- Jeremy Agar

by Joseph Stiglitz, Allen Lane, UK, 2019

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize-winning economist who used to be the World Bank's chief economist and then worked in Bill Clinton's White House. He's written several books before which have been both popular with the general public and critically respected. When the topic is the dismal science - as economics has been dubbed - that's unusual. He's not at all happy with the way his country is handling economic policy, arguing that the power and profits of his title are being reaped at the expense of the American people. For someone with Stiglitz's background that's even more unusual.

In his preface Stiglitz discusses his home town (Gary, Indiana) in what everyone (but thankfully not Stiglitz) calls the "rust belt". It's lost half its population; its streets are used as film sets to depict war zones and disasters. It's a background and influence similar to film maker Michael Moore's. And, as is often being said, it's the sort of place where Donald Trump had enough appeal to get to where he is. Stiglitz gets straight to his point: the policies of the presiding man in Washington could not be worse, nor could his betrayal of the laid off and the discarded.

Trumpism: Deja Voodoo All Over Again

Trump's enormous tax cuts have been handed to the richest Americans on the superstition that they would spur growth. Stiglitz says this is a fiction, with no theoretical justification and no examples to point to in practice. In reality, lower Government revenues promote lower growth as the beneficiaries, the super-rich, don't spend much within the US economy, and the resulting fiscal deficits promote inequality. At the same time Trump was "willing to make the people of Middle America worse off", with their tax rate increasing. Compounding the trouble, private equity funds pay tax at half the rate that average types pay.

It's still being said, in the US (and NZ) that corporations need tax cuts or they will sulk and stop trying to make money. This is accompanied by the belief that for workers it's opposite: they need low pay so they have to get a second job. Trumpians pretend to believe that if they give the billionaires tax relief, they will, at last, be induced to get back to making a buck. It's called "supply side economics". The old orthodoxy talked of supply and demand. By dropping the demand side, the neo-liberals are dropping the need for governments to invest in people and in infrastructure. Even a Republican team player like George Bush the Older (who had been Reagan's Vice President) said supply siding was "voodoo economics".

Supply siders allege that a society needs to choose between growth - for them that's a synonym for rigging the system so that the rich get richer - and equality - which is a synonym for social investment to improve wellbeing. Neo-liberalism's drive to further enrich the one per centers is the basis for the Trumpian rollback of policies aimed at achieving more equality in society. It's part of the reason he fosters hate and division. That's why Stiglitz concludes that symptoms of the malfeasance like racism and sexism should not be seen as liberals often do, as the fruit of "discrimination, but as exploitation " (his emphasis).

Supply siding is "sheer self-serving nonsense", and the Trump gang's rule for the one per centers is "voodoo economics on steroids". In one year, Trump and his Congressional puppets have boosted the US deficit by one trillion dollars at a time when there is no recession and (so far) no war. When the economy slows, as it always will, and when taxes are diverted to fund the ballooning deficit (and the military) living standards for the majority will plummet as America speeds its "race to the bottom".

The voodooism got up a head of steam under Ronald Reagan. Stiglitz thinks it possible that some in the Federal Government back then really did believe in the economics they preached, but in the intervening 40 years the assumptions of supply siding have been "disproved over and over again". Why did Trump increase the mayhem? He "did it because he could".

And while all of Trump's men and women are liars and hypocrites - they have to be - Stiglitz cuts some slack for the Reagan Cabinet, some of whom he thinks might have believed in truth and public service. Some maybe. But it's handy to remember that, unlike conventional villains, Trump wants the "politically correct" to despise him. For all his daily spewing of lies he cannot - or will not - dissemble. In contrast, Reagan's lot indulged in secret intrigues that were ruinous to whole continents.

