Time for Labor’s Fightback!

G’Day. Here’s a piece on the Labor leadership I never thought I’d write. I’m off for a couple of weeks to recharge, and have a think about where Webdiary might go to from here. As usual, your ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Political documents come and go, but there’s one set I’ve kept on my bookshelf at work for more than ten years, called Fightback!

Remember November 1991? The Coalition had dithered it’s way through seven years of opposition until John Hewson took it by the scruff of the neck and set it to work finding out what it believed in and why, and how it proposed to realise the vision.

Vision statements are meant to be passe these days, and Hewson’s tome is conventionally seen as the way NOT to do politics. But step back and take the long view, and that muscular, honest, rigorous document is the blueprint for just about everything the Coalition government has done since.

When the Coalition lost in 1983, it thought it would soon return to government. It sat back and waited for Labor to fail, and found, to its great discomfort, that it agreed with many things Labor did economically. It pulled together a bit of this and a bit of that election after election, a sweetener here, a rhetorical flourish there, and shunted the leadership between Peacock and Howard for years looking for a way back to office without effort. It failed. Fightback! ignited the Party and the 1993 loss – based on the lie by Paul Keating that could have tax cuts without a GST – galvanised many grassroots Liberals into committing energy into turning it round next time. It’s the energy born of a common vision, and it matters.

I thought Kim Beazley did a good job as opposition leader in the first term. He did the healing and kept the party unified. I wrote at the time that the second term was the one for a new vision. Labor needed to work out its mistakes in office, reenvision the Party’s alternative to the Coalition, in particular the role of government, and set the agenda in areas like water, education, health, the environment, Aboriginal affairs and accountability. It needed to find, through research, community consultation and vigorous debate, its core values and principles, its abiding beliefs, and adapt them for a changing world, as John Hewson did after 1990 and as Tony Blair did with his Third Way.

But it did not. It thought it would zoom back into office by opposing the GST Howard took to the 1998 election. It failed. Then it thought it would get back by opposing the GST and making itself a “small target”.

That lazy, arrogant stance saw Labor take decisions which destroyed principles many thought were at its core. It supported the private health insurance rebate despite saying, correctly, that it would destroy Medicare, the most popular policy for a generation.

And Simon Crean did something so dreadful I can hardly credit that Labor ever made him leader. Howard sold the GST as an integrated package, giving with one hand, taking with the other, to promote fairness between sectors. In return for the GST business got tax breaks, in particular the halving of the capital gains tax. But it also had to suffer a clampdown on the most widespread tax avoidance mechanism around, family trusts.

But after the Democrats did a deal to pass the GST shadow treasurer Crean, in a panic of relevance deprivation syndrome, rushed into Peter Costello’s office to do a deal on the business tax package. He agreed to support the business tax sweeteners in return for a mere promise by Costello to bring in legislation at a later date to fix the trust problem. As was obvious then, that legislation was later dumped due to political pressure from the Coalition’s core constituency. Crean and Beazley share the disgrace.

The ever smaller target also saw Labor rail against the redistribution of funds to wealthy private schools, then pass the legislation. By the time Howard had picked the vibe and spent his way back into contention for the 2001 poll, Labor was wide open to a Tampa type sting. When it came, it capitulated, and yet another core Labor principle – an insistence on the universality of human rights – was also gone.

Back in 1998, after Beazley’s first lost election, Mark Latham, incensed that his visionary education policy had been reduced to a couple of lines by Beazley’s office, retired to the backbench. He’s been doing the hard yards on policy and vision ever since. His latest book, ‘From the Suburbs: Building a nation from our neighbourhoods’ (Pluto Press) is a collection of his essays trying to reenvision Labor as the outsiders party, giving power to the powerless, and promoting bottom up democracy.

I’ve been a Latham fan for a while now, believing that his combination of mongrel, thick skin, and intellectual powerhouse was what Labor needed to regenerate, as Hewson regenerated the Liberals.

But now, I find myself believing something I never thought I would – that Kim Beazley should be given another go.

We live in dark, insecure times when international affairs dominate our lives and our fears. I believe the Australian people will not accept an untried player at this time. They like Kim Beazley, and respect his judgement on matters of defence and foreign policy. They would therefore be prepared to consider him next time around, but would not take the risk with Latham. Of the other contenders, Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan are small target machine men, and that’s bad news for Labor. Very bad news.

I hope Kim Beazley has learnt the lesson of his failures. He was badly advised, and he wrongly accepted that advice. He was on the right track with Knowledge Nation, but got freaked out by the supposed necessity of a balanced budget, an ideology being trashed as we speak by George Bush in the nation which founded that orthodoxy. Investment in our future can’t be reduced to short term numbers, as the Coalition proved when its decision to increase HECS for science and maths students saw many fewer students get educated in these vital fields for our future.

If we get Kim Beazley back, and he sets to work forcing his party to really look at itself, and produce a Fightback!, Labor will finally stop reacting to the Coalition agenda and produce an agenda of its own to argue for. Fightback! put Labor on the backfoot for more than a year, and destroyed the Prime Ministership of Bob Hawke. Keating was reduced to deceit and scaremongering to win the 1993 election, and was duly punished at the next one.

Labor’s performance since it lost office has been deeply damaging to Australia. It has failed to hold John Howard accountable for his failures, or his lies. It has left a vacuum where engaged, constructive policy debate should occur, leaving the field to polemicists who have reduced the national debate to vicious pointscoring and the politics of prejudice.

Kim Beazley may get the chance to prove that he really is a conviction politician. Australia needs that, desperately. The dominant neo-liberal ideology is dated, and has created terrible unintended consequences. are looking for a credible alternative that’s not about manipulation of their feelings, but based on Labor’s deeply held conviction that it can truly serve the public interest better than the Coalition.

John Hewson is a martyr to the Liberal Party, doing what had to be done while failing to reap the personal success from it. Kim Beazley too, might not reap the personal success of rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on a fresh new vision for Labor, but the service he would give to his party and the nation would be priceless.

Could we start again please?


Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.daviesart

G’Day. Lots to think about this Easter.

Here is the speech I gave to the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night. The topic was “Where the left’s at”, but I’m still trying to process the war and its terrible aftermath, so it’s more about how the experience might change the discourse. Imre Salusinszky also gave a speech on the topic, which was about his view that the war debate proved that the intellectual left is defined by anti-Americanism.

I hope you can be with people you love this Easter.


Where the left’s at…

I guess some of you assume I’m here as a representative of the beleaguered left, taking up defensive position number 123 to ward off a rampaging member of the triumphalist right about to stick the boot in one more time.

Could we start again please?

The world, the allied and Iraqi troops, the Iraqi people, and all of us who watched it and read about this war have just been through a traumatic experience which will continue for a long time, perhaps for my lifetime.

That experience sounded, please God, the death knell for the traditional left-right dichotomy, which lost its utility a long time ago and now survives, it seems to me, as a convenient means by which commentators accuse each other of being disgusting, idiotic ideologues to the cheers of fans who stopped thinking because it got too hard. The labels are an excuse not to engage, to reassure adherents there is a certain truth, an instinctive escape from genuine conversation in an era of profound uncertainty.

I know a few people for whom expressing dissent by way of rallies and protest marches is a part of their lives. Without exception, their experience of the big weekend of protests before the war was one of awe – to a man and woman they said, in wonder, “I didn’t see anyone I know!” Humanity – all shapes, sizes, addresses, incomes, world view – cared enough to come together, in peace, to ask our leaders most sincerely if they could please find an alternative to war. Even if you supported the war, surely there was joy in seeing so many Australians, so many people around the world, having a say, trying to make a difference?

The war debate saw the traditional left split. The traditional conservatives split. The nationalists split. The realists, in general, were against a unilateral US war. No, that’s too simplistic. Australians, like peoples around the world were in many camps. No war in any circumstances. War only if the UN agreed that the weapons inspections could not disarm Iraq. Support for a US led war, but not Australia’s participation. In my case, opposition to a US war without prior disclosure of a just and democratic transition to peace by an genuine act of self determination by the Iraqi people and, ideally, a unanimous resolution of the Security Council to establish an independent state of Palestine as a top priority. BUT, if by whatever means and even if under no constraints the UN gave the green light, yes to Australia’s participation due to our reliance on the American alliance for our national security.

So the people who marched had many reasons, and represented many strands of political belief. Remember this letter to the Sydney Morning Herald way back in September last year?

“We put this conviction directly and unequivocally: it would constitute a failure of the duty of government to protect the integrity and ensure the security of this nation to commit any Australian forces in support of the US military offensive against Iraq without the backing of a specific United Nations Resolution.”

That letter was signed by former Labor Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, former Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, two former chiefs of the Australian Defence Force General Peter Gration and Admiral Alan Beaumont, former navy staff chief Admiral Michael Hudson and the head of the RSL Major-General Peter Phillips.

Let’s be honest here. In my view, the fundamental split was between those who thought a US invasion would make the world a safer place, and those who thought it would make it more dangerous. For each nation, the question of its national security within a changed world was paramount. And hovering over the debate was the desperately difficult fact that the world’s only superpower had decided that, on the basis of its national interest, it would decide which nation to invade, the circumstances in which to invade it, and how the invaded country would be shaped after regime change. It was that issue, more than any other, which saw a strange new alliance formed between France, Germany, Russia and China, and which saw “right wing” leader Jacques Chirac oppose the invasion and Labour leader, Tony Blair, give it his backing.

We do not know who is right and who is wrong. We will not know for many years. Most importantly, the question is not predetermined, merely requiring revelation in time. It will depend on how the world’s nations and the world’s peoples act and react from now on.

What we’ve just been through, for the first time in my lifetime, is the peoples and the nations of the world engaged in a tumultuous, deeply unsatisfactory debate about the world’s future through the prism of one nation.

