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Czesław Miłosz: Alpha, the Moralist

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/11/2021 - 12:14am in

Czesław Miłosz is a Polish writer and Nobel Laureate who first came to Western attention in the early 1950s with the publication of The Captive Mind one of the earliest exposes of the nightmare of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe following WWII. He had not been in the Communist Party but was nevertheless cultural attaché to the Polish embassy in Washington DC from which he defected, or as he preferred to put it, ‘broke with’ the Polish Government.

Czesław Miłosz in 1999 in Krakow, Poland

The introduction and first three chapters are all fascinating analyses of the particular form that Stalinism has taken in Poland, but the succeeding four chapters on Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are, despite pseudonyms suggesting strains of a pathogen, are portraits of identifiable individuals. In each case the portraits are quite gripping stories of how people of great ability and ambition navigate the whipsaw of life in pre-war Poland, then the Nazi occupation followed by ‘liberation’ and the fairly rapid pacification of the national government to the dicates of the USSR and its system of thought ‘dialectics’.

Alpha, the Moralist

Jerzy Andrzejewski whom this chapter is about.

The history of the last decades in Central and Eastern Europe abounds in situations in regard to which all epithets and theoretical considerations lose meaning. A man’s effort to match up to these situations decides his fate. The solution each accepts differs according to those impalpable factors which constitute his individuality.

Since the fate of millions is often most apparent in those who by profession note changes in themselves and in others, i.e. the writers, a few portraits of typical Eastern European writers may serve as concrete examples of what is happening within the Imperium.

The man I call Alpha is one of the best-known prose writers east of the Elbe. He was a close friend of mine, and memories of many difficult moments that we went through together tie us to each other. I find it hard to remain unmoved when I recall him. I even ask myself if I should subject him to this analysis. But I shall do so because friendship would not prevent me from writing an article on his books in which I would say more or less what I shall say here.

Before the War, he was a tall, thin youth with horn-rimmed glasses. He printed his stories in a certain right-wing weekly that was held in low esteem by the literary circles of Warsaw, which were made up chiefly of Jews or of people who looked with distaste on the racist and totalitarian yearnings of this publication. The editor of the weekly had to some degree discovered him, and had reason to congratulate himself upon his choice, for Alpha’s talent was developing rapidly. Very shortly, his first novel began to appear serially in the weekly. It was later published by one of the leading houses, and created a great stir.

His main interest was directed toward tragic moral conflicts. At the time many young writers were under the spell of Joseph Conrad’s prose. Alpha was particularly susceptible to Conrad’s style because he had a tendency to create solemn and hieratic characters. Night fascinated him. Small people with their powerful passions in a night whose silence and mystery embraced their fate in its gigantic folds— this was the usual formula of his novels and stories. His youthful works resembled Conrad’s in theii majesty and silence, and in a sense of the immensity of the inhuman, indifferent world. Alpha’s position was metaphysical and tragic. He was tormented by the enigma of purity—moral purity and purity of tone in what he wrote. He distilled his sentences. He wanted each to be not merely a statement but, like a phrase in a musical composition, irreplaceable and effective in its very sound.

This need for purity, I would say for otherworldly purity, was basic to his character; yet in his relations with people he was haughty and imperious. His pursuit of purity in his work was closely linked to his personal arrogance; the former was his sublimation, his other ego, the repository of all his hopes. The more he worried about his disordered private life, the more highly he prized his redeeming activity, which is what his writing was for him, and the more he accorded to it the nature of a solemn rite. The one rank that could have sated his ambition was that of a cardinal. Slow movements, the flow of scarlet silk, the proffering of a ring to kiss—this for him was purity of gesture, self-expression through the medium of a better self. There are certain comic actors who dream all their lives of playing a serious, dignified role; in him, much the same motives were at play. Alpha, who was gifted with an exceptional sense of humor in conversation, changed completely when he began to write; then he dwelt only in the highest registers of tragedy. His ambition reached further than fame as an author of well-written books. He wanted to be a moral authority.

The novel I mentioned, which was his first big success, was widely acclaimed as a Catholic novel, and he was hailed as the most gifted Catholic writer, which in a Catholic country like Poland was no small matter. It is hard to say whether or not he really was a Catholic writer. The number of twentieth-century Catholic authors is negligible. So-called conversions of intellectuals are usually of a dubious nature, not significantly different from transitory conversions to surrealism, expressionism, or existentialism.