"Competition Is For Losers"

The one central tenet of capitalism had always been the belief in competition and the efficiency and nimbleness it's said to have fostered. Neo-liberalism despises competition, a challenge to the one per centers and the monopolists. The more a society promotes inequality, the less it values competition. Kiwi Peter Thiel, who sits at the right hand of the Trump, (unless the apocalypse strikes, when he will rush to his bolt hole in Central Otago) put it simply. "Competition", he knew, "is for losers" (see also the review below of "Zucked". Thiel was at Mark Zuckerberg's side when Facebook started up. Zuckerberg has based his business model on the need to eliminate competition).

Similarly, what's called "free trade" is not about trade. It's to protect big business. In deals like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) corporations can sue sovereign governments for anything (most obviously for regulations to discourage pollution and abuse of workers) that they can argue leads to a loss of profits. In the US itself they do not have this ability.

Of course, that is not at all behind Trump's pulling out of what was then called the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). For him it's about one on one fights between macho men. As with everything else he looks at, Trump is motivated not by a rational consideration of policy but by his needy psychology. Though the Donald might have stumbled on a truth. Stiglitz assesses that the TPPA would have helped the US economy by at best a tiny amount. But when it comes to tariffs, and the puffball posturing with China, Trump gets no relief from Stiglitz. US tariffs will raise prices and cost jobs and growth.

The banks, who brought the country down in the 2008 collapse, "knew that our legal system was not up to the task of dealing with massive fraud or breach of contract... Sue us, they seemed to say". Like other actors in this sad play, they are "not trustworthy". Just as, in a bygone age, the economy was said to admire competition, the banks were said to base themselves on a respect for their "reputation". Now, as they hatch up their "mortgage-backed securities" and their "derivatives" they do not even pretend to care. Stiglitz: In Las Vegas it's called a bet; on Wall Street it's a derivative.

American inequality has reached the level of the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century when the robber barons built their empires and social welfare programmes as devised by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and, later, Lyndon Johnson, did not exist (for more on the history of US capitalism, see the reviews below of Zuboff and McNamee).

In 2018 the World Bank came out with a "human capital index" measuring wellbeing as expressed in outcomes of education and health. The US, the world’s one superpower and economic giant, placed 24th. During the decade from 2006 to 2016 in the USA, the home of the world's most famous and successful businesses and universities, productivity growth was less than half the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average.

Since the 1970s wages have gone up by less than 20% of this lagging productivity growth. These are the statistics of decay and exploitation. Stiglitz notes that after centuries of increases American life expectancy rates are declining, as they are in Vladimir Putin's post-Soviet Russia. To maintain their malevolent grip the one per centers have a "three-part strategy: deception, disenfranchisement, disempowerment", carried out by Trump and his amoral Republican mates. We can see the way it's done in the daily news. It's crude, but so far at least it's working for them as the Democrats struggle to evade the charge that their "liberalism" or even "socialism" - elsewhere known as business as usual - will render the US akin to North Korea.

Readers might well be sceptical. The question you'll be asking is: Why didn't Stiglitz say all this when he was himself at the centre of power and influence? After all it was his boss, Bill Clinton, who enacted some of the very policies that he is now disowning. His suggestion in reply is that he was just one of many in the Government and the winds were not blowing in the right direction. He remarks at one point that Barack Obama, whose eight years followed Clinton's, "did not, perhaps could not", fight the trend to inequality. The two Presidents were trapped within the vast - and deep - neo-liberal state (NZ Labour politicians would endorse this interpretation).

Stiglitz does say that "we got our values wrong", and that the "platitudes (or lies)"" emanating from all Administrations since Reagan's have to go. "Incrementalism", tinkering with timid reforms, is not enough, not when 26 people have the wealth of half the world, of 3.9 billion people. It's usually said that disparities such as this are "obscene", a suggestion that the problem is a moral one. Well, yes, of course it is, that goes without saying, but the farcically huge gaps, the chasms and canyons of wealth and opportunity, are also inefficient, impermanent and violent. Incrementalism will only moderate the amount the rate at which the trend to inequality increases as the globe slides into autocracy and war.

