Agreeing to disagree with Uncle Sam

THIS week the United States vice-president Joe Biden announced that America would send a warship to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Royal New Zealand Navy, along with about 30 other navies that will take part.

In his speech, Mr Biden related warmly to the relationship between our two countries. The theme was that although the US may be a lot bigger than New Zealand we have the same values, speak our minds and hold the line.

Well, I guess for all their bigness they take a lot longer to get over having their nose put out of joint. Thirty-three years after booting us out of Anzus for sticking to our guns — conventional and nuclear-free guns, that is — America has decided it is okay for New Zealand to have its own point of view. New Zealand took a lot less time to get over the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, but I guess the bigger you are, the longer you are allowed to be angry.

I am a fan of New Zealand being a fan of the US. That doesn’t mean that I ignore huge anomalies that exist in that country around ridiculous guns laws, racial discrimination, death penalties, protectionism, interventionism, human rights abuse and a very weird political system.

But the US makes a far better friend than an enemy and the relationship is far from merely strategic. We swamp our television airtime with American programming and we tend to prefer many of their products, music, art forms, and vernacular. We talk like them, eat, drink and cuss with them more than our traditional British links would have ever predicted. We all have a lot in common, and I quite like that.

We take a keen interest in what is going on in the States, too. Wander down Lambton Quay in Wellington, Queen St in Auckland, Victoria Ave in Whanganui or Broadway in Stratford and most people will give you a view on Hillary and Trump. We know more US politicians than British or Australian ones.

So there is something special about the Yanks and I, for one, am very pleased that they are visiting again.

We’ll have the same old protesters, too. Not content to have won the nuclear-free debate and to have the US now visiting on our terms, they will turn out to embarrass and postulate.

I recall the protests of the 1970s and 1980s in the streets and on the harbours. The long night shifts watching on the wharves in case the activists did something else silly enough to threaten their own safety.

There will be a flotilla of small craft getting in the way and the same old faces will scramble to do their best to be noticed by the media, unaware that nobody watches the news any more. But being a legend in your own lunchbox is better than no notoriety at all, and the police will, once again, be the meat in the sandwich protecting the right to protest in ways few other countries will ever tolerate.

So in many ways it is back to the future. But it has become a future of our own making and not from kowtowing to Big Brother US or Mother England.

Born out of a sense of justice and morality in an age when this was not common or popular, the nuclear-free policy was very much New Zealand cutting its own track in the world post-UK maternalism and the end of the Vietnam War. CER with Australia was brand new and New Zealand was feeling its oats — even if a little timidly — in light of oil shocks, Springbok tours, rapid growth in unemployment and newly-acquired rogernomics.

We are bolder and braver. We do see many things in the same light as our bullish “very, very, very close friends”, but we are not afraid to disagree or agree with others’ foreign policy. Agreeing to disagree is part of growing up in a mature and mutually respectful alliance — and I hope all our allies are big enough to agree with that.

Source: NZ Herald