Red Alert

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Hibakusha and a nuclear-free convention

Posted by on August 9th, 2012

When I taught English a lifetime ago, I used to teach John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. This week I met two hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in person for the first time in my life. It was very affecting. She was 80; he was 73.  She is Shigeko Sasamori and he is Michi Hirata. They were inspiring. If you want to see some pictures of their visit, go to Mary Wareham’s flickr page . Thanks to Mary for those pics. To hear their stories is to go back to my 5th form English class and revisit why it was a good idea that Hersey’s work was part of the curriculum. It is still  a good idea.

 Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. On Sunday of this week (Aug 5), Grant Robertson and I attended the annual commemoration of the dropping of those bombs on Japan in 1945. At the commemoration, students from Heretaunga College spoke about why they, who have only ever been told stories and read stuff, are ardently in favour of a nuclear-free world. They were inspiring too.

Next week, Parliament will receive a report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee – an all-party report, with no minority report – proposing that New Zealand join with other like-minded countries to advance a convention prohibiting the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons. This is in response to a petition from Edwina Hughes on behalf of the Peace Movement Aoteaora.  Officials advised us against it, as something which would not be supported by the major powers.  Sure, that might be so. Should that stop us from aiming for the stars? The committee said no. Officials said that about cluster munitions at the time, and we got a treaty on that. This could just be the start of the next step towards a nuclear-free world. Too idealistic? God (or someone) protect us from politicians without ideals. You can read the report here. I await the government’s response in 90 days.

Happy anniversary.





Happy birthday Woody

Posted by on July 14th, 2012

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie would have turned 100 today. Woody is one of my heroes. He pretty much invented 20th century folk music and was a true radical.

He had an extraordinary influence on so many artists. Bob Dylan more or less became Woody in the early years of his career. In recent years a small industry has developed, celebrating Woody’s music. Have a look at this classic Bruce Springsteen version of This Land from 1985. Springsteen performed it again, with Woody’s contemporary Pete Seeger at President Obama’s inauguration. Billy Bragg and Wilco have brought a swag of Guthrie’s songs to life, putting music to lyric sheets from the archive. Steve Earle, who appears in this Democracy Now studio discussion on Guthrie’s life, wrote a great account of Guthrie’s legacy in the Nation back in 2003, and has just published a novel and an album inspired by the same.

Here’s an excerpt from a tribute in the Guardian:

Guthrie was born 100 years ago today, on 14 July 1912. His family broke up amid arson, death, poverty and madness, and he left his Oklahoma home at 18 to begin a lifelong habit of taking to the open road. His overriding inspiration was always the plight of the disenfranchised, and he lent his voice to the dustbowl refugees of the 1930s depression. His politics also extended into the wider world and he joined the marines in the second world war to fight the rising tide of fascism. With the famous logo written on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists”, he wrote hundreds of anti-Hitler, pro-war and historic ballads to rally the troops. But he never lost sight of the practical, human dimension and also wrote songs about the dangers of venereal disease. No subject was taboo.

Forty-five years after his death Guthrie’s voice remains clear and sure, not least because his strong moral values were infused by a wry sense of humour. He wrote great songs that could be understood and enjoyed by everyone, he knew the value of a good one-liner, a storyline and a catchy melody, and he never wavered from his mission to mean every word. Here are his thoughts on the effectiveness of song in spreading ideas: “There’s several ways of saying what’s on your mind. And in states and counties where it ain’t too healthy to talk too loud, speak your mind, or even vote like you want to, folks have found other ways of getting the word around. One of the mainest ways is by singing … No matter who makes it up, no matter who sings it and who don’t, if it talks the lingo of the people it’s a cinch to catch on, and will be sung here and yonder for a long time after you’ve cashed in your chips.”

This weekend there is a three day Woodyfest in New York, and another one in his birthplace of Omekeh, Oklahoma. And the Smithsonian have put out this amazing looking book and CD set.

