Thursday, 30 March 2017

Us and Them: The Fatal Divisions of Exploitative Culture.

Us and Them: The trick to running a successful Exploitative Culture lies in defining who is – and who is not – a member of it. Or, to put it another way: who is included in the idea of “Us”, and who belongs with “Them”.
OURS IS NOT JUST A RAPE CULTURE: it’s a Kill Culture, a Rip-off Culture and a Lie Culture as well. But, rather than attempting to reconcile ourselves to living in a multiplicity of malign cultures, it is probably more helpful to think of ourselves as inhabiting a single Exploitative Culture. One in which human-beings are consistently treated as means to another’s end – not as ends in themselves.
The trick to running a successful Exploitative Culture, therefore, lies in defining who is – and who is not – a member of it. Or, to put it another way: who is included in the idea of “Us”, and who belongs with “Them”.
Generally speaking the smaller the “Us”, the greater the power. If you’re a member of the “One Percent”, for example, it not only means that you are obscenely wealthy and powerful, but also that 99 percent of your fellow human-beings are, in one way or another, exploitable.
Exploitation is always and everywhere associated with actual physical violence, or the threat of it. Without violence people simply would not consent to being treated as the means to someone else’s ends – they would rebel. Exploitative Culture (which is to say all culture) may thus be further defined as the organisation of, and the devising of justifications for, purposive social violence.
We thus return to “Us” and “Them”: which may now be thought of, respectively, as those who must be protected from the imposition of purposive violence; and those upon whom such violence may be inflicted with impunity.
Consider the current controversy surrounding “Operation Burnham” the botched, or exemplary (depending on whether you believe journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, or the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lt-General Tim Keating) attack on settlements in the Tirgiran Valley in Northern Afghanistan.
What happened in the Tirgiran Valley could not have happened if its inhabitants were regarded by the New Zealand soldiers taking part in the operation as members of “Us”. To listen to Lt-General Keating deliver his media briefing on Monday afternoon (27/3/17) was to hear a man doing everything within his power to make sure that the men under his command continued to be regarded by the New Zealand public as “Us”; and that the villagers of the Tirgiran Valley, “the insurgents”, as he called them, were seen as “Them” – our enemies.
In the eyes of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Hager and Stephenson are guilty of engaging in the most basic prohibition of all Exploitative Cultures: attempting to redefine the meaning of “Us” and “Them”.
The whole purpose of their book, Hit & Run, is to make the reader see the victims of Operation Burnham as people like themselves: hard-working farmers; a trainee schoolteacher home for the holidays; parents and grandparents; a three-year-old girl called Fatima. And the more successful the authors are at transforming “Them” into “Us”, the more outrageous Operation Burnham seems to the New Zealand public.
The subtitle of Hit & Run refers to the “meaning of honour”. The reference shows considerable insight on the part of Hager and Stephenson, because the concept of “honour” is inseparable from what it means to be a soldier – a warrior.
The military virtues are all “hard” virtues: valour, prowess, discipline, loyalty. They need to be, because bodies of armed men, willing to inflict injury and death on command, are the ultimate guarantors of Exploitative Culture. Crucial to the success of these hard military virtues is the continual and favourable contrast provided by the justifiers of exploitation with the “soft” virtues of civilian life: wisdom, creativity, tolerance, solidarity.
Significantly, Exploitative Culture assigns almost identical combinations of qualities to the constructs of masculine and feminine. Strength and masculinity is pitted against weakness and femininity in what can only be described as the primal social dichotomy: the first and most destructive reduction of human-beings from ends-in-themselves to means-to-an-end.
For ordinary men to accept their subordination to stronger, richer and more powerful men, Exploitative Culture supplies them with their own inexhaustible supply of subordinates – women and children. And since there can be no exploitation – no power – without violence, the maintenance of this primal dichotomy is of necessity achieved through the unremitting application of physical and emotional coercion. Domestic violence, rape, child abuse: these are not just the products of the masculine/feminine dichotomy, they are also the most tragic expression of the “Us” and “Them” divide.
