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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Welcome to the New World Disorder

26 December 2005

For some reason, going to the beach looked too difficult, so I decided to sit out the summer in the café catching up with reading and old friends. I was hunkered down at my favourite table with a cider when Stanley, the old retired colonel, came in. He always had fascinating gossip on military affairs so I shouted him a drink.

“So what’s 2006 going to bring, Stan?” I asked.

“Things will be ugly. An elegant solution to Iraq just isn’t going to happen”. He took a swig on his beer and fastidiously wiped the foam off his moustache before continuing.

“John Howard comes on like he’s a great friend of George Bush and an ardent champion of the Iraq war but actually he’s done just about all he can to stay out of the place. If he really was a true believer he’d have about 10,000 troops there, rather than a few hundred, but I hear that every time Bush rings him he’s full of excuses.

“‘More troops? No problemo, George. I gotta tell you, our soldiers are so highly trained, every one of them is worth twenty of anyone else’s … and I’ll send you both of them.’ And he does, but the next time George rings, he’s put on hold for about 15 minutes and then he’s told that John’s in an important meeting about the ethnic problem – with Alan Jones and Piers Ackerman, or even Miranda Devine and Paul Sheehan – and he’ll get right back … real soon now. And after a while the line goes dead. The last thing Howard wants, electorally, is even a trickle of bodies coming home in boxes.

“This game has been going on for years now, but I reckon even a rat-cunning politician like Howard won’t be able to put the Yanks off much longer, and he knows it. Look at Bob Menzies. He was horrified when the Yanks first tried to get him to commit troops to Vietnam and he refused, but they wore him down.”

“So what’s this stuff about the big reorganisation of the Army?”

“On the surface, the changes don’t look particularly newsworthy, There’s a bit of waffle about boosting the Army by 1500 to 28,000 by 2011. That’s so boring it looks it’s designed to make the average reader flip over to the sport. But if you look behind that, what’s important is what the changes might be a preparation for.

“Firstly, it’s an attempt to quickly add a bit of extra capacity to the Army – just enough for Howard to be able to boost numbers in Iraq to three thousand or so next year if Bush really tells him he’s gotta stop ducking the issue. There’s this bit about ‘reconfiguring’the army to form ‘battlegroups’ of infantry, armour, artillery and aviation. That sounds suspiciously like the ‘task force’ structure we had in Vietnam. By converting the parachute battalion into a mechanised infantry outfit – that’s shorthand for men in armoured personnel carriers – and adding it to the Darwin-based 1 Brigade, they’ve pretty much got a task force of three thousand they could despatch to Iraq. And as backup they’re restructuring the Reserves to produce 2,800 high-readiness troops grouped in small units. That would give them a bit of leeway to rotate troops on a regular basis.

“But even with all that, a small, balanced, task force of three thousand is about the maximum they could commit … after that they’d need conscription.”

“But why move the parachute battalion out of Holsworthy and down to Adelaide?”

“The spin is that in Adelaide they’ve got good access to a local training area plus, with the new Adelaide to Darwin rail link, they can easily get to other training grounds in Central and Northern Australia. But consider this: under the plan, Sydney’s Holsworthy base gets freed up for some other role, and that’s just what you’d need if you were going to reintroduce conscription: a big base and training area close to the country’s biggest city.

“Once, there were plenty of bases on the outskirts of Sydney: Ingleburn, Scheyville, Wallgrove and Holsworthy. There were a few smaller ones as well. Scheyville and Ingleburn went years ago and Wallgrove became Australia’s Wonderland. If they really wanted to bring back conscription the logical first step would be to free-up Holsworthy by relocating a regular army unit and that’s just what they’re doing.

“And notice that suddenly there’s a new emphasis on the local defence industry. After years of systematically running down the old defence industry – which was largely government-owned – in favour of sourcing equipment internationally, there’s suddenly a lot of blather about the government being ‘committed to policies that will build an internationally competitive defence industry’”.

“That’s the first rhetoric about national self-sufficiency we’ve heard in years and I reckon it’s pretty significant. That was the sort of line most governments pursued before the First and Second World Wars. In a basically stable world, even one divided into two camps, governments like to have small professional armies, they like to equip them with the best possible gear as cheaply as possible and they don’t mind where they source it. When the possibility arises that you might need a big army and you might get cut off from supplies of basic weapons, all that goes out the window.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Howard is really keen on conscription, Actually, the whole idea would scare the hell out of him … for thirty years, Australian governments have used the American alliance as a way of avoiding conscription. Trouble is, the alliance is suddenly dragging us into long, messy, regional wars and occupations and for those, you need lots of boots on the ground.”



Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope

24 February 2005

John Howard’s decision to double Australia’s ground troop commitment in Iraq was inevitable. The prime minister put off the inevitable for as long as he could, but Australia’s slavish adherence to the American alliance left him no option but to dispatch more troops to George Bush's mad neo-colonial adventure. His justification of the decision as necessary to stop the Coalition crumbling put a desperate spin on the situation that’s at odds with Washington’s upbeat line on post-election Iraq.