Stiglitz Offers Only Incremental Changes

But in the end Stiglitz lets himself down by proposing only... incremental changes, largely some tinkering improvements to taxation policy. He says he sees himself as a 21st Century version of the two Roosevelt Presidents: Teddy and his distant cousin Franklin (FDR). OK, the Roosevelts might have been pragmatists, prepared to rein in some of the grosser excesses of their domestic billionaires, but while it could be that a latter-day FDR would not purposely deepen the attack on living standards, it is unlikely that [s]he would roll it back. As for Teddy, he was an imperialist, imposing his country's power into the Caribbean and across the Pacific.

Stiglitz wants a return to the ways of capitalism as it was before the Reagan era, pointing out that a sound economy aims not at profits for the few but wealth for the many, achieved through increases in productivity and knowledge and a respect for reason and deliberation. Leaving aside the question of whether capitalism is the good idea that Stiglitz thinks it is, we can agree with him as to the purpose of an economy. It should be there to achieve social wellbeing.

Not long ago it would have been platitudinous to the point of banality to advocate policy that aimed to produce a healthy society where people can work fewer hours in respectful conditions for more pay, but now it needs to be said. A final word from Stiglitz: "The civility required to make a civilisation work has been thrown aside, along with any pretence of decency either in language or action".

The Irish poet WB Yeats put it best:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity".

by Shoshana Zuboff, Profile Books, UK, 2019

by Roger McNamee, HarperCollins, UK, 2019

Shoshana Zuboff's massive analysis of the ideology of the social media giants weighs in at 700 pages. She wants to convince us that what she calls surveillance capitalism is destroying civilised values. She focuses on Facebook and Google, corporations which have effectively waged a revolution. Their surveillance capitalism is accused of stealing our way of life by lying about what it was up to. As the subtitle puts it, we're trapped within "the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power". Zuboff is original and provocative; her book is doubly weighty.

The digital order staged its takeover as neo-liberalism was capturing America. The two impulses share an ideology of individualism, which Zuboff accuses of "shifting all responsibility for success or failure to a mythical, atomised, isolated individual, doomed to a life of perpetual competition and disconnected from relationships, community and society".


This quality of "individualism" is not at all the same as what she calls "individualisation", a product of the Enlightenment and liberal capitalism. By this she means that the values of independent inquiry and the scientific method liberated people from identities defined by being members of a group, typically a religion or occupation (most were peasants) or class. "Individualisation", that is, allowed for the sort of personal space that liberal democracies have inherited. For Zuboff, who has no quarrel with 20th Century capitalism, it's undeniably a good thing. This might be why there is no mention of the Industrial Revolution and it's exploiting mills and mines in her index; despite it's being the heir of the Enlightenment.

Zuboff goes back 100 years to compare the iconic companies of the 20th Century to Google and Facebook in the 21st. Ford and General Motors (GM), she says, were about production; Google is about extraction, using its customers for its own ends, by creating a surplus value through selling them - without their consent or knowledge - to advertisers.

In the previous era of unbridled capitalism, when the robber barons created monopolies of steel and oil, the world's first billionaires sold the idea that their power and wealth were morally neutral and inevitable. They invoked the notion of social Darwinism, to suggest that they were evolutionary expressions and thus inevitable. It bastardised science, but it worked politically.

In the neo-liberal Reagan era, a similar ideology took hold, the idea that, as no person could hope to know everything one needed to know in making social and economic decisions, it was best to leave matters to markets, which had processed available information. Governments, intrusively full of human ignorance and bias, needed to stand aside. Facebook and Google exist as a culmination of the neo-liberal triumph. Having acquired complete knowledge, their influence and power melds the market and individual freedom. Social media rules.

Before neo-liberalism and the technological revolution joined forces, capitalism was about dominating nature. With Facebook and Google, it is human nature that is dominated. You can see Zuboff's point here, but is this an instance of earlier capitalism being excused? There is no need to imply nostalgia for previous decades and centuries when people - humans - were ruthlessly exploited to the point of slavery. As they still are, notably in buildings where computer parts are being made.

