Guess which nation had the Anglosphere’s proudest and toughest military culture a century ago? The answer “New Zealand” might surprise some. Which 21st Century Anglosphere nation no longer has a combat Air Force and almost no national defense? The answer is also New Zealand.
Consider these statistics: At the time of the First World War New Zealand had a total population of about 1,100,000. Of these about 100,000, all volunteers, went to the war. About 18,000 were killed, more than 40,000 wounded, and a grand total of 341 ever surrendered and were taken prisoner.
Let’s be careful what we are saying here. These are hardly figures to rejoice over: it was a ghastly tragedy. But New Zealanders did show the world they were not exactly pantywaists. They did their bit and more to save Europe from Prussian militarism.
In addition to this, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, New Zealand paid for a dreadnought battle-cruiser, HMS New Zealand, for the Royal Navy, which served with the British home fleet. (At the Battle of Jutland the Captain took the ship into action wearing a lucky Maori grass-skirt, to which some attribute the fact that New Zealand survived unscathed though three similar battle-cruisers were blown to pieces.) In the midst of the war, it formed its own Air Force.
Certainly, this huge effort did not knock the stuffing out of the little country in the way that casualties seemed to permanently knock the stuffing out of France. New Zealand fought bravely and where it was needed in World War II. The casualty lists were mercifully shorter, but New Zealanders played a leading role in the North African and Italian campaigns, and one of them became the third (and so far last) man in the history of the British Empire to win the Victoria Cross twice.
A New Zealand-manned cruiser, Achilles, helped put paid to the pocket-battleship Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate. Unlike Australia, it left its battle-hardened troops in Europe even after the Japanese attack in the Pacific.
HOWEVER, TIMES CHANGE. I landed at the small New Zealand town of Blenheim several weeks ago. Beside the civilian airport was a military air-base. Two or three vehicles with faded paint were drawn up there, but almost no personnel and no aircraft at all were to be seen.
Against the protests of much of its defense community, New Zealand’s socialist government (which in 1981 had the country declared a Nuclear Free Zone), had this land of flightless birds disband the fighter wing of its Air Force, which no longer has any strike capability.
Current duties of its remaining 50 or so aircraft include search and rescue, maritime patrol and transport. Almost all of the RNZAF’s top gun fighter pilots have left the country to join the British and Australian Air Forces.
Its Navy and Army are in roughly comparable shape. Those who struggle on manning its defense forces know that they are in a second or third-string organization with poor career or promotion opportunities, despised by many in the government.
The country’s thinking is, apparently, that thanks to geography, its allies can carry its defense burden for it. In the latter days of the Cold War extreme leftism became deeply entrenched in some parts of the labor and union movement and there is compelling evidence of Moscow connections and funding then which contributed to radicalizing significant parts of the culture.
KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky said that New Zealand “had been under massive propaganda and ideological attack from the KGB and the [Soviet] Central Committee, and the ruling Labour Party had seemed unaware of the extent to which the fabric of their society was being damaged by subversion …
“In its attempts to draw New Zealand into nuclear-free activities, the Soviet authorities had made tremendous efforts to penetrate and strengthen the Labour Party, partly through the local Party of Socialist Unity (in effect the Communist Party of New Zealand) and partly through the Trades Union Congress.”
IT PROBABLY MAKES sense that a small country should not try to replicate in miniature every type of defense capacity. (Although Singapore, with a comparable population, has powerful and up-to-date armed forces including a considerable fighter strike force.) However, it should make at least a contribution proportionate to, and compatible with, its larger allies.
This was what New Zealand did, in a sense, by buying Britain HMS New Zealand, rather than trying to run a capital ship of its own, far from where any decisive action might be fought, and by sending its troops to the strategically-decisive theatres in both world wars, rather than turning inward and behaving as if nothing mattered but its own comfort and quiet life.
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