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Cold War

by Gerald Hensley

The Cold War existed between 1945 and 1991, with New Zealand aligned for the most part with the Western powers and making contributions in Berlin and South-East Asia. Growing anti-nuclear sentiment in the 1980s led to the suspension of New Zealand from ANZUS and the end of US ship visits.


Cold War beginnings, 1945 to 1948

The Cold War ran for nearly half a century – from the end of the Second World War in 1945 to 1991. It involved rivalry and fluctuating periods of tension between the communist countries, notably the Soviet Union and China, and the capitalist Western democracies, led by the United States.

The struggle between the two ideologies – between ‘east’ and ‘west’ – was viewed by both sides as irreconcilable. However, caution, reinforced by the growth of nuclear arsenals on both sides, prevented deep distrust from flaring into open war. There were probes of each other’s strength, efforts to recruit uncommitted countries, regional wars where Western and communist powers took opposite sides, and periods of acute tension. Yet over time, the socialist states’ belief in world revolution was supplanted by the need to maintain domestic stability – so their policies increasingly resembled those of their Western opponents.

The Cold War ended with the sudden and remarkably peaceful collapse of the Soviet empire into 21 independent states.

Early tensions

Like the other Western Allies, New Zealand emerged from the Second World War with a growing distrust of the communist Soviet Union (which had fought alongside the Allies). The Soviet Union’s installation of an unelected ‘Lublin Committee’ as the government of Poland in January 1945 angered New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who became convinced that the Soviet Union intended to ‘sovietise’ the countries on its western border (Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland and Finland). Despite this, it was hoped that the erstwhile wartime allies – Britain, the US, the Soviet Union and others – would demobilise and cooperatively shape the post-war world.

Fraser fires off

It was midnight when telegrams from Churchill and Truman about the proposed Trieste intervention were read to Peter Fraser at his San Francisco hotel. He gave a wholehearted consent before the reading had finished. However, Fraser’s cabinet in Wellington hoped that negotiations with a spirit of goodwill could yet solve the problem. Fraser sent his colleagues a blazing telegram saying that New Zealand could not be a passive spectator of aggression, ending with a thinly veiled threat to resign over the issue.

Trieste

New Zealand’s prequel to the Cold War was the Trieste crisis of May 1945. The city of Trieste and its surrounding territory were part of Italy but coveted by communist Yugoslavia. The New Zealand Second Division was stationed close to Trieste, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Harry Truman asked if the New Zealanders could forestall the Yugoslavs and occupy the city. Cabinet in Wellington blanched at the prospect that New Zealand might start a new war but Prime Minister Peter Fraser (in San Francisco) was unhesitating. The New Zealanders moved in, there was a tense standoff for a few weeks, and then the Yugoslavs withdrew.

Cold War begins

In May 1946 Churchill, now in opposition, declared an ‘iron curtain’ had descended over Europe, placing much of Eastern Europe under Soviet control or influence. In 1947 open discord replaced collaboration, as the US and Britain on one side and the Soviet Union on the other jockeyed for power. When Greece looked likely to fall under communist rule, the US shored up the government. It also introduced the Marshall Plan to aid European economic recovery and edged communists out of the Italian and French governments. Conversely, the Soviets replaced elected Hungarian and Czech governments with communist regimes.

Spy network

In March 1946 the UK and the US signed an agreement to share intelligence material and not spy on each other (the UKUSA agreement). It formalised the ad-hoc sharing arrangements forged during the Second World War and was designed to better meet growing Cold War threats. New Zealand, Australia and Canada later signed the pact. The agreement survived the end of the Cold War and its details only became officially public in 2010.

Berlin blockade

In 1945 Germany had been divided into American, British, French and Soviet zones of occupation. The capital, Berlin, geographically in the Soviet zone, was also split four ways. In June 1948 the British, French and US zones formed an economic union in West Berlin. The Soviet Union, which controlled East Berlin, responded by blockading West Berlin, allegedly to starve it into submission. But the West was able to supply the city by air – including 473 sorties by New Zealand pilots – and the blockade was lifted the following May. The airlift was a successful demonstration of the United States’ containment strategy, which aimed at checking the Soviet Union by all means short (it hoped) of war. The state of affairs was described by Truman’s advisor Bernard Baruch as a ‘Cold War’. The term was popularised by Walter Lippman in a 1947 book.


