Letter from New Zealand

By Cyril and Marjorie Powles | 1985-05-01 12:00:00

WE ARE ABOUT TWO thirds of the way through our New Zealand stay. A three-and half-hour ferry trip seems like a good chance to give you in Canada some impressions about the peace movement here. New Zealand looks to a peacenik from Canada like a kind of paradise: the country is small -- and the 3 million peo ple are largely concentrated in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

David Lange and the Labour govern ment's decision to bar US nuclear ships from New Zealand ports has come as the end result of 10 years of careful anti nuclear campaigning. Today each little neighbourhood has its CND group which provides grassroots support to the national organizations. The reaction to US pressure is universal. Just this morn ing a newspaper headline states that the Kiwanis are considering cutting off their US ties!

The anti-nuclear organizations have a pretty good network with ties beyond the country to other organizations from Hawaii and Palau to Papua-New Guinea and Tahiti forming the Campaign for a Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific. This network poses a potential threat to the American, French and British colon ial powers for whom the Pacific has hitherto provided a useful and isolated (from the North American media) nuclear testing ground, as well as a possi ble dumping ground for waste.

New Zealand's stand introduces at least two problems. First, it may be only the first in a series of domino-effect actions to exclude the Western powers from Pacific ports. (N.B. The Solomons were ahead of New Zealand in doing so, and Palau would like to, but is experienc ing tremendous pressure from the US.) Second, nuclear rocketry and submarines represent basic US strategy for the Pacific and require the harbours, communication relay stations, etc., located in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands.

So far Australia, the main ANZUS ally, has stood firm, but the peace move ment there is increasingly powerful and is challenging government policies. Hence the harshness of the US reaction to an apparently harmless and consistently democratic little nation's action.

In Auckland we were fortunate to meet George Armstrong, an Anglican priest who has pioneered peace activities here. He had just returned from leading the New Zealand delegation at a Nuclear Weapon-Free Pacific conference in Okinawa, organized by the Christian Council of Asia. Over 10 years ago, George pointed to the US nuclear threat by forming the Peace Squadron, a group of yacht and small boat owners who sailed out to block the entrance to Auck land Harbour with a living chain at the time of a visit by a US nuclear-powered submarine. This symbolic act is seen as the beginning of serious peace activities here.

The use of imaginative symbolic acts (such as sticking "Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone" stickers on everything from one's car to entire towns) has helped grassroots growth. Generally, this project has expanded to form the Nuclear Weapon Free New Zealand campaign, and has also linked up with others in the Nuclear Weapon-Free Pacific campaign. As is the case with the parallel movement -- the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the more recent professional groups (Physicians, Scientists, etc.), middle-class whites (pakeha) predominate.

New forces, more significant for the future, are beginning to appear. On our first night in Auckland, George Armstrong took us to a Maori hui (assembly) to welcome a delegation of Pacific native people that was touring New Zealand, and to hear the report of a Maori delegation just returned from a conference in Okinawa. The meeting began with a women's chant. Then three young men made long speeches of wel come, each of which ended with a chant. Finally, two of the visiting delegates -- one from Hawaii and one American Indian (A.I.M.) - replied. This whole introductory part ended with the women joining in several more songs and chants.

The second part of the assembly consisted of the reports. A common theme rapidly emerged, distinguishing the native people's resistance to the nuclear powers. For them such resistance forms an inextricable part of their overall resistance to colonial powers who have robbed them of land, language and culture. Each long report, whether from the US, Hawaii, Micronesia or New Zealand, played variations on one theme: a Pacific Ocean free of nuclear weapons means an independent Pacific where the original inhabitants will once more be free to enjoy the sea and lan.d which is their Mother.

Reporting from Micronesia was Betty Johnson, who lived in Hawaii for years, where her husband Walter taught at the University. Their son, Giff, is a photographer and journalist married to one of the outstanding peace campaigners from Micronesia, Darlene Keju-Johnson. The Johnson seniors, now retired, live in western Michigan, but spend a good deal of time in Micronesia. They tell a terrifying tale of US oppression and duplicity. (They also know Sr. Rosalie Bertell.)

Later, on our way to Australia ... We stayed in Christchurch with George Armstrong, who introduced us to some former students, Kate and John. They are pillars of the peace movement there, especially Kate. She told us that in their Nuclear Free New Zealand campaign, some districts of Christchurch has as high as 95% of the households showing stickers on their front doors. This was accomplished by door-to-door bell ringing, jlst as in a political campaign. So when the general election came along, all candidates were made aware of the concentration of opinion around the nuclear issue.

In conclusion, both Marjorie and I feel that the strength of the New Zealand movement lies in its positive aims: not being primarily against something, but pushing for a nuclear weapon-free car, house, town, country and Pacific. Its ability to link up with other issues, such as land, native and women's rights, too, gives ita broad appeal. Finally, when the US pressure on Lange and the government began to increase, the entire country began to draw together in a magnificent display of support.

Hope this rather scattered account may be of some use. We will keep in touch from Japan.

Peace Magazine May 1985

Peace Magazine May 1985, page 5. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Cyril Powles here
Search for other articles by Marjorie Powles here

Peace Magazine homepage