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Militarism and the NZ Left?

Written By: - Date published: 12:28 pm, February 28th, 2014 - 31 comments
Categories: afghanistan, education, military, newspapers, Public Private Partnerships, us politics - Tags:

I tend to be wary of militarism, while also recognising that there is an important role for the NZ military in the 21st century.  Necessary military services include practical provisions to deal with disasters at home and abroad, as well as to provide security for NZ.  In contrast, dubious militarism is a glorification of military power by an authoritarian state.  It is especially bad when harnessed in the interests of Empire as in UK and US imperialism.

So a couple of articles in the latest (Auckland) North Harbour News (Feb 28, 2014) have caused me to reflect a little towards a left wing understanding of the current state of the military in NZ.  Two of the articles have a presence on pages 4 and 5 of the North Harbour News.

The first article on page 4 is about a new Charter School that began operating in Rosedale on the North Shore of Auckland “2 weeks ago”: The Vanguard Military School.  Military charter schools have all the problems and down-sides associated with all charter schools, as well as the issues associated with an authoritarian culture that is strong on conformity and discipline. The article was published on Stuff a week ago.

The image with the article gives me pause because it looks a bit too much like authoritarian enforced conformity.  The article does endorse the positive side of such training for young boys, with the testimony of a parent:

One mother emailed to say her son is a different boy since he started classes.

“He is completely engaged at home and at school. He has a sense of self-worth, an understanding that he can achieve,” she wrote.

Mr Montgomery says he did not expect to have “100 per cent of the students paying attention in 100 per cent of the classes” so quickly, but they are “literally glued to what is going on.

“And this is only two weeks, imagine when it’s been two years.”

The Vanguard Military School has been operating for 13 years, but has only just begun operating a charter school.

Military public and private/charter schools have been on the rise in the 21st century US, with some associating this with neoliberalism and the US’s militaristic culture.

There is evidence that children of military families can be either positively or negatively impacted by their parents’ authoritarian style of discipline.

As a result of strict discipline, some children become well-mannered, obedient high achievers while others become rebellious or overly stressed.

It fits with the neoliberal agenda to have “obedient high achievers”.

The second North Harbour News article began as the headline article on the front page, and finishes with several accompanying colour photos on page 5: “Nations’ navies in excercise” (also available on Stuff – but with only the NHN’s front page photo). This is about a major international training exercise that has been underway in the Hauraki Gulf.

Six-hundred people from 14 nations have taken part in one of the largest military exercises held in New Zealand for decades.

The focus of their efforts was a national disaster hitting a fictional Pacific country that needs help.


The MCMEX14 exercise had Australians and Americans deployed at Army Bay practicing detonation techniques.

Chileans, Japanese, New Zealanders and divers from other countries jumped out of helicopters into the Tiritiri Channel. They were practicing swimming to sea mines and preparing to blow them up. For some, there was the chance to see the real thing – old World War II mines now sunk into the sea off Whangaparaoa.

There was also rifle range work for the participants. Its rationale was that in natural disasters, political tensions can rise. Aid operations need to be protected – in this case from the Samaru Independence League.

The top ranking man to visit was US Commander-in-Chief Pacific, four star Admiral Harry Harris.

“We are pleased to be part of this exercise and we are pleased at what New Zealand is doing.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army navy also took part in the exercise with a dive team.

Mr Harris says for the US to work with the Chinese Navy was a new move.

“We don’t operate with them much, we interact with them at sea on a regular basis, that is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing, and we are learning to operate together on the high seas.”

It’s not surprising that North Shore local papers would focus on local military activities.  The Devonport Naval Base and Hobsonville’s air Whenuapai’s RNZAF base are in the area.   And there is definitely an upside in having international cooperation in preparing for disaster relief.

The thing that I find a little disturbing is the impact of the two page spread taken up with images of militarism, albeit that some showing simulated rescue efforts.  But opposite the image of obedient young men at the Charter Schools are fairly glamourous action shots of military resources and power, including someone about to jump from a helicopter, and photo of a small naval craft racing away from a larger ship.

The unstated is the other kinds of activities our military engage in, in support of US militarism, as in Afghanistan.   The two newspaper articles promote both the Vanguard Military (Charter) School, and military training excercises, without providing a wider context or any critical analysis.

