The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth


The Auckland War Memorial Museum on its spectacular site

I took a trip down memory lane on my recent visit to New Zealand. The War Memorial Museum is arguably Auckland’s most iconic building – if you ignore that upstart Sky Tower with its money-laundering casino. Surrounded by 75 hectares of sculptured gardens, sports fields and semi-wilderness, the museum’s hilltop setting offers a tree-framed view over the harbour to Rangitoto and other islands of the Hauraki Gulf – these days marred somewhat by giant cranes and other paraphernalia of the port container terminal.

According to Wikipedia, the original building, opened in 1929, was constructed partly with the same English Portland stone used for Buckingham Palace and St Pauls Cathedral – requiring a six-week sea-voyage to the uttermost end of the Earth. Quite an expense for a tiny country.

The main hall on the museum’s ground floor is devoted to the indigenous cultures of New Zealand and its regional neighbours – the Māori and their Polynesian cousins who navigated the trackless immensity of the Pacific Ocean centuries before Dutch and English explorers “discovered” it. Taking pride of place in this section are a meeting house, and a 25-metre long war canoe carved from a single log of totara.

Wharenui Ak museum

Restored carvings in Hotunui

As a child I remember the effect of the elaborate carvings in the meeting house muted by a coat of dull red paint applied in the 1950s. Now, I am pleased to learn that a major project is under way to remove that offensive monochrome and restore the splendour of the originals.

A meeting house (wharenui) was the centre-piece of a Māori tribal village, a communal meeting place whose carvings and other works of traditional art recorded the history and origins of the people of the land. Living people shared the house with the spirits of their ancestors, and the house was given a name recognising this metaphysical dimension of its existence.

Auckland Museum’s wharenui is Hotunui, the name of an ancestor of the Tainui people who arrived with the great migration around a thousand years ago. The word can also be translated as “a great mourning, a yearning of the heart”, which may be significant in the light of what I learned of the house’s history. Apparently, it was one of two such meeting houses built in the 1870s by the Ngāti Awa people of Poverty Bay. The government had carried out large-scale confiscations of land after the Te Kooti uprising in the 1860s. According to Te Ara Encyclopedia, The carving of both [houses] was led by Wēpiha Apanui and his father, Apanui Te Hāmaiwaho. Hotunui was, in part, a tribute to Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi, one of the leaders in the wars of the 1860s. One of the poupou (uprights) in the porch is a carved representation and commemoration of Te Hura, so that the tragedy of the confiscation suffered by Ngāti Awa is memorialised in the meeting house.”

Little of this information, needless to say, is available to the public in the exhibition hall. It seems, by the early 20th century, Hotunui had fallen into disuse and a state of disrepair – not surprising, since the Māori themselves were in danger of disappearing as a race at that time – and it was removed to the newly opened museum in Auckland, to represent a world that no longer existed.


Māori war in canoe in better days

The canoe, Te Toki a Tāpiri (the Battle-axe of Tāpiri) is a survivor of days when Europeans were a small minority in the country. According to Te Ara, it was built by the Ngāti Kahungunu tribe in 1836, and passed through the ownership of several other tribes before it ended up in the hands of the government”. The museum website is a little more informative, acknowledging that the canoe was confiscated by government forces during the Waikato War in the 1860s[1]. Attempts at the time to blow it up apparently failed, and the canoe was left to slowly moulder away. In my school days the wars that were fought between various Maori tribes, the British Army and settler militias, were known as “The Māori Wars”. More recently, some have argued that it would be more appropriate to call them the Pākeha Wars, since the Pākeha (the Māori name for Europeans), were actually invading their country. These days a compromise seems to have been reached where they are referred to collectively as “The New Zealand Wars”.

Canoe and meeting house eventually found their way to the Auckland Museum, originally built to serve as a memorial to soldiers who had lost their lives in the First World War. The top floor of the building now commemorates all the wars in which New Zealanders have been involved since the country became part of the British empire in 1840.

redemption songs

Biography of Māori “rebel” leader, Te Kooti

Brief mention is given to those “New Zealand Wars”, including one particularly poignant quotation attributed to Te Ua Haumene, a Taranaki Māori converted to Christianity, in the early days of colonisation, by Methodist missionaries. With the increasing arrival of European settlers and land “purchases”, Te Ua turned to armed resistance, inspired by a visions of the archangel Gabriel who “assured Te Ua that he was chosen by God as his prophet, commanded him to cast off the yoke of the Pakeha and promised the restoration of the birthright of Israel (the Maori people) in the land of Canaan (New Zealand). This would come about after a great day of deliverance in which the unrighteous would perish.” A forlorn hope, as it turned out, but perhaps understandable in the circumstances.

