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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Christopher Hitchens and the call of the dark side

20 December

In death, Christopher Hitchens has been hailed in the world’s conservative media as a great  “public intellectual”. The term, which seems to derive, by analogy, from ‘public woman’ – a euphemism of polite Victorian society – is curiously appropriate for the one-time fair-weather leftist whose rightward evolution turned him into an enthusiastic apologist for the Iraq war.

“If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it”, his mother remarked, and she despatched him to a Christian private school from which he then entered Balliol College, Oxford. The young Hitchens moved with the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was fundamentally reforming-leftist or counter-cultural .

Hitchens joined the Labour Party in 1965, but was expelled a year later along with the majority of Labour’s students’ organization, because of opposition to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s support for the Vietnam war and thereafter briefly joined the International Socialist group, a non-orthodox Trotskyist outfit. Trotskyism was fashionable in those years and Hitchens joined the least demanding and most libertarian of the small parties that claimed descent from the great revolutionary’s  rallying call against Stalinism.

And there was a curious note, even then, of political cross-dressing, in Hitchen’s claim to have had gay affairs with two conservatives who went on to be figures in the Thatcher Government. 

If Hinchens was an opponent of the Vietnam War, it must be said that that was a relatively easy stance in Britain, which had (unlike Australia) carefully stayed out of the American folly.

In the 1970s Hitchens moved on to work for the New Statesman – the house journal of  the non-Tory establishment, and developed a reputation not just as an opponent of the Vietnam War but also of religion and the Catholic Church in particular (he called Mother Theresa a “thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf”).

Some people see themselves as being marked out by birth, fate or their own self-recognised personal brilliance to enter the great stream of history, to commune with the famous and powerful. Even in these early years, when the mainstream media – and more to the point, the publishing industry – hailed him as some sort of Marxist firebrand, Hitchens was on the slippery slope. He had already fallen into trap of being a professional ‘contrarian’.

Hitchens – like a thousand other lesser-known fair-weather leftists – had expected he would  ride the wave of revolutionary change in the 1960s and early 1970s to power and personal wealth but the moment passed and the tide of history turned towards the ‘neo-liberal’ conservatism of Thatcher and Reagan. Having no skills but scribbling, Hitchens had little option but to make his living as a writer but he expected to live – very handsomely indeed – in the style of his upper middle class origins. He had to keep coming up with the contrarian goods. He had to be a ‘gadfly’ and a ‘maverick’. Boring intellectual and political consistency would never pay the bills, and Hitchens was deft with ideas.

Australia has its own versions of Hitchens: the late Paddy McGuinness, Imre Saluzinsky,  Michael Duffy, Keith Windschuttle. Fair-weather comrades like Hitchens, they slid, during the Howard years, and with varying degrees of deftness, from an easy bohemian leftism to a comfy embrace of reaction.

By the early 2000s Hitchens was leveraging his militant atheist stance to give him credibility as an opponent of what he termed “islamofascism” – a historical nonsense of course, but one that aligned him, in a handy and very lucrative way, with the US Republican right, especially the neoconservative group around Paul Wolfowitz. By 2004, he was opining that neoconservative support for US intervention in Iraq convinced him that he was “on the same side as the neo-conservatives”. At this turning point in history, Hitchens’ atheism, professed opposition to Zionism and support the Palestinians simply became a useful way of recruiting wavering left and liberal opinion in favour of the Iraq invasion. 

If there’s a lesson from Hitchens’ political evolution it’s this: if you want to write and still retain your left-wing intellectual integrity, don’t give up your day job and don’t expect to live too well.