I was nine, so I don’t remember the details - although I know them now. I do remember the grownups gathered around the TV. I remember images - but they could have been seen years later. I remember the anti-French feeling that lasted for years. I remember the anger at the denial of involvement.
On the 10th of July, 1985, French secret service agents boarded the Rainbow Warrior, berthed in Auckland, NZ, and planted two mines. The claimed intent was for the first mine to go off causing the crew to evacuate, and then the second would go and sink the boat - but crew returned to the stricken boat to film the damage, and photographer Fernando Pereira drowned when the second mine went off.
This was an act of government sponsored terrorism. The kind of event that if it had happened on US soil would have been considered justification for a war - or at least a stand-off. NZ police arrested two of the French agents and they were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, wilful damage, and murder. They pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and served 2 years of a 10 year sentence. Having originally decried the attak as an act of terrorism, and denied any involvement, the French government was exposed as responsible for sending the agents to NZ to destroy the Rainbow Warrior. France then threatened an economic embargo of NZ’s exposrts to the EEC if their agents were not released - so much for the French Embassy declaring that “the French Government does not deal with its opponents in such ways”.*
But what I remember is the local cultural embargo on French goods: wine, cheese, perfume. Even the ill-feeling about having to take French lessons at school - for me that was 4 or 5 years later. I remember the ‘Ban the Bomb’ posters and t’shirts.
Why did France feel the need to destroy a civilian ship? The Rainbow Warrior was - and is - a symbol of peace, and a symbol of protest against warfare and environmental destruction. The Rainbow Warrior was the Greenpeace flagship and Greenpeace had been openly opposing French nuclear testing on the Pacific island Mururoa Atoll. Not only were they testing a weapon of mass destruction, they were damaging the atoll, the waters, and the people who lived on nearby islands and caught fish from nearby waters. New Zealanders generally, were already out of love with nuclear weapons, and opposed testing in the Pacific - by France, Britain & the USA - the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior reinforced and bolstered these beliefs. The lack of international support condemnation of France had it’s affect too. Two years later the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 made the territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand nuclear-free zones, reinforcing the 1984 ban on nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using New Zealand ports or entering New Zealand waters.
Relations between NZ and France are now good. Time heals many hurts. But still, we should remember.
*Via Wikipedia, their source: Diary Compiled by Mike Andrews (Secretary of the Dargaville Maritime Museum)