“The real heroes of Afghanistan are the three Kiwis who popped the dome two years ago…” John Minto
Corporal Willie Apiata won his VC-the first by a New Zealand soldier since World War II- for rescuing a wounded colleague under fire. But according to John Minto, he “was no hero compared to Sam, Adrian and Peter.” Maybe Minto had been popping something else. VC vs PC is no contest. Declaring that Apiata is no hero compared to the real heroes, the peace activists, was a maladroit Minto moment.
Historically, especially in World War I, conscientious objectors like Archibald Baxter, father of James K, exhibited a lot of courage and were treated incredibly harshly*. By comparison the trio who deflated the Waihopai surveillance base, run by the Soviet-sounding Government Communication Security Bureau (the GCSB), had a milk run and don’t deserve inflated kudos.
Meanwhile, as the whole world now knows, Special Air Services trooper Corporal Apiana was back on the streets of Kabul recently joining a counterattack against a Taleban terror strike and looking for all the world like a movie poster pin up. The hirsute still-is warrior looked somewhat different from his medal investiture photos* and women of an uncertain age obviously thought he was very SASsie .
Like Prince Harry, whose military tour of duty in Afghanistan was cancelled once the word got out, Apiana would be a high profile kidnap target by the Taleban or Al Queda or any one of a number of dissident cells setting its sights on a high profile target as a negotiating chip. A Willie away movement would be very harrowing.
The media have got the stick for printing a French freelance photographer’s military mugshot of the Kiwi hero and told that they should consider what they are doing in these days of instant world wide communication. But of course the corporal was naughty for removing his helmet in the first place. Even sunglasses would have preserved his anonymity though not protected his skull.
Skulldugery was the accusation that some leveled at the New Zealand Government. The New Zealand military originally went into Afghanistan with an emphasis on civil reconstruction in rural areas. The SAS’s metropolitan adventures are a whole new dimension.
The outing of Apiata led to the announcement by the PM late last week about being more open regarding SAS movements. This makes political if not military sense. The New York Times, through its Afghan news hounds, seemed to know more than Kiwis about the SAS being involved in urban guerilla warfare in downtown Kabul, replacing the withdrawing Norwegians. As John Lennon might have sung, Norwegians would.
In the meantime, as far as Willie was concerned, this bird had indeed flown for a well deserved furlough.
The reasons why the antipodean ant has been so assiduously helping the global elephant are largely to do with diplomacy and potential free trade agreements. If, as Chou En-Lai had it, all diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means, in this case for this country war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means. New Zealand’s involvement has helped to paper over the cracks of past differences, especially New Zealand’s unwillingness to be part of the military nuclear family, despite Ernest Rutherford’s pioneering scientific efforts.
In political circles in America New Zealand stands to gain more kudos from being open about its Afghanistan engagement than conforming to strict military secrecy. Not all the PR is good, of course. One tricky bit is the SAS’s involvement in the arrests of alleged terrorists and passing over the prisoners to the tender ministrations of the Afghan authorities. This is a new rendition of the old number “Guantanamo Bay” and the guano may stick if Amnesty International has its way.
Since 2001 the American propensity to lump the Taliban and Al Qaeda together is the equivalent of the old red scare and smear approach by the Americans after World War II. Reds under the bed have been replaced by mullahs under the loofahs. (There have been some strange alleged bedfellows: at once stage, before he was deposed, Saddam Hussein was lumped in with Moslem radicals despite his rather secular background).
The Allies in Afghanistan (though most non-Americans nations, apart from New Zealand, have disengaged) are looking down the barrel of a deteriorating military and civil situation in a country which in the last two centuries has dispatched the armies of the imperial British and the communist Soviets.
Meanwhile American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere, together with their allies, including New Zealand, have been setting their sights on higher things.
Sadly there will be a lot more inscriptions to come, in many languages, and they won’t just be on gun sights.
#Lyall Lukey 3 Feb 2010
Corporal Apiata VC-2 photos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pklr0UD9eSo Tom Lehrer “So Long, Mom (A Song for WW III)”