The PM wasn't exactly right suggesting settlement in NZ was entirely peaceful -- although it was far more peaceful than western settlement elsewhere. (Just ask the Incas how they got on against the Spanish, for example.)
And this morning he’s been tangled up in ridiculous obfuscation between the meaning of the words “colonisation” and settlement,” opening himself up to mostly deserved ridicule.
One can only imagine he tried the defence of obfuscation at the behest of a spin doctor.
What would have been far more accurate to say would be that western settlement of NZ brought peace to NZ for the first time.
“War appears to be as old as mankind,” wrote jurist Henry Maine in the middle of the nineteenth century, “but peace is a modern invention.”1
The peace invented by the thinkers of the Enlightenment .. has been a common enough aspiration for visionaries throughout history, but it has been regarded by [western] political leaders as a practicable or even desirable goal only during the last two-hundred years.2
It was within that two-hundred year window in which westerners began arriving here.
Up to that point, peace had been absent from NZ since the first canoes arrived here. It came here with the culture that brought the Treaty.
The Treaty not only liberated the slaves – which describes virtually every Maori in the country back then, outside the tribal chiefs – it put an end to the vicious fratricidal warfare that had been going on ever since the seven canoes landed.
Two simple examples tell the story….
When Europeans first began arriving here, Taranaki was empty and Auckland was largely deserted – both because of the ravages of ongoing war.
Taranaki was too dangerous to live in, because of constant wars between Taranaki and Waikato Maori. As historian Keith Sinclair explains: "Taranaki was almost unpopulated because in the [eighteen] twenties, after many of the local Maoris had migrated to Otaki and Cook's Strait, the Waikato tribes had killed or enslaved all the rest."3 They only began returning when peace broke out.
Auckland was too dangerous to live in because it was so valuable, having been fought over to exhaustion by tribe after tribe; by Waiohua, Kawerau, Ngati Maru, Ngati Huarere, and Ngati Whatua, who fought, re-fought, and fought again across this narrow strip of land hung between two sparkling waters; by Ngati Paoa from Thames who eventually took Mt Eden and many of Auckland's other volcanic cones from Kiwi Tamaki, only to be ejected themselves about 1780 by Ngati Whatua; by Ngapuhi who, in 1818, swept down from Northland with their guns, and over the next few years slaughtered and enslaved all who remained. "During the Ngapuhi wars Tamaki-makau-rau was almost deserted, and remained so until 1835 when Ngati Whatua returned ... In March 1840 three Ngati Whatua chiefs met Governor Hobson and signed the Treaty of Waitangi ... These men saw the Pakeha as a possible insurance against further raids."4
Not to mention the ‘War of the Feathers’ of around 1807, possibly the greatest and most unknown slaughter in NZ history5, fought between up to 13,000 warriors at Lake Ngarota in the Waikato over an argument about allocations of fish. 13,000 was a fair proportion of the country’s 100,000 population at the time. Up to 8,000 died in the battle, also known as ‘The Fall of the Parrots’ because so many chiefs were slaughtered it was compared to a successful kaka hunt. Rangipito said of the battle, “Ka mate katoa a Ati Awa, a Taranaki ki reira. Kaore i hoki mai tetehi morehu.” (All of Ati Awa and Taranaki were killed there. Not one survivor returned.)6
Even the location of the first canoes’ final resting place was a reflection of the ongoing war of all against all, the Tainui helmsmen for example rejecting the Waitemata, the Manukau and even Raglan Harbour as too difficult to defend, in favour of their final more remote settlement point of Kawhia.
Peace wasn’t able to break out in New Zealand for the first time until 1840, many tribal leaders signing the Treaty because, as intimated above, they sought protection against the ongoing wars.
It came to New Zealand with the civilisation westerners brought here.
What may seem strange given how so much of western settlement was achieved by conquest, is that the message of western civilisation’s great thinkers was that prosperity was not achieved by huge battles over increasingly scarce resources, but in peaceful trade between producers of an ever-growing amount of tradeable goods – trade and production that itself needed peace to achieve.