Beyond Europe, 1949 to 1955

Middle East defence

The presence of large Soviet armies and the shattered state of European politics and economies suggested a third world war was inevitable. New Zealand reshaped its defence plans accordingly. The defence of Western Europe rested with the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance established in 1949, but Britain was also concerned with protecting its Middle Eastern oil extraction operations. As part of the British Middle East defence, New Zealand agreed to provide an infantry division and supporting air and naval units if a third world war broke out. After its peacetime demobilisation New Zealand’s regular forces were small and a division could not be operational without introducing compulsory military training (CMT). Many supporters of Peter Fraser’s Labour government opposed conscription – as had Fraser during the First World War – but a subsequent referendum endorsed the CMT proposal.

Won the battle, lost the war

Fraser and his defence chiefs were convinced of the need to build up the army to help Britain check any Soviet move into the Middle East (it had already been a struggle to get Soviet troops out of northern Iran in 1946). Alister McIntosh, the head of the Prime Minister’s Department, told him he would lose the election if he pushed for compulsory military training. The 1949 referendum was successful, although many Labour voters (silently) protested by abstaining. Fraser duly lost the election later that year.

Korean War

New Zealand’s only post-Second World War fighting, however, was in Asia. The communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949 was followed by communist North Korea invading US-aligned South Korea in 1950 (Korea had been divided into two states in 1948). The Korean peninsula became the scene of bitter fighting. New Zealand despatched two frigates and an artillery regiment to join the American-led, 16-nation United Nations force endeavouring to check and repel the North Korean invasion. The regiment fought throughout the war (1950–53), including playing an important part in the desperate battle of Kapyong, after which China and North Korea agreed to peace talks at Panmunjom.

ANZUS

Signed in 1951, the ANZUS treaty – a mutual defence pact between Australia, New Zealand and the United States – was a product of the Korean War and the US peace treaty with its former enemy, Japan. For the US it was a Cold War alliance to contain communist expansion; for Australia and New Zealand it was a guard against Japanese military resurgence.

Increasing instability

As the signs of post-war instability in South-East Asia multiplied, New Zealand’s Middle East-oriented defence strategy looked increasingly inappropriate. Asia was caught between the restored rule of the colonial powers, which had been weakened by their earlier defeat by the Japanese, and the demands of growing nationalist movements. China seemed to confirm communism as both the path to the future and the voice of this nationalism – something underlined in 1954 by the communist ousting of French colonial authority in North Vietnam.

It became clear that any threat New Zealand faced from the Cold War was in South-East Asia rather than the Middle East. Because both the US and the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons, the risk of a general war had receded, paradoxically, as neither side wanted the annihilation that was likely to result from nuclear war. The US wanted Australia and New Zealand to help ensure that what were called ‘brushfire’ wars in Asia did not escalate into devastating infernos.

Hungary revolts

New Zealand retained an interest in events in Europe, with many hoping the popular 1956 uprising against Hungary’s communist regime would succeed. When it was crushed by Soviet forces, New Zealand accepted around 1,000 Hungarian refugees.

SEATO and the Colombo Plan

In 1954 New Zealand was a founding member of SEATO (the South East Asia Treaty Organization), a defence pact designed to block further communist advances in the region. In 1955 it agreed to deploy forces in Malaya – but it was a more enthusiastic backer of the Colombo Plan. Created at the 1950 Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the plan sought to counter communism in Asia through economic and social development. The New Zealand government’s strong support highlighted its preference for non-military responses to Cold War challenges.


South-East Asia, 1955 to 1975

Malayan emergency

New Zealand’s new focus on the defence of South-East Asia was a major change of strategy and marked the second phase of its involvement in the Cold War. The immediate aim was to help stabilise the colonies of Malaya and Singapore, to allow Britain to hand over power to elected independent governments. New Zealand’s deployment on the Malayan peninsula helped defeat the communist guerrilla campaign (the ‘Emergency’) in 1960. It continued to engage in counter-insurgency measures until 1964. New Zealand forces stayed on in Singapore until 1989 as a sign of Western support for the region’s stability.

Moving forward

‘Forward Defence’ was the name given to the new strategy, aimed at keeping New Zealand secure by helping new nations like Malaysia and Singapore to emerge from the collapse of the colonial empires. Almost half of New Zealand’s small peacetime army was based continuously in those countries for 34 years, from 1955 to 1989.

