One Hand Clapping? Why Ika’s latest intellectual meal proved less-than-satisfying



I’VE BEEN RACKING MY BRAIN ever since Tuesday evening, trying to work out what went wrong.

The occasion was another of the Ika Seafood Bar & Grill’s “Table-Talks”. On the face of it, I should have come away from the event feeling intellectually replete. Our hosts for the evening, TV3 journalists Mike McRoberts and Paula Penfold, as seasoned professionals, were well-placed to handle the two-and-fro of discussion. The invited panel of speakers: war correspondent, Jon Stephenson; former Green Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence issues, Keith Locke; and the General Manager of the Changemakers Refugee Forum, Tayyaba Khan; brought considerable experience and expertise to the question “New Zealand at War: Where are we and what are we doing there.” And yet, I came away feeling intellectually famished. Why?

The answer I’ve arrived at, after mulling the question over for 72 hours, is rather convoluted, so please, bear with me, while I try to explain.

In my opinion, all politics is adversarial. So, if I find myself at an event and there’s no conflict, then, whatever’s happening, it isn’t politics. On Tuesday, for example, nobody questioned the fundamental premise of the topic under discussion – that New Zealand is at war. Nor was there any disagreement about why New Zealand military personnel are stationed in the Middle East. It was simply assumed that this was the price of admission to John Key’s “Five Eyes Club”. That this is not a Club New Zealand should belong to, and that, anyway, the admission price is much too high, was not disputed.

The audience did not object. Indeed, there was almost complete accord between what the panellists were saying, and what the audience believed to be true. Boiled down to its essentials, this could be summarised as: War is a very bad thing. It inflicts terrible and ineradicable injuries upon bodies and souls. This, in turn, produces a downward spiral into ever more horror and violence. New Zealanders, therefore, should have nothing to do with war – except to offer as much help as possible to its victims.

The audience had arrived at Ika with these opinions, and, as far as I could determine, they left with them either unchanged or considerably reinforced. Which meant that, for me, nothing political had occurred. The participants had applauded a series of eloquent and heart-felt reiterations of views with which they strongly agreed. No one was challenged. No one was forced to defend their beliefs.

War is, indeed, a very bad thing. Thank you for coming, and have a safe journey home.

TDB Recommends

Consider the impact of the following, counterfactual, Table-Talk.

The first speaker, a military historian, openly disputes the assertion that New Zealand is at war. He asserts that the dispatch of a fraction of New Zealand’s small, highly professional, defence force as advisers to the armed forces of the Republic of Iraq, in no way meets the definition of a country at war. He asks his audience to recall what they have been told about life in New Zealand during the first and second world wars, and then to compare the experiences of our parents and grandparents with life in New Zealand today. Can we really say, with any honesty, that this country is at war? Syria, he declares, is at war. New Zealand is not.

He then turns his attention to the question: “What are we doing there?”

There must be a very good reason, he says, why first Great Britain, and then the United States, have been willing to expend so much blood and treasure over a part of the world distinguished primarily by heat and dust. And, of course, there is a very good reason. A reason which every person in the audience who drove to the restaurant, and who intends to drive home, should be able to guess. The UK and the USA have been interfering in the Middle East for the past 100 years for the very simple reason that – as one American wit put it: “Unaccountably, a huge proportion of our oil has ended up under their sand.”

That would have been more than enough. The introduction of a set of perspectives so radically at odds with those of the Ika audience would have transformed the evening from an opportunity for people to bear witness to a set of pre-agreed articles of faith, to a full-scale political engagement between a handful of military and diplomatic realists and a roomful of neutralists and pacifists. Those articles of faith might have been tested. People’s beliefs would, without question, have been challenged.

Politics without conflict isn’t politics. For Table-Talk to work, there need to be speakers seated on both sides.


  1. Just a quick comment to Chris – we did offer defenders of the war along, no one wanted to turn up.

    • Yes …I was just thinking that as I read the end of the article.

      There isn’t much hope of any of these pro-reentry into Iraq types from showing their face unfortunately … their arguments are weak and tenuous as it is without it becoming challenged publicly…

      And while we haven’t as far as I understand signed a formal declaration of war…we HAVE certainly become less than passive participants in that war in supplying troops to ‘ train ‘ Iraqis troops to kill whoever is deemed the enemy…

      Which means we are now complicit in the killings.

      This whole thing about ‘ supplying ‘ troops….is a way around formal declarations of war these days…usually under the umbrella of some coalition or other…

      And helps to prevent any guilt by association while further enhancing ones ability to reap the benefits of such dirty warring ….

      In this case….oil.

  2. I hate to say it, but you have just succinctly described the feeling i experience every time i hear Rodney Hide and Chris Trotter ,or, Mike “and i agree with Mathew” Williams with Mathew Hooton , or, Brian “and Michele’s quite right” Edwards, with Michele Boag, on the various ‘Political Panels’ we hear and see on MSM.
    There seems very little, if any, difference in the opinions being expressed.
    Which makes me as bewildered as you are in thinking ,”what was the point of all that”?

  3. A good debate is a great thing – unfortunately you need two sides to do this. These days we only get to here from one…

  4. I brought up the subject of weather the US was even interested in curtailing ISIS in Iraq, that they had been funded by the house of Saud and that the US was still using ISIS in it’s vain attempt to orchestrate regime change in Damascus.
    Jon Stevenson seemed to think this was a conspiracy theory. Amy Goodman from Democracy Now amongst others have covered this widely. I was amazed at his reply.

    • We’ll see where we get to over those 450 odd ISIS-related arrestees in Saudi Arabia before subscribing to this notion, however seductive.

  5. I thought the evening was pond skating.
    How can you wage a war against an ideology? I am of the opinion, based on the research I’ve done, that ISIS has been created and that this “War on Terror” is a scam. Boy Bush and Blair have already been tried and found guilty of war crimes by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission. There are frequent calls by British Parliamentarians for Blair to be impeached.

    So what the heck is going on? No country has declared war against another country. It’s all internal. Each country’s conflict staged within itself.

    In my opinion, the key word is STAGED.

    Now I ask, staged by whom? And the same answer always come up. The Bilderberg. The newspaper blog ties in NATO. Further research shows that NATO is the military arm of The Bilderberg. Today’s Herald, July 21, carries a headline “Britons told go on war footing to beat extremists”. In other words, The Bilderberg is going to use its military force NATO to bomb the hell out of the peoples in Syria, and wherever else their bombs “accidentally” fall.

    The interviews given by Kay Grigg wife US Marine Colonel are informative enough to give a very good idea of US Military involvement.

    If we bring this “staging” back to New Zealand, serious consideration has to be given to the surveillance agenda for this country and John Key’s attendance at The Bilderberg – and I’m going to say it – his stay at Balmoral.

Comments are closed.