I am sure if Woody were alive today he’d have been playing at one of the Aotearoa Is Not For Sale marches around the country.

Filed under: history, music

That woman

Posted by on September 16th, 2011

I’m talking about Frances Walsh. The so-called “hobbit-hating woman”, who dared to stand up for her members in MEAA when Mr Warner Bros and his hired guns came to town last year to attack New Zealand’s sovereignty and labour laws, in the name of “jobs”.  Our  feeble government wooed Warner Bros, along with Peter Jackson and Co with big limos and flash hospitality and then did the ultimate sell-out by amending labour laws to ensure film and video production workers don’t have the right to challenge their status as employees under our labour law.

That woman, who along with Helen Kelly, CTU President, became the target of the worst case of New Zealand union-phobia we’ve seen in a decade.  That woman, who has a distinguished career as a journalist, and who has now published a quite wonderful book, called “Inside Stories” – a history of the New Zealand Housewife 1890 – 1975.

Walsh’s book takes a look at the artistic, cultural and historical role of women in New Zealand. It’s a reminder of the stereotypes of women I grew up with and fought against, and the struggle of the right to vote in the late 1890’s through to 1975, when modern feminism asserted the right to sexual and reproductive freedom.

It’s an artistic romp through women’s magazines and their reflection on a women’s place and a political commentary on how far women in New Zealand have come – and have yet to go.

The book is beautifully illustrated with cartoons, advertisements, colours and wallpapers of the eras.  I bought it willingly, because I think it’s one not just to read, but to keep. But I also bought it in honour of Frances’ role as a trade unionist – sticking up for a whole bunch of workers, who may seem by many to be privileged because they work in an industry that is on the surface glamorous and adventurous, but has underneath, a whole lot of problems and issue. The National Government turned their back on them last year when they sidled up to Warner Bros and did the indecent thing, selling out a whole category of workers and giving a message that this is in store for any other group who dare stand up for their rights.

Well done Frances. And all women like her.


Posted by on June 29th, 2011
If people make history, then more history is being made now than in any century before 1990. In fact, over 28% of all history made since the birth of Christ was made in the 20th century.

Source: Angus Maddison, UN, The Economist

I discovered this graph via Twitter from Alan Kohler, who is a respected, if somewhat economically dry, Australian financial journalist and business editor amongst other things. He produces the Eureka Report

Am sure you could measure history in different ways, but the graph is stark.

Honours List

Posted by on June 6th, 2011

Used to be on the Cabinet Committee that made the honours decisions. Always interesting. Often ten times as many nominations as slots available.

There was a big call involved in stopping knight and damehoods. In retrospect I don’t think Kiwis were ready for it. Doesn’t bode well for moving to a republic.

Always easy to criticise a list, for those who are there and those who are not. This one is no exception.

But this one has more individuals who I regard as personal friends than any I was involved in as a Minister. Over a dozen. All deserved. Feels a bit weird. And using Facebook to congratulate also different.

Texts from Auckland

Posted by on May 10th, 2011

Txts from Banksy 1

Txts from Banksy 2

Txts from Banksy 3

May Day musings

Posted by on May 2nd, 2011

Over the May Day weekend, I visited Blackball to help mark a new memorial to the 34 miners who have died on the West Coast since 1990, including the Pike River Miners. On the way to Blackball, I paid my respects to the 65 miners who were killed at Strongman mine in New Zealand’s worst mining accident, along with others killed in West Coast Mines.

There’s a local group called Mahi Tupuna, who have worked hard to keep the history of Blackball alive.  They worked with the local community to erect the wheel memorial (discovered from a Roa Mine ropeway), which had the names of the 34 miners on it. It was another chance for the Pike River and other families to come together and remember their loved ones killed in the terrible toll of mining accidents on the West Coast.

There was also an exhibition called “Greymouth vs Ron Brierly – the demise of the clothing industry”, a political forum organised by Unions West Coast and a get together afterwards at the Workingman’s Club.

