Topic: Conflict and Identities (2011) by Debbie McCauley

Topic type:

This paper on how conflict provides resources for the construction and performance of identities was written by Debbie McCauley on 31 October 2011 as part of a BA in Humanities and Information & Library Studies.

Conflict plays an integral part in the development and construction of identities. It also provides a channel for the performance and expression of those identities. The role of conflict in the formation of nationalism (the manifestation of a country’s national identity) can be expressed through physical places, artefacts or mental constructs which both evoke and articulate identity. This form of nationalism is apparent in both New Zealand and European countries such as Britain and Germany. Together, elements such as art, cultural artefacts, events, film, language, literature, memorial days, memorials, music, poetry, protest, public spaces, sculpture and visual media play a role in judicious remembrance and the construction and fashioning of the collective memory of conflict.

War has formed a fundamental part of both New Zealand and Europe’s historical narrative. The role that war has played in the formation and promotion of identities is integral to how national identities have been constructed and manifest themselves today. New Zealand’s civil war, the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872), is part of the history of conflict between Māori and Pākehā since New Zealand’s founding document, Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), was signed by over 500 Māori chiefs in 1840. The New Zealand Wars are an indelible part of the history of New Zealand and, as such, an ingredient in the shaping of national identity through conflict.

Memorials serve to commemorate those killed during wartime and provide a place of public mourning as well as reaffirming and legitimisingCarved tomokanga at the site of the Battle of Gate Pa national and regional identities. They have been used by political authorities to construct and reaffirm group identities and reinforce the self-image of countries. There are ‘more than 60 memorials’ (Phillips, 2010, para. 1) to the New Zealand Wars which can be seen at battle sites and graveyards throughout New Zealand such as Tauranga’s Mission Cemetery and at Gate Pā. At the site of the Battle of Gate Pā (29 April 1864) is a carved tomokanga (a welcome to all people onto a sacred place). It was carved and erected on site in 2008 to mark the 143rd anniversary of the battle and reaffirms the resistance identity of the victors, Tauranga Māori. Resistance identities are just one form of identity building along with legitimizing and project identities (Chimisso, 2003, p. 60).

Literature is another vehicle used to articulate a sense of national identity. Rhodes Scholar James Belich (1956- ) challenged Pākehā’s ‘collective amnesia’ about the New Zealand Wars with his ‘revisionist’ history published in 1986 as The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. This is an example of how identity can be reshaped by a reinterpretation of past conflict. This project identity ‘helped reframe the wars - sometimes known as ‘the Māori Wars’ (with its ‘native-quelling’ connotations) - as ‘the New Zealand Wars’. The book sold an impressive 20,000 copies (Botes, 2009, para. 4) and impacted on the reshaping of national identity. Contrary to popular opinion at the time Belich pointed out ‘just how often the Māori were successful in battle and how near they came to winning the war’ (Wattie, 1998, p. 568). Jones (1989) explains that ‘Literature is an institution within a society, and as such it both reflects and projects an image of that society’s cultural identity’ (p. 187).

The New Zealand wars have also provided fodder for the film industry. Examples include Utu (1983) about a bloody rebellion in the 1870’s loosely based on Te Kooti’s war. The more recent River Queen (2005) was set in 1868 during Titokowaru’s War and sees Irish woman Sarah O’Brien (played by Samantha Morton) choosing to have her face tattooed and join a Māori village to be with her half-caste son. The five-part television series The New Zealand Wars (1998), presented by Belich, served to reaffirm that New Zealand has its own captivating cultural history and vibrant identity with its own villains, heroes and electrifying battles. The use of a ‘mass medium’ with a sizeable audience is an example of the role television and film can play in the construction of a national identity.

