Sunday, January 22, 2017

Karl du Fresne: The Lange legacy: a stream of borrowed one-liners, but not much else

Is it time for a reassessment of the David Lange legacy? I ask that question for a couple of reasons. The first was a speech that Sir Gerald Hensley gave late last year.

Hensley was head of the Prime Minister’s Department under Lange and thus uniquely positioned to observe him. The picture he painted of Lange’s behaviour during the showdown with the United States over nuclear warships was not flattering.

Before I go any further, I should mention that I was delirious with pleasure when Lange’s Labour government was elected in 1984.

Sir Robert Muldoon had cast a malevolent shadow over New Zealand since 1975. He was a bully who succeeded politically by polarising New Zealanders along them-and-us lines, never more so than at the time of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

In Lange he faced, for the first time, an opponent he couldn’t handle. Lange seemed impervious to Muldoon’s method of attack, responding with sparkling eloquence and insouciant wit.

As prime minister, Lange appeared to champion New Zealand’s right to repudiate nuclear weapons. Many New Zealanders experienced a surge of nationalistic pride at the way he stood up to pressure from Washington to accept visits from American warships.

Peak pride came with Lange’s performance in the celebrated Oxford Union debate of 1985, when he argued that nuclear weapons were morally indefensible. He famously told his opponent, the American televangelist Jerry Falwell, that he could smell the uranium on Falwell’s breath.

Lange was in his element. He was a performer who loved to charm people with his humour and verbal dexterity. I was in Britain at the time and recall feeling quietly pleased that New Zealand and its charismatic prime minister were being noticed and admired internationally for taking an independent line.

But as Hensley has revealed, Lange was talking out both sides of his mouth – saying one thing to New Zealanders and another to our allies.

In public, he was pledging to honour Labour’s commitment to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion. But behind the scenes, he was assuring America and our other Anzus treaty partner, Australia, that he would make the problem go away.

As Hensley tells it, the Americans were genuinely disposed to seek an amicable and mutually honourable solution, but in the end became so exasperated with Lange’s duplicity that they spat the dummy. He even kept his own Cabinet in the dark.

When a crisis arose over a proposed visit by the ageing destroyer USS Buchanan, carefully selected by the Americans to avoid the suspicion that it might be nuclear-armed, Lange disappeared to a remote Pacific atoll and was out of touch for eight days.

When, later, the visit was barred to satisfy anti-nuke activists in the Labour Party, the Americans justifiably felt deceived. Richard Prebble, a member of Lange's Cabinet, later described it as a shambles.

Hensley gives the impression Lange was counting on verbal equivocation to muddle through, but ended up painting himself into a corner. Far from being a courageous champion of the anti-nuclear cause, he was a dissembler who tried to play a double game – and when it failed, tried to make himself invisible.

Small wonder that Lange subsequently decided politics was too much like hard work and quit, leaving Geoffrey Palmer with the hopeless job of trying to prevent the faction-ridden fourth Labour government from unravelling. 

So Lange was a charming political dilettante. But I said at the start of this column that there were two reasons to reassess his legacy. Here’s the other: plagiarism.

Whatever his failings (and in his later life Lange showed a bitter, disputatious streak), we at least admired his wit.

Wasn’t it he, after all, who once joked that New Zealand was “a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica”. Yes, he did – but I recently discovered that the line was originally used by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1970, in reference to Chile.

All right then. But how about Lange’s memorable line that National leader Jim Bolger had “gone around the country stirring up apathy”?

Whoops. That was borrowed from British Conservative Party stalwart Willie Whitelaw, who used the line in reference to Labour leader Harold Wilson.    

As far as I can ascertain, the line about Falwell’s uranium-enriched breath was Lange’s own. So was the one about Muldoon’s knighthood in 1984: “After a long year we’ve got a very short knight”. But you have to wonder about the provenance of some of Lange’s other witticisms.

More to the point, Hensley's recollections about the Anzus crisis suggest that being prime minister requires more than an endless supply of one-liners.