Insurgencies

In hindsight, with competent governments established, the support for Malaysia (as it became in 1963) and Singapore seemed to have been brilliantly successful – although only a bold optimist would have said so in the early 1960s. It was by no means clear that either elected government would survive. Insurgencies were growing elsewhere, in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. In 1959 the North Vietnamese government had backed an insurgency to reunify the whole of Vietnam under its rule. By 1961 it was seriously threatening the American-supported southern government.

Berlin Wall

Also in 1961 the communist East German government built a wall around West Berlin to stop its citizens leaving for the West. The figurative ‘iron curtain’ between Eastern and Western Europe was now materially expressed in a 112-kilometre concrete wall. It soon became an emblem of the Cold War .

Playing dominoes

With newly decolonised governments in South-East Asia struggling to establish themselves amid internal dissent, a popular concept known as the domino theory suggested that as one fell to communism others would follow, like toppling dominoes. The theory was much disputed but Chinese leader Mao Zedong was alleged to have subscribed to it, predicting in 1964 that Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia would fall, one after another.

Two cold wars

Following a split between the Chinese and Soviet governments in 1963–64 – China did not want to be beholden to the Soviet Union – there were effectively two cold wars: one with the Soviet Union, centred on Europe and nuclear weapons but worldwide, and the other with China, centred on East and South-East Asia. China supported North Vietnam’s unification attempt. The US, influenced by the domino theory, intervened militarily to buttress South Vietnam in 1965.

Vietnam War

New Zealand, like Australia, welcomed the US intervention, hoping (though not confidently) that it would stabilise the northern end of South-East Asia as the Commonwealth effort had stabilised Malaysia. Urged by both the US and Australia, New Zealand agreed to provide an artillery unit of 120 men in 1965. The long (1959–1975) and tragic war ended in defeat for South Vietnam and the US, and triumph for the North Vietnamese forces. North Vietnam’s common border with China allowed plentiful supplies, and their cause raised the potent banner of national reunification. New Zealand’s small combat detachment was withdrawn at the end of 1971, along with almost all the remaining American forces.

A dove among hawks

New Zealand’s ANZUS commitments meant it felt obliged to make a military commitment to South Vietnam’s defence. The government, unconvinced of the chances of success, put off contributing until May 1965, when an artillery unit was sent. Further pressure from ANZUS allies led to the deployment of two infantry companies in 1966 and then small units of medical, navy and air-force personnel. In reference to this position, New Zealand was later described as ‘the most dovish of the hawks’.1

New stability

The US defeat had a surprising strategic outcome. Behind the wall of the decade-long American military effort, the rest of South-East Asia had undergone an unexpected change. The huge spending to support the war and the generous access for exports from Vietnam’s neighbours in American markets gave prosperity to the region’s economies and a new confidence to its governments. By the time Saigon (capital of South Vietnam) fell in 1975, the region to the south had been transformed. Its countries were politically stable and linked in the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) group, which brought a sense of community and significant investment. China’s attitude had also shifted after re-establishing relations with the US, and the death of Mao in 1976; it ended all but verbal support for South-East Asian insurgencies.

Footnotes
  1. Roberto Rabel, New Zealand and the Vietnam war: politics and diplomacy. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005, p. 351. Back

Questioning the Cold War, 1955 to 1985

Growing scepticism

The new stability in South-East Asia began a third phase in New Zealand’s outlook on the Cold War. With boundaries in South-East Asia settled, the focus of the long international struggle shifted away from the Pacific basin and therefore became less threatening in New Zealand eyes. This, and the anti-Vietnam War movement, encouraged a new scepticism about Cold War rhetoric and the need for active New Zealand participation.

The rise of non-alignment

This greater sense of detachment was partly a product of the growing influence of the non-aligned movement, led by India, Yugoslavia and Ghana, in the 1960s. The movement had been formed at the Bandung Conference (a meeting of Asian and African nations in 1955) and reflected the impatience of its members with the preoccupations of the Cold War. They wished to dissociate themselves from any part in the ideological contest, except when it could be exploited for their economic or military benefit.