The non-consensual penetration of a young woman at a party; the invasion of a distant river valley by airborne special forces; both are symptoms of the same dreadful disease.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 29 March 2017.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Everyone Owns The Water.

Ours - Not Yours: If water belongs to everyone, then immediately two principles become very clear. The first is that water can only ever be owned collectively – and never individually. The second is that whatever the collective entity in which public ownership is vested, be it the state or a local authority, public officials cannot ethically permit collectively owned water to be diverted for private profit without first extracting from the profit-seeker an appropriate fee for its use.
NO ONE OWNS THE WATER. It sounds so reasonable. How could anyone “own” water? It “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven”, according to Shakespeare, and is sent to fall “on the just and on the unjust”, if you believe the New Testament. Playing no part in its creation, what plausible claim could we, as human-beings, possibly advance for its ownership?
Well, that all depends on how human-beings organise themselves. A hunter-gatherer society takes its water pretty much as Mother Nature delivers it. From springs and streams and rivers, and directly, from the sky above.
Agricultural and/or pastoral societies, however, tend to take a much more proprietary view of water. Without a reliable water supply crops cannot flourish and herds die of thirst. The human-beings who live in these kinds of societies are not disposed to share “their” springs and streams and rivers with anyone – not without a fight.
And then there are the human-beings who live in cities. Without water, cities simply can’t exist. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the key capability which makes any sort of enduring civilisation possible is the ability to collect, transfer and distribute large quantities of water for the consumption and use of large numbers of human-beings. How would the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt have survived without their sophisticated systems of water storage and irrigation? Where would Rome have been without her aqueducts and cisterns?
Civilised Collectivism: Where would Rome have been without her aqueducts?
In a civilised society, the bald assertion that “no one owns the water” is, therefore, nonsense. Because, in a civilised society, water belongs to everyone.
But, if water belongs to everyone, then immediately two principles become very clear.
The first is that water can only ever be owned collectively – and never individually. (In the simplest terms, you can’t own it – because we own it.) The second principle is that whatever the collective entity in which public ownership is vested, be it the state or a local authority, public officials cannot ethically permit collectively owned water to be diverted for private profit without first extracting from the profit-seeker an appropriate fee for its use.
It is only when we work back from these first principles that the bitter controversy over the use (and misuse) of water which has arisen in New Zealand is explained. They make it all-too-clear why politicians and officials in the thrall of farmers – especially dairy farmers – are so determined to make us believe that: “no one owns the water”.
Like all good agriculturalists and pastoralists, New Zealand’s dairy farmers claim a proprietary interest in the springs, streams, rivers and aquifers which water their crops, preserve their herds and wash out their cowsheds.
Their problem, of course, is that they can’t claim ownership of these water sources openly because New Zealand isn’t ancient Mesopotamia or medieval England. They live in a society in which the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens dwell in towns and cities and where the collective ownership and protection of potable water constitutes the foundation of urban health and comfort.
Bluntly, the springs, streams, rivers and aquifers of New Zealand are not the de facto property of the farming sector, they belong to the whole nation. This is the truth that has, at all costs, to be kept hidden. So long as the whole nation can be hoodwinked into believing that they are not the collective owners of New Zealand’s water; so long as they adhere to the nonsensical notion that “no one owns the water”; so long will the farming sector go on extracting profit from this critical resource without paying a cent for the massive collateral environmental damage they’re causing.
This was the motivation behind the shutting down of Ecan, the Canterbury Regional Council; the reason why democracy has been suspended in that part of New Zealand for more than six years. So reckless had the greed and selfishness of the Canterbury farming community become that they were willing to strip their city-dwelling compatriots of their political rights rather than be denied the massive, publicly-subsidised, irrigation schemes that would make them and their neighbours rich.
When the Prime Minister’s brother, Conor English, shortly after National’s election victory in 2008, vouchsafed to me his prediction that the single biggest issue facing New Zealand for the next twenty years would be “water”, I thought he was joking.