The name Parihaka is synonymous with non-violent protest and passive resistance symbolised by the white feather. This self-sufficient settlement comprised Māori dispossessed by land conflict. At the foot of Mount Taranaki Māori chiefs Te Whiti and Tohu Kākahi directed a campaign of peaceful resistance against both settlers and the New Zealand colonial government’s attempt to take their land. They did this by building fences across lands and roads and removing pegs placed by Government surveyors. On 5 November 1881 Parihaka Marae was invaded and during following weeks obliterated by the militia and armed constabulary. This included the destruction of the Marae, crops and animals and the rape of women and girls. ‘Women and girls were raped leading to an outbreak of syphilis in their community’ (Turia, 2011, para. 23). New Zealand has yet to formally recognise the immense courage shown by Te Whiti and Tohu Kākahi who preceded leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King in the peaceful fight for justice. As MP Tariana Turia (2011) explains;

The philosophy of passive resistance, led here at Parihaka, is a history that precedes Ghandi’s first non-violent civil disobedience campaign... by over a quarter of a century; and Martin Luther King’s first campaign for black civil rights, by 75 years – but who knows of it here in New Zealand? (para. 16)

The tragedy and injustice of Parihaka has inspired New Zealand writers, artists and musicians, the most well-known arguably the protest song Parihaka by Tim Finn and Herbs (1989); ‘I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka, Come to Parihaka, Weep for my lost brother, The spirit of nonviolence, Has come to fill the silence, Come to Parihaka’ (verse 5). Finn was inspired by Dick Scott’s book Ask That Mountain (Reed, 1975). His ‘older sister Carolyn gave him a copy of the book and told him to write a song about it’ (Film Archive, 2008, para. 2). The book’s cover image is from an oil painting by Michael Smither (Ask That Mountain, 1973). Scott’s books (including The Parihaka Story, 1954) were to have a major impact on instilling the story of the conflict in the national identity;

More than any other individual, Scott must be credited with raising the level of consciousness - at least among Pākehā - about Te Whiti, Tohu and Parihaka. I know I'm not alone in having had my head turned around about New Zealand history by reading Ask that Mountain: The Story of Parihaka, Scott's splendid piece of partisan historical scholarship. Indeed many artists... have acknowledged the impact of the book. (Simpson, 2010, para 1)

Scott’s book also inspired the Wellington City Gallery exhibition of art works, photographs, film, music, writings and lectures; Parihaka the art of passive resistance which ‘was successful in creating art, dialogue, education and healing between Māori and other races’ (The History of Parihaka, n.d., para. 37). Tony Fomison’s oil painting Te Whiti (c.1962) measuring 905 x 620mm appears on the cover of the companion book to the exhibition (Hohaia, O’Brien & Strongman, 2001). That the memory of the conflict is now part of New Zealand’s national identity is demonstrated by the proliferation of works inspired by Parihaka (see Appendix 1).

Today Parihaka is a small settlement and meeting place dedicated to non-violence. It has been the venue for an international peace festival since 2005. ‘The community of Parihaka is known around the world as a site of inspiration’ (The History of Parihaka, n.d, para 36). There is a movement in New Zealand for official recognition of the day Parihaka was invaded. Turia petitioned parliament in 2011 for November 5 to become Parihaka Day, asking, ‘Why do we celebrate Halloween or Guy Fawkes – instead of the unique leaders of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi?’ (Turia, 2011, para. 32).

The British national identity contains layers of involvement in wars against seemingly oppressive regimes and it is these memories and the monuments to them that serve to shape and strengthen ideas of the dominance of British imperial might. Historian Sir Arthur Bryant (1899-1985) reinforces British national stereotypes when he states, ‘her patient, rock-like people never compromised, never gave in, never despaired’ (Bryant, as quoted in Emsley, 2003, p. 11). According to Emsley (2003), historians such as Bryant ‘have played a significant role in constructing national identities by constructing national pasts’ (p. 35).

