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.