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

All hat, no cattle
Why John Howard is the greatest little faker in Western politics

19 November 2006

“So how’s the PI business?” the old retired colonel asked when I went down to the Brushtail Café for pre-dinner drinks. “I imagine you’re doing well out of the season”.

“Yeah, there’s been the usual run of sad pre-Christmas missing persons cases”, I replied. “Lonely, desperate, parents looking for runaway kiddies mostly …”

“I was thinking more of the state election season and the enthusiasm among the mainstream politicians for finding pedophiles in each other’s ranks.”

“That too, but I turned them down. Hey, if it wasn’t for the pedophiles, who’d teach the kids to sing hymns or take them camping on the weekends. You have to have powerful motives to subject yourself to that sort of thing … just kidding. How’s the war in Iraq going, would you say?”

“Absolute bloody disaster. And you know, I can’t see the advent of a Democrat-controlled Congress and Senate leading to a quick US withdrawal. The Democrats were always and overwhelmingly in favour of the war. Their ‘anti-war’ stance was just for the elections. Now they’re holding power they’ll go all ‘responsible’. The feckless muddling through will go on, I reckon.

“But I get a good laugh every time John Howard comes on like George Bush’s most loyal ally. I’ll tell you something for free: the man is a shameless fraud. He keeps saying we must go all the way with the USA, but if he really believed that, his troop commitment to Iraq would surely be on a par with the US commitment and it ain’t. We’re barely there.

“Do the maths yourself. America has a population just shy of 300 million and it’s got about 140,000 ground troops in Iraq, plus airforce people and several thousand mercenaries. An equivalent per capita commitment by Australia – our population is a tad over 20 million – would be at least 10,000, but we’ve only sent 500 soldiers to the war.

“Iraq hasn’t been the finest chapter in Australian arms. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the location of the bulk of our contingent – in the relatively quiescent South – was negotiated with an eye to keeping them as safe as possible. So far, only one Australian soldier has died – in an unfortunate barrack room incident in Baghdad – and our boys gunned down one of the Iraqi trade minister's guards and a hapless soft drink vendor. Not the sort of stuff I’d have enjoyed writing up in the official unit diary.

“Howard talks tough, but actually he's the most successful faker in Bush's shrinking coalition”, he said, swigging his beer and wiping the froth off his carefully trimmed mustache.

“All hat, no cattle, as they say in Texas”, I remarked. “But what about Afghanistan? We have some troops there”.

“Again, it’s less than 500. Again, it looks like Howard is trying to keep them from actually being shot at. If you lump Afghanistan in with Iraq our total commitment is around 1000 soldiers. Ask yourself what a per-capita equivalent contribution to the US’s to both wars would be and you’d get a figure of at least 11,000 – nearly a full infantry division. With a regular army numbering 26,000 plus 17,000 weekend warriors, we just couldn’t sustain a full division overseas. We’d have to have conscription.

“So why hasn’t Howard brought in the draft?”

“And why hasn’t Bush? ’Cos they don’t have the courage of their convictions. Lots of big name military professionals have pointed out that without the draft they’ll never get enough boots on the ground to have a chance of winning. But conscription would spell huge political trouble and they don’t have the guts for that. They’re still running scared from the Vietnam experience. The Iraqi resistance have a lot to thank the Viet Cong for … and the anti-war movement of those days.

“So Howard’s faking his way through, exploiting Dubya’s predicament. The poor silly bugger needs allies … even if they’re just token allies, and you don’t get any more token than somebody who sends, per capita, a tiny fraction of the forces you’ve committed.”

“I’ll tell you what I think is a hoot: the fact that all the barking-mad right-wing nutters who supported the Iraq invasion have gone very, very, quiet about it”. I strode over to the café noticeboard and fetched a yellowing clipping of a Sydney Morning Herald column I’d pinned up there back in April 2003.

“How about this: ‘Better to bring it on now, at a time of our choosing, with all the cockroaches gathered for a showdown out in the open in Iraq, rather than cower at home, our economies shrinking, our civilians picked off, our enemies growing stronger ...’ That’s a typical bit from Miranda Devine.

“She was hysterically bellicose, and for a few months after the invasion, she poured scorn on anybody who predicted intractable popular resistance. But as the resistance strengthened and the war dragged on, she revisited the subject with ever-decreasing frequency, till finally she fell silent.

“Now that Iraq has disintegrated into chaos and misery and hundreds of thousands of innocents are dead she’s too gutless to tell us whether she still thinks the invasion was such a great idea.”