Contrary to the thinking of the time that World War I (1914-1918) would be ‘all over by Christmas’, this first global war of the industrial age turned into a long, hard and bloody slog. ‘For the British, this meant the creation and training from scratch of new mass armies, and a national sacrifice of staggering proportions’ (Badsey, 2011, para. 21). With its intense sense of patriotism and global involvement it was described as ‘the war to end wars’ (Man, 1999, p. 2) by British author H. G. Wells (1866-1946);

Known at first as ‘People's War’, this idea developed in the 19th century as part of a growing sense of national identity. By the middle of World War One it was known as ‘Total War’ - the organisation of entire societies for war in a social, economic, and even spiritual sense. There were, of course, protests and debates, but the vast majority of people fought in World War One, or supported it with the ‘Home Front’ because they believed that victory for their own country was worth the cost. (Badsey, 2011, para. 4)

Monday 11 November 1918 was the official end of World War I on the ‘11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.’ The date has become the focus of war commemoration. Determination to remember those killed in wars ‘led to the building of war memorials in cities, towns and villages across Europe to the consecration of cemeteries on the battlefields, and to elaborate public ceremonies of remembrances’ (Emsley, 2003, p. 56). The political use of remembrance to legitimise and influence national identities through memorials and commemoration can be seen in the Cenotaph designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens at Whitehall, London (Man, 1999, p. 135). Built between 1919 and 1920 it features a carved wreath at each end and the words ‘The Glorious Dead’. Emsley (2003) explains how British monuments from war ‘continue to be used by politicians, the media and ordinary individuals to renew and reconstitute the self-identification of a heroic island race’ (p. 11).

In Britain 11 November is known as Remembrance Day and two minutes of silence from 11am provides the opportunity for the performance of identities. Wreaths are laid at memorials such as the cenotaph at Whitehall and the red Flanders Poppy, symbol of resurrection since ‘soldiers at the front noticed that it was the first plant to grown in the churned up mud of no man’s land’ (Maclean & Phillips, 1990, p. 4) is worn on this day. The well-known poem In Flanders Fields, written at Ypres in 1915 by Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), is often part of Remembrance Day ceremonies; ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below’ (verse 1).

During wartime many soldiers simply disappeared, their remains unaccounted for. In Westminster Abbey the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior holds the remains of an unidentified British soldier killed during World War I. It symbolises those soldiers who have no known gravesite. The remains were buried two years after the war ended, unveiled by King George V at 11am on 11 November 1920 (Westminster Abbey, 2011). The tomb is topped with an inscribed piece of black Belgian marble. Eighty-four years later, on 11 November 2004, New Zealand’s own Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was unveiled at the National War Memorial in Wellington. ‘The Unknown Warrior is one of almost 30,000 New Zealanders who perished while serving their country in war, and one of almost 9,000 who have no known grave. A casualty of the First World War, his remains were exhumed from the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery on the Somme in France’ (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011, para. 3). The design (see photograph) is uniquely New Zealand, further reinforcing national identity with this event:

The design is inspired by the stars of Southern Cross guiding the Warrior home. Black granite and white crosses depict the night sky and the Warrior's companions who fell in battle. Across the top of the granite surround is the text of a karanga in Māori and English, calling the Warrior home. A cloak of bronze, decorated with pounamu (greenstone) crosses depicting the Southern Cross, rests as a celestial and protective mantle over the tomb. (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011, para. 9)

On 5 September 1939 the New Zealand Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage said ‘...we range ourselves without fear beside Britain, where she goes, we go, where she stands we stand’ (as cited in Haworth, 2007, p. 9). This reinforced New Zealanders’ identity at the time as being tied in with Britain’s. For patriotic New Zealanders, World War II (1939-1945) became a daily part of life. The contribution of soldier-artists in recording New Zealand’s contribution to the war has become part of the shaping of New Zealand’s identity as a separate entity to Britain;

There was an awareness among artists of the need to record events that involved the New Zealand Forces, that they not be subsumed by the actions of the British, as had been the case during the Great War: New Zealand’s contribution had been considerable for its size as a country, yet its role had been poorly documented under official sanction. (Haworth, 2007, p. 9)

