Slater slams history. At least the discussion of it

A fascinating bit of reporting on our history draws out one particular hater and a bit of nonsense. But the topic itself is an intriguing debate

It's laughable, even a bit pathetic really. But then that's Whale Oil for you. And I've always been of the belief that if you put a story out there to stimulate some discussion, you should be willing to be part of that discussion.

On The Nation this weekend we ran a fascinating Phil Vine story on memorials from New Zealand's past that raise questions in a present where values and social mores are significantly different. It was prompted by the #RhodesMustFall campaign that started in South Africa last year and generated huge controversy around the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University.

It's an intriguing discussion that's taking place around the world about how we view our history, what part new generations play in re-writing the stories of the events that formed this country and how we learn from our past. It asked a lot of questions but, contrary to the WhaleOil nonsense, left the conclusions to the viewer.

Phil spoke to three historians about the questions the Rhodes campaign prompted and pulled together a well-considered piece.

A couple of historical figures were mentioned, notably Sir George Grey and Marmaduke Nixon. Historians Damon Salesa (Grey) and Jock Phillips (Nixon) said historical views of these once heroes are changing and they now stand accused of genocide. Now that's a heck of a word, but a) there are certainly arguments about degrees of genocide and b) it's the word chosen by two respected historians. You may agree or disagree, but it's important to keep debating our past and these are two of the best men in the country to be part of such a debate.

Now Cameron Slater is accusing the programme of wanting to re-write history, accusing the programme of dishonesty and me personally of wanting statues pulled down.

Of course most of what he's written is nonsense, as are most of the comments under his post, clearly mostly from people who haven't viewed the track. That's sad really; the commenters accuse the track and those in it of revisionism, failure to place the events in historical context and more. All of which are plain wrong, due to Slater's wrong-headed post.

Slater has a bit of a rant about everyone knowing this history, which is patently untrue. He may be quite the history buff, but no-one Phil spoke to around Otahuhu knew about Nixon's statue that stands in their midst and the pivotal attack at Rangiaowhia, where old men and women were killed. He says the programme is dishonest and asks if I'll be asking for statues of Margaret Thatcher to be pulled down because of alleged war crimes in the Falklands War.

No, Cameron, I won't.

But I think it's great if New Zealanders take a closer look at the monuments they walk or drive past every day and ask if the deeds, events and people remembered there are worthy of the honour. That's the intent of a story such as this. To prompt some thought about issues that might otherwise not be discussed.

Neither Phillips nor Salesa advocated statues coming down; they said quite the opposite, despite Slater's dishonest attempt to suggest otherwise. For the record, I'd be strongly opposed to what I'd consider an attempt to white-wash history. I'm more open-minded (though unconvinced) about adding plaques to give more details about the people or events being commemorated. I mean, why should that generation alone have the only say on the rights and wrongs of what happened?

On the other hand, where do you stop? Does each generation add a plaque as our views of history twist and turn? How do we remember those who were once honoured but now provoke horror? It's an important discussion.

But Slater isn't interested in honest discussion or intelligent current affairs. It's personal. He'd rather sit at his computer and bash out bile in the hope it strikes a mark somewhere. As I said at the start, pathetic really.

I and The Nation are a target because we've covered his deeds in the past, especially his attempt to procure a hack on The Standard website, covered in this story. Now that was a special investigation.

So this attack is just bitterness and an attempt to slur me and the people I work with because he has a grudge. I know that, he knows that, I thought you should know that.

But with any luck his blog may make a few of the less closed-minded souls who read it click on the link and look at a really good bit of current affairs reporting. Oh, and by the way, the photo he's used in his blog and labelled as that of Nixon, is clearly labelled as a memorial to soldiers who died in World War One. Who knows, it may be beside the distinctive pinnacle-topped memorial to Nixon, but it sure ain't the one Phil was talking about.

To paraphrase Slater, we really do need better bloggers in this country.