Alpha was the kind of Catholic so many of us were. This was a period of interest in Thomism and of references to Jacques Maritain in literary discussion. It would be wrong to maintain that for all these “intellectual Catholics” literary fashion alone was at stake; one cannot reduce the clutching gestures of a drowning man to a question of fashion. But it would be equally incorrect to consider literary debates based on a skillful juggling of Thomist terminology as symptoms of Catholicism. Be that as it may, the “intellectual Catholics” colored certain literary circles. Theirs was a special political role; they were foes of racism and totalitarianism. In this they differed from the Catholics proper, whose political mentality was not entirely free of worship of “healthy organisms” (i.e. Italy and Germany) and approval of anti-Semitic brawls. The Communists despised Jacques Maritain’s influence as degenerate, but they tolerated the “intellectual Catholics” because they opposed the ideas of the extreme right. Soon after he published his novel, Alpha began to frequent the circles of the “intellectual Catholics” and the left. Sensitive to the opinion people held of him, and taking the writer’s role as a moral authority very seriously, he broke with the rightist weekly and signed an open letter against anti-Semitism.

Everyone looked for something different in Catholicism. Alpha, with his tragic sense of the world, looked for forms: words and concepts, in short, textures. This tragic sense in him was not unlike Wells’s Invisible Man, who when he wanted to appear among people had to paste on a false nose, bandage his face and pull gloves over his invisible hands. Catholicism supplied Alpha’s language. With concepts like sin and saintliness, damnation and grace he could grasp the experiences of the characters he described; and, even more important, the language of Catholicism automatically introduced the elevated tone that was so necessary to him and lulled his longing for a cardinal’s scarlet. The hero of his book was a priest, a sure sign of the influence of French Catholic novelists, and above all Bernanos, but also an expression of Alpha’s urge to create pure and powerful characters. The action took place in a village, and here his weaknesses revealed themselves. He was so preoccupied with building up moral conflicts that he was blind to concrete details and incapable of observing living people. Having been raised in the city, he knew little of peasants and their life. The village he described was a universal one; it could just as easily have been Breton or Flemish, and for this reason it was not a real village. The characters seemed to be wearing costumes alien to them (like young nobles dressed as shepherds in pastoral literature), and their speech was uniformly alike.

The story played itself out against a barely sketched-in background, but it was powerfully welded together and the critics received it enthusiastically. It ran into several editions quickly. He received a national award for it which brought him a large sum of money. It is possible that the prize jury took into account not only the artistic merits of the book, but also certain political advantages to themselves in choosing him. In those years, the government was clearly flirting with the extreme right and the choice of Alpha seemed a wise move. The right would certainly be satisfied; whereas the liberals would have no reason to attack the decision for after all everyone was then free to believe as he pleased and to write as he believed.

Despite fame and money, in his heart Alpha never considered his novel and his collection of short stories good books. Still, the position he had won permitted him to be as haughty as he loved to be. He was recognized as the author of profound and noble prose, whereas his colleagues could hardly hope to reach a wide public otherwise than by creating a cheap sensation. Their books were either glaringly naturalistic, especially in a physiological sense, or else they were psychological tracts disguised as novels. Men of letters lived in the intellectual ghetto of their literary cafes; and the more they suffered from their isolation from the life of the masses, the stranger and less comprehensible their styles became. The bitterness Alpha felt in spite of the success of his first books was something he found difficult to define, but the moment when he realized that there was something wrong with his writing was decisive for the rest of his life.

A great doubt assailed him. If his colleagues doubted the worth of their work, suspended as it was in a void, then his perplexity took on larger proportions. He wanted to attain a purity of moral tone, but purity in order to be genuine must be earthy, deeply rooted in experience and observation of life. He perceived that he had blundered into falseness by living in the midst of ideas about people, instead of among people themselves. What he knew about man was based on his own subjective experiences within the four walls of his room. His Catholicism was no more than a cover; he toyed with it as did many twentieth-century Catholics, trying to clothe his nudity in an esteemed, Old World cloak. He was seeking some means of awakening in his reader the emotional response he wanted, and obviously the reader on finding words like grace or sin, known to him since childhood, reacted strongly. But there is an element of dishonesty in such a use of words and concepts.

Alpha no longer knew whether the conflicts he created were real. Hailed as a Catholic writer, he knew that he was not; and his reaction was like that of a painter who having painted cubistically for a while is astonished to find that he is still called a cubist after he has changed his style. Critics, deceived by appearances, reckoned his books among those that were healthy and noble as opposed to the decadent works of his fellow-writers. But he realized that he was no healthier than his colleagues who at least did not attempt to hide theii sorry nakedness.

The War broke out, and our city and country became a part of Hitler’s Imperium. For five and a half years we lived in a dimension completely different from that which any literature or experience could have led us to know. What we beheld surpassed the most daring and the most macabre imagination. Descriptions of horrors known to us of old now made us smile at their naivete. German rule in Europe was ruthless, but nowhere so ruthless as in the East, for the East was populated by races which, according to the doctrines of National Socialism, were either to be utterly eradicated or else used for heavy physical labor. The events we were forced to participate in resulted from the effort to put these doctrines into practice.