The sadness and grief, but also pride runs deep in this beautiful place. I’m grateful to those who work so hard to keep its history, past and present alive.

It’s a May Day weekend I won’t forget.


Hone has the right to criticise his leadership

Posted by on January 23rd, 2011

Not often that I find my self agreeing with Matt McCarten and Fran O’Sullivan at the same time. They have written from different perspectives but come to the same conclusion :- Hone Harawira has a right and possibly even a responsibility to criticise the leadership of the Maori Party for the direction they are taking.

McCarten :-

Political maturity means accepting MPs will have different opinions.

A party having a considered discussion about itself is democratic and can make it more popular.

Trying to crush alternative perspectives will have the opposite effect.

O’Sullivan :-

Backbench MPs are not subject to Cabinet collective responsibility. They should be able to articulate their views on major issues and challenge the powers that be. Trouble is, far too many of today’s crop leave any pretence to owning an independent brain outside the door when they enter Parliament.


Harawira is made of sterner stuff. But there has also been a sea change, which I put down to the journalistic tendency to quickly put any backbench MP on to the “must be dumped from caucus’ slipway” when they call their own party to account.

Instead of greasing the ramp, why don’t journalists simply challenge the leadership to respond to the valid points Harawira has made?

Publicly opposing the leadership of your party is never easy. But there are plenty of precedents, more from Westminster than here but can and should still be done.

The process is pretty clear. One resigns from portfolios and shifts to the backbench. One talks it through with the leader and then caucus. And one is honest and straightforward – not the Carter approach.

We don’t have a real tradition of this sort of approach – Muldoon, Minogue, Waring, Anderton, Upton, Lee. Being a small Parliament doesn’t help. And the increased power that has gone to the party and the leadership with MMP hasn’t helped either.

But I do agree with McCarten and O’Sullivan that it is an important part of a democracy that, in the end, MPs have the right to go public with their concerns.

Lots of colleagues disagree. I refer readers to the box at the top right.

And to make it clear to trolls again – I believe Phil Goff is the only person in our caucus who can lead a government this year – and that this post is about MPs right to express their views – nothing wider.

In 50 years so much has changed… but the essential battles haven’t

Posted by on January 21st, 2011

I follow Barack Obama on Twitter. Today I received this:

Barack Obama
BarackObama Barack Obama
Speaking at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Watch live at 7pm ET.
Will be interested to see what Obama has to say. His speech can be watched live here
Here’s JFK’s inaugural speech

So much of what he says is relevant today. Some of it clearly isn’t. But one quote stood out for me:
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Here’s the text of his speech

Flossie le Mar could change lives…..

Posted by on January 10th, 2011

Don’t often do plugs on Red Alert but this is an issue we still haven’t got our heads around. Self defence for women and especially for girls is an important part of a process that is much more than the physical stuff. I first organised courses in the King Country in the early 1980s. There have been spurts of progress since mainly thanks to a very committed and mainly voluntary group of women. I hope this play helps change the mindset to the point where every girl gets to do at least one self defence course.

I write to interest you in supporting the debut staging of my play The Hooligan and the Lady next Wellington Fringe Festival.  The play is about Florence Warren (1890 – 1951) aka Miss Flossie le Mar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl.  This is the true story of the first woman to teach women’s self-defence in New Zealand – on stage. The play is a period reproduction of an original Edwardian star turn celebrating the achievements of one woman and her campaign to save women from brutes and bullies alike and I seek support to realize it.


Credit where it’s due

Posted by on September 3rd, 2010

I have to acknowledge that the government did a good thing in formally recognising (today) September 3 as Merchant Navy Day. I’m presuming there were discussions during Labour’s tenure in office, but it was the NACTs who got the remembrance day over the line.

I’ve been to a few Merchant Navy commemorations, and seen the huge memorial in Sydney Harbour. Merchant Seamen played a critical role during wartime, transporting troops, food, military equipment and vital cargo around the world, under the constant threat of enemy raids.  But their remembrance days have been quiet affairs, compared to Anzac Day.