In June 2019 Time carried an article by Zuboff, in which she remarked that her thesis about surveillance capitalism was not, as a magazine reader might assume, Orwellian (6/6/19, "The Surveillance Threat Is Not What Orwell Imagined"). George Orwell's "1984" has been the classic satire about the surveillance State since its publication in 1949. But surveillance capitalism marks a deeper intrusion into personal liberty than the surveillance State:

"Rather than an intimate Big Brother that uses murder and terror to possess each soul from the inside out, these digital networks are a Big Other: impersonal systems trained to monitor and shape our actions remotely, unimpeded by law" (a dismaying irony - if a confirmation of her argument - is that the article, as I read it online, carried beneath it "Sponsored financial content". You can't win). There have been six mass extinctions in our planet's history. Zuboff writes about a "seventh extinction", that of "the will to will, the sanctity of the individual, the ties of intimacy, the sociality that binds us together in promises, and the trust they breed".

Vast Profits & Fake News

The extinction has achieved vast profits. By 2016 Google was worth $US532 billion with 75,000 employees; Facebook, after just 12 years, was at $US332 billion with 18,000 staff. GM took 40 years to reach $US225 billion in 1965, when it provided 735,000 jobs. Google and Facebook prosper as industrial America contracts. Since 1977, as it was becoming evident that neo-liberalism was on a charge, new company registrations have decreased everywhere except in Silicon Valley.

Facebook has reached 2.2 billion monthly users. WhatsApp has 1.5 billion; Messenger has 1.3 billion, and Instagram has a billion. In this compilation there will be many users counted more than once, but by any measure these are the most massive success stories in the history of capitalism. The previous tech giant, IBM, had as clients only governments and large corporations. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg wants to sell to the whole world.

So, Facebook and Google are bigger and richer than anything Standard Oil or General Motors could have imagined, with a "massive capital-intensive infrastructure". In "Zucked" Roger McNamee offers another comparison, with Coca-Cola, which sells to 1.9 billion consumers a day, but it doesn't influence elections and it is not a monopoly.

Both authors discuss Russia and its fake news, which McNamee in particular sees as Zuckerberg's worst excess. In 2017 it was revealed that, in the two years from 2015, Russia spent $US100,000 on 3,000 ads. That's a very small sum for a big Government, but it allowed the hackers to connect to 470 accounts which Facebook belatedly came to admit were "inauthentic". Of these, just six were shared 340,000,000 times. A targetted 126,000,000 Americans on Facebook and others on Instagram were exposed to Russian fakes. Imagine the chaos that could ensue if big money comes to be invested. In the 2016 American election 760,000,000 deliberate lies were read.

Google accepted fraudulent ads from mortgage brokers until 2011 when Treasury ordered a stop to over 500 Internet advertisers associated with 85 alleged fraud schemes. McNamee lists 14 countries about which Facebook carried disinformation, one of which was to criticise the platform it gave to stirrers about the atrocities in Sri Lanka. NZ is not mentioned, neither here nor elsewhere in the book, even though the attacks in Sri Lanka were motivated by the March 2019 Christchurch mosques massacre. Jacinda Ardern's disgust that Facebook did not immediately react to the terrorist's live stream does not interest McNamee, whose focus is entirely on fake news and profiteering. It's a surprising omission.

Since the books came out Google has been blasted by Justice Minister Andrew Little for its contemptuous disregard of the NZ government (Google belatedly apologised for publishing the court-suppressed name of the accused in a high-profile 2018 murder. Ed.). Concurrently it is being sued in Australia by a businessman for defamation. The social media monopolies keep asserting that they are merely "platforms" for which they bear no responsibility, but as both Ardern and Little have said, they are both publisher and postman.

Back in 1996, before social media was ubiquitous, it was possible for a Communications Decency Act to aver that: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider". The issue then was to rule that unfavourable reviews could not be deleted. One critic suggested that any such abridgement of freedom of speech was akin to suing the library for stocking "Lolita". Zuckerberg now plays this "freedom" card, pretending to believe that nothing has changed in the meantime.