The Soviet Union and the US found themselves bidding and manoeuvring for small and often temporary advantages among the non-aligned states. Because the lines had been settled in Europe and East Asia neither side could hope for major gains, although the use of client states (those supported by one side or the other) and the scuffling in unstable areas like Central America and Angola caused periodic alarm, as did the Soviet navy forays into the Pacific.

SALT

The first round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), between the United States and the Soviet Union, took place between 1969 and 1972. The countries agreed to limit the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems and to an interim reduction in intercontinental missiles. A second round (SALT II) took place from 1977 to 1979. It agreed to reduce all types of strategic missiles to 2,250 each and a ban on new missile programmes. However, it was never ratified by the US Senate because of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Limits of power

The Soviet Union could not compete economically with the US, but by focusing all its resources it could compete in military terms. With many countries standing apart in the non-aligned group, the broader ideological issues faded into a more straightforward power contest between the two ‘superpowers,’ as they came to be called.

The limits of direct confrontation became clear after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when, under the threat of war, the Soviet Union withdrew the missiles it had begun to install in Cuba. Thereafter, global public opinion criticised the increasing size and number of US and Soviet nuclear weapons. From 1969 the two superpowers began negotiations to overcome their distrust and reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, first through SALT I in 1971 and then in hopes of SALT II at the end of the decade. This period of increased cooperation became known as détente.

Growing anti-nuclearism

New Zealanders were among those questioning the idea that the cataclysmic potential of nuclear weapons was a deterrent to their actual use. The threat to the country’s safety seemed to come less from the overthrow of neighbouring states and more from Cold War rivalries and insecurities. The seemingly unstoppable growth of weapons raised the danger of the destruction of civilisation itself, even by accident. Nuclear-weapons testing in the Pacific – first by Britain and the US between 1957 and 1961, and then by France from 1963 – also sharpened New Zealanders’ aversion to nuclear weapons. This sentiment strengthened when fallout products such as strontium 90 were found in milk in New Zealand.

Over-exposed

The New Zealand frigates Pukaki and Rotoiti acted as weather ships during British nuclear bomb tests near Christmas Island (Kiritimati atoll, part of present-day Kiribati) in 1957–58. Sailors recall that during the blasts they could see the bones of their fingers through closed eyes. The ships then sailed through the site of the bomb explosion (ground zero), where crews were exposed to radioactive rain and drank radioactive water. Many later developed cancers that some medical experts have attributed to radiation poisoning.

South Pacific nuclear weapons-free zone

In 1974, in an attempt to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons, the Labour government called for the establishment of a South Pacific nuclear weapons-free zone. After lengthy negotiations a treaty was adopted by the South Pacific Forum in 1985, but because it did not cover the high seas or port visits it was more of a gesture than a constraint. Nevertheless it was a signal of a growing unease, in which anti-nuclearism was fusing with the post-Vietnam War distrust of alliance relationships. In 1987 the government passed anti-nuclear legislation, banning nuclear ships and weapons from New Zealand.


The last decade: the 1980s

Second cold war

The last decade of the Cold War saw a preoccupation less with ideology or territory than with the superpowers’ fear of one another. At the end of the 1970s the earlier hopes of ‘détente’ (cooperation) gave way to a period of renewed tension and arms competition, sometimes called the ‘second cold war’. It was marked by the appearance of ever-newer forms of nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union began to deploy missiles which threatened Europe the United States countered by deploying their own missiles to Europe. In the ensuing agitation, Moscow became convinced that Washington was planning a nuclear attack. It was the last major crisis of the Cold War before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan agreed on a major reduction in weapons stocks after a meeting at Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986. This changed the whole atmosphere of mutual suspicion.

Boycotting the games

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led Britain and the US to instigate a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic games. Robert Muldoon’s National government exerted strong pressure on New Zealand athletes not to attend. In the end only four athletes went and at the opening ceremony they marched behind a black flag with a silver fern rather than New Zealand’s official flag. None won any medals. The protest resulted in a ‘tit-for-tat’ Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games.

End of the world?

The alarm of the early 1980s, however, reverberated in New Zealand and heightened the concern about nuclear weapons. In those years the ‘doomsday clock’ of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which measures how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction, hovered constantly near the perilous midnight of nuclear extinction. Noted intellectuals regularly warned that this extinction was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. In 1987 the government commissioned a study into how New Zealand could survive a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere. In this climate there were vocal fears that association with the US in the ANZUS alliance might involve New Zealand in nuclear war.

