Garth George
Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Among blessings, a dark side remains

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The plight of thousands of suffering children throws a shadow over this land of plenty, says Garth George.

So another year, and another decade, ticks away into history.

At midnight tonight the number on the calendar will change from 2009 to 2010 - and as far as I can see that's about all that will change.

Perhaps it's a penalty of advancing age, but the so-called Noughties seem to have slipped by with alarming alacrity.

Personally, those years have a time of major change: retirement from the Herald after 17 years; a couple of years editing the Christian newspaper Challenge Weekly; then withdrawing from the daily grind and moving from chaotic Auckland to restful Rotorua.

And after more than two years here in the bountiful Bay of Plenty, I can tell you it's all good, provided we ultimately acclimatise to the awful chill of winter.

Nationally and internationally there is but one event engraved on my memory - the murderous September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington by Muslim fanatics.

This was the defining event of the decade, the one that changed the world and our lives irrevocably and whose aftermath seems, eight years later, to be without end.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of citizens' freedom in the United States and Britain, the invasion of Europe by millions of Muslim immigrants, unrest in Asia, travel restrictions, widespread paranoia - all these things were triggered by 9/11.

The futility of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make all the more poignant the tragic loss of life, both military and civilian, and the unsupportable waste of money and materiel. Because when the Allied forces finally withdraw from both countries, as they surely must sometime in the new decade, Iraq and Afghanistan will quickly revert to the uncivilised tribal and religious warfare, the voracious avarice and insatiable corruption that has been their lot for millennia.

China and India will continue to catch up with their Western competitors in wealth creation and social progress as the decade advances and, eventually - after I'm long gone - will take over from the US and Europe as the world's economic and military superpowers.

Those whose incomes depend on the theory, and those who anticipate vast profits, will continue to con the world into believing that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are to blame for global warming, but climate will continue to change one way or another no matter what they do about CO2.

On the home front we will continue to appreciate the National Government's relaxed manner of governing. Sooner or later those commentators who bitch about Prime Minister John Key not doing anything may come to understand that his laidback attitude is what keeps him popular.

After nine years of Helen Clark's hyperactive ideologues pushing us around and trying to tell us how we should live, we are revelling in a Government that quietly gets on with the job of running the country and leaves us pretty much alone.

But what we should really be doing when the clock strikes midnight tonight is counting our blessings - and heaven knows we have enough of them.

We live in a free country which is, thank God, inconveniently positioned at the bottom of the world, well away from the places where nasty people do nasty things to each other year after year. On the surface we enjoy the benefits of living in a democratic society, except that it hasn't been truly democratic since we were conned into adopting the MMP electoral system.

We complain about the weather, yet we live in one of the world's most benign and healthy climates, not subject to the ferocious extremes of heat or cold, wet or dry, that other people have to put up with. We still have plenty of wide open spaces into which a man can disappear if he is of a mind to and renew himself physically and spiritually.

We appear to be prosperous and indeed many of us are, in spite of the recession and the depredations of dishonest money-grubbers. We want for little, although if debt is any indication, far too many of us want far too much.

But there is still a dark side to this country which has been illuminated far too often over the past 10 (and more) years, and which needs urgent action, not just from the Government but from all who care.

That is the so-far insoluble plight of our thousands of impoverished, sick, hungry, cold, frightened, abused, suffering children - tens of thousands of them in this presumed land of plenty - who, although they are supposed to be mankind's richest blessing, have no blessings to count.

At a time when the nation looks forward to a new year and all that it might bring, these little ones exist bereft of hope. Can we not give them at least some of that before the first year of the new decade is over?

For, as the English philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, "The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul."

- NZ Herald

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