Monday, 7 July 2008

Celebrating Heroes

My Dearest Americans,

This post has been on my mind for awhile. I haven't been so sure about how to write it, though. Or how to find the right words to express how I feel. I'm not even sure if I have found them below. Hopefully, there will be those that understand what I'm trying to say.

During my time here in the US, I've received many questions, comments and misconceptions about New Zealand. The majority of those have been rather humorous, however there have also been some darker ones as well.

Among those have been ... "Why do you foreigners hate us Americans so much?" .... " We saved your butts in WW1/WW2/Korea/Vietnam/etc" and "Nobody appreciates what America does."

Sadly, the above seems to be a fairly widespread belief, so I'd like to attempt to dispel those myths, at least from my perspective.

The above is a photo of my Great Uncle Stanley. He died on the 24th December, 1944, in atrocious weather on a muddy battlefield somewhere between Rimini and Ravenna, Italy.

He left NZ, on a troopship, sometime in 1940. If I remember family history correctly, he fought in Egypt, Crete and finally Italy.

He never returned home. Instead, he lies in Forli War Cemetery , along with 737 other Commonwealth war dead. He was 31 years old. He died just 6 short years before I was born.

My Uncle Arthur also fought in WW2. He was captured by the Germans and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp in Germany. He returned to NZ a very different man from the one that had left. He refused to talk about those experiences and spent a lot of his time alone, usually on a deserted beach, fishing. I can only begin to imagine what he must have gone through in those years.

At the start of WW2, NZ had a population of approximately 1,640,000 . Our Military dead, during that war came to 11,625 which amounted to the highest ratio of all the Commonwealth countries and the US. There were over 20,000 wounded.

The cost of financing the war effort was also high. NZ took part in all but 3 days of the 2179 days of WW2 and our overall contribution was 30% of our national income. That rose to 50% between 1942 - 1944.

NZ has taken part in most wars that have taken place since it became a nation. We currently have troops in Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world.

The above, may go somewhat towards explaining why my jaw clenches a bit, when I'm told that 'America saved my butt' and that 'I show no gratitude' and it may also explain similar reactions in other foreigners.

America could not have won WW2 all by herself. Neither could she have fought other battles alone. I think, that sometimes, in the glow of national pride, that simple fact gets forgotten. I don't even think that it's said with any intention to give offence, but still, it's like a slap in the face to those that have fought alongside the US.

I am so grateful to America for being there to help defend the freedoms that I enjoy. I am so grateful that there were Marines in the South Pacific region, to help defend NZ while our boys were overseas defending other countries. On ANZAC day (when NZ and Australia remember their war dead) I also remember the fallen from other countries, including the US.

Is it that Americans are not really aware of the role that other countries have played?

Does the rest of the World hate America ? In my experience, no. There are factions out there that do hate America, but those factions also hate anybody that is different from them, which often includes their own countrymen and 99.9% of the rest of the world.

Do we show gratitude to America? I can only answer that in terms of what I know about NZ. In Frank Kitts Park, Wellington, there is a plaque, that is dedicated to the Marines that were in NZ during WW2.

At Queen Elizabeth Park, just out of Wellington, there is this memorial to the US Marines. During WW2, this was one of the sites of a camp that housed 1000's of US Marines. They were there for R&R and also training. NZ was the last friendly country many of them ever saw.

There are also other memorials, to the US Marines, in other parts of New Zealand.

In Christchurch, NZ, there is also this memorial. It's made from beams from the World Trade Centre. They were gifted to Christchurch, by the City of New York One of only 5 places, outside of the US, that have received pieces of the WTC. It's known as The Firefighter's Memorial and is dedicated to all firefighters throughout the world. However, it is also known, locally, as the 9/11 memorial.

During fire season, here in the US, there are firefighting contingents from NZ and Australia helping fight the wildfires, which, incidentally, lays waste to the other claim I sometimes hear ... 'The US helps out other countries, but nobody helps the US out.'

On that note, I will bow out with something that my Grandmother used to say to me, when I complained that people didn't thank me for things I'd done.

"My dear child, to receive thanks, you must first give thanks."


