There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat.” Julius Caesar, Act iv, Scene iii
After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the British Empire had few rivals in the first half of the 19th Century, but when Britain allied with France in the Crimean War against Russia, they realised that wooden ships were no match for French iron ships. The Industrial Revolution was spreading and other empires were rising: Russia, Japan, America, France and Germany all wished to join the global game of chess. Russophobia thrived in NZ since the Crimean War, encouraged by newspapers e.g. Daily Southern Cross whose 1873 ‘hoax’ report of Russian ship “Kaskowiski” invading Auckland caused panic.
When the Russian Empire did collide with the British in Northern Afghanistan (Pandjeh Incident 1884), the NZ public demanded protection in the form of coastal batteries, torpedo boats and militia training, all at huge taxpayer cost. The money wasted on these useless defences ought to be a stark warning to current ‘defence strategy’ but since when did common sense (or decency) ever penetrate paranoia, or the self-interests of the military industrial complex?
Japan meanwhile, was provoked from 250 years of self-imposed isolation from European barbarians by the threat of destruction by US Navy under Admiral Perry in 1853 (during the Crimean War). This existential threat eventually led to the 1869 Meiji Restoration and Japan’s Imperial ambitions. So successful was Japan’s jump from mediaeval to modern, that she defeated the Russian Imperial Navy in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima. (Russia, with Germany and France had opposed Japan’s acquisition of Manchuria, whilst the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 was designed to counter Russian expansion). Meanwhile, sharp operators like W.H. White (1845-1913), a salaried British Admiralty constructor, was secretly earning royalties on British-built warships he sold to both Japan and China, personally stoking suspicions between them to increase his sales revenue. “Plus ca change, plus la meme chose”. He was knighted for his services to his country.
Later, these aspiring empires were heavily influenced by the ideas of American naval officer and geo-strategist, A.T. Mahan. His 1890 analysis of Britain’s rise to global pre-eminence suggested that the possession of global bases enabled control of the sea-lanes: dominance of the sea-lanes gave control of world trade and unhindered exploitation of numerous colonies abroad. To ‘navallists’ such as Theodore Roosevelt, this need for bases required the Spanish-American War of 1898 (for which the ‘casus belli’ was the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbour), which gave America bases throughout the Caribbean, the ‘acquisition’ of Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam.
These possessions then created the need to build the Panama Canal to swiftly project naval forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific theatres without the month-long detour around Cape Horn. Before the canal was completed, Roosevelt sent his “Great White Fleet’ on a grand tour to show the world – particularly Japan – that America was now a naval force to be reckoned with. American strategists reckoned that war with Japan could also mean war with the British Empire. When the US fleet made its courtesy call to Auckland in 1908, her officers gathered intelligence for possible future invasion of the port. Thus in 1908, our allies were Japan, whilst our potential enemy was America.
With the 1905 building of the oil-fired battleship HMS “Dreadnought”, Britain had made the first move in destroying her strongest competitor, Imperial Germany. How could Britain – with no oil – base her imperial defence strategy on oil-fired ships? The major sources of oil then were Russia and America, though in 1871 huge reserves had been discovered in the Middle East, then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Clearly, for Britain, Germany and France to continue to play the game, they had to access oil. Germany, with the agreement of Turkey, was building a railway from Baghdad – Berlin (with drilling rights alongside the railway track) which by 1914, was nearing completion. The debacle of Gallipoli was actually about oil, but it is a complex story .
Britain and France (in 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement) secretly carved up the Middle East: their promise to the Arabs to free them from the Turkish yoke offered a new yoke. The only reason we know of this treachery against the Arabs is that in 1917 the Bolsheviks found a copy [of Sykes-Picot] in the Czar’s papers and published them in Pravda, (later re-printed by the Manchester Guardian).
In the long build-up to the First World War, NZ’s PM Sir Joseph Ward in 1909 generously offered that NZ pay for one (or maybe two?) new battleships for Britain. The offer was accepted and NZ borrowed 2 Million pounds for the 1911 building of HMS New Zealand. Although the ship made a pre-war visit to NZ, she was kept in the UK where she saw action in the North Sea, then scrapped in 1922. NZ meanwhile were still paying off the loan until 1944. Some parts were returned to NZ, including the ship’s laundry – a very expensive washing machine.
When Britain requested volunteers to “serve king and country” huge numbers responded, though significant numbers refused. Ten troops ships assembled in Wellington, but were unable to sail because they had no armed escort against a suspected German Naval presence in the Pacific. The NZ cabinet initially refused British pressure to sail unescorted. Eventually, our Japanese allies provided the battleship Ibuki which remained with the fleet all the way to Egypt then onto Gallipoli. That Japan was an ally in WWI was quickly forgotten by WWII. Likewise, Russia (the bête noir since 1850) was our ally in both world wars.