Still we lived; and since we were writers, we tried to write. True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot. There was no help for this. We were like people marooned on a dissolving floe of ice; we dared not think of the moment when it would melt away. War communiques supplied the latest data on our race with death. We had to write; it was our only defense against despair. Besides, the whole country was sown with the seeds of conspiracy and an “underground state” did exist in reality, so why shouldn’t an underground literature exist as well. Except for two or three Nazi propaganda organs, no books or magazines were printed in the language of the defeated nation. Nonetheless, the cultural life of the country refused to be stifled. Underground publications were mimeographed on the run or illegally printed in a small format that was easy to circulate. Many underground lectures and authors’ evenings were organized. There were even underground presentations of plays. All this raised the morale of the beaten but still fighting nation. National morale was good, too good, as events toward the end of the War proved.

In the course of these years, Alpha successfully realized his ambition to become a moral authority. His behavior was that of an exemplary writer-citizen. His judgments as to which actions were proper or improper passed in literary circles as those of an oracle, and he was often asked to decide whether someone had trespassed against the unwritten patriotic code. By unspoken accord, he became something of a leader of all the writers in our city. Underground funds went into his hands and he divided them among his needy colleagues; he befriended beginning writers; he founded and co-edited an underground literary review, typed copies of which were transmitted in rotation to “clubs” where they were read aloud in clandestine meetings. He ranked rather high among those initiated into the secrets of the underground network. His actions were characterized by real humanitarianism. Even before the War he had parted with his rightist patron who had voiced the opinion that the country needed to institute its own totalitarianism. (The patron was shot by the Gestapo in the first year of the War.) When the German authorities set out to murder systematically the three million Jews of Poland, the anti-Semites did not feel compelled to worry overmuch; they condemned this bestiality aloud, but many of them secretly thought it was not entirely unwarranted. Alpha belonged to those inhabitants of our town who reacted violently against this mass slaughter. He fought with his pen against the indifference of others, and personally helped Jews in hiding even though such aid was punishable by death.

He was a resolute opponent of nationalism, so nightmarishly incarnated in the Germans. This does not mean, however, that he had Communist leanings. The number of Communists in Poland had always been insignificant; and the cooperation between the Russians and the Germans after the Molotov-Rib-bentrop pact created conditions particularly unfavorable to the activity of Moscow followers. The Communist Underground was weak. The hopes of the masses were turned toward the West, and the “underground state” was dependent on the Govern-ment-in-Exile in London. Alpha, with his barometerlike sensitivity to the moral opinions of his environment, felt no sympathy for a country that awakened friendly feelings in almost no one. But like the majority of his friends, he was anxious for far-reaching social reforms and for a people’s government.

He and I used to meet often. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that we spent the War years together. The sight of him was enough to raise one’s spirits. He smiled in the face of all adversity; his manner was nonchalant; and to symbolize his contempt for hob-nailed boots, uniforms, and shouts of “Heil Hitler,” he habitually carried a black umbrella. His tall, lean figure, the ironic flash of his eyes behind his glasses, and the anointed air with which he strode through the terror-plagued streets of the city added up to a silhouette that defied the laws of war.

Once, in the first year of the War, we were returning from a visit to a mutual friend who lived in the country. As I remember, we were arguing about the choice of a train. We decided against the advice of our host who had urged us to take a train leaving half an hour later. We arrived in Warsaw and walked along the streets feeling very satisfied with life. It was a beautiful summer morning. We did not know that this day was to be remembered as one of the blackest in the history of our city. Scarcely had I closed my door behind me when I heard shrieks in the street. Looking out the window, I saw that a general manhunt was on. This was the first man-hunt for Auschwitz. Later millions of Europeans were to be killed there, but at the time this concentration camp was just starting to operate. From the first huge transport of people caught on the streets that day no one, it appears, escaped alive. Alpha and I had strolled those streets five minutes before the beginning of the hunt; perhaps his umbrella and his insouciance brought us luck.

These years were a test for every writer. The real tragedy of events pushed imaginary tragedies into the shade. Whichever of us failed to find an expression for collective despair or hope was ashamed. Only elementary feelings remained: fear, pain at the loss of dear ones, hatred of the oppressor, sympathy with the tormented. Alpha, whose talent was in search of real and not imaginary tragedy, sensed the material at hand and wrote a series of short stories which were published as a book after the War and widely translated. The theme of all these stories can be defined as loyalty. Not for nothing had Conrad been the favorite writer of his youth. This was a loyalty to something in man, something nameless, but strong and pure. Before the War, he tended to call this imperative sense of loyalty moral, in the Catholic sense. Now, fearing falseness, he affirmed merely that this imperative existed. When his dying heroes turned their eyes toward a mute heaven, they could find nothing there; they could only hope that their loyalty was not completely meaningless and that, in spite of everything, something in the universe responded to it.