The words of Te Ua displayed in the museum read: “Pākeha say, ‘Take our religion and our form of government, develop the economy and learn to read and write, and you will be citizens of the greatest empire in the world.’ We try to do all that. But when the British bring in a professional army to back up a faulty purchase of land, nothing of what we have been told appears true anymore. Pākeha seem to want to make the country theirs alone. The only thing we are expected to contribute is the land. Outnumbered, outgunned, unable to trust the law, we turn to religion.” Does that sound familiar?

The Boer War, 1899-1901, was the first where the New Zealand government sent troops to fight on foreign soil. The Auckland Museum’s display includes a quote from a local newspaper, The Waikato Argus, dated 31 January 1900. “It is the destiny of the British nation to spread good and just government over a large portion of the earth’s surface. Wherever her flag floats, equal justice [is] meted out to all . . . There is only one sentiment throughout the Empire – we must win regardless of the cost in man and treasure!”

Well, the British Empire did win, of course. According to a table on display, the British fielded 450,000 troops against the Boers 55,000. British casualties included 21,942 soldiers and 350,000 horses killed. The Boers lost 5,071 fighting men, and 27,921 civilians who died in concentration camps established to combat the guerrilla tactics of the outnumbered and outgunned Boers. In addition, 30,000 farms were burned, and 3,500,000 sheep were destroyed.


Concentration camp for Boer civilians, 2nd Boer War

What is perhaps more interesting is that The Boer War, as it is known in general British histories, was actually the second war fought between the British and the Boers. The first, a relatively brief affair in the summer of 1880-81 had resulted in a humiliating loss for destiny’s Empire. Contrary to the Waikato Argus editor’s altruistic rhetoric, Wikipedia itemises three key factors for British interest in South Africa:

  • The desire to control the trade routes to India
  • The discovery of huge deposits of gold and diamonds
  • The race against other European powers for expansion in Africa

So it goes – and that brings us to the next exhibit, and the original reason for the Museum’s construction: The First World War; known at the time as “The Great War”, and “the war to end all wars.”

I am currently reading a history of this war written by John Keegan[2], celebrated by The New York Times as “possibly the best military historian of our day”. The first sentence of Keegan’s book reads: “The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict.” So it’s a little sad that military and civilian casualties totalled 41 million, of which 18 million died. The New Zealand government despatched more than 100,000 young men (from its one million people) to battlefields on the other side of the world – and more than 18,000 never returned.

Why the war?One item in the museum’s display asks the obvious question, “Why go?”, and gives two answers: “Loyalty to Britain was strong and people believed going to war was the right thing to do. The war was also a chance for a great adventure.” One returned soldier is quoted as saying, “it was a case of Duty.” A contemporary poster published in The London Times gave three further reasons: “To save [Britain’s] good name. To save her life and her Empire [and] To save the freedom of the people in all Europe”; and encouraged young men to “FIGHT then – for your life. FIGHT – for your honour. FIGHT – for freedom. FIGHT – for mankind.” So clearly propaganda played an important role.

What receives less emphasis is that not all young men were so gung-ho about participating in an Imperialist war. There were many who believed, and more who came to that belief during the conflict, that the war was being fought for economic reasons, and that the common soldier had more in common with his “enemies” on the field than with his own political and industrial leaders.

Once conscription was introduced, however, there was no option of refusing to go. In theory, conscientious objection on religious grounds was acceptable – but almost impossible in practice. Those men who did actually refuse were cruelly treated by their governments. Flogging as a means of enforcing discipline had been banned in Britain’s armed forces in 1881, but remained on the statute books until 1947, and was still used in prisons – where an uncooperative soldier could easily end up. Once in the army, desertion, cowardice or dereliction of duty were offences punishable by execution. Lack of enthusiasm for the war effort was a disease that couldn’t be allowed to spread.

