What's the bet that Trevor Mallard and Gerry Brownlee fronted up somewhere on Sunday morning and bowed their heads in memory of those who gave their lives in the Great War? If they did, they were hypocrites.

We have some idea of what motivated thousands of young men to volunteer to defend King and Country. Some wanted adventure, some the chance to travel. We tell ourselves that they were patriots, and there was certainly a large element of that.

In 1914 the great majority of European New Zealanders were of very recent British descent, and there was still a very strong sense that England was the Mother Country.

Like their sons 25 years later, the greatest fear for many was that the war would end before they got there. And if the first to volunteer had no idea of the horror they were to encounter, that did not deter others from willingly offering themselves after the slaughter at Gallipoli.

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'With 'leaders' like these it is hardly surprising that too many of us are takers rather than givers. The quality by which New Zealanders might be judged is no longer selfless courage, a willingness to make any sacrifice for the greater good, to defend a way of life that was once worth defending.'

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Whatever they were thinking, we continue to honour those who died in a war that was never theirs, and those who survived, but in countless cases carried physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives. And we think of the mothers who lost sons, wives who lost husbands, children who lost fathers.

We tell ourselves that these courageous men gave their lives to defend our freedom, our way of life. Every year, on April 25, we give thanks, and on Sunday we did so again, this time in commemoration of the armistice that finally brought the war to an end.

This year especially we have revelled in the story of New Zealanders liberating the French town of Les Quesnoy, their final action of World War I, the courage they showed to defeat a firmly entrenched enemy, without the cost of a single civilian life, and without damaging the town's ancient ramparts.

Our shared heritage with those men is enough to make us proud. We believe that the qualities they displayed that day, at the end of a battle that claimed scores of New Zealand lives, are still within us. And we are proud of the fact that the people of Les Quesnoy have never forgotten the heroes who liberated them, and the manner in which they did it.

The people of Les Quesnoy honour us when they remember our soldiers of a century ago. Their gratitude reflects well on us, the descendants of those men, who left their farms, their shop counters, their everyday lives, and their families, to travel from one end of the world to the other to make their contribution to peace. In many cases to die.

And then, our remembrance done for another year, it is returned to the drawer in which it is kept and we display our real selves. The honour we bestow upon those who sacrificed their lives, or, for many who survived, their futures, is saved for Anzac Day and Armistice Day. And then it is forgotten, until next year.

We are not all like this. Some of us remember members of our own families who fought and died, or came home damaged, but too many of us reserve our honouring of those who paid dearly for whatever it is that war has achieved over the last century for special occasions. We do not play our part in creating a country worthy of their sacrifice. We are in this life for what we can get out of it.

That certainly applies to Trevor Mallard and Gerry Brownlee, two very experienced politicians who felt compelled to travel to Japan for 24 hours, at a cost of $1000 per hour, fortuitously coinciding with an All Black test match. Which they managed to fit into their itinerary.

They went there, they said, to build relationships that would have value for New Zealand. Bollocks. They went there to watch a game of rugby, and expected us to pay for it. Two men who each earn the equivalent of something like 10 ordinary New Zealand households' annual income.

This was no attempt to establish relationships with an important trading partner; this was just another display of the sense of entitlement that can be found at every level of society, from those who govern to the lowliest of the governed.

Trevor Mallard then rubbed salt into the wound by stating, in apparent sincerity, that some of those he encountered in Japan had been honoured to meet him.

His extraordinary self-aggrandisement is as far removed from Sunday's commemoration of selfless sacrifice as could be imagined.

Who believes for a moment that people in high places in Japan, or any other country, would be honoured to find themselves in the presence of the Speaker of New Zealand's Parliament, whose major contribution in that role so far seems to be the introduction of petty, school playground rules and punishments and the removal of Jesus Christ's name from the parliamentary prayer?

Who in Japan, or anywhere else, would fall over themselves to meet the opposition's Shadow Leader of the House, a politician with no influence on government policy or opportunities for engagement? At least Mr Brownlee spared us Mr Mallard's delusions of grandeur by resisting any temptation to claim to have done his hosts an enormous favour.

With 'leaders' like these it is hardly surprising that too many of us are takers rather than givers. The quality by which New Zealanders might be judged is no longer selfless courage, a willingness to make any sacrifice for the greater good, to defend a way of life that was once worth defending.

Altruism has been succeeded by selfishness and greed.

Messrs Mallard and Brownlee represent a society in which many parents have priorities other than feeding, clothing and educating their children. Where for many, violence is endured daily.

Where great swathes of the population cannot survive without social welfare. Where taxpayer-funded health services find it easier to give would-be patients chits to go private than to provide the treatment they need.

A society that is easing its way to the official view that thugs do not commit crimes, they commit acts of survival.

They represent a society that has become dysfunctional on almost every level. A society where the 'haves' are not necessarily wealthy, but are rewarded in other ways simply by being decent human beings, who are prepared to contribute to their communities and their country.

It has been said many times that the best way we can honour those who gave their lives for us is to live our lives by the principles for which they died.

We hear this every Anzac Day, often from young people. We nod and say we understand, but to many they are simply words. They have no meaning. We wake on April 26 and resume life as it suits us best, a life that meets our needs, whatever they might be, and to hell with the common good.

The fish, it is said, rots from the head, and ain't that the truth. Those who purport to govern us, those who supposedly devote themselves to creating a society in which all can play their part, to which all can contribute as best they can, a society in which all are safe, all have the same opportunities for health, wealth and prosperity, should be setting an example, but they are no better than the worst of us. Two minutes' silence on Sunday will not have changed that.

Perhaps some who most needed to do so spent that two minutes asking themselves what they can give to make this a better place, rather than what they can take. Then again, perhaps they didn't.