The morality of his heroes was a lay morality, with a question mark, with a pause, a pause that was not quite faith. I think he was more honest in these stories than in his pre-war writings. At the same time, he expressed accurately and powerfully the state of mind of the countless underground fighters dying in the battle against Nazism. Why did they throw their lives into the scale? Why did they accept torture and death? They had no point of support like the Fiihrer for the Germans or the New Faith for the Communists. It is doubtful whether most of them believed in Christ. It could only have been loyalty, loyalty to something called fatherland or honor, but something stronger than any name. In one of his stories, a young boy, tortured by the police and knowing that he will be shot, gives the name of his friend because he is afraid to die alone. They meet before the firing squad, and the betrayed forgives his betrayer. This forgiveness cannot be justified by any utilitarian ethic; there is no reason to forgive traitors. Had this story been written by a Soviet author, the betrayed would have turned away with disdain from the man who had succumbed to base weakness. Forsaking Christianity, Alpha became a more religious writer than he had been before, if we grant that the ethic of loyalty is an extension of religious ethics and a contradiction of an ethic of collective goals.

In the second half of the War, a serious crisis in political consciousness took place in the “underground state.” The underground struggle against the occupying power entailed great sacrifices; the number of persons executed or liquidated in concentration camps grew constantly. To explain the need of such sacrifice solely on the basis of loyalty left one a prey to doubt. Loyalty can be the basis of individual action, but when decisions affecting the fate of hundreds of thousands of people are to be made, loyalty is not enough. One seeks logical justification. But what kind of logical justification could there be? From the East the victorious Red Army was drawing near. The Western armies were far away. In the name of what future, in the name of what order were young people dying every day? More than one man whose task it was to sustain the morale of others posed this question to himself. No one was able to formulate an answer. Irrational dreams that something would happen to stop the advance of the Red Army and at the same time overthrow Hitler were linked with an appeal to the honor of the “country without a Quisling”; but this was not a very substantial prop for those of a more sober turn of mind. At this moment, Communist underground organizations began to be active, and were joined by some left-wing Socialists. The Communist program offered more realistic arguments than did the program of the London-directed “underground state”: the country, it was fairly clear, was going to be liberated by the Red Army; with its aid one should start a people’s revolution.

Gradually the intellectuals in the underground became impatient with the irrational attitudes that were spreading in the resistance movement. This irrationality began to reach the point of hysteria. Conspiracy became an end in itself; to die or to expose others to death, something of a sport. Alpha found himself surrounded by living caricatures of the ethic of loyalty he expounded in his stories. The patriotic code of his class prohibited him from approaching the small groups whose policy followed Moscow’s dictates.

Like so many of his friends, Alpha felt himself in a trap. Then, for the first time in his writing he invoked his sense of humor, using it to point up the figures he knew so well, the figures of men mad for conspiracy. His satires bared the social background of underground hysteria. There is no doubt that the “underground state” was the handiwork of the intelligentsia above all, of a stratum never known in Western Europe, not to mention the Anglo-Saxon countries. Since the intelligentsia was, in its customs and ties, the legatee of the nobility (even if some members were of peasant origin), its characteristic traits were not especially attractive to the intellectuals. The intellectuals of Poland had made several attempts to revolt against the intelligentsia of which they themselves were a part, much as the intellectuals in America had rebelled against the middle class. When a member of the intelligentsia really began to think, he perceived that he was isolated from the broad masses of the population. Finding the social order at fault, he tended to become a radical in an effort to establish a tie with the masses. Alpha’s satires on the intelligentsia of the Underground convinced him that this stratum, with its many aberrations, boded ill for the future of the country if the postwar rulers were to be recruited from its ranks— which seemed inevitable in the event of the London Government-in-Exile’s arrival in Poland.

Just when he was passing through this process of bitter and impotent mockery, the uprising broke out. For two months, a kilometer-high column of smoke and flames stood over Warsaw. Two hundred thousand people died in the street fighting. Those neighborhoods which were not leveled by bombs or by the fire of heavy artillery were burned down by SS squads. After the uprising, the city which once numbered over a million inhabitants was a wilderness of ruins, its population deported, and its demolished streets literally cemeteries. Alpha, living in a distant suburb that bordered on fields, succeeded in escaping unharmed through the dangerous zone where people in flight were caught and sent to concentration camps.