Every sensible person knew as they watched those two planes crash into the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 that the world changed irrevocably at that moment. Since then, we’ve watched the world unite, then divide bitterly and destructively as America launched a preemptive war without disclosure of its blueprint for peace and proved to the world, starkly, that might is right.

Now, the rules of the old security order have fallen over and with them, in my view, the supposed “inevitability” of world economic globalisation, which the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers also symbolised. So also, the globalisation of environment protection and human rights – which struggle to keep up with economic globalisation – are at grave risk.

As the UN as we know it – and thus the power of the forces of internationalisation of world governance – collapsed, what the world began debating so imperfectly were the greatest, deepest and most confronting questions of all. In many types of discourses, we began discussing the values and beliefs to which we – as individuals, nations, and collective custodians of this world, our home – subscribe, and the costs we are prepared to pay to meet the demands of those values and beliefs.

For me, a piece by novelist Walter Kirn in The New York Times, summed up my experience watching the war:

“Lately what the polls seem to be demonstrating is their own pathetic inadequacy in the face of events that cut deeper than the cranium – events that can be processed only in the soul. What’s your opinion of a soldier with a head wound staggering through a sandstorm at 3 a.m.? What’s your opinion of a missile blast that collapses eight stories of reinforced concrete on top of an unknown number of civilians who were either inside the building by accident or because they’d been herded into it at gunpoint? What’s your opinion of mass panic brought on by the noise of unrelenting artillery fire and a chronic shortage of clean water? What’s your opinion of nerve gas?

… Sorry, not playing. I’m turning in my card. What’s more, I’m turning off the polls. To keep tabs on what ‘we’ think before I know what I think, and perhaps to risk shaping my own thoughts in the process, whether out of some secret longing to fit in or an unconscious desire to stand out, strikes me as a form of spiritual cheating, of shirking my obligation before the cosmos to pass through this fire naked and alone, without checking to see who’s with me and who’s not and by what magnitude and over how many days.”

Hard choices, each one having a terrible cost. No referee. No consistency. No level playing field. Shifting arguments. Fake evidence. And the certainty of all thinking people, surely, that the stated rationales for the war were untrue, that there were deeper, more fundamental reasons in play, reasons which those who rule us believed could not be openly discussed because they were ashamed of them, or because they were too confronting for us to face, or because we might interrogate them and they might discover (or do they already know?) that the peoples of the world just don’t support them.

Then war. Scenes of horror, dismemberment, liberation, anarchy, joy, hope, unimaginable pain and loss, fear, hatred, hubris… Name your adjective – list them all through the prism of the experience of the people of Iraq, blessed and cursed with its abundance of oil, torn asunder by wars of empire over thousands of years. We stared at the human condition, blinkers removed.

And then – too quickly – many of us put the blinkers back on. The debates resumed as before, only more bitter, angrier, even more divisive.

But it can’t be, can it? It doesn’t matter what your walk of life, your wealth, your philosophical or political bent – an unsafe world where bombs or other mechanisms of random death can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime means we’re all in the same boat in a world rent with terror, aren’t we? We were all able to emphasise with the tragedy of the war and the fragility of hope for the Iraqi people, weren’t we? There MUST be common ground, mustn’t there?

What is the value of a human life? What is the responsibility of those who decide they will sacrifice some innocent lives for a larger purpose? What place does Australia have in the world and what place can it realistically aspire too? What values does Australia stand for? What compromises must Australia accept to those values to keep us as safe as possible?

Left and right. Black and white. Good and evil. All or nothing. These binaries are methods of escapism from the need to examine who we are and where our society is failing us with clear, honest eyes. The left-right debate in Australia reinforces prejudice on both sides, and is both an avoidance mechanism and a dangerous tool of fanatical political tribalism. It destroys. It is hopeless. It does not reflect the diversity and nuances of the views we hold, or the extent of our common ground. It does not facilitate constructive conversation. It is an admission of the failure of public debate to achieve anything of value for society.

I suggest those of us lucky enough to be paid to think about our nation and its values, and those interested in reading and participating in that discourse take a deep breath at this momentous moment in Australian and world history, and make the assumption that each of us is in good faith and has the best interests of Australians and Australia at heart.

Let’s then explore where we differ, and why. Let’s first focus on what our core beliefs are about the individual, our society and the role of government. Then let’s see what common ground we’ve got, both in our core beliefs and principles and in our assessment of the weaknesses in the way our society and our democracy are working. You know, it’s just possible that most of us will share more core beliefs and principles than not. Most of our disagreements may well be about the best means to fulfil our common principles, and on whether we are inherently pessimistic or optimistic about the human condition.

But pessimistic or optimistic, we must find the hope in this, and nurture it for all it’s worth.

So let’s do what we always promise we’ll do next time but never do when the time comes, and look at the history of this war from September 11, when fanatics invaded America and a group of Americans called neo-cons had the clear-eyed, bright-light, absolutist, fundamentalist vision ready to put in place in response.

And let’s look back on the wreckage of the rules now gone, and consider in hindsight what could have been done differently, and how, by all the players, to achieve a more satisfactory, less brutal, less uncertain result for all of us. If we all had our time again, what would we do differently, and what would we have liked our leaders to have done differently?

And when we’ve done that, let’s dream about what a new world order might look like, that we think gives the world a better chance to survive and to maximise human freedom, happiness and dignity.

I don’t know about you, but I feel humbled by this war. It brings into sharp relief the urgent work to be done in finding a useful mechanism by which the world tackles the world’s problems, the ones no country can tackle alone. Amid destruction of the rules must come renewal, and I’m trying to think, as many of us are, about what my role could be in that, in my little world, in my little country, as a citizen of the world committed to doing my best to leaving it in the best shape I can to the children of my relatives and friends.

I’ve got lots of thoughts – too many – jumbling around my head, competing with each other for attention. Maybe some people in the audience need what I do – a process – a means by which I can converse with other people of good faith, who care about our land, our people, our country, and our world, to settle on a few basic values, to be honest about the constraints individuals are under, in their individual circumstances, in giving them full rein, and to work across old political divides to find, encourage and support leaders who will help us all nurture our hope, and put the energy that gives to good purpose.

No-one has “the truth” any more. We all know it, in our hearts, though so many of us pretend not to, for fear of what that means, and the consequences that might follow for our careers if we dropped our pretence. And partly because of these left-right barriers, we can’t seem to get together and talk things through any more. And agree, politely, to disagree on some matters, and have the courage to agree, with relief, on others, and put our heads together to push those common ideals along.

When an old order falls, there is the chance to rebuild a better one. This is a time of vulnerability and fear. Thinkers can exacerbate those feelings, or facilitate honest conversation with each other to do our bit to rebuild community spirit and regenerate a shared value system.

The people in this country and this world need to trust, and need to hope. The left-right debate doesn’t engender either. Could we start again, please?

Newspaper and reader: the post-war relationship


War cartoon by Courier Mail cartoonist Sean Leahy. Sean spoke at the Just Peace seminar in Brisbane. Republished with permission.

This war was – is – an incredibly challenging experience for media practitioners and and media consumers alike. For the first time, we and they had ready access to both sets of propaganda and the full spectrum of opinion on the war, its meaning, and its possible consequences from multiple sources with multiple angles of vision.

G’Day. This is a speech I gave on Tuesday night in Brisbane at a seminar on media coverage of the war organised by a group called Just Peace. To comment on my piece, media war coverage, your experience watching the war, or how you’d like the Sydney Morning Herald to adapt or change in the internet era, click on Repartee. I will moderate the feedback.

Newspaper and reader: the post-war relationship

This war was – is – an incredibly challenging experience for media practitioners and and media consumers alike. For the first time, we and they had ready access to both sets of propaganda and the full spectrum of opinion on the war, its meaning, and its possible consequences from multiple sources with multiple angles of vision. And this at a time when the old world order is tumbling and the world’s superpower begins to stamp a new one on us, with the threat that nations which dissent join its enemies, and those which agree are rewarded. And at a time when the tired old classification of political thought into left and right became utterly meaningless as highly unusual alliances took shape across politics and between nations.

As the rules and norms by which we have lived for a long time crash down around us, the world’s nations and peoples began debating the values and principles by which we wished to live and the costs we will accept to live by them. For Australians, the debate was complicated by the fact that our leader avoided it and our opposition has no idea what it believes in.

For the first time in my lifetime people in just about every country in the world began debating one topic – the world’s future, through the prism of one country – Iraq. We learnt much about history and its consequences, and the perspective of other cultures. We participated directly in decisions usually made by grey men behind closed doors, and saw that they lied as a matter of routine. And we influenced events profoundly. I do not believe that the UN Security Council would have dared turn America down without those massive protests all over the world from people who said categorically that wars of aggression meant failure, not solution, and promoted danger, not safety.

Many people, pro and anti war, didn’t watch the war or read about it. Of those who did, many regretted the experience, for it confronted them to their core, while others pondered whether engagement was, in the end, meaningless. Said Webdiarist Hugh Driver:

“I just wonder whether scouring the net, posting rants, sending e-mails, etc etc isn’t just an intellectual exercise that, at the end of the day, counts for very little outside the very, very small circles of consequence that we operate in. Is it just another form of entertainment for modern media junkies?”

Susan Metcalfe, similarly overwhelmed, replied:

“I can’t turn away but I’m not sure where to look or how to process the massive amounts of information being produced on the subject … in truth what is happening is so painfully human, in the worst possible way.”

“Howard will only do what plays well for him, he will do what wedges us from our own feelings and offer us a paternalism that has worked so well for him in the past. Our decisions are again made for us by a parental figure and we are again powerless. He does it well. Most of us fall into line without too much fuss, and who’s got time to fight all the hard battles anyway?”

Yet there was blinding clarity, too. Ned Roche wrote:

“I am not a Lefty or Right-winger. I completed a major in Politics at UNSW and qualified for Honours, but couldn’t bear the thought of another year at University. I am a 26 year old single gay male, I live in a small country town running a pub, and I realise that community is important. I have a view on the war, but that is far less important than realising that my (Iraqi) brothers and sisters with whom I share the same human experience need my help, and it is as easy as donating money.”