31 comments on “Militarism and the NZ Left?”

  1. BM 1

    It’s to do with discipline.

    Most boys respond better to a structured environment and knowing what the boundaries are.

    Military styled schools provide that enviroment, this is a good thing.

    • joe90 1.1

      Yeah, discipline is a wonderful thing.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 1.2

      Nah. Close all Charter schools by lunchtime. Offer no compensation to investors. Do this every single time the National Party tries to privatise or otherwise interfere with education. For the children.

    • ianmac 1.3

      I was pretty defiant of school uniforms and authority as a teen. But had a fascination when doing school cadets. Short pants khaki uniforms, marching etc. The sounds of marching feet, the echoes of nearby buildings, turning in unison, military brass music and being out of the classrooms was all good. And yet I am a pacifist at heart decades later. I can sort of see that some teens might enjoy boot camps but for long term educational benefit? Doubt it.

  2. Sanctuary 2

    “…It’s to do with discipline.

    Most boys respond better to a structured environment and knowing what the boundaries are.

    Military styled schools provide that environment, this is a good thing….”

    I assume then you warmly endorse the warped products of Britain’s public schools who serially mis-managed the British economy, spied for the USSR and incompetently led their armies and all the while in private they loved cross-dressing and being spanked for being very, very naughty boys by men many years their senior??

    • BM 2.1

      Why would I endorse that?

      Remember different culture down here in NZ , so you won’t get that sort of perverted weirdness that you’d get in England.

  3. captain hook 3

    Militarism is a perjorative term coined by the comintern to beat the United States on the head with.
    The left is just a involved as the right in raising armies and dreaming of imperialism and subjecting the massses to taxation and hegemony.

    • Sanctuary 3.1

      So you reckon I could get funding for a military charter school where every day begins with a rousing rendition of the The Internationale’, where the red flag flutters proudly from every vantage point and where any eleven year you care to call away from small arms training is capable of offering a Marxist critique of capitalism?


      Didn’t think so.

  4. Pete 4

    I do remember getting a great deal out of the scouting movement when I was a kid – I did Keas and Cubs, I didn’t progress to Scouts and in retrospect, I kind of regret that. And Baden-Powell was quite explicit about the pseudo-militaristic nature of scouting. I knew other people who did Sea Cadets and got a great deal out of that.

    I’m opposed to charter schools, and I understand that military schools are significantly more involved in a child’s life than 90 minutes a week and the occasional camp, but I really liked that structure. I think it was an important part of my childhood.

  5. fender 5

    Oh silly me, I thought this was set up to produce private armies for protecting the gated communities of the fascist 1%ers as they become increasingly paranoid about the impending revolution…

    • McFlock 5.1

      god no – that level of training costs too much.
      The protection of the gated communities will be done by peons with only slightly more to lose than the peons they’re protecting the 1% from. Like the old Malcolm X house slave/ field slave distinction.

      Military schools are a fetish of folk who believe that people need to be subordinate to groupthink (sorry, “disciplined”) in order to function in society.

  6. deWithiel 6

    Not sure that there’s a military presence at Hobsonville any longer; it’s full of ‘affordable’ homes. Perhaps you meant the RNZAF base at Whenuapai?

  7. karol 7

    OK. Thanks de Withiel. Will amend.

  8. greywarbler 8

    The sort of parent who would send his/her son to a military school, is possibly a fearful one, and too I guess feels that following the rules and coping with stress and demanding schedules will make you stronger, (if it doesn’t kill you). I have always been interested in Ted Turner’s background. He was sent to a military school at 4 years old. He is still a tough guy, but less since he had a change of heart on marrying Jane Fonda. This, about him.

    He was packed off to boarding school at the tender age of 4, and he spent most of his formative years at military schools. His relationship with his father, Robert Edward Turner II, was difficult, some would say abusive, although he does not describe it that way.

    The boy idolized the man, but the man had a weakness for alcohol, was prone to mood swings and often treated the boy harshly, trying to make him tougher. When the boy was defiant, his father beat him with the leather strap used to sharpen a straight razor, or with a wire coat hanger.
    “It wasn’t dangerous or anything like that,” Turner recalled. “It just hurt like the devil.”

