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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Heroic Howard stabbed in the back
A new myth is born

1 October 2007

I’m almost scared to be confident”, Joadja said “But it does look like Howard is in real trouble. The underlying poll numbers are shocking for him. And now there’s this story that somebody in the government is behind the gay cabinet minister allegations”.

Old Possum, Jo and I were sitting around in Jo’s garden, a minor miracle of ferns and native wildflowers she’d crafted out of our little backyard bordering Werrong Lane.

“Yeah, he’s in trouble all right”, Old remarked, taking another sip from his cider. “But just when it’s needed, a new social myth is being born. You see, if all goes wrong, it’s important that Howard is preserved in the conservative pantheon as a hero who never lost a battle … except when he was betrayed by people on his own side.

“The Sydney Morning Herald’s resident populist weirdo, Paul ‘Magic Water’ Sheehan – always ahead of the game in such matters – led off with a piece a couple of weeks ago which he accused Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of blundering and two conveniently unnamed senior government figures of treachery against the Prime Minister. And then Miranda Devine, another Howard trustee, citing unidentified informants, followed three days later by confirming there’d been a ‘private meeting of ministers’ in Sydney for APEC and naming Malcolm Turnbull as a plotter against Howard.”

“So why is she scapegoating Turnbull?” asked Jo. “He’s a capitalist and a merchant banker – should be just her type.”

“I’ve been doing a bit of snooping in Liberal Party circles and I’d say it’s because he’s an outsider and a latecomer”, I said. “Not only is he a man who might have joined the Labor Party if circumstances had been slightly different, but he was also a leading light in the republican movement and you don’t really want them in the party do you?

“On the face of it, Sheehan’s story is pretty fantastic. Imagine the scene as he tells it: Howard called Downer in and asked him to sound out cabinet members’view of the government’s chances at the forthcoming elections and the electorate’s attitude to his leadership. Instead of, presumably, privately sidling up to the cabinet one by one, Downer bungled by calling an actual meeting to canvass opinions and inviting ‘two opportunists’ which gave the unnamed plotters (who must be cabinet members) a chance to move against Howard and leak news of the crisis to Sky Media.

“To accept this yarn we’d have to believe that Howard, who’s worked with Downer for a couple of decades and knows he’s a prat, wouldn’t have either called meeting himself – surely the obvious option – or told Downer exactly how he wanted him to proceed and who to invite.”

“Or for that matter, we’d have to accept that Downer would be quite so silly as to have even considered sneaking around to interview cabinet members one-by-one, which would have opened him up to the charge that he was plotting a coup.”

“Indeed. And Sheehan and Devine’s information, if true, could only have come straight from Howard or somebody on his staff”.

“The motive here is pretty clear”, Old said. “With the polls showing the Liberal Government in desperate trouble, it’s important for the right’s ideologues to have an excuse for its electoral failure other than that it was voted out because a majority rejected its policies or simply believed it was ‘time for a change’”.

“So what happens if the government scrapes back again?”

“Then Howard will have ‘triumphed against terrible odds’, making him an even more heroic figure, but in that case, won’t matter much that the story was obvious mythologising. The allegations of bungling and treachery will become just another piece of media blather wrapping the garbage. Ah, but if the government falls, the accusations by Sheehan and Devine suddenly become seen in retrospect as of great prescience, and the far-right ideologues will embroider the fateful prophecy further.

“What it puts me in mind of is the original ‘stab in the back’ myth of 1918.”

“You mean about why the Kaiser’s army was defeated in World War One?”

“That’s the one. According to the myth, Germany’s armies would have won, but they were betrayed by the socialists, trade unionists, Roman Catholics and Jews at home. It was absolute nonsense, of course. Over four years, Germany had been fought to a standstill on the battlefield, it was economically isolated by the allied blockade, fuel was desperately short, the population was starving and the US had finally entered the war, pouring in almost half a million fresh troops. No matter how much Germany mobilized its population and maximised its war effort it was outclassed by the combined population and industry of its opponents.

“All the bellicose nationalist illusions that had originally united the German people had been shattered. The old order was totally discredited, but of course, the forces of reaction just couldn’t admit that. They had to have an explanation, an excuse. The excuse was the ‘stab in the back’ and it became a catchcry of the right-wing Freikorps militias and later an essential element of Nazi propaganda.”