Thames war memorial

240 young men who never returned to the small town of Thames

Many servicemen from New Zealand and Australia had their first taste of combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey. Few of them could have located the place on a map. I, and most of my fellow citizens grew up with the legend of Anzac, commemorated every year on 25 April, the day when the invasion landings began. According to a laconic text in the museum display, “New Zealanders fight the Ottomans at Gallipoli . . . Their first campaign is a shambolic eight-month operation that ends in stalemate and evacuation.”

Shortly after first coming to Turkey, I went with a party of Turkish students to the cemeteries of Gallipoli and the town of Çanakkale, where an event takes place every year on 18 March commemorating the Ottoman success in turning back the combined naval fleets of Britain and France. You will search hard to find reference to this in British or New Zealand histories. From an Ottoman perspective, the British naval defeat was the critical event – the “shambolic” beach invasion a bloody exercise that had little chance of success from the outset. Was the result a “stalemate”? The British strategy (conceived by Winston Churchill) had been to bring battleships in front of the Ottoman Palace, force their government’s surrender, take them out of the war and establish a supply route to Russia.  The aim was to strengthen the Russian military effort and force the Germans to fight on two fronts. In the light of that goal, the campaign must surely be seen as a failure.

That was then, this is now. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Are we any better off in the present age of information? So help us, God!


[1] A detailed history of Te Toki a Tapiri can be found here.

[2] The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 1998)


Can Turkey do anything good?

I’m translating for your information an article I came across in our Turkish daily this morning

No one knows we are looking after 3.5 million refugees

On Wednesday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, participated in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The session, chaired by well-known New York Times writer, Thomas Friedman, was titled “Finding a new equilibrium in the Middle East”

davos refugees

Wilful ignorance? Or just plain ordinary ignorance?

[Others on the panel were Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Adel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, and Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Defence of Germany; Member of Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum.]

When Mr Şimşek mentioned that Turkey was currently hosting 3.5 million refugees from Syria, and if you included those from Iraq, the total reached 3.7 million, Friedman expressed surprise.

“Did you say 3.5 million?” he asked Şimşek.

Isn’t it rather strange that Friedman, who knows the Middle East very well, and has been writing about the region for years, wouldn’t know this figure?

Clearly, we have been unable to sufficiently publicise how many refugees we have in our country, and what we are doing for them.

Certainly, there is no excuse for Friedman’s not knowing the actual extent of the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing war in Syria. Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency have been speaking out on the issue for years and calling on First World nations to provide more assistance.

On the other hand, “experts” in the west seem to know some things about Turkey with absolute certainty:

  • They “know”, for example, that Turkey is responsible for the genocide of one-and-a-half million Armenians in 1915.
  • They “know” that Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, divided it in two, and refuses to leave.
  • They “know “that Turkey has been buying oil from ISIS terrorists and supplying them with weapons.
  • They “know” that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world.

Pretty much anything bad about Turkey, Western media are happy to circulate uncritically – but when it comes to giving credit for positive actions and achievements . . . ZILCH!

So, is Turkey at fault for not getting its message across? Or is it that Western interests don’t want to know? Draw your own conclusions.

Beware of economists (and historians) – connecting Anzacs and Armenians

My home country, New Zealand, was privileged last week to be visited by an eminent historian from the United States. Professor Jay Winter teaches at Yale University, and is said to be an authority on the First World War,

Well he had nice but sad things to say about New Zealand’s contribution to that horrendous conflict. It seems servicemen from my country died in greater numbers relative to population than those of any other combatant nation – a dubious honour, you’d have to think. Does that make our boys braver, more stupid, or just unlucky?


Quite a few Indians were sent too, apparently, to “defend” the Empire

In the interview I read, Prof. Winter then proceeded to devote a lot of words to making a connection between New Zealand’s joining the ill-fated Gallipoli invasion, and another tragedy of the “Great” War, the deaths of thousands of Armenian civilians. The link is the date: 24 April is when Armenians remember the day in 1915 when their ancestors in SE Anatolia were rounded up by the Ottoman government and forced to “relocate” to what is now Syria, a lot of them dying on the way. On 25 April in the same year, the British Empire, following a plan championed by War Minister, Winston Churchill, landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in a vain attempt to take the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

Prof Winter seems to think he has found something very new and exciting, as every academic dreams of doing. Possibly in his professional writing he actually does manage to make some hitherto unnoticed link that will shine the unequivocal light of day on matters that remain highly contentious. After all, says the learned prof, “Historians are in the truth business.”

