I just discovered this video.
I’m absolutely seething, but will try to get some words out. That man, Godfrey Bloom, is a member of the UK Independence Party and a member of the European Parliament. At the end of the video, he congratulates the French for sinking the original Rainbow Warrior.
France began testing nuclear weapons in its Pacific territories in the 1960s, and particularly on the atoll of Mururoa. In 1973, New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice and won a ruling that France should cease all nuclear testing. France ignored the ruling and in 1974, the tests continued underground. New Zealand took France back to the ICJ in 1995. 147 underground nuclear tests were carried out between 1974 and 1996 when France finally stopped the tests.
In March 1985, NZ’s prime minister David Lange – in a brilliant speech – won the Oxford Union debate with his argument that nuclear weapons were morally indefensible. Lange then went one step further by banning all nuclear-powered ships from New Zealand waters and ports. The United States took this to be a repudiation of New Zealand’s obligations under the ANZUS treaty and ended the alliance.
Four months after the Oxford Union debate, on July 10, 1985, the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior was moored in Auckland Harbour. Two French secret agents dove under the ship, attached two limpet mines, and then detonated the bombs. A Spanish photographer, Fernando Pereira, was killed in the attack. He had an eight year-old son.
This was an act of state-sponsored terrorism in New Zealand territory and was seen as an act of war by France, a country which was supposedly a friend of New Zealand and which many New Zealand citizens had died fighting for only forty years earlier. In the months and years which followed, France showed just how “friendly” it could be, first denying responsibility for the attack, then trying to pin the blame on MI6, then trying to block imports of New Zealand products into the EEC. Unfortunately for France, they underestimated our police force and the vigilance of ordinary citizens and two of the estimated nine agents involved were caught (thanks in part to a Neighbourhood Watch group), tried, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The US stood by and did nothing – fair enough, perhaps. But the UK did nothing either. New Zealand severed its last constitutional ties with the UK parliament and became fully independent in 1986, the year I started school. Apart from a love-hate relationship with Australia, New Zealand was alone in the world – a tiny little outpost in the Pacific, its traditional allies gone, but all the same not allowing itself to be pushed around.
My childhood was full of anti-nuclear symbols, rainbows, and Greenpeace bumper stickers (and, by the by, Neighbourhood Watch groups). The environment movement was huge. We were all indoctrinated to “be a tidy Kiwi” and were already experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change due to the ozone hole (pre-regulation of CFCs). New Zealand truly came of age in the 1980s and was a world leader in nuclear and environmental issues.
Godfrey Bloom needs to understand that his comment not only condones terrorism and murder, but he has managed to offend a whole country. Which is a bit hard to understand given that his party is calling for closer relations with Commonwealth countries.
Yesterday was New Zealand’s national day. This year I skipped the celebrations – a pub crawl on the Circle Line from Paddington to Westminster ending with a big party in Parliament Square (though in recent years the Circle Line has always been inconveniently closed on the day). It seems appropriate somehow – a bit of an “up yours” to the Empire. I am proud to be British (though there is a lot in our history to be less than proud of). But I am also proud to be from a country that stands up for what it believes in, even to the extent of losing its friends. The events of the 1980s didn’t just shape New Zealand’s national identity, they shaped my identity as an individual.