He wasn’t.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 March 2017.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


 “Have a care when fighting monsters – lest ye become a monster yourself.” - Friedrich Nietzsche.
WAS “MONGOOSE” the word that flashed through Bobby Kennedy’s brain when he received the awful news of his brother’s assassination in Dallas? Like JFK, Bobby knew all about the activities of  “Mongoose” – the top-secret CIA operation dedicated to killing the revolutionary Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Was it possible that the ruthless and criminal tactics sanctioned by “Operation Mongoose” had blown back in the Kennedy brothers’ faces?
The temptation to join the dots must have been very strong – especially after it became known that the man identified as President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been an active member of “Hands Off Cuba!”, a political organisation dedicated to keeping the Castro regime safe from US intervention?
“Blowback” is the name given to the unintended and often disastrous consequences of officially-sanctioned behaviour which crosses the line separating legitimate public policy from unethical, and, all-too-often, criminal behaviour.
Sometimes blowback is spectacular: as when Osama Bin Laden, the man the CIA helped to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan, turned his murderous talents against the USA. More often, however, blowback describes the insidious effects of unethical and/or criminal practices on the integrity of the people and institutions who initially gave them sanction.
Nietzsche’s oft-quoted aphorism: “Have a care when fighting monsters – lest ye become a monster yourself.”, sums up the dilemma very nicely.
When evil strikes, the temptation to “fight fire with fire” is always very strong. Indeed, to suggest anything less is all-too-easily construed as evidence of insufficient zeal, or, even worse, abject weakness. This impetuous inclination to embrace the monstrous methods of one’s enemies is nowhere more pronounced than in the institutions of national defence and security. And those leading the charge will, invariably, be drawn from the most elite and aggressive “special forces” units.
The great danger in these circumstances is that policy-makers begin to confuse tactical weaponry with viable strategy.
The whole ethos of the special forces is based upon their self-characterisation as the point of the national security spear. Not for them the ponderous deliberation of the innumerable variables that constitute a sensible and morally defensible foreign policy. A spear, and most especially, the point of a spear, is only useful if your prime purpose is to thrust something deadly into your enemy’s body. It’s usefulness as an instrument for debating and determining durable international relationships is considerably less apparent.
Unless, of course, the nation’s political and military leadership can be persuaded that careful deliberation and debate, far from being the solution to the problem of national security, should be counted among its principal causes. When terrorists fly airliners into tall buildings, people don’t want debate – they want action. When politicians are being pressed to exact vengeance upon “evildoers”, their first instinct is not to reach for the compendiums of international law, or to consult the history books. Their over-riding priority is to close their fingers around the hilt of a sword.
The only problem, of course, is that, to a sword, every problem looks like an exposed belly, or a vulnerable neck. In the eyes of special forces personnel: their intelligence gatherers and the officers who plan their special operations; the only thing that matters is the mission. If the mission is to defeat terrorism, then anything, or anyone, who gets in the way risks being lumped-in with the terrorists.
In the context of a working democracy, this sort of professional tunnel-vision can lead to catastrophe. Independent journalists, for example, investigating in-theatre and asking too many awkward questions, are not seen as symbols of the democratic institutions that soldiers are sworn to protect, but as persons capable of compromising the mission. To “neutralise” these actual or potential enemies, special forces will not hesitate to deploy all the weapons of psychological warfare: misinformation, rumour-mongering, false allegations, fake news.
And if a particular operation fails? Or something terrible happens in the course of carrying out that operation? Well then, in order to prevent outsiders from interfering or (worst case scenario) cancelling the mission, it may prove necessary to withhold potentially compromising information from unfriendly eyes. That those “unfriendly eyes” might belong to Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, or even the Prime Minister, matters much less than safeguarding the mission from any and all external “threats”.
This is how a “sword” thinks. And, perhaps, it would be unreasonable to expect our sword, The NZ Special Air Service, to think in any other way. What we, as a democratic people, cannot allow, however, is for sword-like thinking to take over the mind of the NZ Defence Force, or to deflect our political representatives from the responsibilities and duties of democratic government.
