National identity and myths of equality

Jane and James Ritchie have written: “National identity consists of the simplified but powerful myths people have about themselves – myths in the sense of truth that is greater than the truth. National identity may be based on what a nation has achieved in its past, as in the case of Athens in the Age of Pericles. It may be about what a nation can achieve now, as in the case of contemporary Japan. But generally it is about character and style.

Pakeha New Zealand has only a shallow history in this country. Some of our myths, for example that Westminster-style democracy achieves equality, derive from the longer past of Britain. And for historical reasons, our politicians have, until recently, tied our economy, our trade, and other aspects of national pride to Britain.

“I can smell the uranium on it [your breath]…!”.

Thus, if there was a war in which Britain was involved, we felt compelled to be there too. …Not until we banned nuclear ships from our harbours did we appear to strike free from traditional northern hemisphere military ties. Our wish to be part of the movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons, one objective of the peace movement generally, is comparable to the international ban on chemical weapons after World War I which persisted for seventy years. In terms of national identity, we are not anti-war – indeed, in our short history, war has been a fairly regular preoccupation. For a country that has neither land frontiers nor the resources to wage war effectively, we must ask why.” (p.89)

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington [ref also:]

AND NOTE, there’s a blog with the audio recording and transcript of Lange’s famous Oxford Union Debate – the ‘I can smell the uranium on your breath’ moment :


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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