenda that permits wars to be fought, enables suppression of human rights to occur, one needs a population that is scared. To make the population scared, one needs an enemy – the question is whether it is a potentially fake enemy, or one that exists but is grossly exaggerated. It needs to have a national security apparatus that is on a constant state of alert with regular threats – fake or otherwise – being reported. To show his Government’s support for defeating the enemy, about which he is not very exact, Mr Abbott is constantly shown on television by sympathetic media beating the drum of national security and Australians are falling for it.

This is what Tony Abbott is doing in Australia with refugees being imprisoned at detention centres. Mr Abbott claims that they are a threat to Australian society and security. He claims that the best way to stop the boat people is to turn them around on the high seas, whilst ignoring and even trying to silence the numerous critics that are springing up and who are as diverse as human rights activists, medical professionals, social workers and Opposition Members of Parliament.

This is not the work of Governments that genuinely want a more socially stable society, but that of those Governments which have a deep and abiding distrust of anyone with a different agenda. We should be scared.