Here in New Zealand we are going through a period where we review our national flag. This has been a fraught exercise with divisions occurring between people who are extremely adverse to change and others who are very keen. The point of the changing the flag was that that the old one did not reflect our identity. To have a flag reflect our identity firstly we need to actually know what our identity is as a nation, and we need to know at a deeper level than throwaway slogans like Kiwi Kids are Weetbix kids, or images of Vegemite, Kiwi, Koru and Silver Ferns, because what do they mean? Do nations have an identity, we are a diverse country, a country of immigrants, every-one of us came from somewhere else in the past, that is our ancestors at one stage called somewhere else home. We have a huge mix of cultures, what is that we have in common that we could call our collective identity.
The Returned Services Association have taken a very strong stance against the proposed change of flag, their chief argument is that service people, men and woman died protecting the flag. That people died whilst fighting for New Zealand in many wars is true, there is no argument with that, but to say that they fought for the flag is quite a stretch, they fought for an ideal is the truth of the matter, what was that ideal? They fought because of an identity that was created, or that they believed in, in some cases they fought because the Government decreed that they would, they had no choice. It cannot be said they fought for democracy because some of our wars occurred when Women and Maori did not have the vote, that can hardly be called democracy. They fought because other countries went to war over land or power or economic wealth.
Why did New Zealand fight in the Boer war, in the Vietnam War, in Iraq, Afghanistan for a flag, really? For an ideal? Or perhaps we went to war because we were tied one way or another to a bigger country. The truth of the matter is that there are no winners in a war, victors yes, but no winners. Is it the idea that we are coming to understand that war is an exercise in futility, sometimes it is absolutely necessary, however it is in the end negative and for the members of the RSA to confront that is too painful.
It is a wonder that we don’t have the Stars and Stripes on our flag as well as the Union Jack. Virtually indistinguishable to the Australian flag our current symbol is not instantly recognisable, and the point is who cares, who cares if the average American cannot identify our flag. We are told that it will be good for business, a great opportunity for change. Already we have seen companies jumping on the band wagon trying to make money from the mooted change.
I myself agree that the flag is outdated and essentially meaningless. It doesn’t instill a sense of pride or define me as a New Zealander, If I am honest I would say that I really enjoy some parts of living in New Zealand, but I really don’t care who wins the world cup, how many gold medals we win at the Olympics and whether we invented Pavolova or not. You see being a New Zealander does not define me as a person, what defines me as a person is what I create in life, what is it that I contribute, that is not defined by things that I contribute, measurable impacts that can be defined.
So why do I care about the flag debate. Well democracy only works when people participate, it is true that I think the process was extremely flawed, that I think it is a red herring, I wonder why we can have a binding referendum over this issue yet not on the sale of assets, or on smacking of children. I wonder why we cannot have an option on our voting papers that reads no confidence. There are a lot of things I wonder however, I will vote, I will vote for the flag I like the most, that is distinctive that perhaps hints at a narrative of identity and I will vote for a change, not to do so means that I would become that which I detest, a partisan politician who would not vote for another parties policy even if it made sense. The tribalism within politics damages us all and it produces poor outcomes that hold us back as a society and a country. Watching Parliament is like watching an out of control bunch of 5 year olds high on coke, sugar and it is disgraceful. It certainly is a time for change, let’s not stop at the flag.