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Riposte – With Sumner Burstyn: What We Talk About When We Talk About Terrorism

Published By   /   November 15, 2012  /   Comments Off

Riposte – With Sumner Burstyn: What We Talk About When We Talk About Terrorism

Sumner Burstyn – http://livenews.co.nz/2012/09/riposte-with-sumner-burstyn-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-terrorism/

Riposte – With Sumner Burstyn: What We Talk About When We Talk About Terrorism

EDITOR’S NOTE: Producer and writer Sumner Burstyn is an award winning, widely published journalist. She produced the multi-award winning documentaries This Way of Life, and, One Man, One Cow, One Planet. This is her first post with LiveNews.co.nz.

Column: What We Talk About When We Talk About Terrorism

Two weeks ago I made a hasty and ill-considered comment on facebook about the death of a young NZ soldier. I couldn’t be more sorry for it. However the response, which included an online firestorm of rape, torture and death threats including from members of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), was as terrifying as it was unexpected, given we are encouraged to trust our armed forces.

I’m opposed to war in general and New Zealand’s warmongering in Afghanistan in particular.

The idea that we are there as part of a reconstruction effort is shallow and spurious, especially as our involvement includes covert SAS operations.

However I accept we need a military. War is sometimes necessary as a first line of defence should we be attacked. In times of disaster army personnel are essential and many join for those important and idealistic reasons.

What is less obvious in the NZDF’s glossy marketing of exciting career options such as nursing, dentistry, mechanics, even psychology is that the job is also likely to involve killing or supporting killing. In the case of the SAS contribution that is indisputable.

The NZDF takes all that desire to help that recruits bring and then actively subverts it. They fail to say that instead of defending our country or helping in a crisis recruits are more likely to be pawns in a global game led by the US, a country who since 1945 have bombed, sabotaged or attempted to overthrow sovereign governments 51 times.

And somewhere between those hopeful job ads, and the reality of killing and being killed, something happens to the rules of civil society.

Certainly it appears that inside the NZDF very different rules apply. Over the last two weeks a core group of military personnel has been openly terrorizing my family and I by posting threats of rape, torture, bombing and death because they hated something I wrote. The lack of response from the NZDF is telling.

Does the NZDF take the average kiwi man or woman and turn some of them into the kind of people who are comfortable posting threats of rape with chainsaws? Are these actions not those of terrorists, the very people the NZDF is supposed to be protecting us from?

Or is the NZDF a mopping up ground, a natural home for all that is already dark and violent in our society? If soldiers behave like this on Facebook how do they behave when they are overseas? Is this level of brutal terrorist-like threats business-as-usual for the NZDF? Is there any other job in New Zealand where you could post such things as an employee and not suffer a consequence?

Or is it as some have suggested an institutionalised aspect of the concept of ‘just doing my job’?

While military personnel may not be encouraged to think too deeply about the whys and wherefores of a particular deployment it is the culture of ‘just doing my job’ that is most dangerous. It separates people from their own conscience and it particularly imbues men and women in uniform with a sense of absolution.

While the government sends the troops and pays their wages it is the person who holds the gun and those in support roles who are ultimately morally responsible for their actions. Unless you believe in totalitarianism you cannot stand behind the argument of ‘just doing my job’.

New Zealand has been party to an invasion of a country that posed no threat to us. The soldiers that die are victims. In our rush to honour them we should stop to ask what is really happening in Afghanistan and why we have been there at all. The anger that has been turned on me should be directed at the government for sacrificing our soldiers for something base and commercial as they play on the memory of heroism gone by.

The huge response to my comment shows we are a society divided. At the time of writing the threats against me continue. I have no doubt I would immediately be arrested as a terrorist if I were to post similar comments against army personnel.

Not so long ago a psychiatric patient was jailed for making threats to bomb John Key. The judge acknowledged he didn’t intend to carry them out but jailed him for 13 months anyway.

One wonders what it will take for the NZDF to acknowledge and deal with this brutal and toxic culture within a portion of its ranks or for the New Zealand police to take these threats seriously.

Personally I remain sorry for offending the family, friends and colleagues of Jacinda Baker. Politically I am unrepentant for opposing our involvement in Afghanistan.

On ANZAC day I will not forget the sacrifices our grandfathers made. They were fighting an evil regime that would have destabilised the world. But today’s version of the NZDF is not made up of those farm boy conscripts of old. It is so far from the army my grandfather gave so much for as to be unrecognisable.

Sumner Burstyn

P.s. One of the comments made during the barrage was that I did not understand anything about Afghanistan. This was partly true so I’ve been reading up. Here’s the most informed piece I found on the subject:

*Apologies to Nathan Englander for appropriating the title to his amazing book of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.


Producer and writer Sumner Burstyn is an award winning, widely published journalist. She produced the multi-award winning documentaries This Way of Life, and, One Man, One Cow, One Planet. For more information on Sumner’s documentary films, see Cloud South Films. A catalogue of her written work can also be viewed at: LiveNews.co.nz in the Riposte channel. You can also read more about Sumner’s career in LiveNews.co.nz’s About Us section.

The claims and opinions made in this article are not endorsed by, and are not necessarily those of, ForeignAffairs.co.nz or Multimedia Investments Ltd. Also in no event shall ForeignAffairs.co.nz and Multimedia Investments Ltd be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on the above content.

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  • Published: 1 year ago on November 15, 2012
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