As a New Zealander living part-time in the United States for nearly two decades, I have until now been perplexed by the American compulsion to have to be number 1 in the world - the need to be the first to the moon, have the biggest nuclear weapons, win the most Olympic medals, be the richest country... even to the extent of jerry-rigging the Baseball World Series so that only a North American team can win.
Now having tasted the sweetness of my country being number one for the last couple of years in the world's most prestigious award -- and the shock of being toppled from this noble pedestal last week, I am developing some understanding and sympathy for my American friends.
Yes it was a huge shock to me and my country when the new ratings from the Global Peace Index, released at the United Nations last week, dumped New Zealand from number one place as the most peaceful country in the world -- which we had held two years running -- to number two behind Iceland.
Many of us white New Zealanders, bred from British stock, tend to hide our feelings -- so you might not have noticed the incredible depression that has hit New Zealanders like a savage tornado. Being number one in the GPI rating had been part of our new national identity -- so it has been devastating to be upstaged by a country that not only proclaims its peace status to the heavens with the Yoko Ono Imagine peace light powered by eco-friendly geo-thermal electricity, but also has more powerful volcanoes than us.
In all fairness to Iceland, their rating was based on 21 statistical indicators measuring the level of violent crime in society, respect for human rights, support for United Nations peacekeeping, military spending, number of homicides, number of displaced people, relations with neighboring countries, political stability and overseas military involvement .
Even-so, being bumped to number two is a huge embarrassment to us. We can only imagine the despair that must now be wracking the United States which is languishing at number 82!
Aiming this year for a hat-trick -- the first country to be the most peaceful country three years running -- New Zealand sent scores of peace-makers overseas to spread peace, advance disarmament and campaign for the prestigious GPI rating. This included a former Prime Minister now head of a key United Nations body and two former Ministers for Disarmament who campaigned in North East Asia (a nuclear hot-spot) and the United Kingdom. However, this 'peace drain' from the country appeared to be counter-productive back-home, with a resulting cut in government funds for peace programs and a drift back towards aggression and militarism.
'Officially', New Zealand opposes the competitive nature of the Global Peace Index as being anti-thetical to peace, and argues for a cooperative model based on every country sharing the number one spot. New Zealand has been a staunch champion of equality and cooperation - being the first country to grant women the vote and adopt a social welfare system.
More recently, New Zealand's bid to host the 2016 Olympics as an equal-opportunity cooperative games event, with every competitor winning a gold medal, only floundered when wikileaks released diplomatic cables revealing the catastrophic environmental consequences of mining enough gold to make the medals. The embarrassment over this loss stimulated a counter-movement which promotes violence and aggression in sport and which succeeded in securing New Zealand the rights to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup - a glorified and ritualized demonstration of male-aggression.
The New Zealand Cabinet met behind closed doors late last week to discuss the strategy for the 2012 GPI campaign. One former GPI judge who refused to be identified, indicated that if New Zealand followed Costa Rica's example, abolished their armed forces and redirected the military budget to overseas development aid, the number one GPI spot would be assured. However sources from inside Cabinet say that the government is planning instead to give all GPI judges free tickets to the Rugby World Cup and hoping that the ferocious haka (war dance) performed by the All Blacks (New Zealand Rugby team) will scare them into awarding top spot to New Zealand again.
New Zealand has not always prided itself for its peace achievements - quite the contrary. We used to have an obscene notion that mass murder (war) built personal character and international respect - and so we got involved in just about any war we could where-ever on the globe they took place - the Boer War, the two 'World Wars', Malaya war, Korea war, Vietnam war...
However, with the coming of age of the United Nations, the emerging threat of nuclear holocaust if a military model for security was maintained, and globalization of the economy, information systems and politics, New Zealand changed course, introduced peace education into the school curriculum, banned nuclear weapons, used the UN system to resolve its conflicts and re-shaped our national identity as clean, green and nuclear free.
If we can do it, so too can you America... You can turn it around and make it from number 82 to the top.
* Alyn Ware is a peace educator, song-writer and advocate for nuclear abolition. Alyn used some artistic license in preparing this article.