It has been said that strong arguments attack concepts; weak arguments attack people; and spurious diatribes careen off into the side of a barn by attempting to hit the wrong targets entirely.
This latter description is pretty much how I’d surmise the attack-piece which appeared on The Daily Blog on Tuesday, aimed (at least nominally) at none other than New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark.
Why do I say this? Well, for starters, its premise – that Ron was allegedly “a mercenary” – is factually incorrect. Mercenaries, it may interest you to know, fight as the militaristic equivalent of contractors. They aren’t actually a part of a given standing army, and instead are paid to supplement a force whilst remaining independent actors.
As a commissioned officer in the Sultanate’s forces, this is not what Ron did in the state of Oman – in fact, quite the opposite. Rather than being a ‘soldier of fortune’ who’d fight for the highest bidder, he made a commitment to a sovereign nation with longstanding ties to both Commonwealth and Anglosphere, joined up as an actual part of their military and saw it through.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of alleged “mercenaryism”, it’s frankly inexplicable that Peterson seems to allege that Ron’s service with the United Nations in a peacekeeping capacity counts as “evidence” of mercenary conduct. Unless you’re some New World Order-touting conspiracy theorist, the UN is not generally seen as being a dodgy cartel-like employer of mercenaries. Given, you know, it generally holds them to be illegal.
More to the point, the broad thrust of Peterson’s nail-clipper job (like a hatchet job, but of minuscule effect) appears to be an attempt to use Ron’s military record in the Middle East as part of a bid to cast doubt upon his political judgement here at home. Yet if we recall, it was precisely this hard-won experience in Arabia which made Ron such a tumultuously effective opponent of the recent National Party decision to deploy Kiwi troops to Iraq. Who better to point out that NZDF ‘boots on the ground’ weren’t going to solve the issues they were nominally there for, than someone with a first-hand knowledge of both the region, and the realities of soldiering therein.
And indeed, the superior moral heft and informational base which Ron derived from his previous service in uniform allowed him to deliver the greatest anti-war rhetoric Parliament has seen in recent memory.
In case you’ve forgotten, it went like this:
“Do not make light of this. See, the thing I know about people in Parliament—and I used to say this to Keith Locke—is that most often the people who have the loudest voices when it comes to deploying people into theatres of war are those who have never worn a uniform and never want to. And very, very often, sadly, you find that they do not allow their sons or daughters to go either. So button it, Mr Goldsmith—button it. You have no place commenting on this because, quite frankly, you do not know what you are sending troops to.“
Certainly has prominent echoes of General Eisenhower’s quote about “[hating] war as only a soldier can”.
I’ve also written previously about how I believe Ron’s military background has become a strong asset for New Zealand First internally, on an organizational level. Officers tend to know how to build structures and turn groups of enthusiastic volunteers into effective units for campaign. It’s right there in the job description. This is, obviously, something that’s been most useful for us in recent years, and which is truly going to come into its own in a few months’ time. As New Zealand First looks forward to the future, these organizational skills and competencies are going to become more vital than ever.
But the thing which irritated me most about Peterson’s piece wasn’t his woeful misapplication of the word “mercenary”. It wasn’t even the complete overlooking of how Ron’s prior service has helped him to be an effective representative and Parliamentarian today.
Instead, it was this line from the first paragraph describing some of the alleged characteristics of mercenaries: “They aren’t driven by a set of principles, and are not fighting for a just cause or to defend their country”.
That part really got under my skin, because while it might be a fair description of Executive Outcomes or Blackwater … it’s also the absolute antithesis of who and what Ron Mark is.
In all of my dealings with Ron over the last few years, and from my ongoing observation of the ‘second phase’ of his Parliamentary career, if I could pick but two phrases to sum him up they would unquestionably be “man of principle”, and “fighting for a just cause, to defend our country”.
This is a man, let’s remember, who could have quite happily stayed ensconced in Carterton winning election after election for the local Mayoralty, and presumably setting himself up as something of the Lower North Island equivalent to Tim Shadbolt.
But he didn’t. Because in 2014 he was called back into service with the express and explicit purpose of “fighting for a just cause” in Parliament. Namely, the defence of our country against the ongoing frontal assault on the very concept of good governance which we see emanating daily from the Nat-occupied Treasury benches. A role in which may observers would agree that Ron has excelled – being one of the foremost voices in the House when it comes to challenging our extant Neoliberal overlords.
Still, success habitually arouses envy – and, as the old saying goes, “the monkeys only shake the tree with the best mangoes”. I believe that this is what has motivated Peterson’s piece. A feeling on the part of some parts of the further-left of the NZ political spectrum that New Zealand First has ‘unfairly’ come to dominate ‘their’ self-appointed territory. That the strong support which we enjoy from ordinary working class New Zealanders – and the demonstrable lead which NZ First has taken in the long-term fight against neoliberalism are things which some of our apparent adversaries wrongfully believe they ought to enjoy a monopoly upon.
They see a Nationalist movement that is large and working well – and instead of asking how best they can work WITH us against our common foe … they’d rather pen scurrilous innuendo that flagrantly misrepresents a leading Opposition Member’s pre-Parliamentary career; because they’re worried about, in the long term, New Zealand First eclipsing others and becoming THE leading party of the Opposition.
And they know that we carry the torch and banner of working class Kiwis in a way they’ll never be able to match.
In any case, the surface-veneer of Peterson’s piece was an attempted hit-job on Ron’s character, judgement and political principles. I’ve already countered some of the factual inaccuracies and blindspots of interpretation in it, and hopefully conveyed a sense of why I continue to back this man.
But if you want a true measure of why Ron’s a valuable contributor to the destiny of this nation, then don’t just take my word for it. Turn on Parliament TV, follow him on facebook, or turn up in person to one of his speaking engagements in a town near you.
You won’t be disappointed.