In April of 1945, after the Germans had been expelled by the Red Army (the battles were then raging at the gates of Berlin), Alpha and I returned to Warsaw and wandered together over the mounds of rubble that had once been streets. We spent several hours in a once familiar part of the city. Now we could not recognize it. We scaled a slope of red bricks and entered upon a fantastic moon-world. There was total silence. As we worked our way downward, balancing to keep from falling, ever new scenes of waste and destruction loomed before us. In one of the gorges we stumbled upon a little plank fastened to a metal bar. The inscription, written in red paint or in blood, read: “Lieutenant Zbyszek’s road of suffering.” I know what Alpha’s thoughts were at that time, and they were mine: we were thinking of what traces remain after the life of a man. These words rang like a cry to heaven from a shattered earth. It was a cry for justice. Who was Lieutenant Zbyszek? Who among the living would ever know what he had suffered? We imagined him crawling along this trail which some comrade, probably long-since killed, had marked with the inscription. We saw him as, with an effort of his will, he mustered his fleeting strength and, aware of being mortally wounded, thought only of carrying out his duty. Why? Who measured his wisdom or madness? Was this a monad of Leibnitz, fulfilling its destiny in the universe, or only the son of a postman, obeying a futile maxim of honor instilled in him by his father, who himself was living up to the virtues of a courtly tradition?

Farther on, we came upon a worn footpath. It led into a deep mountain cleft. At the bottom stood a clumsy, huddled cross with a helmet on it. At the foot of the cross were freshly planted flowers. Somebody’s son lay here. A mother had found her way to him and worn the path through her daily visits. Theatrical thunder suddenly broke the silence. It was the wind rattling the metal sheets hanging from a cliff-like wall. We scrambled out of the heap of debris into a practically untouched courtyard. Rusting machines stood among the high weeds. And on the steps of the charred villa we found some account books listing profits and losses.

The Warsaw uprising begun at the order of the Government-in-Exile in London broke out, as we know, at the moment when the Red Army was approaching the capital and the retreating German armies were fighting in the outskirts of the city. Feeling in the Underground was reaching a boiling point; the Underground Army wanted to fight. The uprising was intended to oust the Germans and to take possession of the city so that the Red Army would be greeted by an already-functioning Polish government. Once the battle in the city began, and once it became obvious that the Red Army, standing on the other side of the river, would not move to the aid of the insurgents, it was too late for prudence. The tragedy played itself out according to all the immutable rules. This was the revolt of a fly against two giants. One giant waited beyond the river for the other to kill the fly. As a matter of fact, the fly defended itself, but its soldiers were generally armed only with pistols, grenades, and benzine bottles. For two months the giant sent his bombers over the city to drop their loads from a height of a few hundred feet; he supported his troops with tanks and the heaviest artillery. In the end, he crushed the fly only to be crushed in his turn by the second, patient giant.

There was no logical reason for Russia to have helped Warsaw. The Russians were bringing the West not only liberation from Hitler, but liberation from the existing order, which they wanted to replace with a good order, namely their own. The “underground state” and the London Government-in-Exile stood in the way of their overthrow of capitalism in Poland; whereas, behind the Red Army lines a different Polish government, appointed in Moscow, was already in office. The destruction of Warsaw represented certain indisputable advantages. The people dying in the street fights were precisely those who could create most trouble for the new rulers, the young intelligentsia, seasoned in its underground struggle with the Germans, and wholly fanatic in its patriotism. The city itself in the course of the years of occupation had been transformed into an underground fortress filled with hidden printing shops and arsenals. This traditional capital of revolts and insurrections was undoubtedly the most insubordinate city in the area that was to find itself under the Center’s influence. All that could have argued for aid to Warsaw would have been pity for the one million inhabitants dying in the town. But pity is superfluous wherever sentence is pronounced by History.

Alpha, walking with me over the ruins of Warsaw, felt, as did all those who survived, one dominant emotion: anger. Many of his close friends lay in the shallow graves which abounded in the lunar landscape. The twenty-year-old poet Christopher, a thin asthmatic, physically no stronger than Marcel Proust, had died at his post sniping at SS tanks. With him the greatest hope of Polish poetry perished. His wife Barbara was wounded and died in a hospital, grasping a manuscript of her husband’s verses in her hand. The poet Karol, son of the workers’ quarter and author of a play about Homer, together with his inseparable comrade, the poet Marek, were blown up on a barricade the Germans dynamited. Alpha knew, also, that the person he loved most in his life had been deported to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck after the suppression of the uprising. He

waited for her long after the end of the War until he finally had to accept the idea that she was no longer alive. His anger was directed against those who had brought on the disaster, that terrible example of what happens when blind loyalty encounters the necessities of History. Just as his Catholic words had once rung false to him, so now his ethic of loyalty seemed a pretty but hollow concept.

Actually, Alpha was one of those who were responsible for what had happened. Could he not see the eyes of the young people gazing at him as he read his stories in clandestine authors’ evenings? These were the young people who had died in the uprising: Lieutenant Zbyszek, Christopher, Barbara, Karol, Marek, and thousands like them. They had known there was no hope of victory and that their death was no more than a gesture in the face of an indifferent world. They had died without even asking whether there was some scale in which their deeds would be weighed. The young philosopher Milbrand, a disciple of Heidegger, assigned to presswork by his superiors, demanded to be sent to the line of battle because he believed that the greatest gift a man can have is the moment of free choice; three hours later he was dead. There were no limits to these frenzies of voluntary self-sacrifice.