Larry Page, the founder of Google, anticipated matters early on: "People will generate enormous amounts of data... Everything you've ever heard or seen or experienced will become searchable. Your whole life will be searchable". And as far back as 1998 he "expect[ed] that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers". "Consumers"? Not clients? Not customers? Not my connected friends?

No Need For Consumers

Facebook has become indispensable for billions, who have to forgive it its sins. Logging on or checking the phone is as automatic as turning on a tap or switching on a kettle. In 1991 an acute Mark Weiser noted that "the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it... Machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs will make using a computer as fresh as taking a walk in the woods".

Adam Smith, the early economist who's always cited in discussions like this, thought that as prices increased so would wages, meaning that workers would always be able to afford to consume. Henry Ford thought so too. Not Zuckerberg, whose business has no need for consumers. Facebook's users are raw material. Again, echoing Zuboff, McNamee charges that Facebook "rescinds any remaining reciprocities with its societies' products", and services "are merely hosts for surveillance capitalism's parasitic operations". All the talk of "connectivity" is a lie.

"Surveillance, the sharing of user data, and behavioural modification in pursuit of unprecedented scale and influence are the foundations of Facebook's success. Users are fuel for its growth". Once were citizens; now the users are consumers. In contrast to the age of Ford and GM the surveillance capitalists do not rely on customers - consumers - buying things, but they do rely totally on the users, whom they consume.

Like Zuboff, McNamee suggests that Facebook has "changed the nature of community by allowing people to sort themselves into like-minded groups where they never have to engage with other viewpoints". It has "converged the virtual world with the real world". Social solidarity is breaking down anyway, but for the American President and his tyrannical mates the world is not yet tribal enough. So it is that yet another trend which technology and neo-liberalism have brought about is being accelerated by politicians.

McNamee's book is personal. He has known Zuckerberg - Zuck - since 2006, two years after Zuckerberg began working on Facebook in his second year at Harvard. An early mentor and investor was Peter Thiel, linking Zuck directly to the 0.1%, extreme libertarianism, and Trump (for more on Thiel see also the review above of Joseph Stiglitz).

McNamee admits to having been a keen technophile in the early years, but says he is writing now out of a sense of betrayal. He assesses his erstwhile mate as sincerely believing in bringing the world together. Zuck has never thought it possible that anyone might object to the total sharing that his genius has allowed. Facebook's motto - "move fast and break things" - appeals to the connected IT world but what is being broken is social connection. McNamee has a different mission statement. For Zuck it's "deny, delay, deflect, dissemble".


It's not just Facebook that has the power. Google gathers the most data, while YouTube "has become the nexus for recruiting and training extremists. It is home to countless conspiracy theories. It hosts age-inappropriate content targeting little children" and teenagers, leading to an epidemic of sleeplessness, anxiety, and a lack of concentration (though there is nothing explicitly in either account to do with online bullying). So, we have a new word. Nomophobia is the fear of being separated from your phone.

Users, increasingly alienated from society and reality, are ready and willing to be manipulated. McNamee cites research which found that a mere one to two per cent of a group can steer matters if they are coordinated. Both authors agree that Russia's motives were to create division and confusion rather than wanting to help Trump per se, who benefitted because the fake news themes of immigration, white nationalism and populism happened to be Trump's themes.

Neither author gives space to a related motive: that Clinton represented continuity and consistency and thus was bad news to the Kremlin. Neither do they discuss the likely motive that, with time, they came to prefer Trump as he delighted them with his policies of breaking Western alliances (Trump should consider borrowing Zuck's motto).

Getting Trump Elected

Cambridge Analytica was the other major distributor of fake election news (one of its founders had been Steve Bannon, a key Trumpian ideologue). Perhaps unlike the Kremlin their lies had this one simple motivation. They wanted Trump for America and Brexit for the UK. A worker there told the Guardian: "We exploited Facebook to harvest [approximately 87] millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on".