Attacking journalists, suppressing evidence of civilian deaths, misleading the civilian power: such behaviour would confirm the serious moral degeneration of our armed forces. The blowback from that could be devastating.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 March 2017.

Nothing To Them: Tim Keating Hits Back at "Hit & Run".

Operation Obfuscate? Chief of Defence Force. Lt-Gen Tim Keating, briefs the news media about "Operation Burnham". If his mission was to sow confusion and doubt about the accuracy of Nicky Hager's and Jon Stephenson's journalism in Hit & Run, then it must be counted an unqualified success.
GREG PALAST is an American investigative journalist who won world-wide attention for his coverage of the 2000 US Presidential Election. This was, of course, the election decided not at the ballot box, but in the US Supreme Court. The history of the last seventeen years has turned on the manner in which the State of Florida managed its electoral roll.
Palast discovered that a company with strong links to the Republican Party had won a contract to purge the Florida roll of convicted felons. (Like a great many other state governments, Florida permanently strips convicted felons of the right to vote.) Concerned that the contractor’s software was likely to disenfranchise hundreds – perhaps thousands – of eligible Floridian voters, Palast contacted one of the major US television networks and offered them the story.
Initially, there was tremendous interest. Senior news executives told him they would spend a little time fact-checking his claims and then get back to him. Palast wasn’t worried. As a highly experienced investigative reporter he was confident that his story could withstand the closest scrutiny.
So he waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually he ran out of patience and contacted the network. Where was the story? To his utter amazement, he learned that the network had decided not to run it. But why? The answer he received was a jaw-dropper. The network explained that it had confronted the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, with his allegations and been told that there was nothing to them.
That was all it took – an official denial from the brother of the Republican nominee – to spike Palast’s story.
Listening to Bill English this morning on RNZ, I couldn’t help being reminded of Palast’s ill-fated expos√©. Like the American TV network, New Zealand’s prime minister had been presented with a forensically detailed piece of investigative journalism and asked to carry out an inquiry.
The internationally acclaimed war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, assisted by New Zealand’s leading investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, had patiently pulled together, and on Monday, 20 March 2017 published, Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour, an exhaustive account of “Operation Burnham”, a military raid carried out by the NZ Special Air Service (SAS) in the Tirgiran Valley of Northern Afghanistan in August 2010.
Stephenson and Hager contend that as a result of Operation Burnham six people were killed and 15 injured. The 21 casualties, it is alleged, were inhabitants of two villages located in the Tirgiran Valley: Khak Khuday Dad and Naik. Most of those killed or wounded are said to have sustained their injuries as a result of 30mm cannon fire directed at them and their dwellings by US Apache helicopter gunships attached to the SAS operation.
Prime Minister English’s response to the information contained in the Hager/Stephenson book was to ask the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) if it was true.
For the best part of a week the NZDF maintained “radio silence”. On the afternoon of Monday, 27 March 2017, however, the Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, answered that the material contained in Hit & Run did not describe Operation Burnham accurately. There had been a raid in the Tirgiran Valley in August 2010, during which US Apache gunships had ridden shotgun for SAS troopers, but the action had not taken place at Khak Khuday Dad or Naik but two kilometres to the south at the village of Tirgiran.
Lt-Gen Keating’s media briefing was a lengthy and detailed affair involving a number of power-point slides and a special legal briefing from a senior NZDF lawyer, Lisa Ferris. He reiterated the NZDF’s long-standing claim that 9 Taliban insurgents had been killed in the raid and described the conduct of all the military personnel involved in Operation Burnham as “exemplary”.
What the Chief of the Defence Force did not explain, however, was how so much common information could have possibly emerged from what must have been, if his account of Operation Burnham is correct, two separate attacks.
In the words of Jon Stephenson: “Is [NZDF Chief] Tim Keating really saying there were two raids using identical aircraft, in identical places with identical commandos, that left behind identical munitions in that one village, then [in] a village two kilometres south? Seriously?”