One such war artist was New Zealand soldier Alister Austen Deans (1915-2011). In 1941 he was officially ‘appointed assistant war artist’ (Haworth, 2007, p. 52). Along with other New Zealand forces he was evacuated from Greece to Crete where the German attack began on 20 May 1941. Deans was badly wounded when he stood on a tripwire and ended up with other wounded prisoners-of-war (POW number 25926) at Kokkinia Hospital, near Piraeus Harbour, Athens, Greece. The hospital was under the command of a young German captain. ‘The routine was strict and full records were kept both by the medical officers and the charge orderlies’ (Stout, 1956, p. 108). ‘Conditions in the hospital were dire. Food was scarce and the men had to put up with an infestation of bed bugs’ (Brown, 2010, p. 62). Whilst there Deans painted amongst others; Severely wounded POW's loading up for repatriation, at Kokkinia Hospital, Piraeus, 24 October 1941. Featuring brilliant watercolours and pencil it measures 348 x 430mm. The large white three story ferro-concrete building dazzlingly dominates two-thirds of the background, set against a bright Greek sky, whilst the wounded are loaded on an old style grey bus sitting atop a barren sandy landscape to the centre foreground. When Deans recovered he was transported to a Stalag (German POW camp). Firstly aboard a cattle truck to Stalag 20 (XX-A) in Poland then later transferred to Stalag 18A (XVIII-A) in Wolfsberg, Austria where more New Zealand and Australian prisoners were held (Haworth, 2007, p. 74 & 83).

In a similar vein to Deans, the author’s Great Uncle, Eric William Henry ‘Peter’ Muir (1914-2004), had the misfortune to be captured in 1941 in Greece whilst a Lance Bombardier with the 7th New Zealand Anti-Tank Regiment (Army Number: 22788). According to his war record Muir was wounded on 24 April 1941, reported missing, then listed as recuperating at Kokkinia Hospital. On 12 September 1941 he is reported as a POW (No. 4293) in Stalag 18A. Two years later he wrote this poem to his sister Mary from the prison camp:

26 - 9 – 43
Dear Mary,
Two years have gone by
they passed mighty slow
each year seems a century
with the last one to go
I’ve counted my footsteps
I’ve counted the stars
I’ve counted a million
through these prison bars
This is my story of
heart-aches and sighs
for I’m longing for home
and southern sky’s
Kia Ora, Pete.

Muir’s poem comprises three stanza’s consisting of four lines each and is written in an ABCB or iambic tetrameter rhyme scheme, the second line of which rhymes with the fourth line, but the first and third lines remaining unrhymed.

Muir was held as a POW for four years until the end of the war. He arrived in Italy after his release in May 1945. It is assumed that he was in poor shape as from his arrival in New Zealand on 5 September 1945 his war record notes that he was in New Plymouth Hospital until his discharge on 12 December 1945. Many veterans never talked about the war years and Muir was no exception. In fact, the author was unaware of his 6 years 92 days of service overseas until they were related at his funeral in 2004. Paintings, poems, photographs and books such as ‘Dear Alison’ (Pollard, 2009, Penguin) which relates the story of POW Dudley Muff, bring World War II alive again to another generation thus reinforcing and influencing national and personal identity with these events.

A resurgence of identity with conflict is evidenced by the growing number of people attending ANZAC Day celebrations. ‘The numbers attending Anzac Day services have been on the rise since the 1980s and they have increasingly been younger audiences’ (NZPA, 2011, para. 5). A public holiday since 1921, ANZAC day is held on 25 April, the day that New Zealand and Australian soldiers landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. The day commemorates all New Zealanders killed in war, honours returned servicemen and women and reasserts and legitimises New Zealand’s identity. As RSA chief executive Stephen Clarke explains ‘those attending were not just commemorating the loss of New Zealanders in overseas wars but celebrating the living war veterans and what it meant to be a New Zealander’ (NZPA, 2011, para. 6).

The strong national identity with war remembrance is evidenced through memorials that are still being created. One such example is the stone soldier statue and 2m high memorial unveiled in 2008 at Pyes Pa Cemetery, Tauranga, on the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. The memorial is inscribed with In Flanders Fields, ‘for memorialisation and remembrance of ‘those who fought and continue to fight for our Country and way of life’ (Tauranga City Council, 2011, para. 1).