In view of Trump's small majority in a few decisive states (the ones where Ford and GM were struggling) McNamee concludes that it's "virtually impossible" to think that Cambridge Analytica did not cause him to be elected. Ideas on how to hook users are borrowed from propaganda, public relations and slot machines, to form "filter bubbles", with users manipulated into an "intellectual isolation based on previous searches, location and click behaviour" (Wikipedia). It has been called "brain hacking" (and as the population becomes increasingly divided and sectarian, it is in a way reverting to the pre-Enlightenment, pre-individualisation group identities that Zuboff bewails).

McNamee sees emotions like fear and outrage as engendering more engagement than logic or thought. True things are fixed; outrage can spread. "False outcompetes true". Online it's ever more tribal as you click with the like-minded. Friends' lists become more homogenous over time. A professor is quoted: "The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it's not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It's like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium".

Yet again agreeing with Zuboff, McNamee concludes: "Google and Facebook exported America's twin vices of self-centred consumerism and civic disengagement to a world ill-equipped to handle them". Users come to believe that random posts they come across are more reliable than the boringly presented views of experts. They don't know who to trust or why. (In this context a brilliant novel can be recommended. The heroine of Ling Ma's "Severance", set in a post-apocalyptic New York, gets all her impressions of reality by Googling. She has a series of what seem like brainy facts but being post-Fordist [see below] has no sense of context or relevance).

It could allow perspective to recall that in the last two decades of the 20th Century, when computer mania was building, a favoured insult was the accusation of "Fordism". Mass production was said to be repressive, denying freedom. Offices, factories and schools were enjoined to embrace the bright new digital world. But the society that produced Ford and GM wasn't all bad. The assembly line might have lacked individual flair but it brought about the greatest increase in living standards in world history and its collectivity was compatible with (for instance) trade unions and literacy and weekends with the family.

("Fordism is the basis of modern economic and social systems in industrialised, standardised mass production and mass consumption. The concept is named for Henry Ford. It is used in social, economic, and management theory about production, working conditions, consumption, and related phenomena, especially regarding the 20th Century". Wikipedia).

How To Rein In This Digital Monster?

And how are goods produced in the age of Zuckerberg? They're produced by robots or by slaves in the poor world, while displaced workers in America shuffle off to Trump rallies. When we're Zucked we're living with huge and unsustainable inequalities and the exploitation of humanity and nature is deeper than ever. Thirty years ago, would Zuboff or McNamee have talked of Fordism themselves? Possibly, but in retrospect they would not endorse the term. In these pages "Fordism" is not mentioned. And it doesn't help that the digital world - and the service economy in general - typically creates inequality by paying fewer middling wages and salaries. Incomes are both higher and lower than they were.

When it comes to conclusions, both critics wobble, talking of how social media needs to be driven by human needs, not the needs of the billionaires. Users need to control the use of data. Yes, we can all agree, but how is it to come about? Similarly, in discussing the obvious need for regulation, there is more ambivalence, as regulation carries a stigma, even for the repentant McNamee. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist, (reviewed above) provides more detailed suggestions as to regulation.

Will anti-trust rules break up Facebook? Who will have the power and the inclination to rein in Zuck? In 2019 in Trump's Washington? The odds are not good. In the meantime, Trump is veering to the extreme Right even more crudely. He will soon host a social media event to which the likes of Facebook and Google will not be invited. They are said to be "liberal". Instead he is sending invites to conspiracy theorists and other people identified variously as neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.

He followed that by suggesting that four elected Democrat Congress representatives, two of them Moslem and all of them non-white and female, go back to the terrible countries they came from. At a press conference they gave in response, one agreed with the idea, saying she was going straight back to the Bronx to work for Trump's defeat. She'll probably do some of it via Facebook.

