Alan Duff: Not for us to retry crimes of past eras

William Massey's racist views were a product of his time. Photo / Herald file
William Massey's racist views were a product of his time. Photo / Herald file

According to Maori lecturer Steve Elers, the name of his university - Massey - should be changed because back in history Prime Minister William Massey was a racist who believed in the superiority of the white race, had a particular dislike for Chinese and no doubt looked down on Maori.

The alleged "white supremacist" of the early 20th Century is being judged by present-day views. Not only does Mr Elers want to revise history, he wants to reverse it. Come on, mate. When would it stop? Different Maori war chiefs, pre-European and post, believed their tribes were superior to others and went out attacking other tribes all over the land. (It wasn't a country then.) Should we toss them into the hall of shame? The planned slaughters spared none: not women, not children, not the elderly. Nor were any necessarily spared being eaten or being taken as slaves to be later eaten. It's all right, Mr Elers, they are my tupuna too. However, I don't judge them for doing what was perfectly normal back then.

Two great fighting chiefs' names come to mind: Hongi Hika and Te Rauparaha. Our national sports teams perform a haka composed by Te Rauparaha. Hongi's name lives on in Hongi's Track, the place his men dragged their canoes through the forest between lakes Rotoehu and Rotoiti, thence onto Lake Rotorua. He slaughtered and ate and enslaved many of my Te Arawa ancestors. But that's all right, Hongi. It's what went down in your day. Are we not, each generation, of the times we live in?

What if future generations look back on our gas-guzzling, consumer generation with contempt, if not anger? Will that thought make one of us walk or bike instead of drive? Eat and drink less, cut our carbon footprints by ending all jet travel?

My Maori ancestors kept and ate slaves. My Pakeha ancestors, somewhere along the line, may have traded slaves; or as slave overseers dished out brutal punishment. They too murdered enemy women and children in battle, took part in torture practices and as well participated in unjust acts against innocents.

Both lots did what was normal in their time. We have no right to look back and judge them by our standards. The youthful invader Alexander the Great is a venerated figure in history. Hitler is not. Yet both set out to conquer other people. Hitler will be despised for all time and Alexander should be renamed "The Merciless Psychopath Egomaniac".

In my day kids were leather-strapped - hard - on the hands by our primary school teachers. At high school they used the cane. One principal caned me so violently my shorts and undies were stuck to my rumps by blood. (I deserved it.) Is that generation to be revisited and any tributes and painted portraits in school assembly halls taken down, their names deleted from history because they did what was normal in their time: inflicted violence upon children? Taking out of generational context makes all of them guilty.

Millions died under Mao Zedong's mad rule but he remains a cultural icon. Photo / AP
Millions died under Mao Zedong's mad rule but he remains a cultural icon. Photo / AP



Hitler's Nazi henchmen were found guilty of gross crimes against humanity and most of them were hung. No tears shed. Stalin murdered at least 15 million of his own Russian people. No-one sheds a tear for his victims. Less than a generation later, Mao's mad political ideas saw another 15-20 million Chinese go to early graves. Yet in China he is still a figure of respect.

A Mali man was recently found guilty by the International Criminal Court for destroying ancient Muslim mausoleums in Timbuktu and sentenced to 9 years in prison. He is a Muslim but of an extremist group. He deserved jail. But what of the court that sentenced him? The International Criminal Court has reportedly spent $US1.4 billion in a decade of completing just one case. If that figure is correct, are they not guilty of being a willing part of gross wastage of public funds? Guilty of wilful inefficiency, guilty of serving selves and not the states funding them with their high salaries and long list of perks and entitlements? Guilty of deliberately creating an insanely ponderous judicial process? Guiltier than the sledge-hammer-wielding Islamic fanatic they sat in judgement on? I reckon the answer is yes to every "charge". The court officials in their suits and smart outfits, the gowned and bewigged jurists, the highly paid lawyers for defence and prosecution. The key players deserve jail too.

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

- NZ Herald

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Alan Duff

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