"GET some guts," spat our Prime Minister in his defiance, responding to objections raised by Labour leader Andrew Little over the announcement to send 143 Kiwis to Iraq in the fight against Isis.

The video clip shown on the evening news has the PM fairly snarling in full attack mode. If I didn't know better, I'd believe the Teflon had come off to show a different face than the smiley one John Key would have us favour. But the vehemence is what catches attention.

Who is he really exhorting? Little or, through him, the New Zealand public, many of whom oppose military deployment and have had a gutsful of "joining up" to fight on foreign soil. It is, after all, 100 years since Gallipoli, when Winston Churchill's rash plans to divert German attention in the Dardanelles - and their ill-conceived execution - led to the tragedy at Anzac Cove.

These days Mr Key seems to be channelling the mantra of George Bush in saying we need to fight Isis over there in order to prevent having to do so over here. The "get some guts" sounds almost as macho as that of the former US president.


In 2003, it was George Bush who, in response to the beginnings of an insurgency in Iraq enabled by his own bad planning, dared them with "Bring it on" to the eventual sorrow of an American military which had to bear the burden of that bragging.

During World War II, a war of serious threat to this and allied countries, a famous American general, George S Patton, was called "Old Blood and Guts". His portrayal in the 1970 movie Patton included his well-publicised striking of an enlisted man suffering PTSD for alleged "cowardice".

Bill Mauldin, the great cartoonist of that war, had his iconic enlisted men Willie and Joe discussing the general and his nickname - "Yeah, it's his guts and our blood."

It takes no measure of courage (or "guts") to send other men and women to do your fighting and dying. The opposite may well be true.

There exists a growing body of testimony from combat veterans who have participated in some of the wars of dubious rationale - Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - with a solid majority speaking to their disenchantment with a civilian leadership with little or no personal military experience who sent them off to war while suffering no hazard themselves.

The disillusionment is made more profound when these veterans realise that few, if any, of the sons and daughters of the civilian leaders were asked to put their lives on the line.

Mr Key may attempt to ward off criticism of his own lack of military experience by his promise to go to Iraq to "go where our troops go". If anything, such a promise merely compounds the thinness of his military resume, as soldiers know to dread these "show visits" from civilian leaders whose arrival requires a special degree of distracting preparation and whose presence in the protected area is accompanied by the tightest security imaginable.

The civilian leaders' short stay culminates in a photo-opportunity in which the serving soldier becomes a backdrop of convenience. The politicos leave and it's back to the business of trying to keep alive.

The real problem for Mr Key is that the macho language belies the real weakness of his rationale for New Zealand sending its military men and women on a fool's errand.

If there are 40 (and now suddenly the number has jumped to 60) people here on a terrorist watch list, eager to go overseas to join Isis, there exists an entire array of legal measures available to deal with that contingency. None of those measures is inclusive of our sending troops or of allowing our spy agencies to spy on the rest of us - another of Mr Key's favourite brave new world ideas.

Military campaigns are won more readily by brains and with prior patient deliberation than by the impulsiveness of "guts".

-Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.