Russell Marshall’s Column

Time for ‘principled’ world leadership — but US isn’t showing it

By Russell Marshall

My rather vague memories of the 1940s include the importance which New Zealanders then attached to the United Kingdom, many still referring to Britain as ‘home’ even though born in New Zealand.

We had been closely involved in the war in Europe and even New Zealand Labour supporters respected Winston Churchill, especially for his wartime leadership.

Our papers carried a lot of British new and stories, and we regarded ourselves as the most British member of the old empire.

Emergence as super power

As time passed, the United States emerged as the super power at least of the West against the perceived threat of  communism and, for the last two decades the sole super power.

Militarily, if sometimes reluctantly, we largely fell in behind the Americans. Gradually, American politics, movies, and life in general became better known to us.

Less obvious perhaps were some American social attitudes, which mean for instance that capital punishment, long abandoned in practically all other western countries, is still practised in many of the fifty states.

Less well known still was America’s affection for guns. Within the United States Bill of Rights the 2nd Amendment passed in 1791 upholds the right of people to keep and bear arms, unconnected to military service.

An Australian researcher recently pointed out that current US firearms ownership works out at 89 guns per 100 people. The next highest in the world is India with four guns per 100 people.

US attitudes worrying

The continuing prominence, sometimes even dominance, of American news stories in our media means that we are also exposed to sometimes worrying American attitude and assumptions.

When American police recently hunted down a renegade colleague, the story ran for several minutes on TV3’s 6 pm news.

Similar things happen frequently in gun ridden America, part of the everyday media diet of profit driven voyeurism which now poses as news.

President Obama has made a reasonable fist at attacking the widespread preoccupation with and laxity of American firearm ownership.

On the other hand, while very few people have any doubt about the considerable criminality of Osama bin Laden, it is disconcerting to see how much the president apparently feels he has to make of that execution.

Obama and his drones

Worse still is the extraordinary use by the US president of flying drones to kill chosen people in various other countries.

The United States still sees itself as the supreme world leader, but those days are numbered.

It would be good to live long enough to see more collegial and principled world leadership, but am not counting on it.

Agree with the general tenor of the article but there was no need to spin the gun statistics.

It is true that India has very low gun ownership at 4.2 per 100 persons but that makes it 110th on the world list not the 2nd. New Zealand for example has stated gun ownership at 22.6 per 100 persons making it 22nd on the list.