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I write my own public remarks because I don’t feel comfortable simply reading other folks’ work. The most meaningful words, I believe, come from the heart not from a committee, which is why I also usually speak from bullet points rather than polished scripts. All of my speeches over the past four years were great fun (and often hard work) to craft, and it is difficult picking a favorite. Among the special ones that seemed to write themselves was my superhero-themed Fourth of July address this year, which I transcribed for my blog a couple days later.

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July 6, 2013

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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Speaking at the Independence Day event in Wellington.

Beginning my Independence Day remarks …

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.”

The Founders prepare to sign the Declaration in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Founders prepare to sign the Declaration in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

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.

One of the reasons we celebrate.

One of the reasons we celebrate.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

President Obama and Prime Minister Key in the Oval Office.

President Obama and Prime Minister Key in the Oval Office.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton with Prime Minister John Key during a media conference after the signing of the Wellington Declaration.

Former Secretary Clinton with Prime Minister Key in the Beehive.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a successful visit to Wellington.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins greets Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the tarmac in Wellington.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta being welcomed at Government House in Auckland.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is welcomed at Government House in Auckland.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaking to students at Auckland University.

Attorney General Eric Holder engages with future Kiwi leaders in Auckland.

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.

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Since yesterday was Human Rights Day, I thought I’d do another short post about Eleanor Roosevelt. A few months ago I wrote about her 1943 visit to New Zealand at the height of the Pacific war and republished several of her “My Day” columns as part of our celebration of the 70th anniversary of that iconic and important trip.

Mrs. Roosevelt addresses the people of NZ by radio shortly after landing.

Mrs. Roosevelt addresses the people of NZ by radio shortly after landing.

In addition to writing her daily newspaper columns, Eleanor kept an extensive diary of her thoughts, activities, and travels. I am very grateful to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum for making available to the Embassy portions of the diary that talked about her time in New Zealand.

Even more than her columns, the diary reflects how deeply Eleanor’s time in New Zealand impressed and intrigued her. She wrote fondly of the people she met and was particularly beguiled and fascinated by Maori culture. She greatly enjoyed her visit to Rotorua, where famous guide Rangitiara (Rangi) Dennan escorted her around the mud pools and geysers of Whakarewarewa.

Rangitiara Dennan guides Mrs. Roosevelt around Whakarewarewa.

Rangitiara Dennan with Mrs. Roosevelt at Whakarewarewa.

I reprint below a few short, light extracts from Eleanor‘s diary, starting with a couple of entries made while she was in Rotorua:

Rotorua was an interesting experience. The leading citizen, Princess Te Puea, met us. The head guide Rangi was at hand to escort us around the Maori area. She wanted to greet me in accordance with their custom and asked my permission which of course I gave. The meaning of this greeting is that you touch foreheads and intellect speaks to intellect. … [Rangi] is really quite a brilliant woman and really quite witty and said some things that interested me very much and made us all laugh.  The park is somewhat like our Yellowstone in miniature and has geysers and hot and cold springs.” 

The First Lady is greeted by Rangitiaria Dennan.

The First Lady is greeted by Rangitiaria Dennan.

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote warmly and casually about customs, practices, and parts of conversations that impressed her or otherwise caught her attention. For example:

“One area [of Whakarewarewa] is used by the people for their cooking. They have their own ‘holes’ in which they put their pots, and I remarked that they were very trusting and I wondered of no one ever stole from any else. Whereupon Rangi looked at me and said, ‘Our children are taught never to steal,’ which make me feel there was something we could learn from the Maori. She gave me an interesting mask and a skirt made out of flax and took me to her home which was quite delightful and modern in every way.”

A geyser at Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa.

A geyser at Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa.

The First Lady expressed gratitude for the care and friendship that the people of New Zealand were showing U.S. servicemen and women stationed here during the war:

“In the evening they put on a dance for us and sang some of the Maori songs. It was very colorful occasion and I can quite well understand how much our troops have enjoyed being entertained by them. The Maoris invited them in groups of 300 or more, fed them, gave them a place to rest in the council hall, and entertained them on Sundays from the first landing in New Zealand. I am sure that they are a great many of our boys who will go home with a real sense of gratitude for the hospitality these people have shown.”

Visiting a farm.

Visiting a farm.

Finally for today, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about the important role Maori women played in the war effort and their central role in communities in New Zealand:

“Many of the Maori women work in factories and on farms throughout New Zealand, and they are strong and healthy. They have little charms which they give their men when they go off to war, and the [belief] is that they will return as long as they keep this charm. I obtained several of these little charms, and they will be pretty trinkets to give to people whom one hopes very much to see again.”

