It is undoubtedly true that the sense of belonging and being that defines us in the South Pacific has been shaped rightly or wrongly by war in faraway places. Rightly or wrongly our governments have never been slow to offer our youngest and fittest to that altar of sacrifice.
It is also true, that small and young though this nation is, it has paid some appalling butcher's bills, its lost youth lying far from its homeland being memorialised by the traumatised living in over 700 monuments and halls throughout the land. The young of every village and town have been scorched by the fire of conflict, very many of them to vanish forever like the morning mist, unknown warriors, their only earthly trace being a name on a plaque somewhere in a place they grew up in and knew.
Read more: Tensions high at Napier memorial meeting
Sadly collective identity everywhere is so frequently forged in blood, be it German, English, Ngapuhi, or Ngati Maniapoto, we are a fighting animal struggling hard against our base to become a peaceful one, and war memorials are lessons of sorrow to history, testaments to grief, and past warnings to a more hopeful future. They convey these messages with beauty to inspire, inscribed names on materials of permanence, and often flames.
With undoubted spiritual importance, they are touchstones of history, honour, and deep significance to their communities. The furious reaction of the people of Napier last year to the removal of memory of loss from their city war memorial and its rebranding to pure commerce and profit should have been as predictable as night following day.
Since April this year Napier's former War Memorial Centre and now the commercial Napier Conference Centre has been a warfront. Without any public consultation, this was just never going to be a peaceful transfer, and nor should it have been in the eyes of those for whom its history and its consecrated purpose were thoughtlessly violated. For six long months it has been a battleground between Council and People.
Serious error of judgment by the Napier City Council though the transfer was, it was a genuine mistake. It could easily have been put right with apology, acknowledgement, and a recovery action plan. No one ever questioned the usefulness of its expanded conference role. Instead, arrogance trumped humility, the outraged were abused as "a minority of naysayers", branded the enemy, and walls of misinformation and studied ignore were built to defend the indefensible.. The error became mayoral-protected diktat at the top level of council.
Unfortunate mistake by an elected body and its leader, strongly resisted over the passage of angry months, grew into an unreasoning determination to resist and deny popular demand. Manipulation, exclusion, and misinformation became the management tool; a process beloved of authoritarians everywhere and the antithesis of democratic consent.
Councillors in Napier have finally rebelled. They've acknowledged a hurting public, and have recognised that they, as the elected, are the ones who carry electoral authority, responsibility, and make final determination. They are the ones with the real power of governance of the city; just as it should be, not an unelected and unaccountable administration exceeding its brief to serve, or a mayor acting and speaking presidentially. They have finally sent a message to the long-ignored public on this. This city should be grateful and proud of their stand for honesty and genuine representation.
They are in step with those the beachfront Napier War Memorial was built to honour and commemorate.
One hundred years ago right now in 1917 the Battle of Passchendaele was raging in Europe on a torrential-rain, shell-cratered mudscape. Of all the dreadful battles of a dreadful war the subset Battle for Bellevue Spur was amongst the worst of the worst. It was there that a New Zealand Division, led by able Napier-born Major-General Andrew Russell, was ordered into action that resulted in the loss of 846 lives in little more than a long morning. October 12, 1917 is the darkest day of loss in all our history since 1840 and is perhaps a more worthy day of reflection and memory than any other.
Nor indeed was it all about fighting soldiers. Those that fought to save life and give comfort, often final, to the suffering and dying on that awful field were the doctors and nurses, soldiers of mercy themselves who too suffered. One hundred nurses wounded, crippled, blinded, in the discharge of their duties had a special place of honour at the later interment of an Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, along with the legions of women in black, lost and suffering from war. Heroism is never about age or gender, or role.
Yes we have an obligation and duty to flag memory and learn. Narcissist psychopaths drunk on power from nodding heads are not new or even rare. Two now in their cocooned certainties now threaten millions with nuclear war. Do we learn?
War memorials are very special places, as the recent bitter struggle of the people of Napier to reclaim their own must remind us.
"Lest we Forget" in Napier has never had more relevance as its people go forward now to reclaim their loved War Memorial from an unfortunate, but fortunately rare act of sacrilege.
Alan Rhodes,JP, is a former teacher and lecturer; English, History, Sociology. Educational Advisor to the Cook Islands. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.