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

For everything there is a season

28 April 1999

It was quiet and cool in Werrong Lane on Sunday Morning. Sunlight crept slowly down the wall and the skirl of bagpipes drifted in on a light breeze. A couple of elderly ex-servicemen walked past on their way to the Anzac Day march, with their rows of medals jingling.

Sunday mornings are normally quite chummy in the Brushtail Café, but the Balkan war and the East Timor killings had everybody in a state of moody confusion. They had felt the juggernaut of history creaking towards them. And then the computer games came to life in the Denver school massacre.

It was different in the old days, I thought, as the sunshine finally warmed my fur. Then, there was a mass gun culture of highly organised state-sanctioned violence. It was called 'National Service' and the 'School Cadet Corps' and 'universal compulsory military training' and 'Citizen Military Forces' and the 'Reserves' and something like it existed in most countries. There was no mystery and little glamour in guns when most 'men of military age' could recite the stripping order for the Bren gun. Automatic weapons were just something that everybody did.

Now we live in an age of professional armies. The old citizen-as-soldier faded away long ago. Fighting unpopular wars with conscript armies is a very risky business. Small professional armies are more biddable.

The Vietnam war was really the last hurrah of the old-style armies, at least in the advanced countries. The 19th century rhetoric of 'blood' and 'race' and 'national honour' stunk in most people's nostrils by then. The democracy of the big capitalist nations was never under real threat and only a few dingbats rushed eagerly to the flag for a holy war against 'communism' -- especially as it might have gone nuclear.

And with the years of relative peace after Vietnam a new cult of fantasy violence sprang up -- a twisted reflection of the new professional culture.

There are two complementary threads to this thing. The first is the professional fixer and killer. He might be a small-team commando, the judge-and-jury cop, the weapons specialist. And as if that wasn't bad enough there is also its darker undercurrent: the lone avenger. This is the Rambo culture and a couple of generations have been raised on it. It's a right-wing victim culture of the "little man", abandoned and betrayed. This stuff has been drummed into the kiddies by countless movies and computer games -- a world of winners and losers. If you're a loser, a nobody, you can become a winner and a somebody. You can adjust the bottom line in a welter of gore. It is a whole industry and a few people have made a lot of money out of it.

Compare it to the old-time war movies. They are all about highly disciplined group violence and the subjugation of the individual to the needs of the nation. They didn't show blood splattering everywhere and entrails spilling out, but these movies reflected the social reality of war -- for good or ill.

Around nine, Joadja took a break from the bar and brought out a couple of coffees and the papers.

"What on earth are we going to do about this ghastly business in East Timor?" she asked, as if she already knew the answer.

"The fundamental problem is that the Indonesian ruling elite -- which is to say the Javanese ruling elite -- doesn't want to get out. Put yourself in their Gucci loafers. They know if they give up East Timor they'll have to give up West Irian and maybe other parts of their little empire.

"They know the Fretilin fighters -- a serious guerilla outfit -- are waiting out in the weeds with maybe three or four hundred rifles. Years of operations by the Indonesian army have failed to wipe them out. Inevitably, the majority of East Timorese would vote for independence, so there's one last chance -- create chaos and terror -- cow the independence activists and their supporters with a wave of violence.

"And if they can stop a plebiscite until after the Indonesia elections in July, the new-wave Javanese nationalists of Megawati Sukarnoputri will certainly get in and they're pledged to hold onto East Timor."

Just then the ABC news came on and we mentally stood to attention and listened to it in silence. John Howard was speaking at the Anzac day march in Melbourne, urging us all to remember that East Timor had been part of Indonesia for 25 years. He had to govern in the interests of Australia, he said.

"Well that's a clear enough signal", Jo remarked, "I can see a massive betrayal coming here. There'll be no act of free choice in East Timor. We're going to hand the East Timorese back to the Jakarta Mafia".

Jo went back to the bar, but I hunkered down at the table. The far-away sound of bagpipes came and went, reaching the ears like the faint smell of cat piss reaches the nose from the far corners of the lane.

I was swilled the dregs around the coffee-cup when suddenly the mobile rang.

"Hello, Nick. It's Tommy", a familiar voice said. "How are you my friend?"

I stumbled out a reply about warm sunlight and good coffee. How the hell did the bastard get my number?

"I am here in Jakarta drinking a Bintang in the sunshine also", the voice said, "I have just heard on the radio your Tuan Howard. It is a disgusting thing he does. He is giving ABRI a free hand to slaughter Fretilin. Are you willing to help us stop the bastards?"

I scribbled some notes on the napkin.
For Nick Possum's adventures in Indonesia see 'Operation Gareth'