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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The fart of darkness

23 September 1999

"You know it really enrages me, listening to those murdering bastards from the Javanese ruling elite. To hear them tell it, their fucking 'sensitivities' have been upset over East Timor. And then they go on with this thin bullshit about a 'complex situation', where they were just doing their best to handle backward and unruly people who were fighting among themselves", said Joadja.

"Every bunch of exploiters in history have hidden behind gibberish like that, and in the last resort, behind cheap hired killers. They always say that if they were left alone they'd solve the problem in their own way, in their own time. They always claim that outsiders are interfering and making things inconvenient", Old Possum replied.

We were in a taxi, heading back to the city along Victoria Road in the chilly evening gloom.

"It's pretty rich, isn't it, coming from a bunch of rulers whose repression of trade unionists, students and intellectuals is legendary. These people sell their country to the global market on the basis of a subservient workforce, ultra-low wages and 'strong government'. Stick up your head to complain about your lot in Habibe's Indonesia and you're likely to end up in a windowless cell with a bowl of rice-water soup, a shit-stained blanket and a plastic bucket -- if the cops don't put a bullet in your brain and chuck your body in the river before you arrive", I said.

"So why did Howard do it?" Jo asked, "What's that bastard got to gain out of standing up to the Indonesian generals? -- after all, he was quite happy with the relationship until a month ago."

"Nothing at all", Old Possum replied, "Except political survival. It's all lousy choices for his mob. The participants have their best intentions, but there's also a lot of chance in history ... lots of bad luck ... things just spin out of control. Howard's first bit of rotten luck was Habibe shooting his mouth off, saying that maybe the best thing for Indonesia would be if East Timor got its independence."

"Right. So after 25 years of loyally endorsing Indonesia's right to rule East Timor, Australia could hardly be seen to support less than that, and the agreement to hold a ballot followed", I said.

The taxi driver put the pedal to the metal and managed to get through the Balmain Road lights before they went green.

I clutched the seatbelt in terror, but Joadja just picked up where I'd left off: "And then, naturally, since they were our quote unquote friends, and we helped train them, Howard ignored the warnings and hoped the TNI would behave with honour and keep order while the ballot was held. Big mistake. The bastards had a well organised plan -- the militia thing -- and they ran amok. But then things went wrong for the military -- after 25 years of bastardry the Timorese hated their guts so much they wouldn't be intimidated and they stood up to be counted."

"Which is where the massive power of instantaneous electronic communications came in", I said. "Neither the Indonesian generals, nor what you could call the Keatingite Appeasement Party in Australia -- and that includes Howard -- were prepared for the shock waves of evidence that followed, and they swept over ordinary decent Australians like a tsunami. There was no denying the horror, the horror. The Javanese elite were seen to be just brutal colonialists like the Dutch they'd displaced. To have failed to do something in the face of that evidence would have branded a man, and a party -- forever -- as utterly dishonourable. It would have been political suicide".

Old Possum sighed. "You're right. History might have played out differently if the ABC had covered -- live-to-air -- the Nazis when they marched the German leftists and trade unionists off to the first concentration camp in 1933, or the Japanese army when they murdered and looted their way through Nanking in 1937, or Stalin's Moscow trials; people would have woken up earlier."

We rocketed on towards the Glebe Island Bridge, passing the Paddy balloon -- a monstrous gas-filled advertising gimmick that loomed, tethered by near-invisible wires, above a tawdry drive-in pawnshop. It struck me as a black-clad version of the Michellin Man. A garish banner, strung across the facade of the shop, proclaimed: "FAT DEALS!"

• • •

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

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