Alpha did not blame the Russians. What was the use? They were the force of History. Communism was fighting Fascism; and the Poles, with their ethical code based on nothing but loyalty, had managed to thrust themselves between these two forces. Joseph Conrad, that incorrigible Polish noble! Surely the example of Warsaw had demonstrated that there was no place in the twentieth century for imperatives of fatherland or honor unless they were supported by some definite end. A moralist of today, Alpha reasoned, should turn his attention to social goals and social results. The rebels were not even an enemy in

the minds of the Germans; they were an inferior race that had to be destroyed. For the Russians, they were “Polish fascists.” The Warsaw uprising was the swansong of the intelligentsia and the order it defended; like the suicidal charges of the Confederates during the American Civil War, it could not stave off defeat. With its fall, the Revolution was, in effect, accomplished; in any case, the road was open. This was not, as the press of the new government proclaimed in its effort to lull the people, a “peaceful revolution.” Its price was bloody, as the ruins of the largest city in the country testified.

But one had to live and be active instead of looking back at what had passed. The country was ravaged. The new government went energetically to work reconstructing, putting mines and factories into operation, and dividing estates among the peasants. New responsibilities faced the writer. His books were eagerly awaited by a human ant-hill, shaken out of its torpor and stirred up by the big stick of war and of social reforms. We should not wonder, then, that Alpha, like the majority of his colleagues, declared at once his desire to serve the new Poland that had risen out of the ashes of the old.

He was accepted with open arms by the handful of Polish Communists who had spent the war years in Russia and who had returned to organize the state according to the maxims of Leninism-Stalinism. Then, that is in 1945, everyone who could be useful was welcomed joyfully without any demand that he be a Red. Both the benevolent mask under which the Party appeared and the moderation of its slogans were due to the fact that there were so uncommonly few Stalinists in the country.

Unquestionably, it is only by patient and gradually increased doses of the doctrine that one can bring a pagan population to understand and accept the New Faith. Ever since his break with the rightist weekly, Alpha had enjoyed a good opinion in those circles which were now most influential. He was not reprimanded for having kept his distance from Marxist groups during the War; authors who had maintained such contacts could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now the writers of Poland were a little like virgins—willing, but timid. Their first public statements were cautious and painstakingly measured. Still it was not what they said that mattered. Their names were needed as proof that the government was supported by the entire cultural elite. The program of behavior toward various categories of people had been elaborated by the Polish Communists while they were still in Moscow; and it was a wise program, based on an intimate understanding of conditions in the country. The tasks that lay before them were unusually difficult. The country did not want their government. The Party, which had barely existed before the War, had to be reorganized and had to reconcile itself to the knowledge that most of its new members would be opportunists. Left-wing Socialists had to be admitted into the government. It was still necessary to carry on a complicated game with the Peasant Party, for after Yalta the Western allies demanded at least the semblance of a coalition. The most immediate job, therefore, was to bridge the gap between the small group of Communists and the country as a whole; those who could help most in building this bridge were famous writers who were known as liberals or even as conservatives. Alpha fulfilled every requirement. His article appeared on the first page of a government literary weekly; it was an article on humanism. As I recall it, he spoke in it of the ethic of respect for man that revolution brings.

It was May, 1945, in the medieval city of Cracow. Alpha and I, as well as many other writers and artists, had taken refuge there after the destruction of Warsaw. The night the news of the fall of Berlin came was lit with bursts of rockets and shells, and the streets echoed with the fire ot small arms as the soldiers of the victorious Red Army celebrated the prospect of a speedy return home. The next morning, on a fine spring day, Alpha and I were sitting in the office of Polish Film, working on a scenario. Tying up the loose ends of a film is a burdensome business; we were putting our feet up on tables and armchairs, we were pacing the room, smoking too many cigarettes and constantly being lured to the window through which came the warble of sparrows. Outside the window was a courtyard with young trees, and beyond the courtyard a huge building lately transformed into a prison and the headquarters of the Security Police. We saw scores of young men behind the barred windows on the ground floor. Some had thrust their faces into the sun in an effort to get a tan. Others were fishing with wire hooks for the bits of paper which had been tossed out on the sand from neighboring cells. Standing in the window, we observed them in silence.

It was easy to guess that these were soldiers of the Underground Army. Had the London Govern-ment-in-Exile returned to Poland, these soldiers of the “underground state” would have been honored and feted as heroes. Instead, they were incarcerated as a politically uncertain element—another of History’s ironic jokes. These young boys who had grown used to living with a gun in their hands and surrounded by perpetual danger were now supposed to forget their taste for conspiracy as quickly as possible. Many succeeded so well in forgetting that they pretended they had never been active in the Underground. Others stayed in the woods, and any of them that were caught were thrown behind bars. Although their foe had been Hitler, they were now termed agents of the class enemy. These were the brothers of the young people who had fought and died in the Warsaw uprising, people whose blind self-sacrifice lay on Alpha’s conscience. I do not know what he was thinking as he looked at the windows of those prison cells. Perhaps even then he was sketching the plan of his first post-war novel.

