I wouldn't like to live next door to Nicky Hager. I sense, from his pontifications about New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan, that if he was my neighbour and my family was attacked, Hager would decline to get involved.

As well as other peaceniks, isolationists and John Minto-adoring surrender monkeys, I'd be left to fight my own battles. My fate would be packaged as "Other People's Wars".

Simplistic analogy, comparing domestic crime with international wars, civil or otherwise - do we turn our backs when viciousness is perpetrated against human beings just because they happen to live hundreds of thousands of miles away?

I don't think so. Our boys in the Special Air Service (SAS) aren't forced to join up. The troops all want to go and do their bit. They know what the dangers are, and at military funerals families all say the soldiers, sailors and airmen wouldn't have done anything differently.


This week, before fallen soldier Lance Corporal Leon Smith was even home from Afghanistan and his family given the chance to say goodbye to their courageous son, Labour, the Green Party and Hone Harawira wasted no time in scoring political points from his death.

Labour said we should get out of Afghanistan. The Greens and Mana were even more callous, calling for an inquiry into Smith's death. I guess there are votes in that, and guaranteed sales for Hager's book, a weird conspiracy that somehow our soldiers really work for the Americans (particularly the CIA) while the New Zealand Government soothes us with lies. He didn't actually go to Afghanistan, mind you, and TV3's Rachel Smalley, who did go there in June, demolished Hager's thesis in three minutes on Firstline.

But there were poignant comments from the parents of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, who was killed last year. To pull out now would be "disrespectful" to O'Donnell and the other two fallen soldiers, Private Cliff Mila and Corporal Doug Grant.

The main argument centres around whether the SAS is "mentoring" the Kabul-based Crisis Response Unit (CRU), or actually leading the combat against the Taleban. In this sense, journalist Jon Stephenson possibly has a point - mentoring is a strange word, since the SAS' work, by definition, is dangerous.

But John Key is correct. There's no duplicity. The SAS are not dying on the front line.

"You can't mentor a kilometre back, that's the point. When you go out and support people, you help them plan the operation, you help build up their capability, you take them out into the field and you support people," he told Checkpoint. "You can't do that two miles away. You've got to be relatively near it.

"Sometimes if it goes bad and the CRU guys' lives are at risk, our guys step in. No one's ever questioned that."

And Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the SAS mission would always involve high risk as they actively worked with the CRU to try to confront the insurgent threat in the country. It's like sitting in the passenger seat teaching someone to drive - when the car crashes you can get hurt, or killed.


Like it or not, our troops are making a real difference, as the Dominion Post's Vernon Small reported from Bamiyan province in August, when locals told him it was the first time they had had peace in 200 years.

Last week, Act MP Heather Roy - Private Roy - delivered her valedictory speech, concluding with a request to update the debating chamber. Her wish should be granted.

Around the chamber are 12 carved circular wreaths and 18 plaques, representing the places and battles where New Zealand troops have fought and served.

But, said Roy, "there are battlements missing from our walls. The first Gulf War, Afghanistan and our recent peace-keeping missions are not represented, despite the fact that our Defence Force personnel have participated with the same courage, commitment and distinction as those who served before them.

"They, too, have suffered injury and, in some tragic cases, loss of life in their quest for freedom around the world on our behalf. I know my fellow soldiers would be touched by such a gesture and it would seem entirely fitting.

"Lest we forget."