Notes on a Scandal | Issue 20

Notes on a Scandal | Issue 20

No country for Kiwi blokes

I had almost finished my column for this week when I read that two New Zealand soldiers very recently died in Afghanistan. The “Breaking News” snippet on Stuff was a nigh-perfect example of how media framing influences how we understand a conflict. The words “personnel”, “team”, and “help” were used in place of “soldiers”, “army”, and “fight”. This kind of rhetoric is common. I mean, New Zealand is ostensibly in Afghanistan as part of a so-called “reconstruction” mission. Why exactly humanitarian reconstruction necessitates “laying down suppressing fire”, well, I don’t know. On this note, if you were an “insurgent” being shot at by foreign soldiers, don’t you think you’d shoot back, too? You could even say that these “insurgents” were acting in self-defence…

Aside from media framing, what really bothered me was John Key saying, “Losing seven of our men is an enormous price to pay... [but] I don’t think the terrible loss we’ve suffered overnight means we should leave earlier.” At no point was the very fact that “our men” were in Afghanistan in the first place questioned. New Zealand actually has no business being in Afghanistan. These men had volunteered for this particular mission, but John Key has their blood on his hands for continuing New Zealand’s involvement in an ultimately unwinnable war.

The problem with the Army being involved in “humanitarian” activities is that it’s confusing for local populations to be shot at by foreigners in fatigues one day and be given bread by them the next. These “reconstruction” projects might be benefiting Afghani people, but the Army should not be the ones implementing them. If New Zealand really wanted to live up to its “moral foreign policy” then there is absolutely no reason why we couldn’t have sent unarmed negotiators and peace-keepers rather than the SAS.

And don’t give me the “national interest” argument that we need to be in Afghanistan to keep our US and UK allies happy. Since when do we really, truly give a fuck about that? New Zealanders have long based their national identity on being nuclear-free, and the Yanks were none too pleased about that. But did that stop swimming-tog-clad, moustachioed hippies leaping aboard American nuclear-powered submarines with reckless, joyful abandon? Nay sire, it did not.

I wonder, John, how many more of “our men” must die needless deaths before you reconsider pulling out of Afghanistan early. It is indeed a tragedy that these men died there, but the greater tragedy is that it is seen as necessary for them to be there in the first place.
This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2012.
Posted 5:14pm Sunday 12th August 2012 by Brittany Mann.