As his whole biography demonstrates, his ambition was always boundless. He was never content to be just one among many; he had to be a leader so that he could justify his personal haughtiness. The novel he was writing should, he believed, raise him to first place among the writers active in the new situation. This was a time when writers were trying to change their style and subject matter, but they could not succeed without first effecting a corresponding change in their own personalities. Alpha was undergoing a moral crisis which was personal to him, but at the same time a reiteration of a conflict known to many of his countrymen. He sensed in himself a power that flowed from his individual but simultaneously universal drama. His feeling for the tragedy of life was seeking a new garment in which to appear in public.

Alpha did not betray his belief in himself. The novel he wrote was the product of a mature talent. It made a great impression on its readers. All his life he had circled around the figure of a strong and pure hero. In his pre-war novel, he had used a priest; now he drew a representative of the New Faith, a fearless old Communist who after spending many years in German concentration camps emerged unbroken in spirit. Returning to his devastated homeland, this hero found himself faced with a chaos which his clear mind and strong will were to convert into a new social order. The society he was to transform showed every sign of moral decay. The older generation of the intelligentsia, personally ambitious and addicted to drink, was still daydreaming of help from the Western allies. The youth of the country, educated to principles of blind loyalty and habituated to an adventurous life in the Underground, was now completely lost. Knowing no goals of human activity other than war against the enemy in the name of honor, it continued to conspire against a new enemy, namely the Party and the government imposed by Russia. But given post-war circumstances, the Party was the only power that could guarantee peace, reconstruct the country, enable the people to earn their daily bread, and start schools and universities, ships and railroads functioning. One did not have to be a Communist to reach this conclusion; it was obvious to everyone. To kill Party workers, to sabotage trains carrying food, to attack laborers who were trying to rebuild the factories was to prolong the period of chaos. Only madmen could commit such fruitless and illogical acts.

This was Alpha’s picture of the country. One might have called it a piece of common-sense journalism had it not been for something that always distinguished him as a writer: pity, pity for the old Communist as well as for those who considered him their enemy. Because he felt compassion for both these forces, he succeeded in writing a tragic novel.

His shortcomings as a writer, so clearly evident in his pre-war works, now stood him in good stead. His talent was not realistic; his people moved in a world difficult to visualize. He built up moral conflicts by stressing contrasts in his characters; but his old Communist was as rare a specimen on the Polish scene as the priest he had made his hero before the War. Communists may, in general, be depicted as active, intelligent, fanatic, cunning but above all as men who take external acts as their domain. Alpha’s hero was not a man of deeds; on the contrary, he was a silent, immovable rock whose stony exterior covered all that was most human—personal suffering and a longing for good. He was a monumental figure, an ascetic living for his ideas. He was ashamed of his personal cares, and his refusal to confess his private pain won the sympathy of the readers. In the concentration camp he had lost the wife he dearly loved;

and now it was only by the greatest effort of his will that he could compel himself to live, for life had suddenly become devoid of meaning. He was a titan with a torn heart, full of love and forgiveness. In short, he emerged as a potential force capable of leading the world toward good. Just when his feelings and thoughts were purest he died, shot by a young man who saw in him only an agent of Moscow.

One can understand why Alpha, living in a country where the word “Communist” still had an abusive connotation, wanted to portray his hero as the model of a higher ethic; but that ethic can be evaluated properly only when we see it applied to concrete problems, only when its followers treat people as tools. As for the society the old Communist wanted to transform, an accurate observer would have seen in it positive signs and not merely symptoms of disintegration. The intelligentsia, that is every variety of specialist, were setting to work just as enthusiastically as the workers and peasants in mobilizing the factories, mines, railroads, schools, and theaters. They were governed by a feeling of responsibility toward the community and by professional pride, not by a vision of socialism along Russian lines. Nevertheless, their ethic of responsibility bore important results. Their political thinking was naive, and their manners often characteristic of a by-gone era. Yet it was they, and not the Party, who reacted most energetically at first. The younger generation was lost and leaderless, but its terroristic deeds were at least as much a product of despair as of demoralization. The boys that Alpha and I had seen in the windows of the prison were not there because of any crimes they had committed, but only because of their war-time service in the “underground state.” Alpha could not say all this because of the censorship, but his expressed pity for these boys permitted the reader to guess at what he left unsaid. However, his failure to present all the facets of the situation altered the motivation of his characters.