ANZUS and nuclear weapons

The Vietnam War brought ANZUS into the public eye and, as disillusionment increased, the alliance was blamed for dragging New Zealand into foreign wars. New Zealand’s reluctant participation had in fact owed as much to the government’s desire to keep the Americans involved in South-East Asia as it did to ANZUS obligations. But as worries about South-East Asia faded, the alliance seemed both unnecessary and a possible future risk. Some argued that if New Zealand could not be non-aligned it might at least become ‘semi-aligned’. Opposition to nuclear weapons and doubts about American foreign policy came together in growing resistance to American naval visits.

Although polls showed most New Zealanders supported ANZUS, they also showed that most opposed the presence of nuclear-powered and -armed ships – and this carried the day. In 1985 David Lange’s Labour government declined the visit of an American destroyer, leading the US to downgrade its military and diplomatic ties with New Zealand. Following the passing of the 1987 nuclear-free act, the US formally suspended its security guarantee to New Zealand, effectively isolating it from the ANZUS alliance.

Lange’s complaint

David Lange complained to the Soviet ambassador about Soviet propaganda broadcasts. Moscow was said to be jubilant at Lange’s election. The London KGB residency was told that Moscow attached huge importance to organising European support for the decision to ban nuclear-armed US ships from New Zealand ports and for his anti-nuclear policies in general.

Soviet empire collapses

There were Cold War echoes in the dispute, and Lange had to rebuke Moscow for showing unseemly glee. But by then many thought the Cold War and its accompanying military alliances to be irrelevant and there was no move by succeeding governments to restore New Zealand’s role in ANZUS. The Soviet Union, exhausted by its efforts to remain a superpower, lost confidence in its own ideology. It abandoned its Eastern European empire in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was brought down, and collapsed itself in 1991. New Zealand, it was said, had simply got off the Western bus one stop before the terminus.


The Cold War at home

Communist party

The Cold War did not leave a marked imprint on New Zealand society. New Zealanders were largely tolerant of domestic communism except for a fairly brief period in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War’s uncertainties. New Zealand’s Communist Party, which had been established in 1921, gained support, as elsewhere in the West, from the crisis of capitalism in the 1930s and from the Soviet Union’s heroic effort in the war against Hitler. It never had success in elections, and after 1945 retreated from parliamentary politics to focus more on industrial agitation and influence in the trade-union movement.

Wharfies’ war

The 1951 waterfront dispute took place in a climate of Cold War mistrust. When employers declined to increase the pay of waterside workers (wharfies), the wharfies refused to work overtime, leading the employers to lock them out. The dispute caused havoc at the country’s ports. The government accused the wharfies of being militant communists who wanted to wreck New Zealand, and introduced draconian laws to undermine them. After 151 bitter days the wharfies were defeated and their union was forced to split into separate unions for each port.

Reds under the bed

The shift to behind-the-scenes influence, and the secretive tactics inherited from the Russian Bolsheviks and Lenin, raised fears of an internal threat to New Zealand from subversion aimed at overthrowing the elected government. During the Cold War communist-ruled countries feared capitalist spying and intrigue. This was matched in New Zealand and other Western countries by a renewed fear (it had existed before the Second World War) of hidden communist infiltration and conspiracies – the so-called ‘reds under the bed’. There was a striking parallel with that other great ideological divide, the religious divisions of Europe in the 16th century – the same pervasive fear of uncertain loyalties, of undeclared believers, betrayals and changes of side, and the same vigorous searches for those of suspect beliefs.

Enhancing national security

The alarm was not so much over the presence of known communists in some parts of the trade-union movement. It was a fear of undercover agents, encouraged by dramatic spy trials in the US and Britain. Parliament passed the Official Secrets Act 1951, and the Security Intelligence Service was established in 1956 to handle the task of vetting government workers who had access to sensitive material, and to carry out surveillance of those suspected of subversive activities.

Soviet spy or heritage spotter?

Bill Sutch was arrested in 1974 after police allegedly saw him hand a parcel to a KGB agent, Dimitri Razgovorov, outside a public toilet in Wellington’s Aro Street. Razgovorov passed the parcel to his driver, who sped off to the Soviet embassy. He then ran off down Aro Street but was chased down by an athletic SIS agent. A detective found Sutch standing in nearby Holloway Road. Asked what he was doing out so late on a rainy night, Sutch reportedly said that he was studying the area’s historic buildings.