After the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Truman and Churchill agreed that Russia was once again the enemy, despite her having lost 25 million dead in defeating Hitler. Another little known truth is Churchill’s 1945 plan “Operation Unthinkable” intended to re-arm conquered Germany to fight alongside Britain and America to destroy Russia; thankfully, his generals doubted their chances and Truman vetoed the idea, but Stalin understood Churchill’s treachery, thus signaling the start of the Cold War. Churchill was also responsible for the famine deaths of 4 million Indians in 1942-3. Famine Relief sent by NZ and Canada were diverted by Churchill and stock-piled for the British Army. Churchill’s dictum that truth in wartime be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies still holds true, since most US and UK politicians speak glowingly of his legacy, whilst two recent films burnish the myth. How ought we to remember this amoral, utterly ruthless and inhuman character? Is the bodyguard of lies too powerful still?
The British Empire was finally bankrupted by WWI and WWII, having borrowed heavily from American banks, exhausting Britain’s gold reserves. The Anglo-American Establishment had tilted heavily in America’s favour and Britain had lost her Empire. While the rest of the world wished only for Peace, American armaments manufacturers were in no mood to close down a very profitable business. In keeping with Mahanian doctrine, empires need bases from which to effect control destroy any who dared question the status quo. With the Cold War, Communism was the enemy hence wars in Korea and Vietnam. The war on drugs (Central and South America) was followed by the global war on Terror (GWOT) and the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia, Syria, Yemen and perhaps Iran next. To understand the game, it is of no consequence to US arms business how many Americans die (and who even counts the enemy?) or who ‘wins’ the war: all that matters is that business continues.
Wars are fought on many fronts, but covert warfare had assumed huge significance during WWII. The US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) became [in 1947] the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Untrammeled by any laws anywhere, it is devoid of any governmental oversight so as to give American politicians ‘plausible deniability’. Such absolute power can only corrupt, making psychopaths of men like Allen Dulles whose brother John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State. Both men enjoyed power and their arrogance was colossal; trained as Wall Street lawyers, they held laws and lawmakers in contempt. Although Truman had set-up the CIA, in a newspaper article (exactly one month after the assassination of President Kennedy) he called for an end to CIA covert ops.
Because we are dealing with the most dishonest and secretive of agencies, what little we know can only ever be the tip of the iceberg. Yet the known record fills hundreds of books, and details the constant interference in every country on earth: blackmail, disinformation, torture and assassination are the tools of their trade, as is made explicit by the latest appointment of Gina Haspell as head of the CIA. No other country in history has ever operated at this level of depravity and yet they are never held to account for these crimes against Humanity.
It is at this point that I make a plea to our elected leaders. The historical record shows that an alliance with the devil is a dangerous arrangement: those who foolishly seek power and ride the back of the tiger end up inside. New Zealand is a small, friendly and decent country with no obvious enemies in sight; this reputation for good neighbourliness, justice and fair play, once lost, would be very hard to regain. If our erstwhile allies (US/UK) have been complicit in every international crime imaginable: torture, indefinite detentions, incarceration of refugees, illegal invasions, starving of populations, drone strikes, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, napalm, agent orange, nuclear weapons etc. It is long overdue that we broke free from this ghastly association.
New Zealand has stood tall many times in the past and punched well above her weight in many ways. The non-violent resistance of Parihaka (before Gandhi was born); women’s suffrage, the 8-hour working day, the opposition to Apartheid, our revulsion of nuclear weapons. What would those giants of our past have to say about today’s toadying lack of moral courage, our slavish devotion to two degenerate empires, our choosing the wrong side – both of history and of our own survival? Never forget that if Blair had stood up to George W. Bush, there would have been no 2003 invasion of Iraq nor the resultant Hell throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Why should we spend billions on anti-submarine aircraft when we cannot pay the salaries of nurses, teachers, police, and all the other services which our taxes ought to cover? Why should American arms manufacturers profit by selling us weapons that do nothing whatsoever to protect us, but everything to destroy us – physically, morally, spiritually and financially?
There is a tide in the affairs of men and the sea is full (and getting fulller). Just as the British Empire collapsed under the weight of its own gilded armour, soon too will the American Empire. We would be better alone than dragged down by such company. Both China and the Pacific Ocean are rising. As has been noted: no country has allies, only interests. Let us look to those interests and build a future for our children. It is no comfort that no child would be around to ask what we did to stop WWIII.
For in the final analysis, we all share the same small planet. We breathe the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” JFK, June 10th, 1963