Herald editorial provides a momentary appearance of reason

 

Very few Aucklanders outside of Otahuhu probably knew the monument existed, and few of those familiar with it could probably have named the person is memorialises, Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon, or why he deserves to be remembered. But the initiator of the petition, a Labour Party official, Shane Te Pou, says, “He embodies the worst of colonial brutality. Nixon pursued Maori as prey, including the women and children who died during his notorious and deadly attack on Rangiaowhia.”

Rangiaowhia near Te Awamutu was a Maori village in the 1860s when it came under attack by colonial troops. Recent writing of history describes it as a refuge for women, children and the elderly while the Kingitanga warriors were awaiting a British attack at Paterangi not far away. Historians can, and will, argue endlessly about what happened and why, but this is not really question to ask over the fate of the monument.

That question is, can we respect the past with all its imperfections, or do we need to impose today’s judgments on it? The answer will depend upon how secure we are about our community today.

Civil wars take a long time to heal. Until quite recently it seemed the United States had left its war of the 1860s well behind. But elation over the election of its first black President nine years ago has given way to an ugly backlash under his successor.

If the southern states of America cannot now live with statues of those who figured so significantly in their history, more is the pity. That is their problem. It does not mean we need follow suit. New Zealand’s colonial wars are well past. They were, like most wars, a terrible mistake. To modern historians the King Movement looks to have been an attempt to preserve Maori land and rights guaranteed them by the Treaty of Waitangi, and the invasion of the Waikato a simple land grab.

But like all wars for those alive at the time, questions of rights and motives would have been quickly overwhelmed by tensions and fears, threats and violence, reprisals and deaths. Otahuhu was founded as a military camp for the defence of Auckland, as was Howick. Their memorials to that mark a heritage they do not need to remove even if they could. The past happened for better or worse, and it deserves more respect than it receives in the writing of history today.

We live in a time that seldom hesitates to impose its moral superiority on those who lived by the standards and beliefs of their time. The monuments they wanted to leave for us were important to them and we can respect their wish without sharing the attitudes of their time.

For the same reason I oppose the renaming of place names.  Nigger hill should have been kept that way.   And I don’t see anyone campaigning to have Len Brown’s name removed from anything.

History is what is behind us.  We learn from it, or not.  But we can not change it by sticking our fingers in our ears and yelling LALALALALALA until it all goes away.

 

– NZ Herald

 


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