A quip that put New Zealand on the world stage

11 December 2019

Gas Mask“I can smell the uranium on your breath!”

It was just a quip in a spirited debate, but it was one that put New Zealand firmly on the world stage.

The year was 1985. For months, pressure had been building on New Zealand to accept that we needed nuclear weapons as part of our military arsenal.

Enter David Lange, the 32nd Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Against all diplomatic advice, Lange accepted an invitation to argue in the Oxford Union debate. The topic was “Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible”. Lange was arguing in the affirmative.

Lange was a gifted orator. His quick wit, dry humour and clever retorts easily outclassed his opponent. His now-famous quip, “I can smell the uranium on your breath!” made headlines around the world.

It was a gutsy move. Stating our country’s position so boldly, risked trade sanctions and political backlash from many other countries, including - most significantly, the United States.

However, it also showed that we were a country to be reckoned with. We were prepared to stand up for what we believed in.

 

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