A thankful Kiwi. :-)


Melissa Lee said...


I think was very well put and beautifully said. Thanks for taking the time to do so. I wish I knew how more countries were there for us in our time of need. I would be more apt to say, "Thanks."

Thank you for coming to see me last week at my blog. Hope to hear from you soon.

Melissa at Stretch Marks

Trooper Thorn said...

Great posting Karen. You summed up the commitment and cost well.

Debbie said...

I find it really sad that people actually come up to you and make comments like that. That is so lame..not to mention ignorant. And no I don't think most Americans really know who our allies have been in these past and current wars. NZ is small so it has been discounted. But the reality of it is as you put forth, that NZ has had real casualties. Yes, this is a great and blessed country, but you are right, we couldn't do it alone. Great post!

Heather said...

Oh, Karen, I'm so sorry people have ever said anything like that too you. Your post was beautiful and I got choked up seeing the 9/11 memorial. It's beautiful.

Kimberly said...

I think this is a very well-stated sentiment. I find it sad that people are often uneducated enought to realize that although the US has its presence in many places, we aren't the center of the universe!
I lived overseas for a few years and was able to understand the difference in perspective that is often lost in the US. I wish everyone could have a chance to experience other cultures/countries so they could see the truth and falsehoods of various stereotypes and prejudices on all sides.
I visited NZ a while back and loved it! I always say it is one of the places in this world that I would return to in a heartbeat! I found the people there to be some of the most friendly people I have ever interacted with, as a whole. I don't doubt that those US soldiers found friendliness in the NZ people before they went off to enemy territory.
Thanks for reminding us to be grateful! :)

Suzanne said...

Very well said. Those who make those comments to you are not informed. They certainly weren't paying attention in history class. There are those people who rightfully hold the title of "Ugly American". I've seen them up close and personal when I travel and my mind is always boggled by their behavior.

My step-sisters and brothers live in Australia and Tasmania and so our family is well aware of the sacrifices made by Australians and New Zealanders. My uncle was also a German prisoner of war and was forever changed.

I also hold media responsible for continuing to support these inaccurate portrayals of any group.

- Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

Apple Joos said...

I can tell you honestly that no, we don't hear a lot about what other countries do to help us out. I blame this on two things A)The media because there's no story in talking about who else is helping keep our butts out of slings and B) the time when things like this are almost, sort of taught is when we're young and stupid and don't care. America's education system sucks so we end up with a whole lot of people who are completely ignorant to the world around them. Seriously. I'd like to see HALF of the graduating class in our local high school even point out where New Zealand is on a map.

Thank you for being so upfront with this. I think the Americans who say stuff like you mentioned are less concerned about America and our reputation and just need something to complain about.

Toni said...

Thank you Karen. I have always felt grateful for those who put their lives on the line and sacrifice money, time and family to fight for the freedoms of others.

But I was especially humbled to find out that NZ has memorials for Americans. I don't know thatI have ever seen a memorial celebrating others who have suffered or fought along side Americans. Seems we can learn a lesson or two.

Anne said...

Very well written. You have put a lot of thought into what you said.

I wonder if it because America is so large in comparison to other countries that some Americans aren't aware. Sad that people say that to you.

Pixxiee said...

Great post - having lived in the US I have heard many of those same comments. And I wish I had your eloquence to reply to those who asked!

Chris H said...

From one KIWI to another, thank you... that was a beautiful post. Be proud.

Keys to the Magic Travel said...

You are so very eloquent. It can be such a challenge to write a post like this when you feel so strongly about what you need to say - and what you need to get off your chest.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent post. I really appreciate the history lesson. I'll go out on the "Ignorant" limb and say that while I didn't think we ever had a presence in NZ, I had no idea NZ was involved in the World Wars; given it's geographic isolation, I had assumed that NZ was safe from any confrontation and kept it's nose "clean" as a far as confrontations go. Thank you very much for educating me on that, and on the fact that NZ folks continue to help out other countries today.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Karen. Thanks for your perspective. It's true that we don't always hear what OTHERS have done for US. I knew New Zealand was a friend, I just didn't know how much of one!