Stephenson’s incredulity notwithstanding, Keating’s explanation proved to be more than serious enough for Prime Minister English. “The Defence Force was in one place, the allegations are made about villages a couple of kilometres away. That doesn’t look like it requires investigation.”
Nothing to them, you see? Because the man at the centre of the allegations says so. Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager should have a chat with Greg Palast. If anyone knows how they must be feeling right now – it’s him.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 27 March 2017

Not Being Venezuela: The Political Logic Of The Labour/Green "Budget Responsibility Rules".

Labour/Green's Responsible Face: Don’t be too quick to condemn Labour and the Greens for cautioning their supporters against excessive economic and political expectations. Both parties know how important it is to inoculate themselves against the Right’s accusations of economic ignorance and irresponsibility.
FOR THOSE WHO THINK Labour and the Greens are being too cautious, economically-speaking, I have only one word: “Venezuela”. Andrew Little may not resemble Hugo Chavez in the slightest. Nor are Labour and the Greens, by any stretch of the imagination, Bolivarian revolutionaries. But, to hear the Right tell the story, New Zealanders are being courted by dangerously left-wing political parties. Given half a chance, we are told, Little and his Green sidekicks, James Shaw and Metiria Turei, will happily transform New Zealand into the Venezuela of the South Seas.
The reasoning behind this outlandish charge is simple:
Because the Left has never seen a problem that could not be fixed by throwing more money at it, the Right argues, all left-wing governments end up spending themselves into a fiscal crisis. Afraid of taking the harsh economic measures required to balance the country’s books, these leftists then decide to maintain the living-standards of their followers by taxing the rich ferociously and borrowing like there’s no tomorrow. Very soon the country’s international lines of credit are exhausted. At this point, the clueless government decides to crank up the state’s printing presses – flooding the country with paper money. When the overseas suppliers of vitally important imported goods refuse to accept this increasingly worthless currency, the government responds with rationing and harsh import and price controls. In the face of widespread protests, the now desperate government resorts to increasingly authoritarian methods of political control. Pretexts are found for shutting down the oppositions’ media outlets. Government supporters confront government opponents in the streets. Violent clashes ensue. As the next scheduled general election draws near, the embattled left-wing government must choose between pushing forward into full-scale dictatorship (thereby risking a military coup d’√©tat) or submitting itself to the judgement of an outraged and/or disillusioned electorate. Either way, their own – and the country’s – prospects are bleak.
Unfortunately, the historical record offers more than a little confirmation of this alarming right-wing narrative. Even here, in Australasia, the precedents are not all that encouraging. In the case of both the government of the Australian Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and that of our own Norman Kirk, there are disturbing echoes of the above scenario. It certainly describes the sequence of political events in the Chavistas’ Venezuela.
Indeed, it is possible to argue that the grim fortunes of the social-democratic governments of the 1970s – especially the fate of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile – lay heavily on the minds of New Zealand and Australian labour leaders in the 1980s. Also before them was the abject failure of the French President’s, Francois Mitterand’s, socialist-communist government. Elected in 1981 on an avowedly left-wing programme, it was forced, within months, to execute a humiliating U-turn. The scale of French capital flight was economically unsustainable.
That the Right was in large measure responsible for the economic and political difficulties which brought these social-democratic governments to their knees, in no way invalidates its critique. The Right knows that a left-wing government genuinely committed to the uplift of its marginalised and exploited supporters has little choice except to adopt the “tax and spend” policies outlined above. They also know how, in the chilling language of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, to “make the economy scream”.
So don’t be too quick to condemn Labour and the Greens for cautioning their supporters against excessive economic and political expectations. Both parties know how important it is to inoculate themselves against the Right’s accusations of economic ignorance and irresponsibility.
To a confirmed leftist, the Labour Finance Spokesperson’s, Grant Robertson’s, and the Green Co-Leader’s, James Shaw’s, statement that: “New Zealanders rightly demand of their government that they carefully and effectively manage public finances”, will undoubtedly sound a rather flat ideological note. So, too, will the “Budget Responsibility Rules” to which Little, Robertson and Shaw have pledged themselves.
