Today is Armistice Day, called Remembrance Day in most Commonwealth countries. At 11am flags will be lowered in remembrance of those who fought and died for their country in all wars. It is especially poignant this year as commemorations are under way to mark the centenary of the start of WW1. Opposite the RSA on Waiheke is a field of remembrance marked with white crosses where a special service will be held today at the eleventh hour. Across the world moving tributes will be made to the war dead. A field of ceramic poppies has sprung up, nearly a million of them, around the moat at the Tower of London. I’m told this is a most moving tribute by those who have seen it. Even from afar it looks breathtaking.
It certainly brings a lump to my throat as I remember my own visits to the Cenotaph in Whitehall on this day. Once I marched down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh as the officer i/c a contingent of WRAF. The day was so bitterly cold some of the army troops on parade with us collapsed, a dangerous thing considering they were standing at ease with bayonets fixed to their rifles.
It is a day when service personnel come together to be reminded they are comrades in arms. Nothing unites them more than seeing the flag under which they serve lowered and then raised again. A flag is a symbol of nationhood like no other. It unites us as a reminder we belong to one family, we are all one nation.
Divided we fall
So it is odd then that one man, for his own reasons, should choose this moment to say he’s had enough of the flag that unites us all as New Zealanders. In the normal way of things it wouldn’t matter what one man thinks, but this man happens to be the leader of the country who has at his disposal a war chest of our money to play with, $25million for a start. Nobody was pressing for this debate about the future of the New Zealand flag, the flag under which our ANZAC troops fought and died in a century of wars and more. It is simply this one man’s desire for a change. Why? Why has John Key decided this is the moment to tear the fabric of the nation apart and have a debate that will only be divisive?
Is he eyeing the future and wanting to leave a lasting legacy of his premiership? Is he signalling he wants, like Helen Clark before him, to stride the world stage as a bigwig in the United Nations? Certainly his credentials would be greatly enhanced in that organisation of global domination if he can ditch the perceived ‘colonial’ symbol within the New Zealand flag, the Union Jack, and replace it with a tribal symbol instead. The UN is all about ditching colonialism and enhancing tribalism. In 2010 Key secretly flew his Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples to sign the Declaration of Indigenous Rights on behalf of New Zealand. This was strongly opposed by Labour fearing, rightly, it is incompatible with New Zealand’s constitution but government is now a one man band.
Maybe Key is right and there’s a willingness to change the flag. Certainly that was the outcome of a straw poll I ran in an earlier blog. However, I see dangers ahead for Key, for National and for the country if the party does not curb his enthusiasm for divisive issues.
Wise governments around the world restrict the leadership of their nation to two terms. The growth of presidential powers into a third term often means the leader comes to regard cabinet as unnecessary: corruption and bribery became the hallmark of inflated prime ministerial egos.
Armistice Day is a time when the nation comes together, united under a common flag. Will this be the last year we do so?