Naturally, historians, jealous of their professional reputation, would like to think so – but the sad reality is that history, like economics, is a social science, lending itself to interpretation according to the particular political or ideological lens one uses to view the “facts”. Prof Winter gives a clue to his real purpose in visiting NZ when he suggests that the country’s new “Labour” government may be amenable to joining the ranks of other self-righteous nations that have officially designated the Armenian tragedy “a genocide”, for which the modern Republic of Turkey should be held responsible.


Genocidal violence with a smiley face

He may be right. Self-styled left-wing parties in the wealthy First World, bereft of ideas for actually changing anything important in the lives of the planet’s 99%, tend to offer crumbs of trendy, fashionable issues to their diminishing ranks of supporters. Barack Obama, in his original presidential campaign, wooed the Armenian lobby, but changed tack later, for reasons best known to himself.

Wiser heads may win the day in NZ too, and not simply because they fear that offending Turkey may earn their globe-trotting citizens a chillier welcome on their annual pilgrimage to Anzac Cove on 25 April.

However sincere Prof Winter may be in his search for truth, certain aspects of this interview gave me cause for concern. First, it appeared on News Hub, a NZ news service that airs on TV Three and radio stations run by MediaWorks. A little digging turned up the interesting fact that MediaWorks is a New Zealand-based television, radio and interactive media company entirely owned by Oaktree Capital Management. And Oaktree Capital Management, according to Wikipedia, “is an American global asset management firm specialising in alternative investment strategies. It is the largest distressed investor in the world, and one of the largest credit investors in the world.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course. Everyone has to make a living, and I’m sorry to hear those guys are distressed. However, the page where that interview appeared contained a link to another article praising “a young Kiwi historian” James Robins, who is apparently “grappl[ing] with the fact that no New Zealand Government has ever formally recognised the genocide of Armenians”. Mr Robins’s “grappling” is supported by a “genocide expert”, Maria Amoudian, and an American heavy metal musician Serj Tankian.


Genocidal violence with a grumpy face

In the interests of academic objectivity, we might want to also take a look at the work of researchers with less obvious connections to the Armenian diaspora.

One such is Edward J Erickson, a retired regular US Army officer at the Marine Corps University in Virginia, recognised as an authority on the Ottoman Army during the First World War. He makes some interesting points in a paper entitled “The Armenian Relocations and OttomanNational Security: Military Necessity or Excuse for Genocide?” I’m quoting a chunk from it, but you really need to read the whole document. It’s only 8 pages long.

“The historical context that led to the events of 1915 is crucial for understanding the framework within which the relocation decision was cast. There are four main historical antecedents that must be understood in order to establish this context:

  1. the activities of the Armenian revolutionary committees (particularly the Dashnaks);
  2. the activities of outside powers supporting the Armenian committees;
  3. the contemporary counter-insurgency practices used by the Great Powers; and
  4. the Ottoman counter-insurgency policies and practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“Many historians view the outbreak of the First World War as the proximate cause of what some historians refer to as the Armenian Genocide, others as massacres and relocations, and still others as the Events of 1915. To this day, interpretations of this question remain hotly contested by the advocates of the opposing positions. However, both sides agree on the fact that the Ottoman approach to the problem of quelling an insurgency clearly and dramatically changed in 1915 when it shifted from a historical policy of kinetic direct action by large-scale military forces to a new policy of population relocation. The problem then becomes that of explaining how the First World War created the drivers of change that caused this fundamental policy shift. Similarly to the four elements of the historical context, there were also four principal drivers of change created by the war:

  1. the actuality of an insurrection by the Armenian revolutionary committees;
  2. the actuality of allied interventions and support;
  3. the locations of the Armenian population as an existential threat to Ottoman national security; and
  4. the inability of the Ottomans to mass large forces effectively and rapidly to quell the insurgency.

“With respect to the question of whether the relocation was necessary for reason of Ottoman national security in the First World War, the answer is clearly yes. There was a direct threat by the small but capable Armenian revolutionary committees to the lines of communications upon which the logistics of the Ottoman armies on three fronts depended. There was a real belief by the government that the consequences of failing to supply adequately its armies that were contact with the Russians, in particular, surely would lead to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman high command believed it could not take that chance. Pressed by the imperative of national survival to implement an immediate counterinsurgency strategy and operational solution, and in the absence of traditionally available large-scale military forces, the Ottomans chose a strategy based on relocation— itself a highly effective practice pioneered by the Great Powers. The relocation of the Armenian population and the associated destruction of the Armenian revolutionary committees ended an immediate existential threat to the Ottoman state. Although the empire survived to fight on until late 1918 unfortunately thousands of Armenians did not survive the relocation. Correlation is not causation and the existing evidence suggests that the decisions leading to the Armenian relocations in 1915 were reflexive, escalatory, and militarily necessary, rather than simply a convenient excuse for genocide.