Eleanor visits women workers at Dominion Physical Laboratories in Wellington.

Eleanor visiting women workers at Dominion Physical Laboratories in Wellington.

Located in Hyde Park, New York, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum was America’s first Presidential library, and it retains the distinction of being the only one actually used by a President while still in office. Conceived and built under the President’s direction and opened to the public in 1941, the Library sits on an estate called Springwood, which was President Roosevelt’s birthplace and lifelong home.

In accordance with the wishes of both the President and First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt’s enormous collection of papers was added to the holdings of the Library after she died in 1962. The result is a vast treasure trove that fosters, as the Library’s website suggests in understated fashion, “research and education on the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and their continuing impact on contemporary life.”

The Roosevelts are buried together in a simple tomb in Springwood’s rose garden.

The Roosevelts are buried together in a simple tomb in Springwood’s rose garden.

Now commonly established by former Presidents, Presidential Libraries preserve the leader’s personal and family papers, other archival documents, and career-related artifacts to give the public a deeper sense of the person, his or her actions, and the times in which he or she lived. The Libraries are an important part of the American legacy, which is why they are open to the public.

When you are next in New York, please consider a day trip up to Hyde Park to visit beautiful Springwood and its historic home, important library and museum, and moving memorial to the towering and profoundly relevant lives of Franklin and Eleanor. The site is about a 90-minute drive north of New York City, or you can take the train to Poughkeepsie and then avail yourself of the free National Park Service shuttle from the station.

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Sixty-five years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by the Human Rights Commission established two years earlier out of concern for the tens of millions of victims of World War II. The Commission was chaired by the great Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was the driving force behind the Declaration.

A passionate advocate for human and civil rights, Eleanor skillfully moved the lengthy drafting process forward, debating delegates who opposed the articulation of “individual” rights and jousting over details on occasion with her own State Department colleagues. At midnight on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly voted 48-0 to adopt the Declaration, with eight abstentions (largely the USSR and its communist allies). When the voting ended, the delegates gave Eleanor a standing ovation.

Two years later the General Assembly proclaimed December 10th as Human Rights Day to bring to the attention “of the peoples of the world” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Unfortunately, decades later there are governments who still dismiss human rights as inconsequential, as well as others who avert their eyes from the human rights violations of wealthy patrons.

Today some governments arrest activists or even outlaw civil society groups, imprison citizens for 140-character messages on social media, or oppress members of religious minorities, sometimes even turning a blind eye to sectarian violence. Such actions are not only wrong but short-sighted, running contrary to evidence that the most stable and prosperous nations have vibrant civil societies, respect for freedom of expression accompanied by the fluid exchange of ideas, and minorities who are valued and included within the larger community.

As I have discussed a few times before, civil society organizations are natural part of any dynamic, healthy society. In many parts of the world civil society actors are driving the discussion on critical issues such as women’s empowerment, democracy, youth engagement, freedom of expression, the environment, economic empowerment, and the human rights of LGBT persons. Although they can – and should – occasionally annoy governments, civil society organizations are partners, not adversaries.

The United States has benefited immeasurably from its vibrant and engaged civil society. Our experiences and those of dozens of other nations provide great examples of how government and civil society can work together toward common goals. We hope that as more governments come to understand the benefits of working with civil society, fewer governments will try to restrict the activities of civil society groups.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights commits States to protect freedom of expression “through any media.” Yet some governments are so threatened by a tweet that they imprison their own citizens, sometimes for years, pursuant to overly broad statutes criminalizing acts such as blasphemy, repeating rumors, criticizing government officials, or causing insult. Such imprisonment is contrary to freedom of expression however one defines that term. And some governments seek to wall off their citizens from the rest of the world by regulating informational content or requiring computer servers to be located inside their national boundaries.

Religious liberty is inextricably linked to freedom of expression, and protection of both rights is essential in the face of continued calls to ban speech that supposedly “defames” religion. We have seen that governments that protect the rights of every individual of every faith to practice their beliefs without favor or preference, or to practice no belief at all, enjoy stable and tolerant societies. It is in the interests of governments everywhere to protect religious freedom equally for all and to ensure that those who claim religion as justification for criminal acts do not walk away with impunity.

Much of this might seem moot or abstract to those of us living in stable, democratic societies. But Eleanor knew better: “In each generation and in each country there must be a continuation of the struggle, and new steps forward must be taken” because human rights “is preeminently a field in which to stand still is to retreat.”

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After New Zealand, Eleanor Roosevelt’s epic wartime expedition took her to Australia, New Caledonia, Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, and Wallis and Christmas Island. She finally departed for home on September 19, 1943, arriving in San Francisco on the 23rd. The five-week mission did great good in the field, but it also deeply affected Mrs. Roosevelt. As she wrote shortly thereafter, “The Pacific trip  left a mark from which I will never be free.”