    On one occasion, the father turned the tables on his son, ordering him to use the strap on him. Ted, tears rolling down his face, couldn’t do it.
    The verbal lashings no doubt hurt just as much, if not more.
    Turner remembers his mother as “a nice lady” and said he loved her dearly, but his father dominates any conversation about his early years. In a book about his life, he described how she stood outside the bedroom door and begged his father to stop spanking him.

    Even as a child, Turner loved nature and the outdoors. His first word was “pretty,” he was told. Yet at 4, he suddenly found himself alone, in a grim boarding school with no grass, only blacktop for a playground, while his father served in the Navy during World War II.
    The experience left him with lifelong abandonment issues, and Turner acknowledges in “Call Me Ted,” a 2008 book about his life, that he is not comfortable when left in his own company. He compulsively fills his schedule so he doesn’t have to sit still or be alone. His former wife, Jane Fonda, has said he lives his life as though he is trying to outrun his inner demons.

    And the US seems to have an aggressive authoritarian style embedded in the culture. I was reading a Bill Bryson book written in the 1990’s where writes about travels in Europe. He notes the
    sympathetic way that Danish police dealt with an addled, probably drugged teenager who had hurt his head. They were going to take him home – with the sensible thought that he needed his bed.
    Bill compared that with his memory of being ‘stopped by police in America, made to stand with my arms and legs spread against a wall and frisked, then taken to a police station and booked because of an unpaid parking ticket..when about seventeen.’ I also remember the authoritarian arrest that I read of in the USA. A mother, picking her boy up from sports, was stopped and didn’t have her seat belt on. She was arrested and held overnight in a cell.

    That sort of unthinking acceptance of draconian punishments by an authoritarian regime is not what we want strengthened, the tendency is already showing in NZ, and children regimented instead of schooled will increase the mindset and acceptance of control and violence in society more than the effects of smacking children.

  9. greywarbler 9

    I forgo to say that Ted Turner’s father committed suicide. So was he wise to send his boy to a military school which gave him the semblance of a regular schedule and permanency. Of course he didn’t see so much of his mother, and it probably broke her heart to see him go off on his own.
    I doubt that it was as enjoyable as Harry Potter’s school.

    If Ted had stayed at home with a father moody and on drugs, would he have been tainted with the same behaviour, and ending up hating his father. You would feel resentment at a man trying to set discipline when in his own life he was lost, a pitiable creature when down, and perhaps a shamed, or possibly an overbearing proesy preacher when he was lucid.

    • karol 9.1

      A bit of a sad case, Ted Turner’s father.

      The material I looked at reckoned individuals respond to militaristic discipline in different ways: some “” (learning to be obedient and/or self-disciplined), some “negative” (rebellious anti-social, disruptive, depressed). It depended a bit on an individual’s background, and personality.

      • KJT 9.1.1

        The “academy” could have been done under the State school system. Just like we had “trades academies” starting in some schools, under Labour, before National cut funding to Technology.

        I agree that there is the obvious problem. National used a school with goals that we could support, turning around children that have not been well served by conventional schooling, as a “wedge” to get charter schools on the agenda, and gain support for the eventual commercialisation of schools.

        And I agree about the issues for some children with militaristic type training.

        However it is not that “cut and dried”

        If done badly, it can be an authoritarian, soul destroying, mess.
        OR, If done well, can teach comradeship, care for other people, co-operation, respect for oneself and each other, consideration and protectiveness towards those who need it, and most importantly self reliance, competence and confidence.

        Many people thrive on it.
        Outward bound, Scouts, and other “boot camp” types of education, and even the military, have changed peoples lives around.
        Not just boys. In JOTC it is the young women who gleefully tell their male classmates to “take a concrete pill”.
        Military training, at least in New Zealand, these days is much less authoritarian and much more into building self reliance, confidence, self discipline, and thinking/decision making, under pressure.

        A big change from my young days, when it was all about drills and unthinking obedience.
        The PO’s who thought a good damage control course, was one where several of the class were hospitalised.

        By the way, it made me “high achieving”, perfectionist and “rebellious”.

        I think it tells us of the necessity for student centred learning, which takes account of a child’s abilities, learning styles and sensitivities. Which is what we were building towards with the new NZ curriculum, before it was sidelined by testing, testing, testing.

