Why com­mem­o­rate Ar­mistice?

Rotorua Daily Post - - Nation - Reynold Macpher­son

It is a per­sonal mat­ter in my fam­ily. In 1914 my grand­fa­ther re­fused a com­mis­sion in his fa­ther’s reg­i­ment; the East York­shire Ri­fles. In­stead, he vol­un­teered and served two years in the trenches in France – as an un­armed stretcher bearer. He was wounded three times, awarded many medals, and dis­charged suf­fer­ing from Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der.

Sick­ened by the ir­re­spon­si­ble pol­i­tics that caused WWI, and the car­nage, he eloped with my grand­mother in 1916 to New Zealand. They be­lieved that they were go­ing to help build a “so­cial­ist par­adise” where the state would care for ev­ery­one. He could only find work in the Kai­tan­gata (maneater) coal mine where the con­di­tions were worse than in the trenches.

He be­lieved that bad govern­ments get their power by pre­tend­ing to rep­re­sent the “in­evitable” forces of na­ture, his­tory or class, but com­pared to th­ese forces, each in­di­vid­ual life means lit­tle.

My grand­mother, a Quaker and Suf­fragette, helped make ends meet by writ­ing for the Mao­ri­land Worker. Some of her ideas be­came pol­icy when the Labour Party came to power in 1935 and es­tab­lished New Zealand’s wel­fare state. Al­though their mar­riage dis­solved soon af­ter they moved to the Far North, she be­came one of the first fe­male ed­i­tors in New Zealand, and later, a leader of the New Zealand Move­ment against War and Fas­cism.

She stressed two points. Af­ter laws and in­sti­tu­tions, the most ef­fec­tive means of chal­leng­ing poor govern­ment is a free press. While change agents of­fer new vi­sions for “the peo­ple”, their dam­age to old in­sti­tu­tions usu­ally leads to in­sta­bil­ity and tyranny.

My grand­fa­ther mar­ried again, into Ngai Takoto. My un­cle mar­ried into Te Rarawa. My twin un­cles died in WWII. My fa­ther sur­vived 17 bat­tles as a ma­chine gun­ner, of­ten in sup­port of the Maori Bat­tal­ion. Af­ter WWII he helped es­tab­lish the New Zealand So­cial Credit Po­lit­i­cal League.

He de­spised politi­cians who used class, race and lais­sez-faire cap­i­tal­ism to di­vide the peo­ple and mo­bilise fol­low­ers. He ar­gued that power in to­day’s world is dif­fuse and no longer flows from mil­i­tary might. Those with the best nar­ra­tives and ideas win. Ed­u­ca­tion, busi­ness and trade are there­fore the best gen­er­a­tors of peace and pros­per­ity.

That is why com­mem­o­rat­ing Ar­mistice in my fam­ily is so per­sonal, and all about cel­e­brat­ing ser­vice and sac­ri­fice, be­cause it can lead to learn­ing about good govern­ment and how it helps pre­vent war. Dr Reynold Macpher­son served in Ngati Tu­matauenga (RNZIR) and in Bri­tain’s Para­chute Reg­i­ment be­fore an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer in re­search and lead­ing re­forms in pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions and sys­tems.

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