Pull up a chair, Grampa Soper has a story to tell

It’s always interesting being present at the start of a war even if this one was a little unconventional, beginning with a drunken night in the Beehive.

The events of the afternoon, a National MP Marilyn Waring crossing the House to vote with Labour on banning nuclear warships, drove her boss Rob Muldoon to the bottle.

The cork was out in mid June 1984 and the day ended with Muldoon calling the schnapps election. If you think he was drunk late at night when you saw him on telly slurring about his opponents not having much time in the run up to the election, then you should have seen him at Government House a few hours earlier.

He was incapable of stringing a sentence together which saw the intervention of the then Governor General Sir David Beattie, taking over the interview while Muldoon was bundled into a car to be taken back to the Beehive to sober up before facing the media.

It set in place a chain of events that left Uncle Sam with a bloody nose and New Zealand in a diplomatic ice box after enshrining our anti nuclear stance in law.

The audacity of a flea standing up to an elephant was all too much for the Americans to bear. David Lange never crossed the White House threshold, this country was persona non grata, in fairness not helped by the colourful Labour Prime Minister giving the Americans the bird at every opportunity.

In fact on one occasion he took time out from visiting Disneyland in the States to visit Yoko Ono at The Dakota apartment complex, that John Lennon was shot in front of, because she liked our anti nuclear stance. And if that wasn’t enough to annoy Washington, he posed for a photograph beneath the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in a T shirt, modelled on the movie of the day Ghostbusters, but changed with his mug in the logo under the name of Nukebuster.

So more than thirty years on, full peace has finally been restored with Barack Obama’s sidekick Joe Biden accepting an invitation to send a non nuclear warship here for our navy’s 75th birthday in November.

New Zealand having been nuclear free was as much an achievement as a man being proud he never got pregnant.  The real damage was in the strain it put on the relationship we had with the US, and this was kept alive all through the Clarke years.

Ironically, Helen Clark now relies on the USA to not veto her appointment as head of the UN.


– Barry Soper, NZ Herald

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