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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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An Olympic bed-time story

22 June 2000

Malcolm Fraser famously said he wanted to put sport back on the front pages. He got his wish, but I doubt it's made him happy. Cricket, it seems, hasn't been cricket for a long time, and then there's the sports drug problem. The Olympics are shaping up to be the Fear and Loathing games.

"It says here the doctor in charge of ensuring American athletes are drug-free has resigned in disgust. Reckons the US Olympic Committee deliberately encourages the use of drugs", Joadja said, as we sat round the café.

"The Olympic thing has been horribly corrupted by the profit motive and nationalism", I muttered.

"Speaking of which", said Old Possum, "I re-read the Leni Riefenstahl story the other day."

"Wasn't she the Nazi film director?" Jo asked.

"Tell us an Olympic story, Uncle Possum", I said.

"Well, it's a story with a complex moral. She was a thoroughly modern gel, but apolitical and ferociously ambitious", Old said, "Started as a dancer, then got into film. In Germany, after the First World War, they were pioneering adventure movies -- mountaineering, skiing, exploration -- completely non-political, with fanciful story lines.

"Her first role was in 1926 -- The Holy Mountain. It got rave reviews, but even then, alarm bells rang. At least one German paper reckoned it was propaganda for a super race and noble blondness.

"Anyway, her career takes off, and after a few movies she goes to the 1928 Winter Olympics in St Moritz. She's completely taken in: the drama, the beautiful bodies, the parades, the mystique. She decides she wants to make her own films.

"The first is an art-house thing called The Blue Light. Everybody hates the script except Bela Balazs, who's a Marxist screenwriter. He helps her develop it, and it's a minor triumph. Proves she's bloody good.

"In 1932, while she's promoting it, everybody's talking about Adolph Hitler. Her anti-Nazi friend, Ernst Jaeger, urges her to go and hear the loony for herself and she does, and gets sucked in. Like any ambitious careerist, she bluffs her way in to see him and he tells her how much he admires her work and ..."

"And then she's on the slippery slope", I said. Old possum took another sip of cider before going on.

"The Nazis come to power and Hitler asks her to make 'documentaries'. The result was the notorious Triumph of the Will, about the Nazi Party Congress at Nuremberg -- a brilliant apotheosis of Hitler.

"By now she's Hitler's favourite director and she makes Olympia, the 1936 Berlin Olympics doco. The Games are a propaganda triumph, but Germany doesn't win too many medals and there's the embarrassing fact of the black American, Jessie Owens, winning gold. Olympia premiers on Hitler's birthday. Like the games, it's a triumph. It wins the Reich Film Prize and the Grand Prix at Venice. It grabs the Mussolini Cup, pushing out Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

"Riefenstahl goes to America on tour and, a few days after she arrives, the news of Kristallnacht -- the night of the broken glass -- bursts on the world. Olympia is boycotted and the media turns against her. The tour is a disaster and her secretary, Ernst Jaeger, whose wife is Jewish, decides to stay in the States."

"So what happened to her after that?" Joaja asked.

"Germany invades Poland, she goes in as a reporter, and a couple of days after she arrives, she witnesses a massacre of civilians. She's horrified, flees to Austria, works on a couple of non-political films and tries to stay out of it all.

"After the war, half her friends dob her in as a Nazi insider. She survives the subsequent trials, but nobody forgets that she prostituted her art in a pact with the devil. She never seems to have been a racist, or specifically an anti-semite. In fact some Nazis accused her of being part-Jewish herself. She paid the price for being an apolitical careerist.

"And you know, the funny thing is, it would only have taken an accident of history and she might have gone to Hollywood with Marlene Dietrich, stepped right out of the Nazi milieu, and ended up making docos for the US Army."

"She'd be dead now?" I asked

"No, I don't think so. Last seen making dive movies and taking classy pics of naked Nubas in the Sudan."