Another article you might want to take a look at appeared in The Washington Times, in 2007, around the time Barack Obama was running hot on the Armenian issue.

“Armenian crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Ottoman Turkish and Kurdish populations of eastern and southern Anatolia during World War I and its aftermath have been forgotten amidst congressional preoccupation with placating the vocal and richly financed Armenian lobby.

“Capt. Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland, on an official 1919 U.S. mission to eastern Anatolia, reported: “In the entire region from Bitlis through Van to Bayezit, we were informed that the damage and destruction had been done by the Armenians, who, after the Russians retired, remained in occupation of the country and who, when the Turkish army advanced, destroyed everything belonging to the Musulmans. Moreover, the Armenians are accused of having committed murder, rape, arson and horrible atrocities of every description upon the Musulman population. At first, we were most incredulous of these stories, but we finally came to believe them, since the testimony was absolutely unanimous and was corroborated by material evidence. For instance, the only quarters left at all intact in the cities of Bitlis and Van are Armenian quarters … while the Musulman quarters were completely destroyed.”

“Niles and Sutherland were fortified by American and German missionaries on the spot in Van. American Clarence Ussher reported that Armenians put the Turkish men “to death,” and, for days, “They burned and murdered.” A German missionary recalled that, “The memory of these entirely helpless Turkish women, defeated and at the mercy of the [Armenians] belongs to the saddest recollections from that time.”


and all the world will live happily ever after. No need to study history.

“A March 23, 1920, letter of Col. Charles Furlong, an Army intelligence officer and U.S. Delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, to President Woodrow Wilson elaborated: “We hear much, both truth and gross exaggeration of Turkish massacres of Armenians, but little or nothing of the Armenian massacres of Turks. … The recent so-called Marash massacres [of Armenians] have not been substantiated. In fact, in the minds of many who are familiar with the situation, there is a grave question whether it was not the Turk who suffered at the hands of the Armenian and French armed contingents which were known to be occupying that city and vicinity. … Our opportunity to gain the esteem and respect of the Muslim world … will depend much on whether America hears Turkey’s untrammeled voice and evidence which she has never succeeded in placing before the Court of Nations.”

“The United States neglected Col. Furlong’s admonition in 1920, and again last Wednesday. Nothing seems to have changed from those days, when Christian lives were more precious than the lives of the “infidels.”

Will we ever know the truth? Who knows? But one thing is for sure: if you want to stand a chance of learning it, you need to keep an open mind and do your own searching. And beware of “expert” historians (and economists).

If you don’t think there’s a conspiracy, you’re not paying attention

An interesting article I came across in Time Magazine: “Why Smart People Still Believe Conspiracy Theories”

wall street conspiracyA coterie of academic stooges set out to prove that people who believe in “conspiracy theories” are of sub-normal intelligence. Unfortunately for them, their findings did not confirm their initial hypothesis – so they had to come up with another one, ie people believe what they want to believe. Which is probably equally true of people who insist that there is no conspiracy.

The researchers’ fundamental error was to assume that people who believe there is a conspiracy have no solid evidence to support their belief. Not true, guys and girls.

  • Take a look at the Roman Catholic Church. One huge international conspiracy to keep the poor in slavery.
  • Take a look at Wall Street and the world of international banking and finance. Another monumental conspiracy to hide the truth behind global economic imperialism.
  • Take a look at the United States political system. Another major conspiracy aimed at convincing poor Americans that they actually have a say in how their government rules the country.

trumps-favorite-mcdonalds-meal-is-a-catholic-conspiracyA few extracts from the Time article:

“Millions of Americans believe in conspiracy theories — including plenty of people who you might expect would be smart enough to know better.

Despite mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary, at least 20% of Americans still believe in a link between vaccines and autism, and at least 37% think global warming is a hoax*, according to a 2015 analysis. Even more of us accept the existence of the paranormal: 42% believe in ghosts and 41% in extrasensory perception. And those numbers are stable. A 2014 study by conspiracy experts Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami and Joseph Parent of Note Dame University surveyed 100,000 letters sent to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune from 1890 to 2010 and found that the percentage that argued for one conspiracy theory or another had barely budged over time.

