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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 4. 1969.

Opinion — Preparing For The Invasion


Preparing For The Invasion

How does one work out a defence policy for a country that has never been attacked, and is probably indefensible? Making defence policy may be a realistic exercise in Europe, or less so, in the United States: one knows by whom one has been attacked before, one has experience of countering such attacks, one can by guesswork and military intelligence work out where the next attack is likely to come from, if it comes from anybody. But in New Zealand, in all these areas, defence policy starts from absolute scratch. All New Zealanders have is a feeling of generalised insecurity and an overdose of the conventional military wisdom of the 'thirties. They have no practical ideas about how to defend their country and no realistic way of assessing who might, under very hypothetical circumstances, attack it. All they know is that somebody might attack New Zealand, sometime—probably the Coms—so that New Zealand had better be prepared an ddo what its allies want it do.

Mr Barry Mitcalfe, ex-chairman of the Committee of Vietnam, emerged as a brave New Labour Party theorist on defence at the Labour Club meeting last Thursday. He emphasised heavily the irrational elements in the formation of New Zealand defence policy; the idea that 'they', out there, are waiting to get us; the mythical character of Chinese emnity since the eighteen nineties, but all in a vague and unconvincing way. But after this lead-in on popular psychology, what he argued was that the popular fear of Asia, the paranoid element in our defence policy, was too strong to be countered, and that therefore the Labour Party needed a clear alternative defence policy. And he proceeded to prove, as the Chinese would say by negative example, that constructing alternative defence policies leads only to advocating the injection of more 'militarism' and misplaced nationalism into the popular mind Mr Mitcalfe advocated the training of all New Zealanders in guerilla warfare so that they could fight an actual invasion; and at the same time the maintenance of a small regular army which could be despatched anywhere the United Nations wanted it to go. As various members of the audience pointed out, guerillaism in New Zealand military policy meant training everybody in the use of arms and instilling them with a military outlook—the reverse of the situation Mr Mitcalfe's Committee on Vietnam has tried to achieve. One had an uncomfortable feeling that in Mr Mitcalfe's realism' about defence one was seeing the final working out of the trad 'national independence' vis-a-vis into an ultra-militaristic jingoism; all the left's 'nationalism had needed to make it totally objectionable was a 'realistic' military policy. Before one's eyes a 'left' was being transformed into a right 'If you don't like the presuppositions behind our existing military policy, why don't you educate people out of them?" Somebody asked Mr Mitcalfe. His reply was that it was 'unrealistic'. And so far, indeed, it has proved to be-though one should bear in mind that there is probably a bigger minority opposed to New Zealand participation in the Vietnam war than has opposed New Zealand participation in any other war. It remains true that if the anti-Vietnam war Movement is to be 'realistic' on a single issue level, it should constantly argue in terms of the practical impossibility of making any firm assumptions about the defence a country in New Zealand's position, with New Zealand's history. Realistically, we have too little data to make any defence policy at all.

But equally genuine realism would suggest that elections are seldom won on foreign policy anyway, and the way for the Labour Party to gain the power to change our foreign policy—if it really wants to change it in the direction of less military involvement is to have an acceptable domestic policy. Perhaps this also is asking for the moon.

Mr Mitcalfe

Mr Mitcalfe