These seamen put their lives on the line and faced enormous risk. Their work was so essential to the war effort that the Merchant Navy became known as the fourth service, alongside the army, navy and airforce.

At least 130 New Zealand merchant seaman lost their lives during the Second World War and around 140 were taken prisoner.  Internationally, around 80,000 merchant seamen lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted 2074 from 3 September 1939 to 7 May 1945, when Germany finally capitulated.

These are untold stories that must be told to our children and grandchildren. Even if it means I have to say something nice about the NACTs, these sailors need to be remembered.

Big Norm

Posted by on August 31st, 2010

81tour-006A tweet from Phil Goff was a reminder that today is the anniversary of the death of Norman Kirk, a much loved NZ Labour Prime Minister, who died suddenly at the age of 51 in 1974. “Big Norm” was the fifth New Zealand PM to die in office.

To quote Michael Bassett in the Dictionary of NZ Biography :

“New Zealanders awoke on the Sunday to the news that their Prime Minister was dead. There followed an outpouring of grief paralleled only by that which had followed M.J. Savage’s death in 1940. People who had been slow to embrace Kirk as a leader could not believe that he had been snatched away, seemingly in his prime. As the Labour Party slid towards defeat at the 1975 election, legends grew about the man who might have saved the country from Muldoon. Princes, prime ministers and potentates with whom Kirk had established friendships also mourned his passing; most thought him an extraordinary individual, and the “log cabin to White House” metaphor was on many lips.”

I’m old enough to remember his death, and was young enough at the time for his short tenure as PM to make a formative impact on my fledgling political views. Norman Kirk’s strong protest against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean, which led to the Labour Government taking France to the International Court of Justice in 1972 and his heroic act of sending two New Zealand navy frigates into the test zone area at Mururoa Atoll in 1973 to protest  French testing made a big impact. Kirk also refused to allow a visit by a South African rugby team  team, a decision he made because of the apartheid régime in South Africa – which was a forerunner to the 1981 Springbok Tour actions.

I strongly recall the sense that something good and promising with his election as a Labour Prime Minister had disappeared, followed soon after by the malevolent and all-pervading presence of Muldoon – which in its weird way was also transformative for my generation.

And of course, only a taste of what was to come.

From the Archive: Peter Fraser

Posted by on August 22nd, 2010

Yesterday I attended the rally in Civic Square protesting the government’s latest attacks on worker’s rights. It’s always interesting to put events of today into context. This quote comes from Peter Fraser’s speech to Parliament on the Employment Bill back in 1945:

“…if we have learned anything … it is that the worst thing in the world is to go on making a depression worse by reducing incomes. At that time, the whole power of the State should be used to maintain purchasing-power … I declare that as long as this Government remains in office, notwithstanding what happens in the outside world, notwithstanding what happens to prices, even of our own commodities, we can still produce sufficient to house and feed and clothe adequately our men, women and children, and particularly the children. Never again will this country be permitted to return to the terrible conditions that prevailed before this Government came to office.  It is indeed a terrible thing and a reflection on our civilization that, in a land of plenty, children should lack sufficient to eat…”

The old cliche goes that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. Ministers in the current National government obviously didn’t pay much attention during their history lessons. Since coming to office they’ve slashed spending on many vital public services, laid off thousands of public servants, and yanked away vital support from many of those who find themselves down on their luck. The purchasing power that Fraser alludes to is being eroded through their GST increase and the inflation it will cause, along with their unofficial ‘wage freeze’.

National’s latest moves to impose ‘fire at will’ provisions on all new employees and sell their holidays will only make matters worse. National promised Kiwis they were ‘aspirational’ – the question is for whom? It certainly isn’t ordinary hard-working Kiwis who are struggling with rising costs, stagnant wages, and lower levels of support from their government.