Communist spies?

In this nervous climate the public service was influenced by McCarthyism (named after US Senator Joseph McCarthy, who campaigned against communists in the US government). There were no trials, but some Department of External Affairs employees were made to leave the department. Two or three others aroused more serious suspicions. Ian Milner, a New Zealander working for the Australian Department of External Affairs, took refuge in Prague, and Paddy Costello, a brilliant linguist and acknowledged Marxist, had to leave New Zealand’s embassy in Paris after passports were issued to two people later revealed to be Soviet spies. The only prosecution ever brought under the Official Secrets Act was in 1974, when Bill Sutch, a retired departmental head and long-standing government adviser, was tried, but acquitted, of passing secrets to Soviet representatives in Wellington.

Communist influence wanes

Outside the trade-union movement, the Communist Party’s influence, never large, went into a steady decline. The suppression by Soviet troops of the 1956 Hungarian revolt led a number of prominent members to leave the party. After 1966 the party’s influence was further diminished when it split into Soviet and Chinese factions. The Soviet-backed group was the Socialist Unity Party, led by Council of Trade Unions secretary Ken Douglas. It suffered an embarrassing blow in 1979 when the Soviet ambassador was intercepted passing funds to a party representative. The ambassador was expelled and Moscow responded by expelling the New Zealand ambassador.


Cold War legacies

Mixed legacy

The collapse of Soviet power in 1991 left a mixed legacy. The end of the oppressive and authoritarian Soviet system was widely welcomed, and the West saw this as confirmation of its own belief that market democracy was the only surviving model of the desirable state. The United States was left as the only superpower. The collapse left ravaged societies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which had split into a number of smaller states, and the end of Cold War restraints released a series of ethnic and civil wars, notably in Yugoslavia and the Caucusses.

UN-empowered

The United Nations was established in 1945 with the hope of settling great power disputes. However it was prevented by the veto (which allowed any of the five permanent UN members to veto a resolution) from playing a significant part in the main Cold War issues, such as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Korea was the exception. A brief Soviet boycott of the Security Council enabled a UN force to be despatched to defend South Korea. The end of the Cold War restored the UN to something like its original concept but the veto still prevented consistent action.

Asia

In Asia the Cold War had already faded, and the only visible effect of the Soviet collapse was the disappearance of the Russian navy from the Pacific. The four communist governments in Asia – China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea – survived because they were at least as nationalist as they were Marxist. National consciousness in Eastern Europe had never been reconciled to Russian-imposed communism. China and Vietnam maintained a formal Marxism but relied on their national identity and economic growth for legitimacy. Even that strange remnant of an earlier era, North Korea, portrayed itself as the upholder of true Korean nationalism and became the only communist state to have hereditary leadership succession.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the end of the Cold War confirmed a ‘semi-aligned’ status which continued to be wary of the US while remaining firmly Western in its outlook. At home, powers of state surveillance (and people's distrust of such activities) had been strengthened by the demands of the Cold War. Most people were relieved that the conflict and its dangers were finally over.

Baby, you’re so cold

In 1955 legendary New Zealand country singer Tex Morton recorded with Sister Dorrie and his Roughriders a song featuring Cold War references. Titled ‘This cold war with you’, it included the lines ‘The sun goes down and leaves me sad and blue. The iron curtain falls on this cold war with you.’ It was not one of Morton’s greatest hits.

Cultural legacy

Compared with the turbulent first half of the 20th century, the Cold War could be called the ‘long peace’, because intermittent fear of war is not actually war. Perhaps because of this, it left little trace on the arts. New Zealand poets, painters and musicians were more concerned with the nuclear threat than with the Cold War itself. New Zealander Rewi Alley, a long-time resident of China and one of Beijing’s official ‘foreign friends’, wrote voluminous poetry, which was periodically published in New Zealand, but which was political rather than literary. Possibly the principal international artistic achievement inspired by the Cold War was a splendid sequence of spy novels concerned with the technical skills and moral ambiguities of the long struggle.


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How to cite this page: Gerald Hensley, 'Cold War', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/cold-war/print (accessed 21 July 2019)

Story by Gerald Hensley, published 20 Jun 2012