I cling to the belief that the more information we can access, and that our readers can access, the greater the chance of the world’s peoples making informed wise choices, and that from the ruins of the rules of the old world order, a worldwide discussion of the values and principles upon which we wish to base our construction of new rules on can deliver a better future for the world.

The media is no longer the gatekeeper of information. As we, the media, judge what is news and which views to publish, our readers are in a position to judge us. The internet has levelled the playing field between newspaper and reader. Our readers, if they so chose, can get the information they want when they want it and link to like-minded people around the world. Some of those who don’t wish to, or can’t, do this, will expect us to exercise judgement on their behalf, and they will want to know by what values and principles we do that. Some – and this is the competing demand which will arise in a fractured, uncertain world – will want us to stroke their prejudices and rebuild their certainties with dishonest, black and white news and views and escapism.

I don’t know how the media will develop from here. We face not only new and confusing circumstances and a transformation of our traditional role, but the emerging world-wide hegemony of Rupert Murdoch, who runs an empire which, as the war coverage showed, is willing and able to use its media as a deliberate instrument of his business interests. It is also willing to abandon a core belief of the industry in democracies – the right to free speech – to threaten and attempt to silence those who disagree with the line his empire takes on world and domestic issues.

I believe media practitioners who believe that the media has a vital role in protecting and enhancing our democracy must now dig deep to reexamine the core values and beliefs of our media outlet which we will strive to serve. We must state those core values and beliefs publicly, make ourselves accountable to our readers for fulfilling them, and be very open to their participation and critique.

Since there are now no certainties, I’d like to see us wind back the mutual provocation which passes for much comment these days, and move towards a genuine exploration of what core values and principles most of us can agree on and genuine engagement on how best to put those values and principles into practice. This could mean experimenting with form. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald could ask two experts with differing views on an issue to collaborate on a piece which debates the matter internally and draws out the common ground and the points of disagreement.

I’d also like to see us interrogate our conception of “news judgement” and admit that the dominant conflict-driven, top-down view requires a radical overhaul. At a time of transition, it becomes important to report process as well as final decisions and to give public figures the freedom to change their mind without catastrophe, and to float new ideas without insisting on detailed costings or making the loose ends the story before debate can begin. I’m looking for openness, not closure; facilitation of debate, not instant judgement upon each contribution. I’m looking for a media which will reach out, not circle the wagons, a media which will search for common ground, not escalate political tribalism.

I believe that at this momentous moment in our history, what each of us stands for in each of our our spaces on each of our stages will influence the shape of the future. The temptation is enormous to escape into fantasy, or close our eyes and pretend nothing has changed. That too, of course, is doing something.

Webdiary columnist Harry Heidelberg, an Australian who lives in Europe, works for a US multinational corporation, and supported the war, spelt out the challenges for the active reader in the new, internet era, a challenge which also confronts our media:

“The information in this war is breathtaking in its openness. We have the American view, the Iraqi view, the Al Jazeera view and several things in between which verge on independence. As usual, people will pick and choose but it is a rich smorgasbord of information.

“That’s the joy of a free society. You see it all. It also makes it hard. We are challenged to figure it out for ourselves…If there is anything to celebrate in all this crap and misery, it’s that we have full access to the smorgasbord and have every bit of the spectrum analysed. That makes us fortunate indeed.

“When you see all the spectrum at once……what do you see…….yes……that’s bloody right……you see white light. The prisms create rainbows and they are actually beautiful. Looked at as a whole as white light or split through the prisms into rainbows, the light of information enriches us all.

Get mad, get passionate, but never, ever try to shut off light or extinguish candles. We need every aspect of this debate fully lit.”

The Iraqis as ‘untermenschen’

Kerryn Higgs, an Australian in New York, has reported for Webdiary on Richard Clarke’s evidence to the S11 inquiry in Bush before September 11: the awful truth and Bush on the ropes: his awful deeds post S11.


New York, Wednesday April 14th: Here today, the 9/11 Commission concluded two days interviewing intelligence officials and turning up new shreds of evidence about warnings ignored.

At the same time, Bush and Sharon conducted a mutually congratulatory press event (�historic and courageous�) where the US gave the green light to Israel�s settlements in the West Bank � now to be termed �population centres� � as well as denying any right of return for Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel.

All at odds with international law, but who cares? There was no Palestinian presence at the Whitehouse. In the voice of the Palestinian representative who held a press conference afterwards, though dignified and level, you could hear his deep distress and hopelessness. These moves are bound to further degrade U.S. relations with the Arab world, including Iraq. Not to mention the fate of the Palestinians.

On Iraq, I was interested to see that, though the SMH reported the concerns of British officers about U.S. attacks using disproportionate violence, it chose to leave out a key sentence referring to the attitude of the US troops – that they see the Iraqis as �untermenschen�, a term Hitler used to describe Jews, gypsies and other �racially inferior� groups:

“My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful.

“The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn’t in Iraq. It’s easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”

These comments resonated with those of a soldier I heard quoted on TV here just before the initial assault on Fallujah � he was saying how they all felt really good about going into battle and settling the score over the desecrated bodies of the four security men.

The SMH did, however report the difference between British rules of engagement and the US approach:

“British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks such as the US helicopter gunship assaults on targets in urban areas.

“When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though . . . it may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.”

This is deeply troubling, especially when U.S. sources keep insisting that preternatural care is being taken to avoid civilian targets � while there is endless evidence of civilian carnage on many sites, including those listed on your webpage. But it also helps to explain the discrepancy.

Tonight, it appears that the �ceasefire� might break down and Fallujah is in danger of being “levelled:

…as Marines traded gun and mortar fire with rooftop snipers and fighters on the northern edge of Fallujah, some of them anticipated a bloody push to take the city of 200,000 people, a stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgents.

“If they’re trying to find a peaceful way out of this, great. But at this point, there seem to be few options other than to get innocents out and level it, wipe it clear off the map,” said 1st Lt. Frank Dillbeck, scanning the city’s outskirts with binoculars during a relative lull in fighting.

The human spirit

This is a day when you dare to hope, and fear hope will be dashed. Although the war is not over, it is a day when healing could begin and hearts could open. Yet energy is drained at a time when the important, patient, constructive, long term work must begin.

I’ve received emails of hope, triumphalism, abuse, threats, bitterness, argument, advice – you name it. The war on Iraq is bloody for the combatants and the innocents, bruising for those who watch, worry, wonder, can’t sleep, weep, despair, and dig to the core of what they believe in, and why. Millions of people around the world in almost every country in the world have experienced an intensity of feeling, energy and debate on one subject – our common future – through the prism of one nation, Iraq.

I hope that the world’s scrutiny will bring out the very best in America. Only America at its most noble can achieve the result the world needs out of this nightmare. Peace with dignity.

Webdiarist John Nicolay said to me today that the scenes in Baghdad yesterday were “a marvellous affirmation of liberal values – and of the belief that, ultimately, it’s not possible to crush the human spirit entirely.” I think that test is about to begin. It will be a long, long road, with no certainty of victory. So let all of us who believe in liberal values – pro-war, anti-war, ambivalent, keep Australia out of it, only with the UN – shake hands and do our best to make John’s wish come true.

David Jones writes: Just maybe? I have been sickened and saddened by the war in Iraq. The pictures today of Iraqis rejoicing in the streets cheering their US liberators gives me cause to question my stand on the high moral ground. Who am I to pass judgement on any of this? To walk a mile in the shoes of the war victims or the victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime is not one I would want to undertake, nor one I will likely ever understand.

I’m off tomorrow. Back Monday.

(For a wild read on an alleged underground battle in Baghdad, see Israeli military site debka)

Whose flag?

At 12.35 this morning, a marine place the United States flag over the head of Saddam’s statue in central Baghdad. An Iraqi man climbed onto a US tank and waved the old Iraqi flag. People threw flowers at him. An American marine climbed up the statue and replaced the US flag with an old Iraqi flag, not over Saddam’s head, but hung from his neck.

After removing it, an American tank pulled Saddam down by chain. He didn’t topple, he bent, hanging down from the pedestal. Finally, he split apart, his head and torso on the ground, his feet still firmly planted on the pedestal.

Memories of Umm Qasr, when the American thought, wrongly, they had taken the port town very early in this war, and a marine planted the American flag aloft before being told to take it down.

The world knew the war would be won. The world is split asunder on whether the American came to conquer, or to liberate, on whether the war on Iraq will enhance or worsen world peace, on whether a war of civilisations has begun, or is closer to ending, on whether the West will reunite or has split for the long term.

The American and Iraqi people stand face to face, soaked in blood, after decades of bloody proxy plays, uniting in a moment of joy at Saddam’s defeat.

The world will now learn, perhaps over years, not months, how the American and the Iraqi people deal with each other after this moment passes. How the two nations and their peoples negotiate the peace. How the Iraqis, now certain that Saddam is gone, will react to an American occupation. Whether America will replace a man it once called “our bastard” with someone chosen by the people, or by it. Whether it will allow the Iraqi people to decide whether to allow a permanent American base on its soil, or demand a settlement on its terms and pretend that’s the will of the people. Whether it will insist that its companies profit from the peace or allow the Iraqi people to decide where and how its oil wealth will be spent. Whether Iraq is ungovernable and will tear itself apart, or will survive intact.

Hold your breath. Pray food and water are delivered quickly and efficiently. Hope against hope the violent deaths end soon.

Murdoch’s war on truth in war reporting


Monday’s front page of the Daily Telegraph.

People who remain to be convinced that cross-media laws are important to maintaining the fabric of our democracy need look no further than today’s page one ofThe Daily Telegraph.

