Sunday, April 23, 2006

Deborah Coddington: US friends left out in the dark

Anzac Day and Anzus - two separate but nonetheless connected entities.

On Tuesday, in what will probably be an increased attendance from last year, New Zealanders all over the world will commemorate Anzac Day - that Sunday in 1915 on which 2721 New Zealanders died 10,000 miles (16,000km) from home.

Anzus, on the other hand, in this so-called "benign environment" in which we live, is not fashionably revisited, at least while the current Labour Government rules.

While we strive to tell the truth about the events which led to Anzac Day, lest we be doomed to repeat such historical debacles, we have allowed myths and falsehoods to develop around Anzus, not the least the rewriting of history spawned by former Prime Minister David Lange.

They say truth will always out. Former head of the Prime Minister's Department and Secretary of Defence, Gerald Hensley, in a 2004 Stout Research Centre speech, touched on what really happened when New Zealand was suspended from Anzus in 1986. With Lange's full agreement, a visiting warship strategy was settled upon with the US which would preserve both our anti-nuclear policy and the American alliance.

However, the agreed plan was scuttled unilaterally by Lange himself - out of the country too long and typically uncommunicative with his own Cabinet.

Time became of the essence and the ageing, oil-fired destroyer USS Buchanan, clearly unlikely to be nuclear-armed as it was to come here direct from Pearl Harbour, was banned when Labour Party policy suddenly changed to exclude even nuclear-capable ships.

The Americans, who'd bent over backwards to accommodate New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance, felt deceived. One senior State Department official told Hensley: "We thought you guys must have been smoking pot, you were in some dreamland."

In essence, Lange's treacherous behaviour led to New Zealand's citizens being shut out of a defence agreement signed in 1951 which requires its parties to consult over aiding each other in the event of an armed attack in the Pacific area.

In 1989 Lange further embarrassed New Zealand in a speech at Yale University - on Anzac Day no less - calling the treaty a "dead letter".

Prime Minister Helen Clark perpetuated Anzus fiction as recently as October last year when, on television, she blamed the US for New Zealand's isolation, saying Uncle Sam had "chosen to make a dispute over the nuclear-free issue, which is 21 years old, an issue which prevents us being as close as we could be".

I hate to be pedantic, but it was this country which did the choosing.

The full Anzus breakdown story, as former diplomat and holder of a double posting to Washington John Wood said, is yet to be told.

Yet we continue to misrepresent the treaty, most recently when commentators expressed relief our suspension meant we were not required to send troops to Iraq.

Australia's haste in sending troops arguably had more to do with securing lucrative wheat export deals with Iraq than honouring its commitment to Anzus. Prime Minister John Howard conveniently invoked Article IV after the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers, but could the US east coast legitimately be called the "Pacific area" as required by Anzus? (Contrary to hippie folklore, the US didn't formally cite this clause when requesting military support from Australia and New Zealand in Vietnam.) In any case, New Zealand's Anzus membership would not force us to send troops wherever America drops bombs.

I have no strong feelings about rejoining Anzus, but I wish we'd grow up and dump what National's spokesman Murray McCully calls our "locked-in anti-Vietnam protest mode". It's time to stop allowing our contempt for President Bush and his disaster in Iraq, to prevent debate about our need not just for free trade, but also defence partners.

New Zealanders don't need to hate America. We love its great writers - Hemingway, Steinbeck, Mailer - and their music, films, art and architecture. Within the State Department, I'm told, some who thought we'd been treated too harshly won the opportunity to review the whole relationship with New Zealand, until Trevor Mallard at election time accused "American bagmen" of funding the Opposition's campaign.

On Anzac Day it's appropriate to reflect on whether we can afford such irresponsible, and to date groundless, accusations.

Last year, at Rotorua's dawn parade at Muruika, I listened to one of the finest speeches I've ever heard delivered in New Zealand. Judge Chris McGuire, a Territorials member, urged those present to understand the importance of having adequately trained and equipped armed services, to understand the importance of freedoms we take for granted, and to understand just how awful war is.

He paid tribute to local heroes who served in the European theatre of war, specifically Haani Manahi, Moananui Ngarimu, Nancy Wake, and Keith Park. But he didn't forget the allies who protected the mothers, sisters, young and elderly left behind in New Zealand: "By the grace of God and the blood that our American allies spilled at the titanic battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the Second World War never reached our shores. People forget that American losses in the Coral Sea and Midway Battles that saved us, were in fact greater than those of the Japanese."

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