Delivering “a sustainable operating surplus across an economic cycle”; reducing “the level of Net Crown Core Debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office”; and promising to “maintain [Government] expenditure within the recent historical range of spending to GDP ratio”: these are hardly the sort of slogans to summon the proletarian masses to the barricades!
What they just might do, however, is spike the rhetorical guns of Labour’s and the Greens’ political opponents – making it much easier for the swing voter to believe that voting Labour/Green to change the government, is not at all the same as voting for 1,000 per cent inflation and blood in the streets.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 25 March 2017.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

New Zealand’s First “Revenge Raid” – Surafend, Palestine, 1918.

Troopers of the NZ Machine Gun Squadron, NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade, Palestine, 1918.
The shocking events described by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour are not without precedent in the history of New Zealand’s military engagements overseas. In the tiny Palestinian village of Surafend, in the final days of 1918, New Zealand troops participated in what was indisputably a serious war crime. The parallels with the SAS “Revenge Raid” of August 2010 are striking. The Surafend Massacre was also sparked by the killing of a New Zealand soldier. It, too, was a  murderous “fiasco”, the details of which were kept from the New Zealand public for many years. This, as best as I can determine, is what happened.
THE WAR WAS OVER. At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month 1918, the fighting ceased. For the men of the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron, and all the other troopers of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade encamped among the barren sandhills of central Palestine, that single fact was all that mattered.
But, as the weeks passed, the war’s end, while obviously a source of immense relief, had also become the cause of intense frustration. Now that their job was done; now that the killing had stopped; now that they had survived; all these men wanted to do was go home.
WHEN Trooper Leslie Lowry pulled his kit-bag under his head on the night of 9 December 1918 it was to home that his thoughts inevitably wandered. Wrapped in his blanket to ward off the late autumn chill, he lay motionless beneath the low canvass ceiling of his tent thinking of New Zealand until, lulled by the companionable snorting of the tethered horses, he drifted off to sleep.
An hour later he awoke with a start to feel his kit-bag/pillow being unceremoniously yanked from under his head. He scrambled out of the tent, stumbling in the sand as he pulled on his trousers, and shouting at the top of his voice to the men on sentry duty:
“Stop him! Stop that little bastard – he’s stolen my kit-bag!”
The thief was clearly visible in the moonlight, weaving in and out of the thorn bushes that dotted the sandhills.
Trooper Lowry had always been a good runner and he proved it now by sprinting after his quarry like a huntaway. Within seconds he’d caught up with the man who’d stolen his property.
“You give that back – you thieving little swine!”
For a moment the New Zealander and the Palestinian faced each other, breathing heavily. In the distance both of them could hear the shouts of the alerted sentries and the alarmed whinnying of the horses.
“Come on mate,” said Lowry, speaking in what he hoped was a more reasonable tone, “you’re not going anywhere. Hand it over.”
The Palestinian said nothing. Instead, he reached into the folds of his caftan and pulled out a heavy Webly revolver, retrieved six months earlier from the corpse of a British officer. Pointing it at the New Zealander’s chest – he fired.
Lowry sank slowly to his knees, hands fluttering uselessly as blood spouted from the neat little hole in his chest, pouring out through his fingers and down over his bare stomach. Without a word he toppled over onto his side, an awkward, quivering bundle in the cold sand.
The Palestinian turned and ran off into the darkness.
THE news of trooper Lowry’s death spread rapidly – and its effect was devastating. For a man to have come through everything the NZ Mounted Rifles had endured, only to be murdered by an Arab thief just weeks before sailing for home, was almost too much for his comrades to bear.
“He was unarmed for Christ’s sake! The thief must have seen that. What kind of man calmly shoots an unarmed man, at point-blank range, for the sake of a bloody kit-bag?”
“We’re not going to take this lying down – I don’t care what the Heads say. This is too bloody much. Come on you blokes, it should be easy enough to track the bastard through all this sand. Look! – there are his footprints!
