Originally posted at Dean’s World here.
I recently wrote about my Wife’s experience while serving at a hospital in Tanzania with a 24 year old New Zealander. The girl was well versed in anti-American propaganda and felt compelled to heap abuse on my Wife. The Wife is quite capable of defending herself, but she lacks my background knowledge of American foreign policy and world history. During our brief phone call, I provided her with some basic facts to combat the Kiwi’s propaganda regurgitations. Afterward I decided to dig deeper into the youngster’s bigotry and did some research into New Zealand’s attitudes towards Americans. What I found changed my mind about wanting to visit the place anytime soon.
Part of New Zealand’s anti-American bigotry is no doubt due to size. New Zealand has four million people – roughly the same number of Americans who eat in their sleep or believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. Living in a tiny nation may make one cheer any victory over comparative giant – even in such a yawner sport as yachting. However New Zealand shares similar history and culture to the United States. It is a former British colony with an established democracy and similar religious background, with more Protestants than Catholics, and more Buddhists than Jews and Muslims. New Zealand has spent most of its time since independence under European-style socialist governments. However over the past decade it has become a strong advocate for free trade, especially in closed agricultural markets.
Yet Only 29% of New Zealanders had a positive view of the United States in 2004. That puts it on par with Pakistan at 30% and below Russia (43%) and China (42%). So much for the idea that shared cultural ties can bind people together.
In 2005, an American working as a high school teacher in rural New Zealand filed a lawsuit in the country’s Human Rights Commission after being verbally abused by his students because of his nationality. Another American, Douglas Sparks, brought his family to the country to oversee the Anglican Church’s Wellington Cathedral. Two years later he left vowing never to return after being the target of anti-US graffiti and his children were taunted in school by classmates telling them they hoped American soldiers would be killed in Iraq.
That same year outgoing US ambassador Charles Swindells in his final speech slammed New Zealanders for indulging in “empty, inaccurate criticism of US ideals or actions that offers no constructive alternatives and gives no credit where credit is due.”
Many are quick to leap to conclusions that the anti-Americanism is a recent phenomenon due primarily to the Iraq War. However anti-Americanism in New Zealand predates the Iraq War by about 40 years, starting with the Vietnam War protests and more importantly for New Zealanders to the country’s refusal to allow port calls by the US Navy starting in 1986, which resulted in a US freeze on high-level political visits there. In 1998, the Clinton Administration tried to warm relations up in one way by approving a deal that gave New Zealand a squadron of F-16 for a pittance to upgrade its obsolete air force. However the following year New Zealand elected an anti-American Labor Prime Minister Helen Clark who refused the offer.
In 2002, New York Times senior staff writer and former Clinton speechwriter James Gibney visited New Zealand to give a speech and was stunned by the level of anti-Americanism he found.
There was a very black and white view of US actions towards Iraq, and what our motivations were in the world. There was a sense that the US was much more of a rogue state than many of the countries that it labelled rogue states and that was kind of surprising to me. The other thing that was surprising was that people talked of US opinion as being monolithic. It was like we were all one and there was no distinction made between Democrats and Republicans or people who might disagree with Bush administration policies. That was unfortunate, because there seemed to be an animus directed towards America as a whole rather than just the administration’s policies [emph add] . That took me aback.”
New Zealand Ambassador to Washington Denis McLean attributes anti-Americanism to the country’s “residual pro-Britishness.” “For a long time we were quite happy with the British and I think a lot of people in New Zealand would still rather prefer the British to be running the world. We do think like them.” McLean also notes New Zealand’s isolation as being partly to blame. It’s nearest neighbor, Australia, is a thousand miles away – greater than the distance between New York City and Bermuda. It’s nearest neighbor to the south is Antarctica at 3,000 miles and to the east is Peru, 6,500 miles away. ”
The World War 2 generation that waited for the arrival of US marines in New Zealand to save them from an expected Japanese invasion is slowly dying off, replaced by generations who have grown up without any direct threat. Like the kiwi which lost its ability to fly in the absence of predators, young New Zealanders have lost the important roles defense and patriotism play in their own nation’s health and security. Writer Joanne Black notes, “the flag-worship of Americans could not be further from the position of many New Zealand schoolchildren who would be unable to differentiate New Zealand’s ensign from Australia’s.” Australia, having been attacked by the Japanese during World War 2, tends to take defence issues more seriously than its isolated neighbor. Former Ambassador McLean states “They’re slightly closer to Asia, but the real bottom line is that they know they are vulnerable. We tend not to think in those terms…”
Word is getting around. Travel forums are filled with posts by Americans traveling there who are worried that they will be discriminated against for jobs and housing. Even Left-wing ideology doesn’t protect expatriates like University of Auckland senior lecturer in political studies Dr Paul Buchanan, who visits the US twice a year and is “struck when I get there by how it is Rome before the fall.” “I have in the past couple of years, particularly related to some
public commentary I’ve made, had some nasty emails saying, ‘bloody Yank, go back home’.”
For millions of years the kiwi thrived in its isolation. However today it is endangered by introduced predators including stoats, dogs, cats, weasels - and just about anything else that is fast enough to catch it. Only human intervention has saved the flightless bird from extinction. Likewise New Zealand has thrived under the global security umbrella provided by the United States and its neighbor Australia. While radical Islam hasn’t caught hold in the nation yet, the support of jihadis in Iraq by some in New Zealand along with the nation’s anti-American bigotry should give New Zealanders pause for one important reason:
The weasel is a greater threat to the kiwi than to the eagle.
Years ago a Japanese once told me, “Japan is a small nation, and we Japanese have small hearts. America is a big nation. You Americans have big hearts.”
I answered that it didn’t have to be that way, that Japan may be a small nation, but it played an increasingly large role in the world. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese found that they had “big hearts” too.
Since that time Japan has sent peacekeepers to Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has provided crucial logistical support in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as for the Tsunami relief effort. It has also backed US policies vis-a-vis North Korea at critical times, thereby helping East Asia – and the world – become a safer place IF Kim Jong-il gives up his nukes (and doesn’t sell them on Ebay to Syria). Have the hearts of Japanese gotten bigger? I’d like to think so.
New Zealand, on the other hand, is a small nation, but its growing anti-Americanism only diminishes it further.