In other words, one of the great lessons brought with western settlers was that the trader was a much greater figure than the warrior -- and this on the back of the greater lessons that that made the message of peaceful prosperity possible, i.e., the very foundations of western thought.
From the perspective of intellectual and cultural content, Western civilisation represents an understanding and acceptance of the following: the laws of logic; the concept of causality and, consequently, of a universe ruled by natural laws intelligible to man; on these foundations, the whole known corpus of the laws of mathematics and science; the individual's self-responsibility based on his free will to choose between good and evil; the value of man above all other species on the basis of his unique possession of the power of reason; the value and competence of the individual human being and his corollary possession of individual rights, among them the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; the need for limited government and for the individual's freedom from the state; on this entire preceding foundation, the validity of capitalism, with its unprecedented and continuing economic development in terms of division of labour, technological progress, capital accumulation, and rising living standards; in addition, the importance of visual arts and literature depicting man as capable of facing the world with confidence in his power to succeed, and music featuring harmony and melody.7
This gift of the west was not just white men’s magic. As I tried to explain to Tariana Turia once8, one of the many strengths of western civilisation is that it is open to all.
Once one recalls what Western civilisation is, the most important thing to realize about it is that it is open to everyone. Indeed, important elements of "Western" civilization did not even originate in the West. The civilization of the Greeks and Romans incorporated significant aspects of science that were handed down from Egypt and Babylon. Modern "Western" civilization includes contributions from people living in the Middle East and in China during the Dark Ages, when Western Europe had reverted to virtual barbarism. Indeed, during the Dark Ages, "Western" civilization resided much more in the Middle East than in Western Europe. (It is conceivable that if present trends continue, in another century it might reside more in the Far East than in the West.)
The truth is that just as one does not have to be from France to like French- fried potatoes or from New York to like a New York steak, one does not have to have been born in Western Europe or be of West European descent to admire Western civilization, or, indeed, even to help build it. Western civilization is not a product of geography. It is a body of knowledge and values. Any individual, any society, is potentially capable of adopting it and thereby becoming "Westernised." 9
As New Zealand did, allowing “the invention of peace” to flourish in what became very green, plentiful and pleasant lands indeed.
That’s what the Prime Minister might have said – if he knew it, and if he’d had time for the longer discussion necessary to make the point.
UPDATE: Nothing wrong with John Key's History, says Chris Trotter: “The Prime Minister's comments regarding the peaceful settlement of New Zealand have been ridiculed by his detractors, but they were considerably less controversial than the Waitangi Tribunal's assertion that Maori never ceded sovereignty to the British crown.”
1. Quoted in The Invention of Peace, by Michael Howard, 2001
3. A History of New Zealand, Keith Sinclair, Pelican, 4th revised edition, 1991
4. Maori Auckland, David Simmons, Bush Press, 1987
5. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, 2000
6. Ngati Ruanui: A History, Tony Sole, 2005
7. Education & the Racist Road to Barbarism, George Reisman, 1992
8. I suggested to Tariana in a TV debate that culture, especially western culture, is not about race, pointing out what I thought was an eloquent example of what that meant. I apologised for not being able to stay afterwards to debate further because I was heading off to a performance of “western culture” showing how inclusive it is: of Russian classical music performed in a hall designed by a Scot to be conducted by a Peruvian, with a young Chinese soloist on piano, a Maori soprano, and played by an orchestra containing people hailing from at least a dozen different countries. Could there be a better illustration of Reisman's point, I asked, that the great strength of Western civilisation is that it is open to everybody. Anybody can 'come to the west,' I said, simply by accepting the west's body of knowledge and values, and, fortunately, many people continue quietly and happily to do just that.
Tariana told me she had never heard such an unintelligent discussion about race.
9. Reisman, op. cit.