“You three, go back and round up the rest of the Squadron – and see if you can get some of the Aussies from the Light Horse to join us. We’re going to track this murdering bastard back to the hole he came from and cork it up tight. Make sure he’s still there in the morning when the Red-Caps arrive.”
The thief’s footprints led the New Zealanders and their Australian allies across the sand to the nearby Palestinian village of Surafend. Within the hour they had set up a tight military cordon around the cluster of stone houses: no one was permitted to enter or leave.
THE morning light came slanting down into the village of Surafend and illuminated the faces of the New Zealand and Australian troopers encircling it. But the rising sun brought no Military Police. Indeed, having being informed of the murder of Trooper Lowry and the situation at Surafend by the Australian and New Zealand Divisional Commander, Major-General Edward Chaytor, General Headquarters had peremptorily ordered the cordon lifted. There would be no official investigation, no Red Caps, no arrests. By the afternoon of 10 December all the troopers who had surrounded Surafend were back behind their tent-lines, allowing a steady stream of Palestinian men to make their way out of the village without hindrance.
Trooper Lowry’s comrades were furious.
“I don’t believe this – I simply don’t believe this! How can the bloody British just sit there, knowing that a soldier of the Empire has been murdered, and do nothing about it?”
“You know the Heads. There’ll be some behind-the-scenes skulduggery between the British and that Arab king Lawrence has been squiring around. The last thing they want is any ‘unpleasantness’ – nothing to upset the ‘delicate diplomacy’ between His Majesty’s Government and the leaders of the Arab tribes. What’s one Kiwi digger’s life compared to ‘the future of the Middle East?’”
“It’s just like that bloody fiasco at Ain Es Sir – remember? When our lot were sent back to help the Circassians and the ungrateful little bastards ambushed us. Nobody did anything about the men they killed there either.”
“Well that’s not going to happen this time. I’ve been talking to the men. They’re ready to do something on their own. And there’s a swag of blokes in the Light Horse who’ll join us. The Aussies are as sick of this turning a blind eye to theft and murder as we are. I hear there’s even a few Brits willing to do their bit.”
“Do what?”
“We’re going to pay the village of Surafend a little visit. And if they refuse to hand over the bastard who shot Les, we’ll administer some justice of our own – ANZAC-style.”
THERE was fear in the eyes of the women, children and old men of Surafend as they were assembled in front of the village well. These strange men from distant lands said little, but their gestures were clear enough. Holding the pick-axe handles they were carrying with both hands, they pushed and prodded the little huddle in the direction they wanted them to travel – out of the village and up into the sandhills. One of the old men pleaded with his grim shepherds.
“We are friends,” he cried in heavily accented English, “friends of the British.”
“You may be friends of the British,” hissed one of the troopers, pushing the old man back into the huddle, “but you’re no friends of ours.”
“Keep them well back!” Someone shouted. “Well back.”
From the crest of the big sandhill overlooking Surafend, the little huddle watched as around 200 troopers closed in on their homes. In addition to pick-axe handles, the New Zealanders and Australians were armed with the heavy, canvass-sheathed chains used to haul supply wagons and field guns. They were eerily silent, and the expressions their faces wore were hard – very hard.
“We want the man who shot Trooper Leslie Lowry.” The leader of the troopers was speaking slowly and very clearly to the village headman. “We tracked him to this village. If he’s not here, we want to know where we can find him. Lead us to him, now, and nothing will happen to you and your people. Refuse, and ….” The trooper cast a meaningful glance at the mute formation drawn up behind him.”
The Palestinian looked into the eyes of the New Zealander standing before him. Neither man moved a muscle. Then, drawing himself up to his full height, the headman leaned forward to within a few inches of the New Zealander’s face, and speaking in a clear voice so all the men of his village could hear, he said:
“Get your infidel dogs out of my village!”
And spat in the trooper’s face.
A roar, deep and guttural, leapt from the throats of all the men present, and both sides lunged towards the other. The troopers swung their pick-axe handles high and brought them down with deadly force. The heavy chains hissed and whistled. The air was filled with the sickening sound of wood and metal connecting with human bone and tissue. Men screamed, fell, and lay still, but still the Palestinians continued to hurl themselves upon the troopers.