Now, a study published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences provides new insights into why so many of us believe in things that just aren’t true: In some cases, we simply want to believe.

The second study was similar but also sought to correlate belief in conspiracy theories and the paranormal with overall cognitive ability. To determine this, the people answered a number of questions that measured their numeracy — or basic mathematical skills — and their language abilities.

us democracyWhat’s most troubling — and a little mystifying — is the fact is that so many people in the studies score high on all of the rational and intellectual metrics and yet nonetheless subscribe to disproven theories. That’s the case in the real world too, where highly educated people traffic in conspiratorial nonsense that you’d think they’d reject. In these cases, the study concluded, the reason may simply be that they’re invested—emotionally, ideologically—in believing the conspiracies, and they use their considerable cognitive skills to persuade themselves that what’s untrue is actually true. If you want to believe vaccines are dangerous or that the political party to which you don’t belong is plotting the ruination of America, you’ll build yourself a credible case.”


*Interestingly US presidents and CEOs of large corporations seem to subscribe to this one!

Populism, Majoritarianism, Democracy and Orwellian Newspeak

On Friday 10 November at 9.05 am the people of Turkey will stop what they are doing, driving to work, labouring on the factory floor, imparting knowledge to reluctant adolescents . . . whatever, and stand for a minute’s silence to mourn the death, in 1938, of their nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.


Atatürk’s mausoleum, Ankara

I was pleased to read in this morning’s newspaper that the country’s AK Party government, often accused of systematically unraveling the secular principles of the great man’s republic, is organising buses to transport people to Anıt Kabir, Atatürk’s monumental mausoleum in Ankara, for a special commemorative ceremony.

At the same time, I was a little disappointed to read that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, outspoken critic of the government, and leader of the minority Republican People’s Party, self-appointed defenders of Atatürk’s republic, is currently in Strasbourg running down his own country and people to eager listeners at a meeting of the Council of Europe.

Of course we admire Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s commitment to defending human rights, if not his attempts to enlist foreign support for overthrowing his own lawfully elected government. We do, however, sincerely hope he’ll be able to get back to Turkey to join his fellow citizens as they give thanks for Atatürk’s historic achievements.

h-is-for-hypocrisy-460x245It’s not easy to get a handle on global or even national politics these days. We  know politicians lie, or at least conceal the truth, even if sometimes they may do it with the best intentions. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t have that excuse.

Nearly 70 years ago English author George Orwell, in his novel “1984”, warned of the dangers of Newspeak and Doublethink – where a nation’s leaders manipulated the meaning of words to limit people’s ability to utter, or even to think rebellious thoughts.

We know what happened to the word “democracy”: the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany), and the Democratic Republic of Congo are two of the more blatantly perverse interpretations of the concept.

But what about “majoritarianism”? That’s a word that entered my vocabulary quite recently, for which I had not previously felt a need. I’m still not sure exactly what benefits it brings to discussions in the world of political science.

orwell newspeak

Democracy is slavery – vote neo-liberal!

As I understand it, “majoritarianism” is a pejorative term applied to a political party that has won the right to govern in a democratically fair general election, and is getting on with the job of doing what it was elected to do. The gripe, as far as I can see, is that the “minority” who failed to get their choice of government installed, are unhappy and resentful, and feel they have been hard done by.

Well, the first point that needs to be made, it seems to me, is that the fundamental principle of democracy is: all eligible voters cast their vote and a decision is made on the basis of the majority. What’s the alternative? Minoritarianism?

Now I will admit that, in the United States, the United Kingdom and other primitive “democracies” still operating a “first-past-the-post” electoral system, you may end up with a majority government elected by a minority of voters. We New Zealanders suffered under such a system for years until it was thrown out by a referendum in 1993. More progressive countries, however, like Germany and Turkey, make use of proportional systems that allocate seats in the legislature according to votes actually cast in elections.

I have to tell you I’m a big fan of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He may not have immediately set up a democratic electoral system, but he did inspire his people to throw off the yoke of imperialist domination and set his country on the road to self-determination.