In a similar fashion to Britain, the tradition of war remembrance in the form of the red Flanders Poppy and the poem In Flanders Field are part of New Zealand’s national identity. Instead of on Remembrance Day the poppy is worn by many New Zealanders around ANZAC Day. The poppies can be seen in this window display by the author at the Tauranga City Library to commemorate ANZAC Day 2011. The window featured mixed media artwork by Tauranga Artist Dave Roy from his ‘lest we forget’ series, 400 poppies on loan from the RSA and photocopies of soldiers and war nurses photographs from staff members. Roy’s work incorporates rolled back sardine cans filled with hearts and topped with crosses on a black background, presumably to represent the graves of New Zealand soldiers who died. The poppies would seem to represent the continued memory of those same soldiers.

Although the formation of a national identity is one in which people share a common culture and history, involving the ‘acceptance of a national heritage and recognition of a shared past’ (Emsley, 2003, p. 112), these can sometimes be a source of controversy. Utilising a ‘project identity’ Peace Movement Aotearoa (PMA) has begun selling the white ‘Peace Poppy’ around the time of ANZAC Day when the RSA traditionally sell the red Flanders Poppy. Until 2008 Peace Poppies were sold on Hiroshima Day (August 6). PMA’s website describes them as an ‘international symbol of remembrance for all the casualties of war - civilians and armed forces personnel - and of peace’ (White poppies for peace, n.d., para. 2). The Co-operative Women's Guild produced the first white poppies in England in 1933; ‘The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the women lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers’ (Peace Pledge Union, n.d., para. 2). PMA uses the proceeds to fund the ‘White Poppy Peace Scholarships’ (Peace Movement Aotearoa, 2011, para. 1). MP Heather Roy’s (2010) reaction is typical of many who dislike the new timing of the peace poppy initiative, ‘I would be prepared to wear the white poppy on its own distinctive day in the year - to remind me that we must all work harder at ensuring our children don't suffer the horrors experienced by others, past and present’ (para. 8).

Whilst New Zealand and Britain memorialise those who fought in the wars, questions of responsibility have had a profound effect on post-war German identities. German national identity has been inextricably linked to the atrocities of the Nazi regime, in which there are no heroes or victories to celebrate. As Wilkins (2005) explains ‘The photographs and newsreel footage taken at Belsen and other camps led to widespread and intense revulsion towards Nazi Germany and Germans in general’ (para. 25). The search for a German national identity is also influenced by other aspects of German history, including unification in 1871, division by the Berlin Wall (1961-1989) and reunification in 1989. Germany’s defeat in both World Wars and the resulting division and blame for the Holocaust has obscured their experience as fellow victims of the war including food shortages, bombing raids, ruined cities, millions of dead and invasion after defeat bringing widespread looting and rape.

The post-reunification generation, faced with a legacy of collective guilt and shame, has attempted to come to terms with the abomination that was Nazism. By exploring responsibility for the genocidal horror and atrocity of the Holocaust they have sought to construct a new identity from the conflict. An example of the questioning of past national identity and the search for new one can be seen in a German literary text, Bernhard Schlink’s (1944- ) novel The Reader (published in English in 1997). This fictional work explores the issue of German national identity and of the post-war generation trying to come to terms with the Nazis and the predicament of their parents and relatives roles in the war. The German Holocaust Memorial, erected in Berlin sixty years after the end of World War II in 2005, seems evidence of the acceptance of the past by Germans and an attempt to move on. Whilst New Zealand and Britain’s national identities seem assured, Germany’s acceptance of the past and new national identity is still emerging and the political use of this identity, whilst apparent in the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, remains yet to be fully understood and accepted by the rest of the world.

