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 deranged gunman walks into the pub …
A sick joke about social madness and the march of technology

19 April 2007

Stop me if I’ve told you this one already.

Okay, it’s the year 1507, and a delusional lone nutter walks into a church service. He’s got a sword and he attacks the priest, fatally wounding him. Some unarmed worshippers fall on him from behind, wrestle him to the ground and disarm him. In future years all remember when “Young James, with the Madness upon him, did stab the Rector (God rest his Soul) and we did Seize him and Deliver him to the Constable”.

Cut to 1807, three hundred years later: aggrieved lone nutter walks into a village fair with a commonly available single-shot, muzzle-loading flintlock pistol. He fires at the fishmonger from a distance of five yards, wounding him in the shoulder. Reloading would have taken him a minute or so. Three unarmed citizens wrestle him to the ground and disarm him. In later years, those who had been present often remarked: “Thank God he didn’t have a brace of pistols”.

Fifty years later, in 1857, a deranged loner walks into a pub with the latest thing – a five shot single-action revolver. He gets off all five shots in about eight seconds, killing the publican and a customer and badly wounding two others. Three unarmed drinkers wrestle him to the ground and disarm him. Looking back on it later, over an ale or two, the heroes of the night often remarked on the fact that, in the couple of minutes it would have taken for him to reload, the only customer who couldn’t have run out the door and a hundred yards down the street was the old bloke on crutches who propped up the end of the bar. “Mind you, it would have been worse if he’d had a second gun”, somebody would always observe.

A hundred and fifty years pass and it’s 2007. A lone nut walks into a university with two semi-automatic pistols. His 9 mm Glock takes a 15 round magazine and he has lots of them. It’s almost impossible for an unarmed person to get close enough to overpower him. At the end of the rampage he’s killed 32 and wounded many. The survivors say: “My God, how can this have happened?”

The point is that technology changes things: before the rapid-fire firearm, it really was hard for a lone nut to massacre lots of people; with modern firepower, it’s quick and easy. In the 18 years before the reform of Australia’s gun laws in the wake of the April 1996 Port Arthur Massacre (35 dead, 19 wounded) there were 112 Australians killed and 52 wounded in 13 mass shooting incidents. There have been no mass shootings in the decade since semi-automatic rifles and shotguns were effectively illegalised and that is what the reforms were designed to achieve.

Of course in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Massacre the gun-nuts and the libertarian right in the US are saying the problem was that everybody on campus wasn’t carrying a handgun. The more people carry guns, they argue, the fewer deaths there will be. This is nuts. If it worked that way, the United States, which already has a stupendous level of personal firearm ownership – particularly handgun ownership – would have a lower level of crime and violence that comparable countries with low firearm ownership.

So it’s instructive to compare US gun homicide rates with other, comparable, Western countries. Take 2003 for example. In the US, there were 41 gun homicides per million people (or about 12,000 in total). In Canada there were only 5.1 per million (about 160 deaths); in Australia 2.7 (54 deaths). In England and Wales 0.3 (17).

But the level of firearm ownership is only part of the problem. The other part – probably the larger component – is social, cultural and political. The United States is a cruel society that mythologises its frontier past and makes a cult of competitive individualism. It is politically dysfunctional and rife with intractable poverty and religious backwardness. It has 41 gun homicides per million people. Step over the border into Canada, still awash with guns, but a kinder, gentler, place, and homicide deaths drop eightfold.

America is also so insular, so obsessed with its own history, that the instructive experience of other nations will likely have zilch impact on the “debate” over guns and violence in the aftermath of Virginia Tech. In general, Americans are nice people, but they are sentimental and easily led. How else can you explain the fact that tens of thousands turned out for a candlelight memorial service for the victims, led by the most irresponsible and blood-drenched president in recent history? It’s all a sick joke.


For everything there is a season

28 April 1999

... 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.