COMMENTARY: By Jason Brown in Auckland
Twenty years ago, I was on a plane from Rarotonga to Auckland. Lovely flight, with a path at the end I had never experienced before.
Almost from the tip of the North Island, down to Tamaki Makaurau — the rising sun bathing the hills and coastline in rich, almost mango, orange. So rich and orange that for a second I wondered if I had mistakenly got on a flight to Aussie, not Aotearoa.
It was the most stunningly beautiful sight.
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Half asleep from the then usual awake-all-night, early morning departure, dawn arrival, I floated through duty free and customs, not noticing anything really different — until our old Cook Islands Press photographer Dean Treml who was on the same flight came up looking alarmed.
“There’s been an attack in New York – two planes have flown into the World Trade Towers,” or words to that effect. I was like, “..whaaat? No …Really??”
He nodded, hurried off.
I blinked a bit, shook off my disbelief, and forgot about it as we moved through the lines, looking forward to seeing my younger son, Mikaera.
He was there in arrivals. Rushed to give my three-year-old a kneeling hug. Smiled up at his grandparents.
“Stay calm,” the grandfather told me, “and don’t get upset, but terrorists have attacked the Twin Towers in America,” or words to that effect. “It’s on the screen behind you.”
In those days, news was still played on the big multiscreens over the arrival doors. I turned, looked, and caught sight of a jet slicing into one of the towers. Over the rest of the day, that scene, and its twin, were replayed over and again, as a stunned world witnessed an unthinkably cinematic display of destruction.
And then, hours later, one by one, the towers dropped.
Like billions of others, I watched, in my case in between playing with my young son, alone at his mum’s home, looking over his shoulder at the television.
A few times it got too much. Made sure Mikaera was okay with toys and/or food, then stepped outside to the garage to cry, the replay sight of people jumping from the smoking towers to their deaths; hiding my tears and low moans of stunned despair.
Big breaths, wipe away the tears, back inside to play with blocks and trucks, and … planes. One eye on the TV.
Nearly 3000 people died that day. Almost all Americans, with a few hundred other nationalities.
Tragedy of so-called ‘War on Terror’
Millions of non-Americans have died in the Middle East, mostly from economic blockades resulting in deaths from starvation and treatable diseases. Hundreds of thousands dying in a so-called “War on Terror” that served to produce tens of thousands more “terrorists”, vowing to avenge the deaths of their children, siblings, parents, aunties, cousins and uncles.
Western states have spent trillions of dollars, weapons dealers making obscenely fat profits on the back of jingoistic propaganda from news media which, to this day, counts Western deaths to the last man and woman, but barely mentions any civilian deaths from their bullets, bombs and drones.
Profits that have been used to bribe officials at home and abroad, via a network of secrecy havens such as New Zealand and the Cook Islands, but mostly via American states like Delaware, or financial centres like London in the UK, flushing trillions more through millions of secret companies for the benefit of a few.
9/11, they said, changed everything.
Twenty years later, with the war on terror a complete and utter failure, everything certainly has changed.
For the worse.
Western financial hypocrisy
Trillions continue to be hidden, including with our help, legally or otherwise. Legality being a very moveable feast. Western states pick on tiny offshore banking centres like the Niue, Samoa and the Cook Islands, while ignoring the gaping holes in their own banks and finance centres.
Governments like New Zealand and Australia fund corruption studies in the Pacific, as one regional example, but not their own.
And, like little children, we are still over-awed when famous people come to visit our homelands, happily posing and smiling in delight whenever big country people deign to visit our shores.
Unlike when then Tahitian president Gaston Flosse came to Rarotonga in 1996, and Cook Islanders protested nuclear testing, for example, the Cook Islands happily welcomed then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012.
Even media people and supposed journalists lined up to grin, to grip the hand of a leader reported as once asking about using a drone to assassinate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
In fact, in 1996, I was one of those people, “meeting” Clinton on a rope line at the Atlanta Olympics when I was “Press Attache” for our Olympics team.
“Greetings from the South Pacific!” I said cheerily when she offered her hand to me, among a hundred or so others who had suddenly gathered.
“Outstanding!”, she replied, equally delighted.
Of course, none of us knew then what was coming.
But we know now.
Cook Islands in lockstep
And still the Cook Islands walks in lockstep with our powerful neighbours, a “dear friend” of Australia’s ruling party and its unbelievably corrupt mining, military and media networks.
Two decades later, the Homeland seems yet to learn any lessons from 9/11, yet to admit any responsibility for its part in enabling #corruption, money laundering and terrorism which breeds extremism, hate, and death, on all sides.
Instead, our government works against the interests of our own region, a Pacific pawn used and abused in age-old colonial tactics of divide et empera – divide and conquer – a phrase going back over two millennia.
Today our peoples are further misled by a tsunami of fake news – misinformation and disinformation – from mysteriously well-resourced sources. Distracted from real responses to the #covid19 pandemic, which distracts further from even bigger threats from global warming — or “climate change” as it was known for so long, before leaders started only recently admitting we face a “climate crisis” — but still locked to “market mechanisms” as a supposed solution.
So, what are the solutions?
Fight fake news. Fight corruption. Fight the hateful, extremist, death cults hiding behind religion, especially within the largest, most powerful faith in the world — Christianity.
Fight for a world where shorelines are bathed in mango dawns, and our children don’t grow up watching death replayed every single day of their lives.
Jason Brown is founder of Journalism Agenda 2025 and writes about Pacific and world journalism and ethically globalised Fourth Estate issues. He is a former co-editor of Cook Islands Press. This article is republished with permission.