        And. This type of training and education requires very highly skilled and aware, teachers and facilitators. Not the self appointed, blowhards, that too often try and do it.

  10. RedBaronCV 10

    Funny how getting together for disaster training involves shooting things and blowing them up – what sort of disaster do they envisage?

    Might have been a great deal more use if they had practiced urban search and rescue, building a house and some roads, dealing with a large number of displaced stressed unfed and homeless people people. But hey it’s easier to shoot them isn’t it?

    And they could have run a cake stall together to raise funds, now that would be co-operative experience.

    • karol 10.1

      RedBaron: Funny how getting together for disaster training involves shooting things and blowing them up – what sort of disaster do they envisage?

      Well, according to the article:

      There was also rifle range work for the participants. Its rationale was that in natural disasters, political tensions can rise. Aid operations need to be protected – in this case from the Samaru Independence League.

      The SIL is a fiction for the Auckland exercise, but is suggestive of the kinds of things this international collection of navies are training to deal with.

      I guess it’ll also come in handy if there are “political tensions” without any natural disaster accompanying it.

      • KJT 10.1.1

        It does get suspicious when so much police and army training is dealing with “civilian” dissidents.

        Fortunately for us, not many in the NZ military have much enthusiasm for shooting “civilians”.

    • KJT 10.2

      Shooting, at targets, playing with giant toys, and blowing things up, is fun.

      Ever watched myth busters?

  11. Twisty 11

    Mr Montgomery says he did not expect to have “100 per cent of the students paying attention in 100 per cent of the classes” so quickly, but they are “literally glued to what is going on.

    Did anybody else notice the use of the word literally? I did in our paper. I guess it’s not good english skills they’re being sent to the school to cultivate.

    Maybe that’s the secret of their success. They eliminated truancy by literally glueing students to their chairs.

  12. irascible 12

    Didn’t John “Brain Fade” Banks send his son to this Academy? I recall reading somewhere that there was a connection between the Military Academy and Banks. If my memory is correct then one must question the reasons why the Vanguard Academy secured Charter School Funding.

  13. Denny 13

    Arrh its about the 3 F’s … funding, funding and failure! Again, where in the world has this method of teaching worked in the last 10 years in the Western World?? $20k+ per head versus $3k – $9k for State school funding??

  14. Parent 14

    My son has just started at this school this year, he found the school and has choosen to attend. My son is not a bad kid, never has been, however, like most kids in public schools these days, he was falling through the cracks. My son was not a “front row academic teen” nor was he a “back row trouble maker”, he is a middle row teen who went to school but was not really paid attention to due to the large amount of students jammed in to one class. He is now year 11 doing his NCEA. Since he started at the school his entire attitude has changed, not only towards life in general but towards school. He has to wake up every morning at 6am, spend 2 hours on a bus to get there, then the same on the way back but because he is actually learning at school (and enjoying it) he makes this committment every day. Before this school opened I had concerns about charter/partnership schools, to some degree I still do with some but this school has changed so many teens lives already. It is not a sole destroying school, they do not run them in to the ground, they are however teaching them discipline, responsibility, camaraderie and how to have respect for not only themselves but others around them. I wish there were more of the military type schools around. It is easy to bag something when we don’t fully understand what it is or how it is run. My suggestion would be to wait until the results are out, wait until these teens are a bit older, follow their progress to see how they turn out. It can’t be any different to what we are producing now with our public schooling system which seems more about churning them through than actually giving a damn about them as a person and their futures

    • LadyMary 14.1

      My son has also just started at this school this year and, like Parent’s son, is not a bully, trouble-maker and had never been suspended from school. He was, however, failing at every turn despite being more than academically capable. For 11 years the whole public school experience for him has been like trying to push a square peg into a round hole. 30+ kids in a class hasn’t helped. I was tired of it, he was tired of it. Since starting at Vanguard, I am seeing his insecurities literally (there’s that word again) melt away and a sense of pride and self-worth emerging. So far he has shown no interest in joining the military – only in achieving his NCEA Levels 1 and 2. His teachers are strict and have no qualms about dishing out “consequences” for unacceptable behaviour but they are also encouraging, knowledgeable, approachable and fair. For the first time in a long time my son knows where he stands, where he fits into society and what he can contribute to school life. My son has always had a lot to offer – the public school system just never taught him to believe it.

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