KILLING ROOM – Coalition forces reveal Saddam’s torture terror” it screamed. The first lines: “The depraved brutality of Saddam’s regime was revealed to the world yesterday in a series of horrific discoveries. As US forces intensified the battle for Baghdad last night, British allies uncovered an enormous charnel house containing the remains of hundreds of Saddam’s torture victims.” ( See Killing Room and Coffin rows expose an unspeakable evil).

I saw the vision of the find on TV last night, and noted the British officers remark that it was unclear what the building and its rows of simple coffins was all about. However, the remains were old, he said, and he showed documents and photographs also found on site, which did not scream out torture chamber but rather respect for the dead.

So where did The Daily Telegraph get its scoop information, and why was it so confident of the truth of its story? Who knows, but CNN reported today:

U.S. military: Remains from Iran-Iraq war

Sunday, April 6, 2003 Posted: 11:41 AM EDT (1541 GMT)

SOUTHERN IRAQ (CNN) — More than 400 sets of human remains discovered in a barracks outside of Basra are of soldiers killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the leader of a U.S. military team that examined them said Sunday.

Forensics experts sent to southern Iraq to analyze the makeshift coffins and plastic bags in which the human body parts were found said all the injuries appeared consistent with combat, contrary to initial reports from an Iranian news agency some showed signs of torture.

CWO Dan Walters with the U.S Army told reporters the bodies were mostly those of Iraqi fighters, and appeared to be a staging point for the exchange of such remains between Iraq and Iran. British soldiers with the Third Regiment of the Royal Artillery made the gruesome discovery in an abandoned warehouse.

“Some had tatters of uniforms hidden amongst the human remains,” said U.S. Central Command Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks during a briefing Sunday. Some of the soldiers said the makeshift wooden, open-face coffins were stacked deep in the warehouse and belonged to the 51st Division headquarters of the Iraqi regular army.

The bodies were located over the recent months in joint recovery operations along the Iran-Iraq border, Iranian Army Gen. Mirfeisal Baqerzadeh, head of the search and recovery committee for those missing in action, told the Iranian newspaper Jomhouri-E Eslami.

The newspaper quoted Baqerzadeh saying Iran and Iraq scrapped the search and recovery operations for the missing in action on the Iraqi territory 15 days before the war started.

The remains were found in plastic bags and makeshift coffins

“We eagerly ask the International Committee of the Red Cross to carry out its obligations and immediately take delivery of the bodies from the U.S.-British troops, and return them to Iran in Shalamcheh border point with Iraq,” the Iranian newspaper quoted Baqerzadeh.

British soldiers at the scene said a neighboring building contained photographs of the dead, most of whom had died from gunshot wounds to the head.


Webdiarist Peter Fulham sent me this report from the New York Times, which begins:

ZUBAYR, Iraq — A poignant bit of unfinished history caught up with the current campaign against Saddam Hussein yesterday, as U.S. and British officials combed through a makeshift morgue for Iraqi and Iranian soldiers killed in the 1980s in a war most Iraqis are too young to remember.

The 664 thin wooden coffins at the morgue, containing the remains of 408 men, were stacked in neat rows, some five coffins high in a warehouse in what the officials called a former Iraqi artillery complex. Plastic bags in the coffins contained all that remained of each young soldier — an identity tag, a wallet, a piece of uniform, pictures of loved ones and occasionally some money.

Investigators from the U.S. 75th Exploitation Task Force arrived here yesterday from northern Kuwait. The task force, charged with documenting war crimes, had come to investigate what initial descriptions of the site suggested was a center for torture and execution.

But in just a few hours, Chief Warrant Officer Dan Walters, the leader of the task force’s Criminal Investigation Division unit, said a preliminary examination of the remains and some of the thousands of pages of documents that were abandoned in a building next to the warehouse suggested that atrocities had probably not occurred here. Rather, he said, Iraqis had apparently been processing the remains and preparing to exchange them with Iran.

“Their wounds were consistent with combat deaths, not executions,” said Walters. “So far,” he added, “there are no indications that war crimes were committed here.” …

I can hardly wait for the correction tomorrow. It’s not as if standard journalism wouldn’t have discovered a lack of certainty. The Herald reported today:

“MASS GRAVE DISPUTE: Iran said the remains of as many as 200 people found near Basra were Iranian soldiers killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and demanded their immediate repatriation, a newspaper reported yesterday. But Iraq has said the bodies, discovered on Saturday by British soldiers in a military complex, were Iraqis killed in the conflict and recently returned by Iran. But the head of Iran’s Committee for Searching for the Missing in Action, Brigadier-General Mireysal Baqerzadeh, was quoted in Jomhuri-ye Eslami saying the corpses were unearthed in recent months by joint Iran-Iraq search teams.”

Rupert Murdoch’s vast newspaper empire has waged a relentless pro-war propaganda war before and since the war began without even the pretence, in many cases, that even the facade of journalism – a genuine attempt to get the facts in the time available and to present what is known at the time of going to press, appropriately attributed – is being preserved. It just so happens that Murdoch wants US government approval to take over DirecTV and further extend his grip on pay TV.

Just last week Mr Murdoch, who said before the war that it would be good for the economy (Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize and Murdoch’s war: 175 generals on song) urged America to get it over with quickly. Note that he aligns himself explicitly with American interests, as an American citizen. This could explain why editorially the Murdoch papers here have made little or no mention of what Australia’s distinct interests might be in this war.

Murdoch: Iraqis Will Welcome U.S. Troops


The Associated Press

Thursday, April 3, 2003; 12:07 AM

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday Americans have an inferiority complex about the world’s opinion and that Iraqis eventually will welcome U.S. troops as liberators.

“We worry about what people think about us too much in this country. We have an inferiority complex, it seems,” Murdoch said at the Milken Institute Global Conference. “I think what’s important is that the world respects us, much more important than they love us.”

The head of News Corp. said a long war could heavily influence the U.S. and global economies while creating political instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. And he suggested a decisive U.S. effort for a quick end to the war would be better than a protracted battle.

“There is going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now than spread it over months,” he said.

Murdoch also warned that the world should be prepared for more terrorist attacks. “It’s very possible to see freelance suicide attempts both here and in London, and that would psychologically shake this country up,” he said.

Many Murdoch outlets’ commitment to free speech is non-existent. I quote from crikey.com.au’s sealed section of April 4: “Speaking of Fox, their most feral presenter Bill O’Reilly this morning had two legal experts on to discuss whether Peter Arnett should be charged with treason. They all agreed he could and should be. There goes Rupert again, profitably spewing out some of the most disgraceful journalism the world has seen and then trashing free speech when it suits him.”

Now that Australia’s identity under John Howard seems to be dissolving into a subset of America’s identity, it would be nice to maintain some semblance of a diverse Australian oriented, Australian owned, media in this country.

But don’t expect the government to care about silly little issues like that. It’s already negotiating a ‘free trade’ agreement with the USA, which demands an end to foreign ownership restrictions on media, Qantas, Telstra and Woodside, as well as an end to laws trying to preserve our cultural identity. Australian nationalism? Not for much longer, if John Howard gets his way.

Poor old Australia – the USA doesn’t need to invade us to take us over. We’re inviting them in. Oh, and crossing our fingers that as a defacto state of America (minus the right to vote) the Americans will sympathetically consider helping us out if our security is threatened.

Our uncertain future


Hate of an omen. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com

G’Day. My motto from now on in covering the war in Webdiary is inspired by Harry Heidelberg. He wrote in Protecting the joys of a free society:

“At either end of the spectrum, by definition, you have extremes. At one end you have the “this is liberation” camp, at the other end you have the “demon, imperial America” camp. The truth lies somewhere in between.”

What that truth is is yet to be revealed. And all the world’s peoples can help determine what it is.

To end another long week of war, pieces from readers responding to Bring home the troops and the resulting debate in Reaction to ‘Bring our troops home’ and ‘Protecting the joys of a free society’. Contributors areNed Roche, John Berg, Peter Air, Ernie Graham and Shawn Kopel – all on debut, Brian Bahnisch, David Makinson, Clem Colman, Peter Funnell, Luke Callaghan, Susan Metcalfe, John Wojdylo andJustin Bell.

In this week’s Time magazine essay, Joe Klein wrote: “War is a force of primal disorder; we are a society afflicted by the illusion of orderliness”. This war confronts all of us, and the contributors I’ve chosen are people I feel are genuinely engaging with the disorder. Thank you to all the readers who wrote privately to support my work in the wake of this week’s attacks, especially the bloke from Maryborough, my home town. Your kind words were much appreciated.

The volume of emails to Webdiary is now such that the current Webdiary format can’t cope, given that Webdiary is a one woman operation. We’re looking at ways to update the processing. In the meantime, my apologies to all those who haven’t got a run.

To begin, the ten most read Webdiaries in March:

1. A think tank war: Why old Europe says no, March 7

2. Australia: The war within, March 18

3. Do you believe John Howard? March 16

4. Russian war report, March 26

5. Howard: repeat the line, answer no questions, March 13

6. Frontline report: What’s gone wrong, and who’s to blame, March 31

7. Russia’s war state of play, March 25

8. In Howard we trust, but why? March 26

9. This war is illegal: Howard’s last top law man, March 21

10. Denial virus alert: It’s alarming, March 28

The top five referring websites, apart from news.google, were whatreallyhappenedrensedailyrottenbuzzflash and timblairblogspot.



Han Yang in Turramurra, Sydney: I recommend Arundhati Roy’s piece Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates, one of the best I’ve ever read.” Many other readers also recommend this piece.

For the strategy to take Baghdad, Scott Burchill recommends Baghdad: Surround and squeeze? on the BBC site.

John Bennett recommends Robert Fisk’s The monster of Baghdad is now the hero of Arabia.

