Friday, September 05, 2014

Nuclear weapons and the very strange story of the death of Fernando Pereira

On March 1, 1985 New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange appeared in the Oxford Union debate, arguing "nuclear weapons are morally indefensible". This was a very big deal for us in New Zealand.  It wasn't just the fact that a lot of kiwis really did care about banning nuclear weapons and French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific, or the fact that our country's pride was on the line. As the linked article indicates in its introduction to the speech, "briefly, we seemed to matter", which refers to the (deeply silly in my view) tendency to desperately want to be noticed by the big and important countries on the world stage.  Fortunately from our point of view, Lange won the debate. It's tempting to ask now, how could he ever lose, such was his immense wit and booming voice? The transcript really cannot do justice to the way Lange performed his speech, deploying his considerable oratorical talents. Thus the audio recording is where the real action is to be had; the period from 10:00 to 12:15 contains two of the funniest moments.

Five months after Lange's debate win, on July 10, 1985 in Auckland, New Zealand, the photographer Fernando Pereira drowned while attempting to rescue his photography equipment from the Greenpeace vessel the Rainbow Warrior. He died because of a terrorist attack on the ship by French intelligence agents. France was determined to stop Greenpeace led protests against its nuclear weapons testing at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls, which France had been conducting for almost 20 years. It was the second bomb that killed Pereira. I very much like the recollection of events shared by French expatriate Henri Astier.

One of the French agents apprehended by New Zealand police was Commander Alain Mafart. He is now known as Alain Mafart-Renodier. In a strange twist to the story, he is clearly an excellent wildlife photographer.

In a rather unfortunate mistake, one of Mafart-Renodier's images has ended up in Greenpeace USA's 2015 calendar. Greenpeace USA state they will make a replacement calendar for next year, featuring some of Pereira's photos.

I've always admired Greenpeace. I don't know Mr. Mafart-Renodier. It would be nice to speak with him one day, to hear this thoughts after all this time. He might be a nice guy -- I have no idea. Probably he has already been paid by the company that put together the calendar. I admit, yes, I'm curious as to what he decided to do with the payment.