FairWay’s Denise Evans and Bruce Reid explore the themes of war, conflict and learning from mistakes of the past during ANZAC Day.
On 25 April each year, New Zealanders take time to commemorate the sacrifices of so many young men and women who have served in the defence forces from the First World War and in subsequent conflicts. We remember the stories of& heroism such as that of Phil Lamasonwhose leadership saved 168 Allied airmen to escape a Nazi deathcamp. ANZAC day is not about glorifying war. It is a day to reflect on the toll that war and conflict has taken on our small but courageous country. We think back on our own families and local communities. We remember the losses of life and the great societal impact that war ravages.
This year the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) has launched its annual Poppy Day collection based on the message that “some wounds don’t bleed”. This is recognition of the “invisible” effects of conflict on our defence personnel who are sent into a conflict zone and experience the most dreadful trauma anyone can imagine. Regardless of the role played the mere fact of being in a conflict zone, experiencing the environmental conditions, seeing the people especially the children affected by the conflict and the impact on colleagues, changes a person forever. For those defence force personnel who returned from conflicts prior to the 1990s, there was very little if any support for such wounds. Thankfully today we understand more about the effects of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and many other associated effects on mental health. We also recognise the impact on not only the person who experienced the trauma, but also the impact on family, friends, colleagues and society. But there continues to be more that New Zealand can do to support both the short and long-term effects of these invisible wounds.
ANZAC Day is not only a call to remember but also a reminder to never forget. It is especially important that younger generations heed the call to never forget as we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Today, with the threat of nuclear missiles, chemical weapons and numerous countries in turmoil, we seem to be balancing on the precipice of major international conflict. But we can look to our past to ensure lessons are learned and mistakes not repeated.
A prime example of a lesson to be learned is that of the League of Nations which was established in the hope that world conflict could be resolved through mediation and arbitration but ultimately failed due to the lack of unanimous agreement as to the enforceability of decisions, the exclusion of others from ‘sitting at the table’, and significant power imbalances. Through the eyes of an experienced mediator looking back the League of Nations, it was bound to fail because of these factors. These lessons are very important for mediators to learn as the sustainability of mediated agreements is dependent on similar factors.
Another interesting observation from a dispute resolution perspective is who is sent to negotiate both in the past and present. Of course, each country has its own needs and interests. Usually ambassadors and state representatives are sent to negotiate behind closed doors because they are politically astute and understand the ‘hard lines’ that are acceptable to their nation. Sending a representative with an entrenched position may not be the right way to conduct constructive conversations. In fact, the key to making impossible conversations possible is having a skilled professional to guide those conversations.
While the premise of a world forum to maintain peace is something that lives on today in the form of the United Nations, the world is still challenged by countries moving into isolationism and their inability to mediate on a global scale. Many of the challenges and issues faced by the League of Nations continue to be challenges for the United Nations. Structural issues, such as the ability of some countries to veto decisions, also are a challenge. While there are concerns about how the United Nations is dealing with these challenges, there is also hope. World renowned mediator, educator and writer Ken Cloke in his book “Conflict Revolution: Designing Preventative Solutions for Chronic Social, Economic and Political Conflicts” says:
“Our most pressing problems are global in nature and cannot be solved using military force, litigation or adversarial power- and rights-based methods that pit people and nations against one another. Instead, we require interest-based methods that encourage communication, cooperation and help build a more peaceable and sustainable world.”
Ken invites us to consider:
“How we might design social, economic and political systems that prevent chronic conflicts; transform the processes, relationships, organisations and cultures that aggravate and perpetuate them; and help resolve the chronic global conflicts they generate. It provides tools for crossing the defensive borders that divide us, building our capacity and improving our skills in creative problem-solving, community dialogue, collaborative negotiation, mediation and similar conflict resolution techniques.”
In many ways, New Zealand is well placed to lead this conversation on the world stage. We may be a small island-nation on the fringe of the world, but we can look at world events from a wider perspective and we are recognised for our ability to proactively participate in peace keeping missions around the world. As FairWay’s Bruce Reid says, “our position as an island nation with no adjoining boarders gives us the ability to stand apart, observe the rest of the world with the luxury of having perspective as an observer.”
We have a unique perspective on peace making which is founded on the recognition that we are a nation founded upon the negotiation embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Treaty of Waitangi. We have demonstrated our ability to maintain strong relationships with world powers and to have the courage to take a firm stand such as the stand taken against nuclear weapons with the passing of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. This was a major statement and something we can use in world conversations as a basis for a shared interest conversation as suggested by Ken Cloke.
This ANZAC day, let us not only reflect on the lessons of the past; let us accept a challenge to become the powerhouse of dispute resolution. We already have a reputation as a centre of excellence and many of our defence personnel train in dispute resolution. Let us be the country that asks the question “who wants to design a social economic and political system which can resolve the current conflict and prevent new conflicts arising?”
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