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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Brushtail Graphics

The New Order changeth

30 September 1999

But I am just an ordinary man. An ordinary man like you, and an ordinary man like me.

B. J. Habibe.

There are warm spring breezes in Werrong Lane now, but chilly winds are blowing down the corridors of the weird bunker-like thing that is Parliament House in Canberra and among the armed forces buildings on Russell Hill, and also through the halls of power in Jakarta.

On Saturday night I went down to the cafe and watched the news on the TV behind the bar. Thousands of Indonesian soldiers were streaming out of Dili, jeered by the locals, who had strung East Timorese flags over the road. In Jakarta, after a violent riot by tens of thousands of enraged students, President Habibe had suspended a draconian emergency powers law just passed by the outgoing Suharto-era parliament. The TNI and the Javanese elite were in deep trouble, and the much-hyped anti-Australian backlash amounted to a tiny TNI-sponsored rally by what looked like the Islamic Trailbike Riders' Association or a mob of embittered St George supporters.

The old order is dying. It was known, globally, as The New World Order and officially in Indonesia -- where it dawned early, in 1965 -- as the New Order of General Suharto. Not many international powerbrokers drop in on the general these days and once-faithful allies like Time magazine accuse him of looting something like $40 billion from the Indonesian people.

The Javanese elites seem genuinely bewildered by the events of the last months. They thought they could rely on their friends in Canberra and on the Australian media, but they were suddenly stampeded by a bit of bad press, a couple of street demonstrations and some TV about people being chopped up with machetes. In the salons of Jakarta they're asking: don't these piss-weak bastards know how you dealt with this 'public opinion' nonsense?

In Canberra too, there is a sense of things suddenly flying out of their natural place in the firmament. The political 'realities' on which political and bureaucratic careers have been built, ever since the sixties, are suddenly wasting into living skeletons, dying, and crumbing into dust.

Dozens of senior figures in the diplomatic service, the "intelligence community" and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade -- people who operated an obsequious collaboration with the Jakarta regime -- are suddenly finding their phone calls aren't being returned. Nobody laughs at their jokes in committee meetings and their subordinates are becoming insubordinate. Politicians who used to ring for advice are calling some left-wing academic once regarded as a nutty loser, or Jose Ramos Horta, or even Xanana Gusmao, whose mobile rings almost constantly.

The next step is the purge. In other places (like Jakarta), and in nastier times, yesterday's bureaucrats would have been quietly shot and the files culled to remove their names, but this is Australia, so it is done differently. Many will retire early, to Batemans Bay, citing "medical" or "family" reasons, and others will shuffle off to write self-published memoirs, breed dobermans, or make meticulous little plastic dioramas of German Panzertruppen storming through the ruins of Stalingrad.

And it isn't just bureaucrats. A whole generation of senior Australian journalists -- the chorus boys of the pro-Suharto choir -- are trampling each other down in the rush to adjusting their positions, cover their tracks, or even totally re-invent themselves. Others, like Mike Carlton (who thinks he's one of us) are covering their arse, just in case things go wrong, and making fatuous comparisons with Vietnam.

The big wheels of history are turning and many who are big men today will be very ordinary little people tomorrow.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.