Friday, October 30, 2009

Beyond the Battlefield

I’ve finished reading Gerald Hensley’s Beyond the Battlefield. It’s a good scene-setter for our country’s diplomatic history post 1945. While fighting a war on both sides of the planet our politicians had to think about the future shape of the world community. Hensley portrays Peter Fraser’s warts and all but his travels, meetings and finally his efforts to develop the United Nations emerges him as a hero. As an international leader working from principle he has only Helen Clark as a peer.

Hensley claims only Nash and Coates provided equivalent support. Coates’s premature death removed him from the scene and Nash spent much time in the USA. Together the two Labour leaders forged New Zealand’s policy amidst the cross-currents of other nation’s military, trade and financial interests. .

Fraser was shaken by events in Greece and Crete. Never again were New Zealand troops to be committed on forlorn adventures. I’m sure that was one of the basic assumptions behind the decision to leave our troops in the Mediterranean theatre rather than bring them home to fight in the malaria ridden jungles of the SE Pacific against a fanatical enemy determined to die to the last man. Roosevelt and Churchill also argued to leave them there – geopolitical strategic reasons including shipping availability. Fraser got almost unanimous support in the House for the decision. .

Hensley quotes Muldoon. The troops sunning themselves in Trieste expecting to be ordered to fight against the Japanese and many of them expected to die. That may not have happened. Hensley argues the Americans wanted to execute the Pacific war their way without Allied support. He weaves good history about the various factions in the American camp let alone the Allied cause.

I can see why diplomats of his generation were so enamoured of the American connection. The Japanese advance caused soul-searching in Canberra and Wellington and altered the two nation’s perspective. But Hensley concentrates not just on the military situation – he’s good on trade and manpower. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ – we were lucky to have had Fraser. As Britain was with Churchill. Such conflicts often consume the hero. So history proved in both cases. Roosevelt died in office – he did not live to see the Cold War his policies helped create. But probably the concessions he made to the Russians that historians now tend to deplore had few alternatives. Uncle Joe had most of the cards.

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