Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Have we squandered our freedom?

1 comment

I recently ventured south for the day to see the sobering exhibitions at Te Papa and the old Dominion Museum commemorating a century since New Zealand’s entry in the First World War in 1915. Man’s inhumanity to man was clearly on display in these brilliantly assembled exhibits, one by Sir Peter Jackson and the other by Weta workshops.

World War One was supposed to be the war to end all wars. The expression was no doubt a sincere belief that the horrors of this disastrous conflict - so graphically exposed in these two cleverly contrived expositions - were of such magnitude that no nation would challenge another nation ever again. It was also considered that the defeat of Germany, whose citizens were seen as the heirs of Prussian militarism and therefore inherent warmongers, would herald the end of expansionism in the centre of Europe.

After the war, measures were taken to ensure everlasting peace, the most important being the formation of the League of Nations, plus a number of treaties that sought to limit military power.

World peace was of course to be a pipe dream, especially in the constant utterances of beauty contestants.

I remember in the TV series Head of the Class when history teacher Mr Moore tells his pupils that they will conclude their study on World War I, the “war to end all wars” and begin their study on World War II, “the war to end that theory.” American sitcom writers often expressed the situation perfectly. There was an episode of M*A*S*H where Colonel Potter remembers his fallen friends who died in “the war to end all wars” and one who died “in the war after that,” while Hawkeye Pierce describes the Korean conflict as “the latest war to end all wars.”

There were tumultuous times between the two world wars. The roaring twenties were followed by the great depression which ended when America’s wheelchair-bound president introduced the New Deal programme and in so doing heralded a new era of government interference in our lives that continues to this day. Roosevelt then changed the course of the Second World War by committing his country to fight in all theatres after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.

Masterton was full of American servicemen from about 1942 onwards. They camped at Memorial Park and the Solway Showgrounds and danced the night away with the local lasses in their canteen situated about where Bullick-Blackmore trades today. They were then shipped off to fight at Guadalcanal where huge numbers of them perished.

Post-1945 was like the calm after the storm. I recall reading where it was considered that the horror of the death and destruction the planet had suffered had brought people to their senses and there was now going to be goodwill towards citizens of all nations and that we would never see another world war. Peace it was thought might rein forever.

And there was a sort of surreal serenity after the war. The 1950’s on reflection were idyllic. Full employment and wages were such that mums didn’t have to work; one income sustained a family. A modest house on a quarter acre section was in reach of almost all and workers had Saturday and Sunday off.

In this country rapes and murders were few and far between, drug-taking was unheard of, and we didn’t need to lock the doors of our houses or our cars. A small coterie of affable policemen kept law and order in a confined police station on the corner of Lincoln Road and Chapel Street in between having cups of tea and reading the newspaper.

The film industry in Los Angeles kept us entertained and it seemed the Americans were living the good life too, with their idyllic nuclear families and their picket fenced homes, driving their flashy new cars and enjoying a whole new range of household appliances. To cement this image Bing Crosby crooned about those dear hearts and gentle people who lived and loved in his home town.

Years later this era was recreated in a television series aptly named  Happy Days.

All of this freedom of course came at the expense of the young men who had sacrificed their lives so that we could enjoy the post-war prosperity. In New Zealand those who did return came home as heroes and were well-received and well-treated. Many of the rural returned servicemen were granted re-hab farms and another war, this time in Korea, caused wool prices to reach record heights which meant the country prospered and we were able to maintain a very high standard of living.

But I fear we have let it all slip away. The happy days were perhaps only conferred on a few privileged countries in the world and a frighteningly fundamental group of people called jihadists saw what we did as a form of decadence and resolved that our way of life should be stopped dead in its tracks, literally.

Indeed there were excesses that inevitably came with freedom and perhaps we should have more rigidly adhered to the standards of the past and firmly re-directed those who chose to stray from the moral absolutes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we might also have been more altruistic to those in the world who could only look on our affluence from a distance with hatred and envy.

The two Wellington exhibitions are a stark reminder that we have learnt nothing from history. 

More than 150 wars have been fought since the end of “the war to end all wars,” and the carnage continues.

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but I know World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." - Albert Einstein

1 comment :

  1. I often agree with many things you say in our local rag, Mr Long, but have of late been having to re-evaluate my position on some of what I have previously read. Though it does state very clearly at the top of the page that it is OPINION and therefore not open to the same rules of good research normally associated with journalism, I've taken issue at some of your recent strong bias and also your stereotyping, which to me, is in some ways tantamount to being the same thing that drives racism, ageism and sexism. So for clarity, I'd like to offer you my own opinion. Firstly, NOT all Germans are 'dour' and/or 'hardworking' despite a recent article that seemed to be based on little more than these 'racist' beliefs. Secondly, NOT all 'socialist' regimes have failed their people. In fact, if you would care to ask some people in the regions previously known as Yugoslavia, under which system they fared best, you will probably be surprised to find that many believe that the area and the communities were in a much healthier place - and many would also tell you that it wasn't a failing of 'socialist' values, but a failing of people that caused the change. Many would even point their fingers at one or two specific people and declare those people to in fact be 'evil bullies' rather than proponents of 'capitalism' or 'socialism'. Many would argue that it was not a better system that replaced what they had, but in actual fact was a worse system, fronted by awful people whom mainly looked after themselves instead of their country. I believe I can say this as I have spoken to a number of people from that region. I have also spoken to a number of Cubans who despite your misleading statements about the country - also believe that the 'socialist' aspects (NOT 'communist' aspects) of their system are some of the best things about their existence.

    I personally don't particularly side with any system, I don't think of myself as a proponent of 'capitalism' or 'socialism' or 'communism' and have lived in too many countries and too have seen both atrocities and wondrous acts performed in the names of all the fore-mentioned systems, to believe that any system is inherently bad or good. You obviously have some bias, perhaps picked up from your parents or schooling or friends, I know not which, but I take a little offence at you having a pulpit to declare your own opinions as being the 'correct' way of looking at things - as the article/opinion on 'socialism' did. Perhaps if you looked a little further into each system, you might realise that in reality they're mostly the same and in some climates one 'works' better than another, and in some they don't. Those climates being one of time and economics.

    I don't claim to be correct in any of my assertions here, indeed they were also formed by my experience, but I'm not in the position to influence thousands of people's mind-sets either, but if I was I'd be a little bit more careful and considerate about what it is I am trying to insert into those minds.

    I do look forward to your future articles/opinions and I hope you don't take this comment to be a judgement of you as a person. I think you're a very affable chap and generally give the impression that you have the best in mind for people. I love the fact that you put yourself up for volunteering and went through with it also. Some would even argue that this was a 'socialist' action ;-)

    Thanks for reading.

    p.s. I am going to post using the anonymous option simply because I don't wish to be hit by an onslaught of SPAM from the sites used below to authenticate, but my name is Wez Hind (so you don't think I'm trying to hide behind the anonymous posting either).