Anuradha Moulee recommends The message coming from our families in Baghdad: You have failed to learn the lessons of your last occupation of Iraq by Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi-born novelist and painter who is a former political prisoner of the Ba’ath regime

Tim Gillin: Ronald Reagan’s former ambassador to Iraq calls the war a ‘terrible, bloody miscalculation’: orangecountyregister

Amiel Rosario: Here’s some elegant and superb writing on the war in Iraq by Anthony Shadid for The Washington Post: washingtonpost

David Makinson: I think this one, from Hong Kong’s Asia Times, deserves publication in Webdiary. I know you’re wanting to “reach out”, but really – read it and weep. Cluster bombs liberate Iraqi children in the Asia Times.

John de Lange recommends Coalition faked it, says UN, on the discredited US claims that Iraq had revived its nuclear program.


Ned Roche

I have started reading your Webdiary over the last few days. I am not a Lefty or Right-winger. I completed a major in Politics at UNSW and qualified for Honours, but couldn’t bear the thought of another year at University. I am a 26 year old single gay male, I live in a small country town running a pub, and I realise that community is important.

The Bali bombing changed my life. Instead of just thinking about what had happened I called the Red Cross on the Monday morning and donated money, more than I would ever thought that I would donate to charity.

A lot of people are saying that they care about the people of Iraq. If you care about people, and watch the television, and realise how much the Iraqi people have suffered over a long time, then it’s not much of a leap to call the Red Cross, ask how you can donate money towards the aid effort for the Iraqi people and send a cheque.

I have a view on the war, but that is far less important than realising that my brothers and sisters with whom I share the same human experience need my help, and it is as easy as donating money.

I hope that you believe that this is an important enough message to publish.


After ‘Bring the troops’ home, John Berg protested in an email I didn’t publish at the time. Here is his email, and our exchange. More hope for all of us!


John Berg in the USA

So – what would you call a terrorist? Someone who holds a gun to the back of a mother or child and forces them to act as a shield? Someone who shoots their own people in the back? Someone who voluntarily cuts off the water supply to an entire city? Someone who hangs or cuts the throats of anyone who voices dissent over their ruler?

Of course admitting to any of the above would seriously damage the logic of the rest of your argument – actually, it probably wouldn’t since there is so little logic. At least so little informed logic. Send back your degree, honey – it’s seriously failing you.

I replied:

I’m finding the war almost impossible to process – the choices are so awful and the circumstances our troops are in so nightmarish. The Webdiary is a conversation really – it seeks to acknowledge that opinions aren’t final and immediate, and need to be teased out through debate.

I won’t say I enjoyed your email – I didn’t – but I did find it rigorous and very challenging. Hope you contribute again one day.

John replied:

Thank you for taking the time to post my reply to you – and for your tempered response. My apologies for my personal comments to you in my previous e-mail. If I may – a quick reaction to your latest to me –

“I’m finding the war almost impossible to process – the choices are so awful and the circumstances our troops are in so nightmarish.”

I can understand your emotions and appreciate your expressing them. It seems that these are the times we are in – over that we have no choice. But what is in our control is what we do with these times. I can respect and understand (though not necessarily agree with) those who argued for a delay in this war, those who wanted to give the UN one more chance, those who felt that peaceful methods were worth one more try. But since the war was joined by the coalition, here’s what we have learned:

– Saddam ruled created a terrifying, devastating police state

– He ruled his people through fear

– He has proven willing to place innocent people in harm’s way, even use them as shields

– He has shown no compunction to starving, neglecting, punishing and killing his people and each day he continues his rule, more innocent people die

– He would use tactics such as holding families hostage in order to recruit men into his armies

– He has made a mockery of the Islam religion by using mosques as armed camps

– He was harbouring al Qaeda and other terrorists

– He was not willing under any circumstance to disarm, even when faced with his ultimate demise

While the USA has a great many problems which are open for excellent and engaged debate, this country does not come close to comparing to the atrocities committed by Saddam’s Iraq. And the ideals we fight for – freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness stand in contrast to what Saddam stands for.

The justifications for this war become stronger with each passing day and the differences become starker and starker. Perhaps this might help you process this nightmarish situation.


Peter Air

I hope you weathered the blasts that ‘Bring our troops home’ generated. I did not see any new arguments in any of the responses that you printed.

When we started this thing we believed that the Iraqi regime was repressive and hated by the majority of the Iraqi people. As such, we expected that the Iraqi’s would welcome the Coalition troops, and support coalition efforts to oust Saddam.

That has not happened. Maybe it is too soon to expect the Iraqi’s to have re-oriented their thinking, maybe the Ba’ath party is still sufficiently dominant to repress such reactions. But there is also a possibility that we were mistaken about the wishes of the Iraqi people. If so, then this is a strong point towards pulling out.

The major issue, though, is the potential outcome. I wish some omnipotence would provide us with a guarantee that it would work out one way or the other – then it would be easy to know what to do. If we “win” this war, only to find that we can hold the territory only through constant repression, then we erred in getting involved in the first place.

The reality is that the outcome will depend a great deal on how things are managed, both by field commanders and by the actual troops on the ground. We are close to creating an unending hatred for the West, in Iraq and related Arab and Islamic peoples.

Terrorism springs out of hatred, demoralisation and polarisation. And this is the key point that many of your respondents missed. If we can only prosecute the war in a manner which creates hatred and demoralization in the majority of the Iraqi (and Arab/Islamic) people, then we must stop, and stop right now. For that could create a much larger evil than Saddam ever was.

This does not mean that we support Saddam, or his regime. It should be possible to find another way to deal with him.


Ernie Graham

Firstly let me say as an Australian returned serviceman of 72 years of age I find your personal attitude to the invasion of Iraq both intelligent and truthful. Your Webdiary has relieved me from the frustration of blatant television deception and the worst kind of confusing propaganda.

The people who defend this war reply to you with bitter sarcasm and duplicity. Me thinks they protesteth too much. These are after all, the people who happily absorb the lies, damn lies and Howardisms, euphemistically calling the latter good politics. One could continue by referring to the multitude of childish mistakes these misled people argue but I shall leave that to the more articulate of the decent Australians who also support your Diary. Remain forthright and even-handed Margo in the sure knowledge that right is on your side.

I respect and salute those special few telling words of Robert Byrd, the wise man of the U.S. Senate about this war of choice (Today, I Weep for my Country…). Because Margo, I too weep for my country.


Shawn Kopel

Regarding Harry Heidelberg’s piece, of course one is seduced by the Playstation 2 appeal of television coverage of the war, but that does not mean that all of one’s concerns are reduced to the impotence of voyeurism. It’s as simplistic to argue that the nett result of the activities of the anti-war groups amounted to a failure, as it is to allege that the American war is a success. Call me naive, but I’m confident that the public and demonstrable concerns of people like me, all over the world, have had an effect on not just the way the war is publicised, but also on the way that the war is prosecuted. Along the way, some lives have been saved, some morality has been applied, some suffering reduced, some of the reins of the politicians have been scrutinised and some motives have been questioned.

All that is very worthwhile.

What is disturbing, however, is the self doubt that contributors like Harry are expressing. The fact that one’s views do not prevail in preventing an outcome designed by mad politicians, does not mean that they are worthless, or of diminished value. Far from it. The efforts that result in suffering being avoided, or in a single life being saved, are of such magnitude that they are immeasurable. “He who saves a single life, saves the world.” Never forget that, Harry.


Brian Bahnisch in Brisbane

It is easy to feel humble when you have contributors who write with the facility of Harry Heidelberg (Protecting the Joys of a Free Society). Nevertheless one statement particularly troubled me: “I also add that I do not view every aspect of every problem through the Vietnam prism. The baby boomers always do this.”

The first sentence is fair enough. The second sentence is surely an outrageous generalisation. Are you really saying, Harry, that every single baby boomer, on every occasion on every aspect of every problem sees it through the Vietnam prism? I’m older than the baby boomers and I have never met or heard of one who saw things remotely like that, nor do I think I ever would.

I think you may be saying that if we have had a traumatic experience we tend to be residually obsessed with it and it colours our view of reality. Fair enough, but I know lots of baby boomers who weren’t traumatised to that extent by Vietnam, and in fact know none that were.

I hope you are not saying that previous generations are excessively obsessed with Vietnam and it is time to rule a line and move on. Now I am putting words into your mouth, which is presumptuous, but what did you mean?

I wouldn’t bother about this except that I believe a great wrong was perpetrated in Vietnam, as well as in Laos and Cambodia. I’m not comfortable with the notion that we can walk away from those events as part of the receding past. We should find out first what the countries concerned, and the rest of the colonised world think about it.

In 1999 Chomsky said: “We’re not talking about ancient history. The Lao government estimate about 20,000 casualties a year, of whom more than half die. Whether that number is right or wrong, nobody knows.”(Propaganda and the Public Mind, p63) That of course was from the saturation bombing of the Plain of Jars. I hope some-one has since shown some interest and has is doing something about it, but I would not bet on it.

There is no doubt in my mind that the events of Indo China all those decades ago still affect our moral authority to mount military expeditions whereever we think the world needs setting to rights.


David Makinson

Much as I understand and support nearly all of your motivations in ‘Bring our troops home’, I just don’t see how we could possibly bring the troops home at this point. We have been painted into an appalling corner, and now that we are in this thing, I think we are stuck in it for the duration. A withdrawal now would only bring even further damage to Australia. Having already made unnecessary enemies of the Muslim world, a withdrawal would probably destroy our alliance with the US, and the Iraqi regime would trumpet its triumph to the heavens.

Tragically, the troops have to stay, and the coalition has to win. We have got to the point where the alternatives are even more tragic. In any event, John Howard abrogated any choice in this matter long ago. The only way we we can withdraw is if the US withdraws. I can’t envisage that this would ever happen. (But wouldn’t it be good to see the last crumbs of John Howard’s credibility shot to even smaller pieces? The awful and simple truth that we are in or out if the US is in or out – and for no other reason – would come into stark relief. All the lying “justifications” would just fall apart!)