Footnote: Since this column was published, I've been reminded that the famous "uranium on your breath" comment was directed not at Falwell personally, but at a young member of his debating team. More significantly, Gerald Hensley has revealed that it was indeed not Lange's line originally. Hensley had spotted it in an Australian cartoon (he thinks it was in The Bulletin) and pointed it out to Lange, thinking it would amuse him.  

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Dominion Post.


Brian said...
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The Lange Era.

Reassessments and revisions of political history always make me uncomfortable, due I freely admit, to a late Victorian historian who aptly described them as “A Judgement of the past, by standards of the present”.

What I really recall about the Lange era was the failure of his (or rather Labour’s) reforms coming to an abrupt halt when faced with carrying them through. From the removal of farm subsidies, into the non-removal of the very substantial protection of New Zealand secondary industries which was seen as a step too far.

This failure showed the true weakness of our political system when general reform ideas clash with winning the next election. It is a failure endemic in the Westminster democratic system. As Churchill truthfully remarked “Democracy is a bad way to govern, but the other systems are much worst”. America’s Alexander Hamilton put it more strongly “Democracy is our real disease”.!

The Anti America stance that David Lange adopted was well suited to the times and that era, and is still used by the Greens and leftist socialists to gain acceptance of radical ideas; in which truth has been the main victim. That particular era also promoted anti western feeling, which is so evident today.

Witness in the last few days the March by Women against a duly elected President by a democratic system bolstered by the U.S. Constitution. But No, these women want another election, and their candidate in the White House; a similar scene can be seen also in Britain over Brexit. As with David Lange, emotion is their guide, and logic found is the “New Klondike”!

Anonymous said...
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The oft-asserted claim that anti-nuclear is “a cornerstone of our national identity” is one that deserves to be rigorously deconstructed. Far from being a statement of national identity, New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance of the 1980s was actually a triumph of Soviet foreign policy that served the Soviet Union’s strategic agenda of breaking apart the ANZUS pact providing for joint regional defence against Communist imperialism.

Observers of the "peace" movement since the 1950s often noted its ongoing failure to call upon the Soviet Bloc and its client states to disarm, its repeated attacks on the motives of America and its allies, and its continual blackening of America as the threat to world peace. There is a simple explanation. The "peace" movement in every Western country was without exception a slew of treasonous hate groups, founded, funded and directed from Moscow.

Understood in its proper context, it is soon apparent that New Zealand’s much-vaunted anti-nuclear stance is part of a much bigger picture. A permanent Communist objective has always been to tilt the balance of world military power in favour of Communist armed might. Communists in the democratic countries were instructed wherever possible to create a dialectical conflict between “warmongers” and “peaceniks” in the service of this objective.

Leftists claim to hate war, but their opposition to armed conflict is situational, and depends entirely on the political affiliation of who is fighting whom. For example, the Communist Party of the USA ("CPUSA") pressed for America to enter the Spanish Civil War in order to fight Franco and his Fascist allies, because the Soviet Union and Spain’s Communists were lined up on the other side.

When Hitler and Stalin later signed a mutual non-aggression pact, the CPUSA suddenly decided the USA should stay out of European affairs, even as the Nazis were gobbling up Austria, the Sudetenland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway. Of course that changed as soon as Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, these same people, devoted as ever to advancing the interests of the Soviet Union, insisted America should unilaterally disarm and turn its atomic arsenal into plowshares.

The roots of the Soviet-puppeted Western “peace” movement trace back more than 80 years. As Soviet strategist Dimitri Manuilski told the Lenin School of Political Warfare in 1931:

“War to the hilt between communism and capitalism is inevitable. Today, of course, we are not strong enough to attack. Our time will come in thirty to forty years. To win, we shall need the element of surprise. The bourgeoisie … will have to be put to sleep. So we shall begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There will be electrifying overtures and unheard of concessions. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to cooperate in their own destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we will smash them with our clenched fist."

