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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A spin doctors’ summit

1 October 2003

It had been a depressing week. The weather continued dry, bright and gusty with no sign of rain --bad news for possums and the Rural Fire Service. Phil Koperberg hates this sort of weather and so do I. Our finely-tuned nervous systems get frazzled by the ceaseless stimulation when howling westerly winds shake Sydney.

So I shut the blinds and hunkered down in my office. I was wondering when I’d get a call from Paul Barry wanting me to locate Bondy or Phil K, looking for some help with arsonists, when I heard the postie’s motorbike and went downstairs to get the mail. There were a couple of bills and a small padded postpak. Inside it was a mini cassette tape wrapped in an anonymous laser-printed note.

Your last piece in the Hub was spot-on. That little jerk Howard is really worried now, and here’s the proof. This meeting was a couple of weeks ago. He hasn’t had a spin doctor summit like this since the one he convened in May ’01.

Ah yes, I thought, that one was disguised as a “lunch of opinion leaders” at the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, but it was really a strategy session for the Federal elections later that year. Howard got Professor Flint to pull the gang together. Paddy McGuinness and Paul Sheehan from the Sydney Morning Herald were there with Christopher Pearson from the Fin Review, silly old John Stone, Michael Duffy from the Tele, Michael “Popinjay” Warby and Greg Lindsay from the neo-conservative Centre for Independent Studies.

I popped the tape into my player. At the start there was the sound of cutlery on bone china and mumbled conversation, then a knife tapped on the side of a crystal wineglass and the chatter dropped off.

“I suppose you’re wondering why the PM asked you all to attend today …”

“No, we’re not, Peter”, said a voice that had Paul Sheehan’s prissy, pedantic air.

“The political situation has gone pear-shaped”, Peter (whoever he was) continued. “The PM’s afraid we’re going to have to send more troops to Iraq. George Bush went down like a lead balloon at the UN, and nobody’s promised him any more troops, so we think he’ll ask John for a battalion or two.

“Your mission -- should you chose to accept it -- is to prepare the public for the worst [polite chuckles].

“Now, Miranda -- congratulations on your appointment to the Board of The Catholic Weekly, by the way -- we’re gonna need your soccer-mum-from-hell routine to whip the aspirationals into line. Real shrill attack-dog stuff -- rousing, patriotic: something about the left stabbing our heroic troops in the back.”

“But I thought the line was that we didn’t even admit we had any troops in Iraq”, a voice that sounded a lot like Miranda Devine’s replied. “I got a rap over the knuckles last time I wrote something about them. Nobody told me the PM wanted to go quiet about the commitment.”

“Well, he won’t be able to avoid it now, sweetie. Gerard Henderson, we need your measured, churchillian, shtick. Remember, your job is to bring over those doubting, worried, dissident Liberal voters, so use your Irish Catholic, republican, credentials for all they’re worth. You gotta make it look like sending more troops is just business as usual.”

“Now Paddy, (I do hope we’re not interrupting your second helping) we know you only do one column a week these days, but you’re going to have to make every one of them as confusionist as possible. Accuse the opponents of the war of intolerance in debate -- say they’re bullying the PM. Tell ’em the opponents are café latte stalinoid elites out of step with real Australians.”

“I could write that in my sleep.”

“I know, trouble is, people are starting to say you’re dreaming.”

“Paul, I don’t like to see you typecast, but how about you weave some of that Sheehan magic about Muslim backwardness plus a bit of scaremongering about falling dominoes. It worked a treat back in the sixties, before Vietnam. How about: Indonesia is a huge, hostile, Muslim nation poised to our north. How about you start off with a real tearjerker like: how Aussies aren’t quitters, they always stand by their American mates, how we’ll need them to stand by us when the little yellow men come south.

Paul: “Righto, I could lead off in Saturday’s Herald. Alan Ramsay is on hols, so they’ve given me his spot.”

“And if the punters don’t seem to get the connection between Indonesia and Iraq, stir in something about lazy violent Lebs: welfare-dependent, clogging the courts, over-represented in the prisons. Don’t worry about people calling you an ethnocentric Irish Catholic racist, just follow up with a nice feelgood piece about multicultural school kiddies, or Magic Water sales, or something.”

“Hey, I know the gig, I’m on the job.”

Peter: “Well, thanks folks. I know I’m probably telling you how to suck eggs. The PM knows it’ll be a difficult sell, but, as always, he appreciates your support and he’ll be looking forward to reading your stuff”.

And there the tape ended.