“Allahu Akbar! They cried. “God is Great!”
“Get them! Get the bastards!” Shouted the troopers.
From a distance it was all-too-clear how the fight would end. The villagers were outnumbered and the troopers superior training and discipline easily overcame their furious resistance. Slowly, methodically, the New Zealanders and the Australians beat and beat and beat. The pick-axe handles rising and falling like some vast threshing machine.
Soon the village was ablaze. The contents of the stone-walled houses burned fiercely, bathing the whole scene in a lurid glow. As their men fell, the women up on the sandhill began a high keening. The children, seeing the fathers and brothers being beaten to death, sobbed uncontrollably.
By the time the troopers tired of their grim sport, thirty Palestinian men lay dead or wounded on the bloody sand. As the rising wind swirled the smoke and cinders into the night sky, the New Zealanders and Australians formed up in ranks and, without a backward glance, marched out into the darkness of the sandhills.
The village of Surafend had ceased to exist.
NO New Zealand or Australian soldier was ever charged as a result of the Surafend Massacre. The British High Command was furious at what could only be considered a diplomatic disaster in terms of the British Empire’s relations with the Arab peoples.
The borders of the Middle East were in the process of being redrawn, and the gentlemen at the Foreign and Colonial Office in London were determined that this process should not rebound to the Empire’s disadvantage.
There can be little doubt that the military authorities would very much have liked to punish the ringleaders, but the troopers and the junior officers of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse closed ranks against all investigation.
In the end it was left to the British Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Edmund Allenby, to state the views of His Majesty’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Forming the ANZAC’s into a hollow square he unleashed a tongue-lashing the like of which no British or Empire troops had heard for many, many years:
“I was proud of you as brave soldiers but now I am ashamed of you as cold-blooded murderers.”
This outburst aroused such mutinous resentment among the New Zealand and Australian troops that Allenby was soon forced to retract his words.
It was a necessary concession because with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the US President, Woodrow Wilson’s, promise of “self-determination” for the world’s subject peoples, the British soon had their hands full keeping the Arab population of the region from breaking out into full scale rebellion. In this task the brutal reputation of the Australian and New Zealand troopers rode before them, striking fear into the hearts of the Arab population wherever they appeared.
UNFORTUNATELY, there was no Nicky Hager, no Jon Stephenson, to write an exhaustive account of the Surafend tragedy for the New Zealand public of 1918. Bill Massey’s deeply authoritarian government, having expended the blood of thousands of young New Zealanders in the cause of Britain’s empire, was not about to sanction a full and independent investigation into a war crime perpetrated by his own troops. As far as Massey’s stridently imperialistic government was concerned, the “boys” of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade were heroes – blameless heroes.
The closest “official” New Zealand ever came to acknowledging the Surafend Massacre was in the bare summary of the event written by, Lieutenant-Colonel C. Guy Powles, author of The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, the third volume of the Official History of New Zealand’s Effort in the Great War, published by the New Zealand Government in 1922.
Of the bloody evening of 10 December 1918, Powles writes:
“While the brigade was camped in the vicinity of Richon le Zion a disturbance occurred in the divisional area following the murder of a New Zealander, during which a village and an Arab camp were burned and some 30 Arabs killed and injured ….. It appears that the murdered man’s comrades, feeling aggrieved that the murderer was not immediately brought to book, went to the village and demanded his surrender. They were met by an insolent answer from the head man of the village so they determined to find him and the searching of the houses led to a collision with the natives which resulted in a riot.”
Powles also notes, drily: “[A]t the [subsequent] inquiry it was found impossible to get any evidence as to who took part in the disturbance.”
Then, as now, the New Zealand military authorities preferred to bury their mistakes beneath a crushing mountain of official silence.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 22 March 2017.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

This Is What Real Journalism Looks Like!

Congratulations to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson for reminding us, once again, how vital fearless investigative journalism is to the health of our democracy.
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.