This meant reframing the Communist agenda to attract broad support from respectable people. As Mikhail Suslov, the Politburo member in charge of the Soviet “peace” offensive from the Stalin era until into the 1980s, told the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in 1949:

“Particular attention should be devoted to drawing into the peace movement trade unions, women’s, youth, sport, cultural, education, religious, and other organisations, and also scientists, writers, journalists, cultural workers, parliamentary, and other political and public leaders.”

Anonymous said...
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Nothing had changed in the philosophy and goals of the Communists, but by seemingly advocating "peace” and “disarmament” they were able to forge broad alliances with individuals and groups who had little or no inkling of their true agendas. Besides obscuring Communist leadership and direction, this “Popular Front” tactic also served to project the false impression of mass-scale public support for essentially Communist causes.

Communists are adept at creating “Popular Fronts” whose apparent purpose attracts the support of respectable people, while covertly advancing the Communist agenda. Only the Communist puppeteers know the true agenda, while those whom Lenin once referred to as “useful idiots” see only the smokescreen.

A relative handful of Communists are thus able to multiply their effectiveness many times over, sitting back and deriving a sense of superiority from knowing they are manipulating the situation, while a raft of useful idiots do their dirty work for them.

To proclaim the real objective of undermining the military preparedness of nations opposed to Communism would recruit few supporters in those countries. This meant a stated objective was required that would accomplish the same purpose, but could be presented as something totally different.

The goal of the “peace movement” as advanced to the Western public became the preservation of peace in the face of an imminent nuclear war. Its Communist directors laid out the calls for disarmament which were to be made to Communist and non-Communist leaders alike.

They failed to point out that these demands would have no effect in the Communist Bloc because there was no public opinion there that they could influence. The people of the Communist countries couldn’t even find out about these demands unless the Communist Party decided to tell them.

The underlying purpose of the “peace” movement was to remould public opinion in free countries with democratically elected governments. The useful idiots, satisfied that demands to disarm were nominally extended to all countries, were sold on this magnificent idea and enlisted in the cause.

Communist front organisations and activists were thus able to manipulate a mass of well-meaning but gullible people into running interference for the Communist Vietcong during the Vietnam War, the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the African National Congress (a front organisation for the South African Communist Party) in South Africa, Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO and every other Communist-backed terrorist “national liberation” movement on the planet. Communists spearheaded the nuclear disarmament movement and numerous other campaigns aimed at crippling Western defence capabilities.

Most people regard "peace" as the absence of armed conflict between nation states. When a Communist talks of "peace" he means something entirely different: a world in which all opposition to the imposition of Communism has ceased. The ultimate agenda of the Communists behind the “peace” movement was to pressure the Western democracies to unilaterally disarm, leaving the Soviet Union as the world’s only nuclear power. The Soviets could then present the Free World with a simple proposition: “Accept Communism or die!”

Our local “peace” movement loudly proclaimed the Pacific Ocean to be a “US Nuclear Lake” but somehow overlooked to point out that the Soviet Union maintained at Cam Ranh Bay, North Vietnam, a far larger flotilla of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships than the US Sixth Fleet.

Anonymous said...
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The Soviet Union’s agenda was to undermine regional defence and open up the Pacific Rim to Communist naval incursions and influence. Alienating New Zealanders from their traditional US ally and effectively taking us out of ANZUS was a master stroke of Soviet strategy in the service of this objective. Since the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, the primary beneficiary of this has been the People’s Republic of China.

The claim that New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance demonstrates our “independent national identity" merely illustrates the extent to which local Communists and their dupes were able use the rest of us as glove puppets for International Socialism, as does the notion widely evident amongst our chattering classes that anti-Americanism is intellectually cute.

New Zealand’s disgraceful anti-nuclear grovel that removed NZ from ANZUS was a massive triumph for militant Marxist-Leninism, and for our local embedded Commies within the Labour Party.

Those on the Labour Party's National Executive who played a leading role in this matter were well aware that they were serving the strategic interests of a foreign power, yet remain to this day defiantly proud what they did.

Once upon a time the word “traitor” would have been applied to these people. But because our public discourse is today controlled by graduates of our Leftist-dominated university system, they’re instead depicted as praiseworthy.

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