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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When Push comes to shove

13 April 2000

"I've figured it out about Paddy McGuinness. He's a sort of defence counsel for backwardness, the attorney for atavism, a Rumpole for the reactionaries", Joadja said.

It was Sunday morning and we were walking across the park. The grass was emerald green after the rain and the unexpected return of blue skies had lifted our spirits.

"I can just see him now, gowned, bewigged, and in high dudgeon", she laughed. "'Ladies and gentlemen of the jury! My clients, the Prime Minister and Senator Herron are just simple people; poor defenceless men, striving to do right according to their beliefs. And it is not just my clients who are being persecuted! The prosecution are putting on trial here generations of officials of Church and State who took Aboriginal children from their mothers! How dare they criticise the actions and even the motives of these fine men!' rave, rave, blah, blah.

"And His Honour looks wearily over the top of his bifocals and thinks: 'Oh, spare us the moral outrage bit, Paddy' 'cos he's heard this performance before, when McGuinness QC appeared in the Court of Public Opinion for the Japanese whalers and Helen Demidenko and the tobacco industry and other cases so numerous he's forgotten."

Joadja was spot on. I'd been searching for the right metaphor for ages, but Jo had hit on it. To understand Paddy you've got to understand the Sydney Push and the philosophy called contrarianism. The Push was a rooting club, pseudo-intellectual drinking circle and philosophical talk shop and that flourished in Sydney from just after World War II to the late sixties. In hindsight it was mainly a support network for desperados and bullshit artists who were waiting for well-paid careers as apologists for the prevailing order.

They called themselves libertarians. Some talked out of the left side of their mouth and some out of the right, but when you get down to it, contrarianism was the most lasting intellectual product of the Push. It is a philosophy tailor-made for professional ideological provocateurs or "controversialists" as they are called in the industry.

"Paddy is a self-admitted contrarian", I said "He studies what the left or the 'do-gooders' of the professional middle classes are saying and advocates the opposite. There's a steady market for that. But I ask myself this: where would our bold contrarian have stood in some of the great political punch-ups of history?

"Slavery in the USA for example: the earliest, most principled and consistent advocates of abolition were people almost tailor-made for Paddy's wrath and contempt. They were earnest middle class do-gooders and bleeding hearts -- eastern state liberals. Mostly, they believed that negroes were just humans like them, but without the education and advantages -- an outlandish notion at the time. When there was no option but to take up the gun against slavery, they stepped forward and died in droves. And then there's the Dreyfus Affair."

"You mean the French artillery officer who was falsely accused of selling military secrets to the Germans? He was a bourgeois and a Jew wasn't he?"

"Yep. He came from German-occupied Alsace. He was convicted in 1894. His conviction was almost universally accepted at the time, but the struggle to overturn the verdict tore French politics apart from 1897 to 1899.

"The thing is, lefties and middle class do-gooders were the earliest to rally to the defence of Dreyfus. He would have rotted on Devils Island till he died if it hadn't been for them. A contrarian columnist would certainly have turned on them with a vengence. And look at the anti-Dreyfusards: boy! ideologically, they weren't a million miles from the present-day Quadrant crowd! They were a motley collection of ultra-conservative poets, literary wankers, Catholic reactionaries, monarchists, right-wing nationalists, and embittered ideologues."

"And anti-Semites", Jo said.

"Well, there don't seem to be any declared anti-Semites hanging around at Quadrant, but remember the Demidenko-Darville Affair. Anybody who pointed out that The Hand that Signed the Paper was based on anti-Semitic myths got flogged by the Quadrant crowd. They were suppressing free speech, the argument went."

But it was much too splendid a day to dwell on these things so we fell silent and strolled on towards the city.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 2000

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.