A few readers have asked me to send them the remarks I made at our Independence Day receptions this year, so I thought I’d just go ahead and reprint the short speech here. I tend to speak from bullet-point notes rather than full drafts, so what follows is my best recollection of what I said in Wellington, which was thereafter slightly customized for Auckland and Christchurch. Please pardon any spelling errors in my Te Reo Māori and Hawaiian. I tend not to write out my mihi, so the spelling below is my best phonetic approximation.
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E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, katoa. E nga tini mate, haere, haere, moe mai ra. Kia ora, huihui tatou katoa.
In the languages of two of the hundreds of first nations of the territory of the United States of America: Aloha, aloha, aloha pumehana kako’o and talofa lava.
Honorable Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, other Members of Parliament, former Prime Minister Bolger, their Worships Mayors Wade-Brown and Rowan, colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, Commander Admiral Swift of the U.S. 7th Fleet, other distinguished guests, friends all:
Welcome to our 4th of July celebration, again scheduled in June so that you are not out of town on your winter vacations when we pour the whiskey and toast the Revolution. Thank you for taking time to join us to commemorate the 237th anniversary of American Independence.
It was on July 4, 1776 that 56 farmers, merchants, brewers, lawyers, and educators representing the 13 American colonies ratified a Declaration of Independence from the British Empire, boldly asserting, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Those words launched a great experiment, a turbulent, fascinating, complex, messy, uplifting work-in-perpetual-progress. It is the American impulse to wrestle continuously and publicly with the failings and imperfections in our own society and our own government, to work continuously to forge a more perfect union.
That impulse makes the United States an easy target because we Americans tend to air our disagreements and dirty laundry in public for all to see, for all to critique, and for all to exploit. That poses challenges and emboldens scoundrels, but it was the clear intention of our Founders and remains one of the greatest strengths of our society and our national character, which we celebrate on this, our national day.
Now, because this will likely be my final Independence Day as Ambassador, I considered finally delivering traditional national day remarks laced with trade statistics and lists of official visits. But, as you will see over the next 7 minutes, I veered off the road again.
Why? Because the power of the American narrative is not based on the quantity of product we produce or the amount of money we make. It’s much deeper than that. And the strength and promise of the relationship between New Zealand and the United States is not based on how many widgets we sell each other or how many times our senior officials meet and greet each other. It’s much deeper and more durable than that.
Our bonds, our strengths, and indeed our characters are best reflected not in statistics but in the common values we demonstrate, the aspirations we share, and the heroes we embrace. At times, I think it all boils down to five special strands of societal DNA that we Americans and Kiwis largely share, often reflected most clearly and honestly in the marketplace of popular culture.
There is the SPIDER-MAN gene … the ordinary everyman or everywoman, focused on the work and drama of daily life … conflicted, often misunderstood … seeking to be left alone … but stepping forward reluctantly when events so require … exemplified by American icons such as Paul Revere, Rosa Parks, and the great Billie Jean King, who was a reluctant but powerful feminist and lesbian symbol when all she really wanted to do was play tennis.
There is IRON MAN … alter ego of entrepreneur-scientist-technologist Tony Stark … brash, individualistic, iconoclastic … challenging convention and his own evolving moral compass … a futurist who believes that science and technology can and will save the world … exemplified by American icons such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, who is a direct-action force of nature for clean energy, greener transport, and citizen space exploration.
And WONDER WOMAN … advocate for equality, inclusiveness, and fairness … fearless outsider competing successfully against established elites … pushing boundaries and changing the terms of societal discourse … exemplified by great Americans such as Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Oprah Winfrey, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a tireless advocate for human rights in the United States and around the world.
This year we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mrs. Roosevelt’s courageous island-hopping mission through the Pacific at the height of World War II, which brought her here to New Zealand for a week in September 1943.
There is the BATMAN … the Dark Knight … clear-eyed about the nature of evil in the world … iron-willed, unflinching agent of justice … fighter for order and union amidst chaos … often operating in shadows… reviled self-righteously by many who in fact rely on him to preserve their safety and comfort … exemplified by many whose names we’ll never know, as well as by great icons such as Abraham Lincoln, who created modern America by pulling a collapsing nation out of civil war and moral decay by using the tools within his grasp.
And of course, SUPERMAN … the undocumented immigrant child who grew to personify better than anyone the values of his adopted country … inspirational symbol of hope, light, and the potential for greatness in all of us … the Man of Steel in the face of adversity or injustice … able eventually to overcome great obstacles and put things right … exemplified by larger-than-life Americans such as George Washington, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Neil Armstrong, and of course Martin Luther King, Jr., the defining icon of the civil rights movement who moved a nation through the force of his words.
None of these superheroes – real or fictional – is or was perfect. They are flawed, very human characters who made mistakes – sometimes quite serious ones – but who maintained a values-based internal compass, eventually self-corrected when they strayed, and through their actions accomplished immense good in the world.
That, in my view, is a fair summation of the American character and the American Nation that we celebrate on this, our Independence Day.
In conclusion, I would like to deliver a lightning-fast synopsis of the more traditional remarks that I first attempted to write. Here goes, in 30 seconds:
Again this year, I am delighted to assert – without fear of overstatement or contradiction – that the U.S.-N.Z. relationship is as deep, broad, and strong as at any time since the mid 1940s. Bedrock people-to-people contacts are extensive and continue to expand. Our economic engagement is prodigious and accelerating, especially when measured in 21st (not 19th) Century terms. Our governments are working closely together on a wide range of strategic and scientific issues of utmost importance to planet Earth. And, yes, our senior officials meet with great frequency, and with genuine warmth and enthusiasm.
In fact, as we celebrate this October the 175th anniversary of American diplomatic engagement in the territory now known as New Zealand, I would suggest, based on ample evidence, that bilateral relations have indeed entered a second – and more mature – golden era. Please see my blog – www.DavidHuebner.com – for dozens of examples of what I mean, including stories of every-day heroes making a difference in the relationship between our two societies.
Which brings me back to where I started.
Perhaps the wisest summation of heroism, literal or figurative, that I have heard was offered by George R. Martin, New Jersey-born creator of the popular Game of Thrones. He stated (and I’m paraphrasing):
“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results. But it is the effort that’s heroic. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
So, I would like to offer a toast from one nation of dreamers and fighters of the good fight, to another nation of dreamers and fighters of the good fight: “To the People of New Zealand, to the representatives whom the People of New Zealand in their wisdom anoint from time to time as their humble servants, and to Her Majesty, the Queen of New Zealand.” Cheers.
Kati ake i konei, mata atua kotou e manaaki.