Tony Judt is dead; his ideas arn’t.

Posted by on August 12th, 2010

Few writers have impacted me as much as Tony Judt in his recent book “Ill Fares the Land“.  He died last Friday, and I mourn his loss.

Ill Fares The Land picks up where The Spirit Level leaves off: asking why equality and social democracy have declined as drivers of political change. 

Judt suffered from the rare Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Ill Fares the Land was dictated literally from his sick bed.   It is not a robust peer reviewed academic treatise, but in places it is pure inspiration.  Read it.  Buy it.

He traces the crises of the early 20th century – two world wars and Great Depression.  he charts the rise of post-war Keynesian economics and the politics of social democracy that were determined famine and war should not again stalk the earth.

He  notes the rise of Hayek’s Austrian economics – and its Western political manifestations in Reagan and Thatcher’s administrations. 

He notes the rise of the Third Way under Blair (and by another name under Clinton, and could we add locally Clark/Cullen?)  as a triangulated response against the rise of right wing political hegemony.    

He argues that with the end of those administrations the ideas of the Right once again hold sway.  He asks what is worth saving of the social democratic project, and what is now to be done.

He concludes that nothing short of a strong and clear reclaiming of the values of equality, community and social democracy will equip the Left for the fight it must now win.

He notes that genuine politics must take place alongside those it seeks to serve, and I am sure that he is right about that.  

Ill Fares the Land is  far from a perfect work.  (And for the trolls out there, I did not agree with every word).  But it is a poignant lament for the decline of values most Kiwis treasure, and a challenge to us all to fight for a better future. 

RIP Tony Judt.

End of an era: The Brook

Posted by on June 20th, 2010

May June 2010 259

Last night the final test was played at Carisbrook in Dunedin.

Set in the heart of South Dunedin, Carisbrook; “the mighty Brook”, more recently known as the “House of Pain”, has been an iconic rugby venue in New Zealand. The first  international rugby match played at Carisbrook was Otago vs NSW, on September 11 1886.

The first rugby test match was played in 1908, where the All Blacks beat the Anglo-Welsh 32 to 5 in front of 23,000 people. The last test, All Blacks vs Wales was played last night in front of 30,000. The All Blacks won resoundingly 42 to 9.

Carisbrook got its name from a stream that flowed through the Dunedin property of the first superintendent of Otago, James Macandrew, who honeymooned at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.

From 1874, the ground was first used by the Carisbrook Cricket Club, but in 1886 started sharing the ground with Pirates Rugby Club. Pirates still exists.

Carisbrook is being replaced with a new stadium situated on the other side of the city.

Its future is uncertain but there’s currently a community consultation process in place. When I stood for parliament I said it was essential that the people of South Dunedin and Caversham had a say in what happened to their iconic ground.

Last night was pretty emotional. After the match, the Terraces stayed full for ages as people couldn’t bear to leave the ground. You could feel the sadness and the pride and the history.

Today, a taxi driver told me that the players are going to really miss the Brook because of the amazing connection they felt with the people on the Terraces. It’s truly the end of an era, said Cuddy.

I got to stand on the hallowed turf last night. I felt proud to be South D.

To fight, or not

Posted by on April 25th, 2010

In our short history we have seen our fair share of battlefield carnage. Arguably it has helped make us one of the most peace-seeking of nations. The popular support for our nuclear-free policy,  our extensive peace-keeping deployments and the decision to stay out of Iraq reflects strong anti-war sentiment.

And yet throughout our history New Zealanders have always been ready to go to war when called. Modern ANZAC Day services are not anti-war. They respect the sacrifices made by our service men and women.

So what do we think of this paradox?  Historian Glyn Harper addressed it when he gave the 2010 Jack Lyon Memorial Lecture last weekend. It is an annual event hosted by the North Shore Committee of the Labour Party to commemorate Jack Lyon, a Labour MP who held the seat of Waitemata 1935-41.