War is not the only form of conflict that influences national identity. One conflict that split New Zealand and sparked debate on the national identity was the 1981 Springbok Tour during which Robert Muldoon (1921-1992) was Prime Minister. The country was passionately separated by sport and was said by some to be on the verge of a second civil war. Some believed that playing sport with South Africa condoned its apartheid (racial segregation) system; others believed that politics and sports should not mix, ‘the country was deeply and bitterly divided’ (Richards, 1999, p. 3). On one side was the resistance movement HART (Halt All Racist Tours, est. 1969), on the other the police with long batons, riot shields and helmets. The tour can be seen as an identity clash between the ‘old and the new New Zealand’ raising questions about New Zealand society and identity. Historian Jock Phillips wrote that;

this was a protest against our whole identity as a rural, male-dominated society in which we primarily identified with the white British Empires. Instead, the protest stood for a different version of New Zealand – a New Zealand which recognised Māori as the first inhabitants of this country, which believed New Zealand could be more than a crude, rural society, which was committed to a world of peace, not war, and which saw New Zealand as having a role as an international conscience about issues of race and nuclear war rather than a role as a territory of Empire. (as cited in Richards, 1999, p. 243)

Phillips identified five main areas of division:

  • ‘the struggle between baby boomers and war veterans
  • city versus country
  • men versus women
  • black versus white
  • Britain of the south versus independent Pacific nation’. (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 2011, para 6)

The conflict is clearly illustrated by New Zealand born artist Kay de Lautour Scott (1952- ) in her painting A response to NZ reaction to 1981 Springbok rugby tour (1981). Scott currently resides in Italy and the artwork is part of her private collection in New Zealand. The oil painting (measuring 61cm across) depicts the game in Hamilton on Saturday 25 July 1981. All Black captain Graham Mourie is about to pass a rugby ball whilst being tackled by a demonstrator in a red motorbike helmet. Behind is an enlarged blue police riot helmet complete with visor. ‘That image in the papers really hit me; that things could be so bad in my own peaceful nation that such protection was needed.  So that to me was a very scary symbol.  It seemed so menacing’ (K. de Lautour Scott, personal communication, September 28, 2011). Rugby supporters are depicted to the right of the police helmet, protestors to the left. In the foreground is the green of the rugby field and to the right a pile of tangled barbed wire and protest placards. The sky is a haze of yellow smoke. A light airplane, piloted by Pat McQuarrie, is flying across the police helmet. Scott speaks of her personal experience of that day;

The plane featured because at the time I was living in Morrinsville and the Hamilton game was cancelled because of a threat to crash the plane into the stadium.  The plane was eventually landed (circled by enforcement planes to bring it down) about 2 kilometres from our home, so it was a terribly anxious time for me.  My husband had gone to Hamilton to watch the game and I was listening to the drama on the radio, then watching the rogue plane circling near me. (K. de Lautour Scott, personal communication, September 28, 2011)

The subsequent collapse of apartheid in South Africa seems to have justified the bloody battleground of the tour. ‘The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was buoyed by events in New Zealand’ (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011, para. 2). The episode was a defining point in the formation of the country’s national identity. New Zealand played a role in international affairs and made its feelings known to the rest of the world reinforcing its identity as a nation that is not afraid to stand up for its beliefs;

Phillips saw the tour as representing the emergence of an independent Pacific nation to challenge the previous image of New Zealand as the 'Britain of the South Seas'. Playing rugby against South Africa was consistent with New Zealand's traditional identity as a loyal servant of the British Empire. The anti-tour movement had a different vision. New Zealand could be seen as an example of an independent, racially tolerant society, a moral exemplar. Jock Phillips argues it was only a short step to extending this role and becoming the nuclear-free example. (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011, para. 7)

Like Parihaka, the tour inspired artistic expression. Blam Blam Blam’s satirical song There is no depression in New Zealand (1981) with the words ‘We have no dole queues, we have no drug addicts, we have no racism, we have no sexism’ (verse 2) was a reaction against the economic worry, racial unrest and threat of civil war via the tour protests or ‘World War Three’ at the time and the failure of the government under Muldoon to deal with the issues (New Zealand Folk Song, 2007). Other elements include the painting Black Union Jack by Ralph Hotere; the conservative book Red Squad (1982) written by Ross Meurant; 1981: The Tour (1984) written from the protestors point of view by Geoff Chapple; and on 4 September 2011 the film Rage, a story exploring the relationship between a young Māori policewoman and a student protestor, was broadcast on TV1. Three years after the tour Muldoon was swept from power:

In 1984 the Muldoon government was swept away in a Labour landslide. The new government introduced nuclear-free legislation and enabled homosexual law reform, both of which struck at the core of what might have been described as the values and image of New Zealand society. (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011, para 4)

Nuclear testing had been carried in the Pacific since the end of World War II. The Nuclear-free movement had been growing in New Zealand from the late 1950s with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. ‘Mururoa Atoll became the focal point for both the tests and opposition to them. Greenpeace vessels sailed into the test site in 1972, and the following year the New Zealand and Australian governments took France to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to ban tests. France ignored the court's ruling that they cease testing’ (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 2009, para 2). There was further protest against American nuclear warships visiting New Zealand waters. Nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships were banned from using New Zealand ports or entering New Zealand waters by Prime Minister David Lange (1942-2005) in 1984. On 2 March 1985 during the now famous Oxford Union Debate Lange ‘indelibly stamped nuclear-free on the New Zealand identity with his taunt...: Hold your breath just for a moment. I can smell the uranium on it as you lean toward me!’ (Shepheard & Nippert, 2010, para. 5).

Just four months later, on 7 July 1985, Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, docked at Marsden Wharf at the bottom of Queen Street in downtown Auckland. ‘The Warrior symbolised hope. The rainbows on the hull arched over the dove of peace portrayed many nations and races coming together for peace’ (Robie, 2005, p.164). The crew planned to resupply before heading to Mururoa Atoll to protest against French nuclear testing. On 10 July French secret agents planted two bombs on the Rainbow Warrior’s hull in an act of ‘state-sponsored’ terrorism. The bombs exploded close to midnight, killing Portuguese-born photojournalist Fernando Pereira and sinking the ship.

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior made New Zealand's anti-nuclear slogan untouchable foreign affairs policy and gave fringe environmental group Greenpeace mainstream credibility. A little country in the Southern Hemisphere was pitched, alone, in a diplomatic and political fight against a nuclear-armed ally. (Shepheard & Nippert, 2010, para. 21)

The sinking of the rainbow warrior stunned the nation. It was to reinforce and entrench New Zealand’s anti-nuclear identity and work towards a nuclear-free Pacific. Lange described the bombing as a ‘sordid act of international state-backed terrorism’ (Robie, 2005, p.162). It was sunk by the French external intelligence service (DGSE) infringing national and international laws. After an extensive investigation two of the French agents (Alain Mafar and Dominique Prieur) were captured, convicted and imprisoned but later released into French custody.

The New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed in 1987. This was to have repercussions, one being the relationship with the Reagan administration in the United States. New Zealand was finding its place in the world, taking a leadership role and developing an independent identity distinct from its colonial past and reliance on Britain as the ‘motherland’. ‘The event redefined in New Zealand society the responsibility that the nation has to the Pacific region and also reaffirmed New Zealand’s status as a ‘clean green’ environment, a nation that is tolerant, ‘plays fair’, and acts responsibly as an international citizen’ (Strongman, n.d., p. 2).

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Mike Moore (1949- ) states that ‘Lange and Labour’s commitment to the anti-nuclear cause - in the age of ‘mutually assured destruction’ - was instrumental in creating New Zealand’s environmentalist identity’ (BBC, 2005, para. 10). Examples of the nuclear-free identity can be see in songs like French Letter (1982) by Herbs, ‘Do you know what makes the ocean glow, When unwelcome guests, are making nuclear tests’ (verse 2) and No ordinary sun (1964) by Hone Tuwhare ‘The fading green of your magic emanations shall not make pure again these polluted skies... for this is no ordinary sun’ (verse 4).  Along with the Springbok Tour the Rainbow Warrior is part of the NCEA New Zealand School Curriculum. ‘Go to any classroom and there's always pictures of whales and the nuclear-free New Zealand, it's more of an identity thing than a security thing.’ (BBC, 2005, para. 14).

