From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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The fear of living dangerously

10 February 2000

Werrong Lane baked in a dry heat on Saturday morning, but I was in Joadja's garden. It is a narrow space, a sanctuary of cool stillness, cut off from the neighbours and the lane by high brick walls.

It was a good place to hole up with the papers and a six-pack of cider. Sunlight filtered through the woolybutt, dappling the ferns and fragmenting the brick paving with shifting pools of light. There was the sound of water trickling into the pond and the steady, hollow, bock, bock, bock of a brown-striped marsh frog calling from the water's edge like some distant, tired, drummer.

I dozed off for a few minutes but I was woken by the insistent buzzing of the mobile phone. I groped for it under the papers and pressed the button.

A familiar voice said "Good morning Tuan Possum, it is I, Tommy, calling from Jakarta".

"When I hear from you, it always means trouble", I said. "What's really happening up there?"

"I fear we are having a creeping coup. It is the Javanese way of doing things. My comrades are very worried. Already an Achinese MP has been murdered and the puppetmasters are creating more of their 'militias' in West Papua. It is led by thugs of the type like Mr Guterres of Timor. A few MPs or workers' leaders will be found murdered, nobody will be caught, but everybody will know it is TNI. There will be some official stories that it is done by mysterious leftists or Christians or separatists or even Muslim militants."

I thought the edge on his voice would strip the fur off my ears.

"And each killing, each ethnic massacre, is part of a dialogue. The TNI puppetmasters are saying: you will do what we want, because we can turn this stuff on and off just as we like."

"And old Wahid?" I asked.

"He is only a nice old cleric -- cosmopolitan, well educated. But unless he takes part of the army with him, what real power does he have? He threatens to expose the soldiers and businessman who are formenting communal strife, but so far he hasn't named them and he doesn't bring them to justice. Look at Wiranto -- after the Timor report came out it was most politely suggested he should resign but still he is there. And even if we could find a court with the guts to find him guilty for Timor, Wahid says he would pardon him, and even Suharto too. Does this suggest a man with real power?"

"What about the threats by the US and the IMF -- the risk of foreign capital being cut off? The media here is making much of that."

"What a joke. That is unlikely to frighten TNI because they know that whatever they do, the US and Japan and the others need them to maintain order and protect their investments. Perhaps they would go through a brief time of -- do you say? -- unrespectibility, but they know they would not long be boycotted and they do not care about suspensions of military assistance and those things. We are not facing invasion by anybody and TNI is a police army -- they are already equipped well enough for the dirty work they do."

He went on: "It is all feudal politics, all patronage and influence. It will stay always with us while we have such big differences of wealth and power. It is so easy here, while millions are so poor, to find people who will murder whoever they are told. While the rulers try to keep a Javanese empire, while we rule so many others, we can never be free."

"Megawati Sukarnoputri?"

"To put faith in her would be a great mistake. She is just another nationalist ruler. There is not much difference between them. Some learned to talk out of the left side of the mouth and some out of the right. Megawati talks mainly out of the left. Even now the Muslim leaders are trying to make sure she never succeeds Wahid. But I must not talk longer, it is too dangerous."

"Look after yourself Comrade. Have a Bintang on me", I said. And he hung up.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 2000

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