Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Change of flag is timely and natural

Changing the New Zealand flag is well overdue.

There it is out and said.

The debate about whether New Zealand should throw off the cloak of her colonial past, because that is what the existing flag represents, is healthy and timely.

In spite of those who would say the money spent in a referendum could be better spent elsewhere, the debate is a worthy one.

And there are plenty of other funding choices the government has that could be better spent elsewhere so that argument is a red herring and only clouding the issue, conveniently so for those who don't want change.

The Returned Services Association has been to the fore in opposition to a referendum stating the country's services went to war under the flag and that was what they fought for.


The servicemen who fought in World War One answered the call of Empire. But it has been acknowledged that the King wasn't foremost in their thoughts. In many, if not most, instances they fought for their mates. They fought for survival and to be able to walk tall when returning from war for the contribution they made to the effort. And they had the chance to go on an adventure that would not otherwise have been available to them.

Some went unwillingly, the victims of anonymous white feathers in the mail that signalled they were cowardly for not playing their part.

In World War Two there was a more obvious reason given the aggression of Germany, her expansion plans and, subsequently, the expansionist plans of her Pacific ally Japan.

The New Zealanders of the First World War were not an autonomous unit. They were commanded by British generals whose follies are represented in the Gallipoli campaign which is at the core of the Anzac Day commemoration every April 25. That's not to forget the Passchendaele campaign organised by generals who had never visited the boggy marshes in which men were expected to fight.

By the Second World War New Zealand demanded that autonomy and that was achieved under the guardianship of General Bernard Freyberg, in league with the Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

But it is worth remembering the follies imposed on the forces at Anzac were rolled out again in 1941 when ill-equipped, poorly-supported and under-manned forces were sent into Greece in a hopeless bid to stop Axis expansion.

Those involved in getting New Zealand and Australia to take part were involved in deceit of the highest order, informing General Freyberg their plans had the assent of the New Zealand Government. That had only occurred because the New Zealand Government had been told Freyberg was in agreement.

The result? Another fine mess that resulted in New Zealand's Division almost being wiped out in Crete before the war had hardly begun. The British Middle East command, known as the 'Muddle East', refused to acknowledge New Zealand's demand to fight as an individual unit and until Freyberg put his foot down attempts were made to pick off various units for work that suited the British.

It should also not be forgotten that after years of saying New Zealand's security would be protected by the Royal Naval base in Singapore, to which New Zealand contributed significant amounts of money, that even before the second world war had started the British had decided they couldn't protect Australia and New Zealand – although they declined to tell either country.

There are numerous other instances of sufficient concern to say that not everyone shares the RSA's feeling toward the Mother Country and the link they would retain to her through the continuation of the Union Jack being represented in a New Zealand flag.

Having contributed so much to the war effort, not only in manpower, but also in food production, New Zealand then found herself cast aside and left to fight for herself when Britain aligned herself with the European Community.

Was that what the New Zealand soldiers fought for? Is that why we should cherish the Union Jack on our flag?
Check out any photos of New Zealand involvement in the Second World War. Vehicles all showed a silver fern. The New Zealand badge had two silver ferns in its design. Signposts of New Zealand encampments all had silver ferns on them.

Why? Because they were distinct from British and Australian logos. They were distinctive of New Zealand.

Visit any war graves from the first and second world wars, and the New Zealand headstones will be easily recognisable with their fern design.

New Zealand is an autonomous country, its silver fern is already well known and it should be the centrepiece of a black flag. And claiming it could be confused with the Isis flag is hogwash. New Zealand's sports uniform has been all black with the silver fern since the 1890s. Is that connection to be denied because it clashes with a johnny-come-lately fanatical group?

New Zealand was forced to find its way in the world in spite of her allegiance to Britain and all the lives that were laid down in rightful causes. It is now time to recognise that and strike out a new flag, a flag that is aspirational and built on a legacy of sacrifice not only by the armed services but by citizens from all walks of life.

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