What we must do for our troops is keep protesting. Any way we can. That way we’ll maybe get them home sooner, and hopefully avoid them being sent off on Washington’s next act of piracy. We also need to maintain the detailed scrutiny and public assessment of the political and military actions of the coalition of the k/willing. This won’t stop the war, but it will help to save innocent lives. Were it not for the fact that they know we are watching, God alone knows what the Bush-Rumsfeld Gang would have sanctioned by now.

Because of this, I believe you are doing fantastic and important work with Webdiary, and you are entitled to ignore the jibes of those who seized so gleefully on what was very obviously a simple mistake of expression. These people are clearly desperate. Lacking a real argument, they invent red herrings. Too many of these people still seem to think this whole sorry mess is an excuse to score cheap debating points.

Have they seen the pictures of the boy with the shredded head? Let them debate that.


Clem Colman

It seems many people had a “spit” over your article. Frankly, I think when an issue runs this high on people’s emotions everyone gets the right to have a spit every now and then.

The issue of the use of nukes in Vietnam (which the US didn’t), or whether Agent Orange is a WMD aside, there is still some important points that you made (more important than either of these) and most people missed them.

Many of us who disagree with this war don’t disagree because we are worried about the difficulty of the task (militarily), or even the potential civilian casualties in Iraq (as tragic as they are). We even hope that a free Iraq may one day grow back into the modern first world nation it was before 1991, with hope for secular benevolent government and moderate Islam.

We disagree with the war because of the precedent it sets. We worry because we think this “conflict” may be the tip of the iceberg. Already the US has begun the rhetoric against Iran and Syria. We worry because we wonder how the grizzly pictures of civilian deaths on al Jazeera are going to draw out moderate Islam and marginalise Fundamentalism. We worry because we think it will actually have the opposite affect.

We worry because after our victory we (the Coalition) will need to occupy a nation that will not be grateful for their “liberation”. We worry that our force of occupation, although always more humane, will probably come to be regarded as badly as Saddam by the people of Iraq. We worry because this will lead to terrorism against our troops, and us in our home countries.

We worry because we have been lead to war by a group of men who are responsible for the strategy that Ariel Sharon is currently using to affect “peace” in the occupied territories. It can scarcely be said that that peace plan is working out well.

We worry that 20 years of painstaking engagement with our asian neighbours, which whilst often robust and difficult, was normally progressive and resulted in genuine goodwill, was undone in an instant as our PM jumped up and said ‘me too’ to the doctrine of preemptive attacks.

We wonder what this war in Iraq has to do with the Bali bombings when the Indonesian authorities hold those responsible in jail. When the next Terrorist attack strikes us from Indonesia we worry that the Indonesian Police will not be so fussed about tracking down the offenders.

We know it wouldn’t be easy to bring the troops home at this stage. As much as it is now irrelevant, we still wonder what the hell they are doing there in the first place.

We worry that those advocating this peace through superior force have drastically overestimated its effectiveness (as evidenced in Iraq where the intelligence failure has been spectacular) and also drastically underestimated the resentment that the use of such force builds in those we use it on (also evidenced in Iraq).

But mostly, we worry that we are putting our trust in a group of frightened control freaks who actually believe that they can control everything and that this will somehow keep us safe as well as advancing their other interests (whatever they may be). We worry about that one a lot.


Peter Funnell in Farrer, ACT

I read ‘Bring our troops home’ and I’m damned if I can see what the fuss is about. I didn’t think you meant the US used nuclear weapons in Vietnam, but they did use chemical (agent orange and napalm). Just a little imprecise by your standards. I just thought you were pretty distressed by what was happening. I happened to agree. Stop flailing yourself over this one, there are more important things to be saying in Webdiary and about this war.

One thing I must say is this – this war is generally going to plan and at great speed. If you leave every other human consideration aside, this is a remarkably successful military campaign. The US is getting better at this business.

But our country (and the US and UK) have no appetite for pain and sacrifice – for any kind of cause. For those we now wage war against, it is part of everyday life. We are weak and self obsessed. They are scornful of our selfishness, self indulgence and lack of human understanding.

Our expectations of how long a war should last are more akin to the number of episodes in a television drama. It’s as though we are in some crazy, technology-inspired time warp when we speak of this war. War and soldiering is basic, earthy, unattractive, costly (in every sense of the word) and totally unpredictable. That it generates acts of great personal courage and self sacrifice is one of the great mysteries of life to me. It also brings out the absolute worst in everything. It is so vulnerable to itself, as the protagonists abandon every vestige of civility and concern for other human beings, particularly the enemy, and often their own citizens.

The net has bridged the cultural divides and short circuited the media and spin. It is a hot medium and everyone has a voice. I have never met you, nor you me and we have no other knowledge of each other to cloud our judgement or prejudice of feelings. When we speak on the www, we are removed from observation and peer pressure or social restrictions. Everyone has a view and they don’t hold back. That’s my experience. Like any medium it can be exploited, but it can’t be censored or stopped – well, not yet.

The real “war” is about what will follow the current conventional campaign. There is no “plan” for that mate, and it’s looking more dangerous by the day. But there is greed and opportunity.

This war will certainly polarise the Christian and Muslim peoples everywhere. You could see the frustration on the faces and in the behaviour of the young men and women on the Sydney march that got a bit nasty. It must be awful for them. I have spoken to six Australian Muslim citizens in the last few weeks and listened as they vented their disbelief and frustration over our participation in the Iraqi war. They see no reason to be there and believe it to be aimed at Muslims as much as Saddam.

None defended Saddam. Their sense for where this could end up (in Australia and internationally) is very acute. I found it very distressing to listen to and could offer little except to agree. You could feel the gap opening between us, Noone wanting it to be so, but the hint that sides would be chosen, lines drawn in society. Just awful.

Banning the protests by Carr was insane. We will come unstuck if that continues, because then we will get our own home grown bombers. No doubt about it!

The lid is completely off the pot over Iraq and the Iraqi government’s strategy has been quite obvious and predictable in their pleas to all Muslims. It is a call that resonates through history to this day. Some corner of each of us responds to it. We don’t all accept it is pre-ordained, which is easier to do when you are not being bombed, starved or suffering interminable indignities at the hands of nations such as our own. We are beyond “forgiveness” – the very core common element of Islam and Christian beliefs.

To call the Iraqis who turned themselves into human bombs terrorists is obscene, and a gross misrepresentation. They are another part of an enemy’s arsenal, nothing more. Who are we to say that our way of killing is right and theirs is wrong. To coin a phrase from Apocalypse Now – “.. it’s like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500”.

You are right to be fearful of the future. We all should be. The US is not able to control anything beyond the immediate battlefield in Iraq, because that responds directly and decisively to raw, brutal and deadly power.

In my view the current battle will be won. After that is darkness and dishonour.

What we have done is awful and depresses me. I’m buggered if I will give up on it though. Keep going forward. Faith – you can’t do much with it, but you can do nothing without it.


Luke Callaghan

From “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam” by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998):

While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in “mission creep,” and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately.

We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.’s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish.

Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.


Susan Metcalfe in Ocean Shores, NSW

I don’t know if this is coherent or makes sense or is of any value. I’ve found it so difficult to know what to write lately, or if silence is perhaps a better option. This morning I just sat down and wrote what came out and this is it.

I just read Paul McGeough’s report today (In the ruins, all that’s left is death and fear) and words just seem inadequate, emotions seem inadequate. Chaos is being created, lives are being destroyed forever and it’s all happening in my name and your name – this is all for our future safety, and I know I didn’t ask for it, I actively opposed it. But I still have to take responsibility for it because I am an Australian and I’m not sure yet what that means, for now, for the future, or how I am to process that in the context of my own life. I guess in part it’s a waiting game.

It’s all going extremely well, they keep telling us – what does that mean? Going well for who? For Basan Hoiq, in Paul’s report?

In the next bed was Basan Hoiq, 38, who was one of 34 passengers on a bus bound for Najaf – his left arm, gone from above his elbow, is bandaged, but gaping wounds on his legs are in need of urgent treatment.

He had fled his home in strife-torn Najaf, but decided to return after being away for only a day. He said: “I could see the American flag on the tank 500 metres down the road from us. There was no warning. There was a noise and a lot of shouting on the bus – then people’s heads seemed to snap away from their bodies and many of them were dead.”

His wife, Samia, sat blank-faced at the end of his bed, clutching a two-month-old baby to her chest. His brother-in-law, Hiderj Abid Hamza, said that Basan Hoiq’s mother, Najia Hussain, was among the 18 civilians who died.

Back here safe at home I was at first confounded by the lack of war talk in shops and on the streets and from the people who live in my neighbourhood. Then I got angry that people were simply turning away, I got angry because when the going gets tough (unless it is something that they are directly effected by) people often refuse to engage. The great Australian apathy overcomes us and we go about our lives because there is nothing we can do, or so we think. We protect our children and ourselves from the traumatic images and people complain to the Herald about its front page photo. But if the Iraqi people have to go through this in our name surely we should have to bear to watch.

But I know people’s lives already overwhelm them and to risk the surfacing of their own unresolved traumas triggered by watching other people’s, is not, I understand, in anyone’s best interests. So now I just feel numb and talk to the people who can bear to stay with it for as long as it takes.

But then what is there to say about it now anyway? I can’t turn away but I’m not sure where to look or how to process the massive amounts of information being produced on the subject. What do we really need to know? What is just superfluous add-in designed to keep the massive media machine going? Much of the coverage is concerned with military analysis trying to predict the war strategies and their outcomes. Is Saddam dead or alive? It’s like a macabre form of the game ‘Where’s Wally’ designed for war enthusiasts.

The effect of this is mind and emotion numbing – it all becomes so inhuman and removed from the realities of people’s lives. But in truth what is happening is so painfully human, in the worst possible way, and personally I usually find facing pain to be a healthier option than numbness.

