The Willy Apaiata story has received quite a bit of coverage since the NZ Herald’s publishing faux pas last week:
- there is now a Facebook page Boycott NZ Herald for publishing Photos of SAS in Action
- My old mate, Dusty, from 2/1 RNZIR Sigs Platoon days, back when Reagan was in charge and someone else was getting their rocks in Afghanistan, discusses some of the implications in Those Photos! Dusty concludes “Time for the country to wake up & grow up.“
- Neptunus Lex in the US has picked up on the story in VC Willie and makes a comparison with Prince Harry’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan after a similar action by UK media.
- The Strategist, unusually, loses the plot and misses the point entirely: there is little connection between a tactical action in Afghanistan and the strategic defence of New Zealand and its environs, certainly not the way it is written here.
- On Facebook, some loser wannabe mouths off “…Lets be clear on this Apiata’s NZVC is just that an NZVC not a VC his was the first ever issued the last ever Victoria Cross ever issued to a Kiwi was at the end of WW2. He served with me in 6 Hau i didnt think much of him then and it doesnt sound like he has changed much since then. Just because he has been awarded this honor everyone thinks he’s a saint well a lepord doesnt change his spots because he gets an award. He did a brave act, But just read his citation and then compare it to Beharry VC or any other VC for that matter it just doesnt stack up. To me it was an political award look at how the Army media swang into action, Reluctant hero? my god he has a DVD, Kids book, Adults book and was and is highly publisised it just doesnt stack up does it? just my opinion tho...”
I would love to know John Birmingham’s thoughts on the subject but Cheeseburger Gothic has blown its bandwidth cap and is down for the moment – too much action in the Birmoverse over the weekend…? Oh no….
The latter two bullet points did get me thinking though…on the deeper issues surrounding the award of honours like the Victoria Cross and Medal of Honor…I think we must take it at a given that not all acts of comparable gallantry will be recognised in the same way, much as we might like to thinks so. This would have the effect of either diluting the recognition to the point where it becomes meaningless…or…we end up with the perception, faced by UK special forces in 2002, where only posthumous awards might be considered: anything else reflects, in some warped way, a lesser bravery…
That there may be political factors surrounding awards is neither new nor unusual…11 VCs were awarded to the defenders of Rorke’s Drift following the disastrous (for British forces) engagement at Isandhlwana – this in no ways takes anything from the valour of those men on that day; two Delta Force snipers, Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall D. Shughart, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their parts in the action in Mogadishu in october 1993, captured in the book and movie Blackhawk Down – any spin attached to their posthumous awards takes nothing away from their sacrifices that day.
In thinking about Willie Apaita’s VC award, there is a bigger picture to be considered on a number of fronts…Kiwis are known and great tall poppy slayers, when we punch above our weight, we tend to get all shy about it and play the issue down, to and past the point of rudeness at times. We are not good at recognising those of us who do well and exceed expectations. From Vietnam until East Timor the New Zealand had not been involved in combat operations – operations, yes; combat operations, no. In East Timor, NZ troops were again active, although not a great scale, in the two-way range. The NZSAS deployed to Afghanistan until an opsec veil for good reasons – in some ways, however, it is unfortunate as it obstructs the public of New Zealand from any great awareness of the feats that these troops are capable of. The contact with Taliban forces that resulted in New Zealand’s first VC since WW2 was one such feat. The description of the action in the citation reads as well any of those from WW2, WW1 and the Boer War, and is on a par with similar citations from our friends and allies.
Good on Chief of Defence Force (at the time) Bruce Ferguson for recognising Willy Apiata’s actions for what they were and taking the original recommendation a lot further. Were there political considerations? Undoubtably but this award could not have been used to help popularise an unpopular deployment to Afghanistan for the simple reason that this deployment was that unpopular, if at all, with Joe New Zealander (apart from the Minto nutjob minority out on the fringes of reality).
Was there a strategic effect from the action or the award? Obviously a massive national pride in a local lad doing well and if those actions can be used as role models and inspiration for ordinary New Zealanders, then great! But what of impact in the geopolitical arena? Not really – because Willy Apiata acted as he did – but just think for a couple of seconds on what the implications may have been had he NOT acted as he did…What effect might one or more combat casualties, and from our most elite special troops, had upon the Government, its commitment to overseas alliance and coalitions, the people of New Zealand and the NZDF? Maybe this guy actually did more than ‘just’ run across 70 metres of bullet-swept ground with his mate his back, see him OK, and then get back into the fight…? By acting as he did, although it is most unlikely such considerations ever crossed his mind that night, Willy Apiata’s actions introduced the people New Zealand to combat operations again without the trauma of flag-draped coffins…
But these remain side issues to the one of the moment i.e. the ‘right’ of the media to print/say what they want, regardless of potential consequences – for others. As MaxDamage points out on Neptunus Lex:
Not too long ago, during the Great Concealed Carry Battle, newspapers found it newsworthy to publish the name and address of concealed carry permit holders in several states, it being public information.
That it might place these folks at risk was side-stepped. Public information, freedom of the press, they’re simply reporting.
Name and addresses of the editorial board were stapled to lamp posts shortly thereafter. A matter of public record, you know.
That shut them up.
I’d suggest the same with reporters embedded — their pic goes out on every submission, and if they want to send directly they wear the same uniform everybody else does. If they want to send uncensored they wear their civvies. If they want the protections of being a civilian they dress as such and military gets censorship privs over the transmission if that is too harsh an occupational hazard.
I’ve nothing against the press reporting a story, I simply refuse to place others at risk for their supposed right to tell the tale.
I guess it’s a different story when the boot is on the OTHER foot…NZ Herald editorial staff take note…
Holy Lessons Learned, Batman!
Steven Pressfield introduces a new series this week with Tribal Engagement Tutorial which will focus on providing soldiers and Marines practical, battle-tested information, which can help them on the ground. Sound familiar? Full kudos to Mr Pressfield, Maj Jim Gant, William S. “MAC” McCallister and Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai for sharing their knowledge and doing what mainstream militaries seem to STILL be struggling with…getting the right information to the right people at the right time – and ensuring that they know what to do with it….blending the knowledge (lessons, intl, doctrine) with the training and command system instead of treating the information as an entity in its own right.
Would WE recognise them?
Like, you know, if a military fleet from 80 years in the future just popped out of a wormhole, helped us out with an immediate problem e.g. takfiri jihadists of all sorts, and then started to throw their moral and cultural weight around the place…wanting to have the same rights that we have in our timeline? Or would we draw a line in the sand somewhere? The battle for the Birmoverse, specifically the post-WW2 Presidency, continues – personally I think that Sweet Jane Says hits the nail right on the head with her stance on “No Sky People!” No people from the future of a different timeline should have any influence on our timeline.”
Direct from a dank dark cave near you
Osama Bin Laden claims credit (finally) for the Undies Bomber…sorry, dude, it’s old news now – next time use a faster camel…