Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: We're still hanging on to the Empire's coat tails

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Kiwi soldiers died for the British Empire at Gallipoli and today they're fighting for the American Empire in Afghanistan but what about the innocent people who have died along the way? Photo / Supplied
Kiwi soldiers died for the British Empire at Gallipoli and today they're fighting for the American Empire in Afghanistan but what about the innocent people who have died along the way? Photo / Supplied

It's good to honour those who died, even though for the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders there is no direct link with any of the Gallipoli casualties.

However, I get annoyed at the hypocrisy of the solemn message that we must not forget the fruitlessness of war.

Until the invasion of Iraq, we volunteered in every war called by our Anglo-Saxon big cousins.

Our latest round of military adventurism is helping the invasion of Afghanistan where we participate in killing Afghans who oppose their country's occupation by foreign forces.

We tell ourselves that when innocent civilians are killed or mutilated, it's unfortunate, but somehow acceptable, because we're fighting for their freedom.

And, if the locals don't get it, then they are just being ungrateful.

Labour got us into Afghanistan and National is keeping us there. I'm sure both parties pretend we aren't really there and hope like mad that none of our soldiers gets killed.

But these same politicians will turn up today at their local dawn parades and observe a minute's silence for all the needless loss of human life through war.

If they really wanted to honour the sacrifice, the memory of our war dead, they might like to think of the innocents who are killed by our soldiers on behalf of our politicians who send New Zealand soldiers to Afghanistan.

We are invading Afghanistan in the same way that, 95 years ago, our politicians sent young men from New Zealand to invade another country.

That time we did it for the British Empire; this time we did it for the American Empire. But the pattern of behaviour is the same.

It's absurd how easily we got swept up in England's "King and Country" nonsense and volunteered our sons to be killed and maimed on behalf of a monarch who was the first cousin of the feudal monarch on the other side.

We rightly got bloody noses from the Turkish conscripts who were defending their lands.

We like to think that the incompetence of English leadership, which led to the defeat of our soldiers at Gallipoli, heralded a new beginning and self-awareness. That's just a rewriting of history. It did nothing of the sort.

After the debacle in the Dardanelles, we packed off our survivors en masse to the killing fields in Europe to be led by the same fools who then got the rest of our young countrymen butchered.

After Gallipoli, New Zealanders who refused to be drafted and sent to the war were deemed traitors and brutally imprisoned.

Kiwis in uniform who refused to fight were shot on orders of British officers.

The romanticism of a mythical Gallipoli coming-of-age only came about decades later, when the children who had grow up without fathers wanted to make sense of their needless deaths.

Now Anzac Day has become where we pretend we've changed. Don't believe me? On Anzac Day do we remember the last time we fought as a unit with our transtasman cousins?

The last time was when we invaded Vietnam where we killed innocent people and even lost a few of our soldiers doing it.

Lest we forget? It wouldn't even occur to most of us today to remember our brutal actions in Vietnam, let alone Afghanistan.

We all accept that Gallipoli was a disaster caused by our self-imposed subservience to the notion of being part of Britain's Empire. But in nearly a century we haven't changed.

This week Green MP Keith Locke sought in Parliament a referendum on whether our head of state should be a New Zealand citizen.

It was defeated at the first reading. It seems our Parliament still wants to fawn over an English monarch as our sovereign.

We somehow hang on to the same constitutional set up we had when we invaded Gallipoli on Britain's behalf.

Our boys lying in their graves at Gallipoli would, I'm sure, see the black humour if we were to tell ourselves that their sacrifice made New Zealand realise we can no longer be beholden to a foreign imperial farce.

- NZ Herald

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