As well as being a successful military leader, Mustafa Kemal was also very knowledgeable in political theory. He built his new republic on the foundation of six basic principles. I am using the Turkish with English equivalents and brief explanations:

  • Cumhuriyetçilik – Republicanism: replacing the hereditary monarchy with an elected head of state and legislature.
  • Milliyetçilik – Nationalism: incorporating the concepts of national sovereignty, self-determination and national pride.
  • Laiklik – Secularism: the separation of religion from the functions of government.
  • İnkilapçılık – Reformism: aiming to modernise a country that had lagged behind Western progress.
  • Devletçilik – Untranslatable. Sometimes the French word Etatism is used. Essentially an economic system aimed at combining the best features of central planning and free enterprise.
  • Halkçılık – Populism: the concept of egalitarianism, replacing the former system where social class and hereditary factors determined a person’s rights and privileges.

Not bad for starters, you may think. But there’s another word that seems to be getting a good deal of bad press these days: “Populism”. And I have to tell you, it’s another one that’s giving me problems. In current use it seems to be applied, at least in the West, to a trend where many voters are supporting right wing, conservative, anti-liberal, anti-immigrant candidates. The prime culprit, of course, is America’s President Trump, but similar trends have been observed in France (Marie le Pen), Austria (the FPO) and Germany (the AfD).

Well I wouldn’t presume to tell Europeans and Americans how to solve their social, economic and political problems. I was, however, seriously disturbed to read that Turkey’s champion of justice and self-styled reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, has jumped on the Newspeak bandwagon and is decrying the concept of populism.


Just about off the scale!

Admittedly he is using an imported transliteration “Populizm” instead of the Turkish word “Halkçılık” – but I suspect his hero Mustafa Kemal would not have approved. First because the great man was very insistent on using Turkish words rather than foreign imports; and second, because an egalitarian society lay at the centre of his hopes for the future of his new republic.

Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was quoted in news sources today as saying, “Populism is dangerous and needs to be avoided at all times”. “Populism is very dangerous but we will certainly overcome this.”

The basis of this, I’m afraid, is that Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP (Republican People’s Party) has lost five consecutive general elections, two presidential elections and a referendum since 2002 – and doesn’t look like improving on that dismal record in the foreseeable future. Sour grapes?


Just as a point of information, Turkey is currently doing its best to cope with more than three million refugees who have entered the country since civil war broke out in neighbouring Syria six years ago, so at least on the immigration score, it’s hard to fault its government.


Western media’s love affair with Orhan Pamuk

“They have killed the Istanbul I loved” – a plaintive cry from Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk in an interview he gave recently to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Apparently the poor guy can’t live there any more because his memories have been destroyed.


Longing for the good old days

Well, I can empathise with Mr Pamuk’s problem. It’s a function of getting old, I guess, and of spending a lot of time away from the place of your birth. I haven’t lived in my hometown Auckland for 16 years. When I go back for a visit now, I hardly recognise the place I once knew so well. But there’s no use crying about it. It’s the way of the world. Some Native Americans possibly wish they could turn back the clock to a time before those Palefaces arrived – but sad to say, they can’t. There is a Turkish saying, “İt havlar kervan yürür”“The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”

But Orhan Pamuk likes to bark, especially in the cause of selling more books – a shameless self-publicist who has no scruples about running down his own country and people to further his own “literary” career.

It’s an interesting exercise to follow interviews Pamuk has given to western journalists over the years, and to observe how his projected self-image has morphed according to his own self-seeking agenda. In the La Stampa interview he says he is “jealous of Western writers” as they are not constantly questioned about politics by interviewers. He claims he has been forced to answer politically charged questions and this has “turned him into a political writer.” This is the guy who, back in 2005, speaking to a Swiss journalist, said that “a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I’m the only one who dares to talk about it”.


Rubbing shoulders with ordinary Turks in his school days – NOT!

Well, those are politically charged issues in Turkey, as Pamuk knew full well – and many Turks were of the opinion that he was making such statements with a view to attracting the attention of the Nobel Awards committee. It’s a well-known fact that novelists from developing countries unpopular in the West who criticise their own governments give themselves a head start in the race for Nobel honours. When Pamuk achieved his goal of Nobel literary honours in 2006, Turkey’s President at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, broke with his normal practice of congratulating high achieving Turks, and refused to acknowledge his countryman’s Nobel Prize. It should also be noted that Sezer was not aligned with the current AK Party government, but held the presidency by appointment of an earlier secular republican Kemalist administration.

