everything there is a season
was quiet and cool in Werrong Lane on Sunday Morning. Sunlight crept
slowly down the wall and the skirl of bagpipes drifted in on a light
breeze. A couple of elderly ex-servicemen walked past on their way to
the Anzac Day march, with their rows of medals jingling.
mornings are normally quite chummy in the Brushtail Café, but
the Balkan war and the East Timor killings had everybody in a state
of moody confusion. They had felt the juggernaut of history creaking
towards them. And then the computer games came to life in the Denver
was different in the old days, I thought, as the sunshine finally warmed
my fur. Then, there was a mass gun culture of highly organised state-sanctioned
violence. It was called 'National Service' and the 'School Cadet Corps'
and 'universal compulsory military training' and 'Citizen Military Forces'
and the 'Reserves' and something like it existed in most countries.
There was no mystery and little glamour in guns when most 'men of military
age' could recite the stripping order for the Bren gun. Automatic weapons
were just something that everybody did.
we live in an age of professional armies. The old citizen-as-soldier
faded away long ago. Fighting unpopular wars with conscript armies is
a very risky business. Small professional armies are more biddable.
Vietnam war was really the last hurrah of the old-style armies, at least
in the advanced countries. The 19th century rhetoric of 'blood' and
'race' and 'national honour' stunk in most people's nostrils by then.
The democracy of the big capitalist nations was never under real threat
and only a few dingbats rushed eagerly to the flag for a holy war against
'communism' -- especially as it might have gone nuclear.
with the years of relative peace after Vietnam a new cult of fantasy
violence sprang up -- a twisted reflection of the new professional culture.
are two complementary threads to this thing. The first is the professional
fixer and killer. He might be a small-team commando, the judge-and-jury
cop, the weapons specialist. And as if that wasn't bad enough there
is also its darker undercurrent: the lone avenger. This is the Rambo
culture and a couple of generations have been raised on it. It's a right-wing
victim culture of the "little man", abandoned and betrayed.
This stuff has been drummed into the kiddies by countless movies and
computer games -- a world of winners and losers. If you're a loser,
a nobody, you can become a winner and a somebody. You can adjust the
bottom line in a welter of gore. It is a whole industry and a few people
have made a lot of money out of it.
it to the old-time war movies. They are all about highly disciplined
group violence and the subjugation of the individual to the needs of
the nation. They didn't show blood splattering everywhere and entrails
spilling out, but these movies reflected the social reality of war --
for good or ill.
nine, Joadja took a break from the bar and brought out a couple of coffees
and the papers.
on earth are we going to do about this ghastly business in East Timor?"
she asked, as if she already knew the answer.
fundamental problem is that the Indonesian ruling elite -- which is
to say the Javanese ruling elite -- doesn't want to get out. Put yourself
in their Gucci loafers. They know if they give up East Timor they'll
have to give up West Irian and maybe other parts of their little empire.
know the Fretilin fighters -- a serious guerilla outfit -- are waiting
out in the weeds with maybe three or four hundred rifles. Years of operations
by the Indonesian army have failed to wipe them out. Inevitably, the
majority of East Timorese would vote for independence, so there's one
last chance -- create chaos and terror -- cow the independence activists
and their supporters with a wave of violence.
if they can stop a plebiscite until after the Indonesia elections in
July, the new-wave Javanese nationalists of Megawati Sukarnoputri will
certainly get in and they're pledged to hold onto East Timor."
then the ABC news came on and we mentally stood to attention and listened
to it in silence. John Howard was speaking at the Anzac day march in
Melbourne, urging us all to remember that East Timor had been part of
Indonesia for 25 years. He had to govern in the interests of Australia,
that's a clear enough signal", Jo remarked, "I can see a massive
betrayal coming here. There'll be no act of free choice in East Timor.
We're going to hand the East Timorese back to the Jakarta Mafia".
went back to the bar, but I hunkered down at the table. The far-away
sound of bagpipes came and went, reaching the ears like the faint smell
of cat piss reaches the nose from the far corners of the lane.
was swilled the dregs around the coffee-cup when suddenly the mobile
Nick. It's Tommy", a familiar voice said. "How are you my
stumbled out a reply about warm sunlight and good coffee. How the hell
did the bastard get my number?
am here in Jakarta drinking a Bintang in the sunshine also", the
voice said, "I have just heard on the radio your Tuan Howard. It
is a disgusting thing he does. He is giving ABRI a free hand to slaughter
Fretilin. Are you willing to help us stop the bastards?"
scribbled some notes on the napkin.
For Nick Possum's adventures in Indonesia see 'Operation