On 12 December 1987 Greenpeace towed the Rainbow Warrior to Matauri Bay in Northland and scuttled it in the Cavalli Islands, off Motutapere. The wreck has become an underwater memorial for divers, a living reef and haven for marine life 26 metres under the sea. ‘A decent burial at sea is the only honourable end for this ship that served so well on so many campaigns for so many years’ (Robie, 2005, p.164). On 15 July 1990 a memorial was unveiled at Matauri Bay, overlooking the burial site, featuring an arched creation by Kerikeri sculptor Chris Booth (1948- ) which incorporates the bombed ship’s three-tonne brass propeller. Robie (2005) explains that ‘even in death the Warrior unleashed powerful emotions and creativity’ (p.162).

Like other identities, national identity is in a constant state of renewal. New Zealand, being geographically isolated islands, already has a strong sense of national identity formed by past conflict and the separation of identity from Britain. The next conflict that is likely to influence New Zealand’s identity is deep sea oil drilling. This will likely gain momentum as a result of the leaking of oil from the stricken ship Rena, lodged on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga since 2:20am on Wednesday, 5 October 2011 and the ensuing ecological disaster that is still unfolding. In Britain the London Riots of 2011 and the conflicting opinions within Germany over the recession’s bail-out packages for Greece will in all probability have an effect on the continuing construction of those countries national identities.

There is no doubt that significant defining moments in the formation and construction of New Zealand, Britain and Germany’s national identities have included the conflicts outlined in this essay as pivotal identity markers. Whilst being fundamental to the creation of national identities these conflicts have also provided the stimulus and opportunity for the expression of those identities manifested through artistic means and political use of remembrance of conflict to legitimise and influence the performance of national identities through memorials and commemoration such as Remembrance Day in Britain. These identities can be contested however, such as through the ‘white poppy’ movement and its perceived hijacking of ANZAC Day poppy sales but new days such as the proposed ‘Parihaka Peace Day’ could provide new opportunities for Peace Poppy sales to identify with that conflict. The articulation of these conflicts through various means and the identities that they evoke are an important element in the construction of national identities.



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APPENDIX 1: Inspired by Parihaka

Artists such as Gordon Walters (Te Whiti 1964); Colin McCahon (Parihaka triptych 1972); Ralph Hotere (Comet over Mount Egmont (Taranaki) and Parihaka 1972); Selwyn Muru (Parihaka series 1972); Tony Fomison (Taranaki; the mountain of course 1979); Nigel Brown (Village of Peace 1981); John Bevan Ford (Aotea passes Taranaki 1995); Shane Cotton (Te Whiti series 2000); John Pule (The prophets showing us how far we must go to achieve human freedom 2000); Séraphine Pick (Riki and Ruru 2000) and Fred Graham (Tekau mā rua 2000) have used a variety of artistic mediums to tell the story of Parihaka and reinforce an artistic legacy contributing to national identity. Along with books, art and songs there is the CD Parihaka - The CD (Trust, 2001); a series of photographs taken in 1967 by Marti Friedlander, music by Moana and the Moa hunters and plays such as Te Raukura: The Feathers of the Albatross (Dansey, 1972). New Zealand Poets have also memorialised Parihaka in print; Alistair Campbell (Parihaka Grieving); Cilla McQueen (Fuse); Apirana Taylor (Parihaka); Elizabeth Smither (Twelve little poems about Parihaka); Hone Tuwhare (Not by wind ravaged); James K. Baxter (A walking stick for an old man) and Sam Hunt (Parihaka Dreamsong).

by Debbie McCauley (October, 2011).

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Conflict and Identities (2011) by Debbie McCauley

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Conflict and Identities (2011) by Debbie McCauley by Debbie McCauley (Tauranga City Libraries) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License