Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men. T S Eliot.
It doesn’t matter who you are or how you spend your day, at some point in your life, probably on more than just one occasion, you’re going to have to make a tough decision. You’re going to have to choose between two ways, two courses of action or two people perhaps. So I’m not talking about which horse to bet on or which perfume to buy. I’m talking about a choice that’s a reflection of your heart; how you really feel about something important; something critical in your life; about your principles.
Yesterday at Burnham Military Camp, there was a funeral service for two young men who had been killed the previous week whilst on active service in Afghanistan. They were Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone. Bill English was there representing the Government because Prime Minister, John Key, was out of the country.
Key had elected to fly to the United States, where his son Max, was participating in an Under-17 baseball tournament at Bangor, Maine. The Prime Minister had spoken to the press about that decision, confirmed that it was indeed a tough choice but that his son deserved his support because he, Max, had been enormously supportive of him, as his father.
Now, there’s been a lot of commentary on Key’s decision – much of it critical, along the lines of ‘he’d rather be at a baseball match than at the funeral’. I imagine that much of that commentary is by Key’s political opponents and those who believe that there should not be a New Zealand military presence in Afghanistan. And certainly the issues around why New Zealand is there, the financial cost and the human cost (There have been 5 previous deaths of military personnel) require examination and explanation.
I have to declare that I do, most certainly, have an opinion on those issues. But I don’t think that is the point here. John Key is the Prime Minister of this country and as such is cast in the leadership role. To use an old-fashioned expression, he is the father of the country. When two young men lose their lives in the service of this country as a direct result of our government’s policy then the Prime Minister has a responsibility to properly acknowledge their loss. Not just for the families, colleagues and friends – but on behalf of the whole country. The gesture, the symbolism of attendance is, or at least should be, important.
The two soldiers can only lose their lives once, be buried once. But their loss is permanent and the grieving for that loss being borne by their fathers and mothers, enduring. I’d like to think that Max Key would have understood if his father had recognised where his responsibility lay at such a time – secure in the knowledge that there would be many other times ahead when his father could demonstrate his love and support for him.
So, I don’t think it’s wrong for John Key to want to love and support his son. But that duty of care is not mutually exclusive to the duty of care he has for these two soldiers, their families and the rest of us. And in fact, it’s easy enough to see that they are, after all, one and the same thing. What John Key has demonstrated by his decision, is that he is not sentient toward his prime ministerial responsibilities and to the needs of his broader constituency. What he has chosen to do lacks not only insight but respect.