All you “liberal do-gooders” in the “ivory towers of our universities” and “public sector” can relax, if only momentarily. Despite what this headline suggests, New Zealand First leader, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, is not having a go at “treaty mumbo jumbo and political correctness”. This time it’s Ben Affleck’s turn for ‘six of the best’ from Uncle Winston. Like many New Zealanders, Peters was aggrieved at Affleck’s portrayal/misrepresentation of the actions of New Zealand diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80 in his Academy Award winning film, Argo. This suggests that US embassy staff were turned away by British and New Zealand embassies before being taken in by the Canadian embassy. Affleck has acknowledged that the portrayal is unfair and in return offers up his love for New Zealand. Not content with platitudes from a US film-star (Peters is no John Key), he thus tabled a motion in the New Zealand Parliament calling for “the factual and historic record to be corrected” and stressed that “our courageous New Zealand diplomats’ inspirational actions were of significant help to the American hostages”. The motion was unanimously endorsed.
Lee Schatz, one of the former US diplomats referred to (and featured in the film) echoed Peters’ sentiments. The Kiwis, he says, brought beers for Christmas.
Maureen Campbell-White, one of the New Zealand embassy workers in Tehran at the time has broken 34 years of silence to likewise set the record straight. According to her, New Zealand’s then ambassador, Chris Beeby, actually ferried four Americans hiding under blankets in his car from Maureen’s house into the New Zealand Embassy. He then later drove two of them to the Canadian ambassador’s residence where it was considered safer. Says Maureen, “The acting might be good, the film might be good, but the content is inaccurate. I just think it’s a great pity because that will probably go down in history as what happened.”
The power of the archive might yet prevail, though. As a result of the Argo fallout, a notebook-diary that belonged to the late New Zealand diplomat Richard Sewell has been donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library, which is part of the National Library. Sewell’s partner, who donated the diary, explained that it “completely contradicts the movie’s version of events” and thus should be in the public domain.