Eleanor certainly treasured her time in New Zealand. On the day she departed Auckland she wrote that “one cannot leave such a charming country without the hope that in some future happier days, one may return.” Although she did not have the opportunity visit again, she mentioned New Zealand many times in her My Day column over the subsequent two decades until her death. To cap our celebration of the 70th anniversary of her visit, I reprint below two of the later columns that I particularly enjoyed.

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Eleanor Roosevelt in Australia, 1943. Credit:   John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Curtin Family. Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt on a visit to Australia, September 1943. JCPML00376/88.

Eleanor Roosevelt.

OCTOBER 6, 1943

I have been here in Hyde Park the past few days and have written and sent off my report on American Red Cross activities in the South-west Pacific to Mr. Norman Davis, Chairman of the American Red Cross. Of course, I could not see all the work which is being done. Still, in every place, I saw as many of the Red Cross workers as possible and all the different types of work which are being carried on, so that I have a very comprehensive picture of the whole field covered by Red Cross activities.

I have also written one article since I have been here. Even though I have had time to enjoy long walks and rides through the woods, it has not been a wholly free time, because the mail in itself is taking a good many hours daily.

Many people are hungry for even a scrap of news from the part of the world where those whom they love have spent many months, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that has been mine to see conditions and activities which are of interest to so many individuals. Over and over again on this trip, I wished I could be the mother, wife or sweetheart whom the boy really longed to see. Since that was not possible, I hope that someone who came from home, who often knew and could remember something about the particular place that was home to him, brought the people and the country which he loves a little nearer.

The hospitality which many families in New Zealand and Australia have extended to our boys is something for which we women here are very grateful. I brought home some letters which a Red Cross worker in one of our hospitals in New Zealand gave me, because I knew families in this country would be glad to see how wholeheartedly their boys had been taken into the family life and what wonderful ambassadors they have proved to be. I quote from only one today, but I shall quote from several more in future columns.

“May I say how much we enjoyed having your men? They were the finest ‘ambassadors’ that America could have sent to any part of this country. Each hostess thought her boys the best, and we have adopted them into our families. We have never had greater joys in our Red Cross experience and feel that we have been highly honored in having these men.”

- E.R.

(Copyright 1943 by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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MAY 2, 1947

The other day, I received from Sir Carl Berendsen a most beautiful wooden case made by disabled veterans of New Zealand. Of every variety of New Zealand wood, it contains three drawers. In one of them there was a bound collection of photographs taken during my visit to New Zealand a few years ago. In the second drawer, there was a bound collection of newspaper clippings, and in the third, a volume of clippings which appeared at the time of my husband’s death.

I spent quite a little while looking over the photographs and remembering the very beautiful New Zealand countryside. How courageous and independent her people are, and how well her men and women alike stood up under the sacrifices of the war!

New Zealand is largely an agricultural country. I remember how amused I was to see cows wearing coats in the fields. Women left alone during the war ran these large dairy and sheep farms without any help, for men were just not to be found. There is very little great wealth in New Zealand but, as far as I could see, no great poverty, either.

Hunting and fishing are popular sports. I was amused to have it pointed out to me that, though some of their trout had come from the United States, the transplanting had done wonders and the trout were now many times larger than they were in their original habitat.

There must be hundreds of young American men who spent some time in New Zealand during the war. And I am sure that none of them will ever forget the kindness and hospitality shown them by people who were harassed by troubles but who nevertheless found time to show their gratitude to us by being kind to our men stationed there.

It was Prime Minister Peter Fraser’s kind thought in sending me the wooden cabinet that has led to all of these reminiscences. I hope he will be pleased that, because of their historical value, I am putting the cabinet and the bound volumes it contains into the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, where future students can examine them.

- E.R.

(Copyright 1947 by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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Mrs. Roosevelt continued to write her My Day column six days a week until shortly before her death in November 1962. To the very end of her life she continued to speak — and act — on issues and causes of importance to her. She lived her core philosophy with great passion and energy: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

She was a warm, smart, engaging, independent, collaborative, authentic, very human force of nature, and her 1943 visit to New Zealand is part of the foundation on which the close relationship between our two societies is built. We would do well to remember what her very American life, her very global work, and her very simple but courageous trip stood — and still stand — for.

I cede the last word to Mrs. Ynys Fraser of Rotorua, who met Mrs. Roosevelt here in 1943. I think Eleanor would have treasured as the highest of compliments Ynys’ brief evaluation of the First Lady: ”She had that ability to give you everything at that moment. She was a very gracious lady.”

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