But to return to the Italian report, Pamuk acknowledges that he spends much of his time in New York City, so we can understand that he will be somewhat out of touch with developments back home. “The old houses I love have been destroyed,” he laments. Well, the guy grew up in the old money quarter of Nişantaşı, with parents wealthy enough to send him to the elite American Robert College, to buy carloads of books to feed his passion for reading, and to support him while he dropped in and out of university without ever troubling himself to work for a living. If he had ventured, as a young man, to other parts of his beloved Istanbul during the 1970s and 80s, he would have seen vast swathes of old wooden Ottoman houses bulldozed and replaced by slum shanties for migrant workers from the east of Turkey. But he didn’t. And one thing is definitely true about Mr Pamuk – he was no youthful revolutionary idealist activist during Turkey’s most turbulent period of political upheaval in those decades. In a New York Times interview in 2014, he further admitted that, while his friends were risking their lives facing down soldiers, he spent most days reading at home in Nişantaşı.”


Let’s go shopping – in Nişantaşı 😉

In contrast, then, one of the images Pamuk likes to create for himself is that of a lone courageous voice calling his government to task for historical human rights abuses. He was charged, he loves to repeat, with treason for his outspoken support of Armenians and Kurds, and lived abroad in virtual exile for fear of incarceration or worse. What he omits to say is that the charges were brought by an ultra-nationalist private citizen, not the Turkish government, and were subsequently dropped.

But the Western media love him – and that’s probably another reason to be suspicious.

Democracy under threat in New Zealand

Citizens in Germany and New Zealand have just exercised their democratic right to elect representatives to their countries’ parliaments. The results are not dissimilar but response from the media and mainstream politicians has been remarkably different.


New Zealand is one of them – and Big Business doesn’t like it!

In Germany, the party led by Chancellor Angela Merkel won 33% of the popular vote, and 35% of the seats in the Bundestag. She, the country’s news media and most Germans expect Ms Merkel to continue as Chancellor after forming a coalition with one or two other parties. That’s the way the system works. It’s called Proportional Representation, and allocates seats in the nation’s legislature to parties according to the number of votes they receive. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? No moaning and grumbling – just get on with the job. As they do in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and many other civilised countries using a PR electoral system.

But take a look at what’s happening in New Zealand. The governing conservative National Party gained 46% of the vote and a proportional number of seats in the House of Representatives; the Labour Party, 36%, and two minor parties, around 8% and 6%, entitling their supporters to some representation in parliament.

And listen to the uproar! The news media are filling their pages with black propaganda against Winston Peters, leader of the tiny NZ First Party:


An orchestrated campaign to turn back the clock

“New Zealand’s hung parliament”

“The New Zealand First leader and kingmaker”

“Winston Peters, who currently holds the country’s future in his hands”

Kingmaker? Does that mean that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, almost always from the big business National Party, exercises the power of a monarch? More or less, yes!

Certainly Big Business does not like the MMP system of proportional representation that citizens in New Zealand worked so hard to bring in in 1994. And I guess they are also not keen on Mr Peters, who campaigned against business “fat cats”, and has been harshly criticising the size of exit packages dished out to departing corporate CEOs.

Interestingly, voter turnout in NZ parliamentary elections has been increasing in recent years, possibly as voters start to realise the power MMP gives them to exercise some control over the actions of the government. This year the turnout was 79%, similar to Germany’s 76%.


Not much has changed in the US. The best democracy money can buy!

Compare that to the United States of America, land of the free and loudest trumpeter of its hallowed democracy. In the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the world stage, only 58% of American voters bothered exercising their right. Two years previously, in the mid-term election for representatives to Congress, a mere 36% turned out.

I’m sure there is nothing Big Business in New Zealand would like better than to return to the old First-past-the-post voting system where the National Party used to regularly govern alone despite winning fewer than half of the popular votes, and sometimes fewer than the main opposition party.

When you have been the government for most of the last 70 years, you have had ample opportunity to “adjust” the system to ensure you continue to do so. Now it seems they are dragging out the counting of special votes to build up pressure on the small parties, and to persuade the New Zealand public that the system is bad. And they have the news media in their pocket. As always, prior to the election, the tame media once again built up the pathetic Labour Party into a “credible” opposition to ensure that the “minor” parties stayed that way.

When all the shouting is over, poor New Zealanders can look forward to another four years of being screwed by Big Business and their National Party stooges.