But we are presented with very few options for experiencing this conflict. We are effectively wedged from the realities of war, in anything other than a fragmented and disconnected context, by the fog of analysis, the manipulation of the media, and by the commentary and rhetoric of denial from our politicians. Perhaps they themselves are in denial – how hard would it be for Howard to ever face himself if he had to face the horrific consequences of his actions.

As a nation of sports lovers Howard plays us well. He knows we will fall in line behind the home side, he knows this as he spends his time effectively hiding behind his players, consoling their wives and families. It would take real courage for him to also visit the Iraqi families who sit and suffer while their homeland is reduced to rubble and they worry night and day about their relatives and friends back home. To see him sit down and explain the facts of life, as he sees them, to these people, to face them and us with something other than rhetoric would at least give us something to engage with.

But Howard will only do what plays well for him, he will do what wedges us from our own feelings and offer us a paternalism that has worked so well for him in the past. Somehow he taps into that part of us which wants to be led, the part that denies we know how to act for ourselves or make our own decisions. Our decisions are again made for us by a parental figure and we are again powerless. He does it well. Most of us fall into line without too much fuss, and who’s got time to fight all the hard battles anyway?

And for all those who think they know how this will all turn out or what is right or wrong, and I can be guilty of that as well, I would say that none of us have any idea of what lies ahead. We can know that Iraq will, most probably, fairly soon be run by the US, but other than that it’s all a guessing game with very few reliable facts to work with, particularly at the moment, positioned as we are in the cross fire of an enormous war of propaganda from every possible side. It will be some time before we get a look at some real stories and are able to separate them from all the rubbish we are now being fed.

So Margo, I think your original advice to stay calm is right on the mark. But that doesn’t mean we have to be paralysed – to pressure our government on humanitarian issues and self determination in Iraq has never been more important.

The people were already struggling before we created this chaos and now their situation is desperate. They are truly stuck between their old life and a very uncertain future, and at the moment they need us to fight for them and their rights more than ever. We have to take responsibility for our actions.


John Wojdylo

Here’s a press release from Human Rights Watch that explains the point about why Iraqis who blow themselves up etc. while posing as civilians are committing war crimes and are rightfully called terrorists. It’s to do with the consequences of the climate they sow on civilians. They drag civilians into the conflict. It’s at hrw

Iraq: Feigning Civilian Status Violates the Laws of War


Justin Bell

As I have noted in previous submissions, I am an Australian graduate student who left Sydney in June 2002 to come to Seattle. Prior to the advent of Webdiary, I thought you were decidedly left leaning in your perspective. However, I glean from your usually considered commentary on the war and the balance of views reflected in Webdiary that you have made a deliberate effort to consider the war from all perspectives. It is my first choice for a quick review of thoughtful opinions about the war and you usually pick up the best in American writing.

I thought you sacrificed some of that considered perspective for an emotional response in ‘Bring our troops home’, but I understood why you did that. My emotional response to some of the footage of war has been similar, and as an Australian my first, emotional response to George W. and the Neo-cons is :”What the …!”.

After reviewing the treatises of the “brains trust” of Rummy, Wolfey & co, my considered response is to take up religion (I’ll wait and see which one).

The Bush administration’s response to 9/11 has lacked coherence, been immature and short-sighted in its reliance upon unilateral force and bluster. However we could hardly expect a magnanimous internationalist approach from a President and administration that prided itself on withdrawing the US from oversight or restriction by global authorities – and managed to get elected by a “red” states constituency that similarly couldn’t give a rat’s about life outside the US of A.

However, nothing in the lead up to this war shook me from the view that American political culture has much more in common with Australia than the anti-war Aussie majority might care to admit. Australia’s political culture also cleaves along city/rural/regional lines, and as others have noted on Web diary, there is a consistent isolationist theme that accounts for the seeming disconnect between the popularity of a hardline approach to refugees and the unpopularity of a war that might confront the root cause of many refugees.

If Australia had the first past the post voting system of the US, and non-compulsory voting, I reckon we would have had a Prime Minister Bjelke-Petersen or Hanson by now.

My reading of Seattleites is that they are more reflexively against Bush, and by extension against the war, than even Australians. I ask Australians to be more aware of the common city/regional divide we share with the US and to consider the relative popularity of parochial and insular politics in our own backyard before tarring all Americans with the egregious error of the Bush administration. This is a war precipitated by American parochialism, for parochial ends. Parochialism is a disease from which Australians are not immune.

Since the war started, however, two events have occurred to make me think that the US may have more latent parochialism entrenched in its institutions and societal framework than does Australia. The first was the footage of the US admiral raising his hands to rock music, then making the adolescent pronouncement of the onset of war, death and destruction with the words “When the President says go, it’s hammer time”. I could not imagine an Australian military leader being so unaware or inconsiderate of the awful burden of exercising military power.

The second was the sacking of Peter Arnett and the near unanimous commentary, even on PBS, purportedly concurring in the sacking because he made his comments to Iraqi TV. I say purportedly because I do not understand the relevance of this Iraqi TV objection. It seems to me that the real objection was to the commentator and the comments themselves, not to the venue. Arnett did not say anything that different to a myriad of opinions expressed elsewhere, that were also capable of being presented on Iraqi TV for propaganda purposes. It was not until the conservative media in the US started the leftist propaganda flagellation tornado machine and aimed it at its old favourite target of Arnett that NBC, under ratings pressure from Fox, caved to what NBC management perceived as the parochial public sentiment that would favour its rival. It seems that everyone else in the mainstream American media has fallen into line.

Protecting the joys of a free society

“When you see all the spectrum at once……what do you see…….yes……that’s bloody right……you see white light. The prisms create rainbows and they are actually beautiful. Looked at as a whole as white light or split through the prisms into rainbows, the light of information enriches us all.” Harry Heidelberg

An American who wrote this week that “It’s hard to imagine you are allowed to write the thoughtless tripe that you do”, apologised after I published her critique.

“This is Heather (Borgmann). Please forgive me for my invective. I have been reading similar stuff constantly since, and before this war began, and the lack of objective journalism really irritates me. I apologize for blowing up at you. I disagree with what you say, but that did not give me the right to throw insults your way.”

I replied:

Hi Heather. I’ve been advising readers since the war began to stay calm, and then I let fly!

The way I see it is this. The world is on the edge of a precipice. And we are all in it together. We can tear each other apart, or do our best to minimise the risk of catastrophe. I put my faith in Tony Blair to convince your government to make the Israel/Palestinian peace process work, and to allow a UN administration of Iraq. These actions would, I believe, give moderate Muslims nations and people the breathing space to stem the rush to extremism that is now occurring by showing that the west is in good faith. Otherwise, I fear the unthinkable – that Arabs and other Muslims across the world will unite to make all of our lives absolute hell. Our children deserve better.

Thank you for your email. Much appreciated. .

This is getting hard to watch and impossible to process. Pro or anti war, many of us are disoriented, recoiling from images of savagery and suffering, and deeply fearful of the future. I let my emotional distress at the war explode into anger this week in Bring our troops home. Angry people hit back at me in Reaction to ‘Bring the troops home”. There’s no hope in that discourse. None. There is limitless hope in Heather’s.

The world order, the standards by which it will operate – in every aspect – and the place of every nation in it is in play. Nothing any of us ever thought was immutable is now safe. The norms of politics, business, war, media, you name it – are on the block. The enormity of what we are witnessing is overpowering.

Ratings show many people don’t want to watch the war. Politicians report that a pall of silence has enveloped their electorates, even on non-war topics like Centrelink or Medicare. I think that as a nation, we’re in shock.

In this period, one temptation is to switch off and tend the garden rather than watch the train wreck, and to rely on John Howard to soothe anxiety through his soft sophistry. He’ll make it OK. People HAVE to believe that, and so they do, for now. Labor offers nothing for them to turn to, and denial seems a sane response, for now.

But from the ruins of the old order, a new one must emerge. With all the balls in the air, everyone has power – just a little bit – to influence an aspect, just a little bit. No-one is in control of this – no-one,including world leaders. It’s important to work out a state of mind that allows you to participate constructively. And it’s important to understand that those who disagree often do so from an equal concern for humanity’s future. It’s reach-out time.

Today, Webdiarist Hugh Driver expresses the feelings of powerlessness and frustration of many in this terrible time. Then two pieces from a man whose intelligence, generosity of spirit and curiosity about the world has long inspired me. Harry Heidelberg writes first of his reaction, as a supporter of the war, to “Bring the troops home”, and them of his thoughts on the plane back to Europe after a brief time in Sydney with his mother just after the war began. It’s a beautiful piece. Thanks, Harry.


Hugh Driver in Sydney

In ‘Bring Our Troops Home’ you stated:

“It’s so obvious that what Bush is doing will cause an arms race, not reduce it. No country can hope to beat the Yanks off with conventional weapons – they’ve got air, sea and land completely covered. The only recourse is chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (the Yanks used them in Vietnam, and have not ruled out using them in this war).”

I wasn’t around during the Vietnam war era, but I’ve read a reasonable amount of information on it. None mentioned nuclear weapons – although I understand dropping some on Hanoi was considered. Can you enlighten me on when the Americans used them?

Margo to Hugh

Hi Hugh. Correction now published. An accident. Am publishing a ‘reaction’ Webdiary tonight. Hot under the collar, many are.

Hugh to Margo

“Hot under the collar, many are.”

When truth is the first victim and all those other platitudes, you have to take care.

In terms of collars and heat, where does it get you? At the end of the day, for those of us whose perspective on the war almost entirely through a computer monitor and the TV, do our rants count one way or another?

I’ve seen plenty of gumpf generated about embedded media, alternate news available on the web (does more propaganda from more sources generate greater truth?) and all. Journalists are now writing about bloggers who write about journalists who write about the war. I keep clicking the links, reading different stuff, seeking new bits of information. I have vomited back up a lot of the stuff I’ve digested in discussion board posts, e-mails to friends etc.