Lyon personified the paradox. He was a left wing internationalist who believed he had to fight when the cause was right. At the age of 17 Lyon lied about his age so he could fight in WW1. In 1939 he did it again, this time knocking four years off his real age, so he could fight fascism.  He reached the rank of Captain, and died under German fire during the evacuation of Crete.

You can read or listen to Glyn Harper’s excellent lecture. It was a special night. Glyn read out two letters home from New Zealand soldiers in Gallipoli – letters never read in public before.  The event was attended by Sophie Tomlinson, Jack Lyon’s granddaughter. Defence Minister Hon Wayne Mapp was also there and found himself in the middle of some spirited debate about whether our SAS should currently be in Afghanistan.  It was a good warm up for ANZAC Day.  You can read more about last year’s event too.

Reflecting on ANZAC Day #1

Posted by on April 24th, 2010

I will be up early on Sunday, and like many New Zealanders will be at a number of different events marking ANZAC Day.  It is a great day to honour servicemen and women and  remember people who have given their lives in the service of our country.  Waitangi Day is still our national day from my point of view, but it is clear ANZAC Day is providing a sense of belonging, and a time for reflection and remembrance that New Zealanders are looking for.

It was not always so for me.  I can remember as a 16 year old avoiding a school ANZAC service on the grounds that I do not believe in war, and I did not want to glorify it.  I was young and naive.  I also think that at that point (in the mid 80s) the day had not taken on the inclusive and unifying feel it has now.  It was the time of fierce debate over nuclear ships and ANZUS, not to mention the whole prospect of dying in a nuclear war thing.

I worked out over the next period of time that in fact the day was not about glorifying war, but rather remembering sacrifice.   A conversation with a veteran as I was finishing school crystallised it for me.  He asked me to think about my friends from school, say imagine a photo from your school ball with 20 friends in it.  Then imagine within two years there were only four of you left.  That was his experience.

He was not interested in glorifying war (in fact he detested it, and thought New Zealand should avoid it all costs, as I still do).   But he did want to remember his mates.  And I reckon that is worth getting up early for.

Heroes of Gallipoli

Posted by on April 23rd, 2010


I’ve just been to see the Heroes of Gallipoli projection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Twenty minutes of historic footage from World War One, including priceless footage from Gallipoli that Peter Jackson digitally restored. It includes scenes of  troops at Suvla and Cape Helles, soldiers at Anzac Cove, Turkish bombardments and troops embarking at Imbros Island. Well worth a look. Some good background on it here.

How we think about war and peace

Posted by on April 8th, 2010

Dark Journey cover pic

ANZAC Day is almost on us.  Each year around this time the North Shore Labour Electorate Committee puts on an event to commemorate the sacrifice made by Jack Lyon. Lyon was the MP for the old seat of Waitemata 1935-41. He gave up his seat in Parliament and volunteered to fight fascism in Europe. He was killed in action during the evacuation of Crete. See this post on last year’s event for more on Jack Lyon.

This year Glyn Harper will deliver the Jack Lyon Memorial Lecture.  Professor Harper is one of our leading military historians and author of the acclaimed Dark Journey, an account of the three key New Zealand battles of the Western Front in World War Two. He will talk about the tension in New Zealand’s past and present between on one hand the horror of war and the determination to avoid it at all costs, and on the other, our idealistic urge to take up arms when the call comes.

That tension is reflected in the life of Jack Lyon who was a democratic socialist and internationalist, but who was also a soldier in two world wars and altered his age in 1914 and again in 1939 to ensure that he would see overseas service.  The lecture will  look at other New Zealand MPs who shared Jack Lyon’s fate in 1941. It will attempt to make sense of why men like Jack Lyon felt compelled to fight and explore whether this tension can be reconciled.  For more on the event, click here.

Time to plead guilty bill

Posted by on March 8th, 2010

Yet another inquiry into the Brash email leaks doesn’t find quite enough evidence to name the Deputy Prime Minister.