OPINION: While we Kiwis gloried in the achievements of our Olympic team at the weekend, the terrible reality of New Zealand's deployment in Afghanistan struck home.
The killing of two of our soldiers, Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, has lost us the talents of dedicated young men, cast their families into mourning and shocked the nation.
It is the personal loss that hurts most. We are so small a society that deaths of the type in Afghanistan are deeply felt across the community. It revives the memories almost all families have of loved ones sacrificed to the wars in which New Zealand has participated generation after generation, and we are reminded that our young ones still face a world that can cost them their lives.
For Defence Force families, that is a reality they can never remove from their minds. For all the camaraderie, skills, character-building and productive careers that the services provide, death in action is a constant possibility. For, whatever the seeming safety in peace-keeping and patrolling, maintenance and planning, fighting is the force's prime purpose and New Zealand cannot escape that truth.
We maintain our prosperity and identity by engaging with the world - a world that is not always benign. It sometimes requires us to stand up for our values and the values we share with our friends regarding violent conflicts, as exemplified by Afghanistan.
New Zealand entered that war to rid a far-away nation of a terrorist domination whose threatening tentacles reached around the globe, and we have stayed there to ensure that the threat does not return.
The critics say the mission has failed and entangles us with a self-serving coterie of militant nations.
The failure has still to be shown, even if the withdrawal of Nato forces and their allies, such as New Zealand, from Afghanistan plunges that nation into full-scale civil war. Fighting will continue there, but the forces of the repressive strand of Islam now have a good chance of being repulsed - a chance that would not exist had the Nato mission not laid the foundations for a moderate Islamic state.
As to New Zealand's closer involvement with the military networks of the West, it is to its advantage. The exclusion from that association, which followed our anti-nuclear legislation, pushed us too far into isolation. The position in which we found ourselves interested the world, but excluded us from the councils of states that shared our values and bought our goods.
The New Zealand deployment in Afghanistan has not happened along with the revoking of the anti-nuclear legislation, but has eased our way back into productive association with old allies. In a world corroding with small but nasty conflicts, this lets New Zealand better protect its interests.
We are far from placing ourselves in a minority camp. Fifty nations have contributed to the Afghan deployment and many more want a moderate government to survive there. New Zealand, in other words, is a member of a majority coalition determined to uphold values that allow a decent life for Afghans and all people.
The deaths of seven New Zealanders in that struggle are terrible and need to be honoured, but they are the result of a necessary struggle.
For New Zealand, it will end next year in a withdrawal planned with its allies. They deserve our staying the course, as does the sacrifice of the brave men who have died to give Afghanistan the best chance of a civilised existence.
- The Press