What does all this count for? It seems to be one large orgy in which the media and the (increasingly-web-participatory) observers continue play a game separate to the ‘real’ action (ie the war). It’s interesting, but with all the concern over the people in Iraq, the troops, etc – do any of these people benefit from this soapbox sideshow? Do those in power pay attention? Does hand-wringing, pulpit preaching or moral-highground-seizing on any side of the debate have any impact on the situation being analysed? Does bad poetry make the Iraqi children sleep better at night?

Maybe it’s all just about buying off our moral consciences, as if voicing our opinions some how gives us power over a situation which we are completely removed from. What else is it about? Voicing your anger? That strikes me as terribly self-centered.

Changing opinions – as if the concrete hasn’t already set in the heads of many? If you manage to change one person’s opinion, what’s the difference? One more/less person marching on the street? Or even hundreds, or thousands? Do the marches have any impact?

Well, maybe that’s going too far. Protest marches, or lack of them, may have some impact. But there’s still a lot of froth being generated and a hell of a lot of preaching to the converted. A lot of selective reporting and one-eyed argument construction, with hypocrites exchanging accusations of bias and prejudice from their own positions of wilful blindness to inconvenient reports.

I’m not issuing a call to apathy. I’m going to keep track of what’s happening, although I have no illusions that access to truth is proportional to websites surfed, or that the web (or any other media source) guarantees even majority truth content.

I just wonder whether scouring the net, posting rants, sending e-mails, etc etc isn’t just an intellectual exercise that, at the end of the day, counts for very little outside the very, very small circles of consequence that we operate in. Is it just another form of entertainment for modern media junkies?

Some people get off on the TV explosions, combat footage etc – the “pornography of war”. Perhaps others get their kicks by feeding on war-related information flood and perhaps using it to posture and strut their intellect. We’re into it more for the articles than the pictures, right?

Yours in unstructured and possibly incoherent ranting.

Margo To Hugh

Great piece! Can I run it????

You’re right, of course. I’m so worried about the whole thing – I’ve thought for ages we’re staring at WW111 – unsure whether it’s better to have a job which concerns it, or to be away from it all, because there’s nothing any of us can do. Watching the train crash. Adele Horin’s piece made sense though – protests keep the leaders honest, sort of.

Hugh to Margo

Go for it, although I disclaim any accountability for coherence.


Harry Heidelberg

The reaction to “Bring our Troops Home” is not surprising. You laid your anti-American cards on the table and made a wild assertion or two. As an individual who supported this war at the outset, I actually don’t have a problem with you saying what you say.

I’m now immune to this stuff. My Italian mate said to me yesterday that the CIA was the world’s largest terrorist organisation. I have now grown weary of this sort of thing. I just smile and say “yep”, without altering my own views at all. I’m prepared to wait.

Perhaps there is such a thing as growing older and wiser. I support the Americans in a lot of what they do but I know they are deeply flawed and have made lots of mistakes. The difference is I do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I see inconsistency in past practice, I do not leap to the conclusion that current thinking is wrong.

I also add that I do not view every aspect of every issue through the Vietnam prism. The baby boomers will always do this.

When your grandfather may have said the Japanese are a cruel race and will never change, the argument is not worth having. You accept the reason behind this perception and know it will never change. The perception is well founded in the past but perhaps not relevant to the present.

It’s the same with much of the anti-Americanism. The feelings are based on a cruel chapter of history and cannot be argued against in a rational way. It’s a waste of energy.

That said, I resent anyone who becomes overly nasty about it. If you think bringing the troops home is fine, then so be it.

Surely now is not the time to shut down debate. Surely in a grave hour, ALL should be heard.

I don’t agree with you Margo, but if there is anything that would send me wild and onto the streets, it would be if we ever reach a situation where diversity of views are not respected.

People need to stop whinging and start accepting responsibility. We are not passive morons absorbing information. We have to actively search for it and reach our own conclusions.

The information in this war is breathtaking in its openness. We have the American view, the Iraqi view, the Al Jazeera view and several things in between which verge on independence. As usual, people will pick and choose but it is a rich smorgasbord of information.

That’s the joy of a free society. You see it all. It also makes it hard. We are challenged to figure it out for ourselves.

At either end of the spectrum, by definition, you have extremes. At one end you have the “this is liberation” camp, at the other end you have the “demon, imperial America” camp. The truth lies somewhere in between.

If there is anything to celebrate in all this crap and misery, it’s that we have full access to the smorgasbord and have every bit of the spectrum analysed. That makes us fortunate indeed.

When you see all the spectrum at once……what do you see…….yes……that’s bloody right……you see white light. The prisms create rainbows and they are actually beautiful. Looked at as a whole as white light or split through the prisms into rainbows, the light of information enriches us all.

Get mad, get passionate, but never, ever try to shut off light or extinguish candles. We need every aspect of this debate fully lit.

PS: Here in middle Europe, “pace” or peace flags are being flown everywhere (bandieredipace). It started in Italy, a flag from every balcony. I think Saddam needs to be overthrown by war, but I fully appreciate these peace flags. Who can like war? Who does not want peace? But who exactly wants Saddam?


Flying home from home

by Harry Heidelberg

One of the great features about intercontinental air travel today is that you can tell exactly where you are from your in-seat monitor. You can also order a cappuccino to your seat and a bunch of other things.

I just noticed that the headlights went off as we crossed the border and are once again out of Afghanistan. Normally the headlights of a 747 are only used for take off and landing. For this trip though they were on throughout the part of the flight over Afghanistan. These are huge wing mounted lights, close to the fuselage, that light up the whole front of the aircraft when on.

When you fly over Afghanistan, sealed in a bubble of the highest of western high tech, a Boeing 747, you can’t help but wonder about what might be going on in the ground. More than that, you look at the map and see Bagdhad to the south and wonder how the war is going.

The aircraft now takes live updates from CNN each hour but nothing special is being reported. There’s something about loud explosions heard in Bagdhad but this news cannot be differentiated from the news a week ago. I suppose I could call someone and ask. There are phones in every seat but since I am the only one stupid enough to be awake at this ungodly hour, it would seem impolite to make a phone call.

Asymmetric warfare is taking place all over the world and it is entirely fitting because our world is so asymmetrical in so many ways. Some people can’t get water while others can’t decide which wine they would prefer.

I have just finished a discussion with a flight attendant as to why they don’t supply the proper lap top connection. It seems unfair and unreasonable. My batteries are running low and its 4.18 local time on the ground below. I’m listening to on demand music, flying at 757 kilometres per hour (we are going about 200 km/hr too slow for my liking and I just KNOW we are not going to make up that lost half hour at this rate) at 9900 metres just north of Mashhad, Iran. It’s 5 hours and 14 minutes before touch down in Zurich (4,294 kilometres to Zurich Kloten International Airport). Oh and outside it is minus 55 degrees.

Except for some uncertainty surrounding the lap to connection, I have most things at my fingertips but the map keeps reminding me that this is not a safe world, it is not a contented world. To the north, south, east and west of this aircraft’s current position are trouble spots. Places where peoples lives have been thrown into utter misery.

As an individual, there’s not much I can do about any of it, but at least I have the presence of mind to be aware of it. To be aware of how far there is to travel. To be aware of how far behind so much of humanity has been left in this very unfair journey.

All the buttons and gizmos are held by those at the front. The power seems incomparable and unchallengeable. It would be so if we lived in a world where there was some symmetry or level of comfort with the lack of it.

I’m on my way back to Europe after having been in Sydney for a couple of weeks. I never got round to writing about the war while in Sydney. I was with my mother eating a large prawn laksa at the Laksa House in QVB when the war started. We were sitting under a giant TV eating as a large crowd gathered to see the inevitable ‘Breaking News on CNN’. It’s a moment I will always remember and would have been good to get a photo of. The looks on people’s faces summed up the feeling perfectly. A feeling of tension and foreboding. Not shock, because we knew it was going to happen, but one of foreboding. Now, as we are further into the war, it seems these expressions were predictive. Not a soul of the gathered crowd at the QVB looked happy.

I read Webdiary while at home with my usual high level of interest. I read things I didn’t see elsewhere, including a report from the Russian perspective. I also read things that were reasonably predictable, but somehow comforting. I noticed David Makinson wrote a postcard to our troops. He talked about the colour of the sky in Sydney and how you don’t get it anywhere else.

When I arrived in Sydney it was mid evening and a full moon. The captain said it was a perfect night in Sydney of 21 degrees just before 8.00 pm. hen he said, ‘Cabin crew, prepare the cabin for landing in Sydney’, I had that usual feeling that I have on returning to Sydney. It’s impossible to describe. I was trying to figure out which suburb we were over and then the 747 started turning and I saw Chatswood. Then the full moon rising over a shimmering sea with the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and City below. What a place. What a place to call home.

The next day I saw the dazzling blue sky, so I know what David Makinson is talking about. There is something unique about the quality of the light in Sydney. Artists talk about it as well and you have to be deprived of it for sometime to truly appreciate it.

The war was kind of static for me in the background of my Sydney trip. I didn’t seem to have time to consider it or get into it. I had a fleeting hope that somehow it would be over quickly.

I was in Sydney for two Sundays. On that first Sunday, the Sun Herald had a picture of a soldier and a happy Iraqi. The headline was screaming Liberation. Just one week later the front page was a picture of an injured child and statistics on the mounting toll on all sides.

I’m now flying over trouble spots and back to the real world at three quarters of the speed of sound.

I still have my airline supplied face mask from the Singapore stopover, and reality is coming back to me rapidly.

It’ll soon be dawn over Europe and I’ll be back. Back physically and mentally to reality. Somehow I expect the dawn to be gloomy as we descend through the clouds. There will be no special feeling.

Sydney was great while it lasted.