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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Emperor Bush and the lifestyle wars

1 March 2003

In the Malibu Munchees Café at Crescent Head, Joadja and I met an American surfie who claimed he’d known Miranda Devine when she was gossip columnist on the Boston Herald. The drought had broken a couple of days earlier and a fine, steady drizzle settled from the grey turbulent sky.

“Pretty girl, but man, it was like standing next to an active volcano. Almost anything could set her off -- a fat woman walking by, a bunch of cyclists, a couple of young lefties with a bookstall. Suddenly, ka-boom, she’d go into a ranting fit.

“I never could figure out whether she was trying to work through some sort of personal anger thing or if it was something, intellectual. It was too much to handle. Bad Karma, man.”

Mayonnaise from my vegie burger dribbled onto the Sydney Morning Herald’s opinion page which was dominated by Ms Devine’s latest concoction of sweeping insults and pro-war slogans.

“Well, Miranda’s different to Paddy McGuinness or Piers Ackerman. They’re old cynics who once counted themselves as lefties. They know that what they’re writing is formulaic bullying crap. They’re like human sheepdogs: they keep the herd moving whichever way the master wants. If you can come at it, it’s a very good living indeed: Piers probably makes over two hundred grand a year and they say Paddy gets a quarter of a million for just one column a week.

“But I reckon poor Miranda actually believes her stuff. Unlike the others, she was born into the right-wing commentariat -- her dad was the resident ranter on The Australian, so she just grew up with it and she’s genuinely outraged that lots of people don’t agree with her”.

A huge refrigerated truck, bound for the supermarket, rolled slowly past, followed by a line of people-movers and 4WD urban assault vehicles. Talk turned to George W. Bush and the forthcoming invasion of Iraq.

“When Bush arrogantly says that the American way of life is non-negotiable, he’s tapping into a real vein of fear”, I remarked. “He’s selling the war as a struggle to preserve the gas-guzzling car, the sprawling air-conditioned suburb, the car-based shopping mall, centrally heated houses, fruits and vegies out of season, cheap chicken for every second meal. It’s an unsustainable economy based on cheap Third World labour and cheap oil. Without these things it’ll collapse.”

“Yeah, but if cheap oil comes at the price of an expensive war and a long military occupation of Iraq and probably the rest of the Gulf, how cheap can it be? Where’s the advantage in it?” Joadja asked.

“True, but what if the rule of the ruling elite is utterly dependent on something they can’t change? That’s the lesson of slavery in the Roman Empire” the surfie said. Suddenly he sounded less like a New Age Californian and more like a historian or perhaps a sociologist.

“Slavery was never the dominant economic form in the ancient Mediterranean world. Most people made their living from the small family farm, or as small traders or artisans. But it was different with the ruling elite -- the Roman patricians. They derived their fortunes, their comfortable lives, the leisure time that enabled them to dominate politics, the military, administration and the law from their huge slave holdings.

“At first, the slaves were obtained by military conquest. Almost for free, the patrician class got young, trained, able-bodied people. They were an economic windfall for the elites who got productive workers without the need to raise or educate them, or pay them decent wages to raise new generations of workers. These slaves powered their broad-acre farms and manufactories.

“But then the Roman Empire expanded too far to go on expanding further and the flow of slaves captured in territorial conquest slowed to a trickle.

“Without a constant influx of new slaves, the ruling elite was forced to breed their own and then the economic rot set in. If you have to breed and educate your own slaves they become more expensive and less competitive with the small business using family labour.

“Meanwhile hostile ‘barbarians’ pressed constantly on the Empire’s long borders and subject peoples were often resentful and restive. Defence and security expenditures soared.

“A vicious cycle set in. In order to maintain their privileged lifestyle and the expensive professional armies and infrastructure of empire, the patrician elites were forced to levy increasingly heavy taxes on the non-slave plebeian majority who then had less and less reason to loyally support their rulers against the barbarians. Eventually the whole rotten structure slowly collapsed.”

“So where do you think things will go from here?” Jo asked.

“Bush has opted for massive increases in defence expenditure. If he’s going to fight wars to defend the American empire, he’s got little choice over that. The US economy is in real trouble and ordinary folk are already restive and disaffected. Unemployment is high. At first, I reckon Bush will try to placate working class Americans with cheap petrol, cheaper imported products, easy loans and tax cuts, which means exploitation of the Third World labour force will have to increase. That’ll lead to more opposition to America, which will mean more punitive expeditions, wars, occupations. If Bush doesn’t go down that road he’ll have to raise taxes and increase exploitation at home: a sure-fire recipe for trouble, my friend.”

“And there’ll be more conflict with France, Germany and Russia?”

“That too.”

But you can’t waste a holiday fretting over a grim scenario so Jo and I took our leave and went on a long stroll down the beach, in the rain.