A Film By Will Watson

Soldiers without guns might sound an unlikely proposition but the soldiers in question conducted a brilliant military operation which succeeded just because the troops were unarmed. In 1997 in Bougainville, a Melanesian island east of Papua New Guinea, a war for independence from New Guinea had been going on for too long, with neither side looking likely to be able to deliver a decisive outcome. Bougainville had collapsed into a sullen anarchy.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister at the time, Don McKinnon, wrote of seeing "the vacant stares on people's faces" and "a generation of young people who had received no education of any kind". In a context of mutual mistrust and habitual violence, numerous attempts to broker a peace deal had failed. Families were split as rival factions kept shifting. Yet the soldiers without guns delivered peace.

Rio Tinto's Mine War's Cause

The fighting had been triggered by the usual dismal follies of greed and ignorance. When copper was detected Rio Tinto, an Australian transnational mining giant, took advantage of Bougainville's undeveloped economy and its small and isolated population to dig a huge hole in the jungle - the deepest hole in the world - and make piles of money, the ruined landscape and violated society being of no concern.

The often-arbitrary boundaries of post-colonial societies also betrayed the locals, who were politically locked into the larger and unsympathetic Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the west. Despite governing the land between the Bougainville mine and the infamous Freeport mine in West Irian*, the PNG government, itself poorly resourced and compromised by the Aussies, was not about to heed the wishes of some importunate neighbours. For them, surrendering territory was not an option. *The Indonesian-annexed half of the island of New Guinea is now called West Papua. Ed.

Before PNG took over, Bougainville had been a plaything of imperialists, having been ruled by England, Germany, Japan (in World War 2) and Australia. The film captures the beauty of the island, where a lifestyle based on a simple and harmonious co-dependence between humanity and Nature had already been shattered in World War 2. The fighting in the archipelagos of the western Pacific had been among the most brutal ever.

NZ The Honest Broker

To their credit the pointlessness of the violence got through to Australian leaders like the then Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who made public statements that recognised the need for a new deal. At the same time the Aussies knew that their history in the area meant that they would not be trusted to be honest brokers. Enter New Zealand, which had no such record and a reputation of being fair and competent.

First, the disputing factions needed to be taken to neutral and fresh ground. The NZ Air Force flew over 70 Bougainvilleans to Waiouru Army base, in the central North Island, where they were introduced to Maori protocol - indigenous and potentially a more likely bridge to mutual respect than standard old Pakeha officers might have proved. It worked. The haka, a warlike action but also an expression of cultural pride within a post-Treaty society, and performed by New Zealanders of various ethnicities, came to be a requested item.

The talks moved to Burnham Army base, near Christchurch, where there was no competing distraction and no tropical warmth. Perhaps it made sense to come to an agreement and get back home. A measure of trust established, when the NZ Army went to Bougainville they carried no guns, and thereby could be no threat. One key moment was when a rebel leader, still unconvinced that the war was a bad idea, shot at the NZ lead negotiator's helicopter. John Hayes, the chopper passenger and a very senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official, said the incident was mechanical failure and the moment was rendered harmless.

A Bougainvillean narrator recalls how Brigadier Roger Mortlock, the NZ Commander, used an analogy of a river to describe the peace process. The river might be blocked in all sorts of ways, but the water will always find a way to flow down the hills to the sea. In rainy, mountainous Bougainville this image was adroitly chosen. As shown here an important fissure was between men and women, with women being a significant impulse towards peace within the island. The men, it's suggested, had kept up the fighting as a bad habit, as part of a misplaced ethos of masculinity.

A female NZ Army officer, now retired from the Army but who is shown maintaining her interest in matrilineal* Bougainville, offers a tip. The island, she says, is motivated by two impulses: the influences of women and beliefs about God. The peace brokers took care to sympathise with island values. *A matrilineal society is one where land is passed from mother to daughter. Ed.

This sort of attention to local mores and the resulting mutual respect between the men who had wielded guns and the men and women without guns has meant that the peace held and it still holds now, 20 years later. The Panguna mine, shut down when the talks got under way, is still idle, being reclaimed by the bush. A necessary political compromise also holds, with Bougainville existing as an "autonomous" entity within Papua New Guinea. "Soldiers Without Guns" was many years in the making, with Will Watson's long dedication manifest in every frame. The result is most satisfying.


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