His book was entirely dominated by a feeling of anger against the losers. This anger was essential to the existence of Alpha and many like him. The satiric attitude toward the underground intelligentsia which marked the stories he wrote toward the end of the War now manifested itself in the chapters of the novel that mocked absurd hopes for a sudden political change. In reality, these hopes, no matter how absurd the form they took in members of the white collar class, were far from alien to the peasants and workers. Alpha never knew the latter intimately, so he could, with much greater ease, attribute the belief in a magic removal of the Russians to a special characteristic of the intelligentsia which, unfortunately, was not distinguished for its political insight.

A novel that favorably compared the ethic of the New Faith with the vanquished code was very important to the Party. The book was so widely publicized that it quickly sold over 100,000 copies, and in 1948, Alpha was awarded a state prize. One city donated to him a beautiful villa furnished at considerable expense. A useful writer in a people’s democracy cannot complain of a lack of attention.

The Party dialecticians knew perfectly well that Alpha’s hero was not a model of the “new man.” That he was a Communist could be divined only from the author’s assurances. He appeared on the pages of the book prepared to act, but not in action. Alpha’s old hero had merely traded his priest’s cassock for the leather jacket of a Communist. Although Alpha had changed the language of his concepts, the residue of tragedy and metaphysics remained constant. And even though the old Com­munist did not pray, the readers would not have been surprised to hear his habitually sealed lips suddenly utter the lamentations of Jeremiah, so well did the words of the prophet harmonize with his personality. Alpha, then, had not altered subjectively since his pre-war days; he still could not limit himself to a purely utilitarian ethic expressed in rational acts. Faust and King Lear did penance within his hero. Both heaven and earth continued to exist. Still one could not ask too much. He did not belong to the Party, but he showed some understanding. His treatment of the terrorist youth even more than his portrayal of the old Communist demonstrated that he was learning. It was too early to impose “socialist realism”; the term was not even mentioned lest it alarm the writers and artists. For the same reason, the peasants were assured that there would be no collective farms in Poland.

The day of decision did not come for Alpha until a few years after he had published his novel. He was living in his beautiful villa, signing numerous political declarations, serving on committees and traveling throughout the country lecturing on literature in factory auditoriums, clubs and “houses of culture.” For many, these authors’ trips, organized on a large scale, were a painful duty; but for him they were a pleasure, for they enabled him to become acquainted with the life and problems of the working-class youth. For the first time, he was really stepping out of his intellectual clan; and better still, he was doing so as a respected author. As one of the top-ranking writers of the people’s democracies he could feel himself, if not a cardinal, then at least an eminent canon.

In line with the Center’s plan, the country was being progressively transformed. The time came to shorten the reins on the writers and to demand that they declare themselves clearly for the New Faith. At writers’ congresses “socialist realism” was proclaimed the sole indicated creative method. It appears that he lived through this moment with particular pain. Showing incredible dexterity the Party

had imperceptibly led the writers to the point of conversion. Now they had to comply with the Party’s ultimatum or else rebel abruptly and so fall to the foot of the social ladder. To split one’s loyalties, to pay God in one currency and Caesar in another, was no longer possible. No one ordered the writers to enter the Party formally; yet there was no logical obstacle to joining once one accepted the New Faith. Such a step would signalize greater courage, for admission into the Party meant an increase in one’s responsibilities.

As the novelist most highly regarded by Party circles. Alpha could make but one decision. As a moral authority he was expected to set an example for his colleagues. During the first years of the new order he had established strong bonds with the Revolution. He was, at last, a popular writer whose readers were recruited from the masses. His highly praised pre-war novel had sold scarcely a few thousand copies; now he and every author could count on reaching a tremendous public. He was no longer isolated; he told himself he was needed not by a few snobs in a coffee-house, but by this new workers’ youth he spoke to in his travels over the country. This metamorphosis was entirely due to the victory of Russia and the Party, and logically one ought to accept not only practical results but also the philosophical principles that engendered them.

That was not easy for him. Ever more frequently he was attacked for his love of monumental tragedy. He tried to write differently, but whenever he denied something that lay in the very nature of his talent his prose became flat and colorless; he tore up his manuscripts. He asked himself whether he could renounce all effort to portray the tragic conflicts peculiar to life in a giant collective. The causes of the human distress he saw about him daily were no longer the same as in a capitalist system, but the sum total of suffering seemed to grow instead of diminish.

Alpha knew too much about Russia and the merciless methods dialecticians employed on “human material” not to be assailed by waves of doubt. He was aware that in accepting the New Faith he would cease to be a moral authority and become a pedagogue, expressing only what was recognized as useful. Henceforth, ten or fifteen dialectical experts would weigh each of his sentences, considering whether he had committed the sin of pure tragedy. But there was no returning. Telling himself that he was already a Communist in his actions, he entered the Party and at once published a long article about himself as a writer. This was a self-criticism; in Christian terminology, a confession. Other writers read his article with envy and fear. That he was first everywhere and in everything aroused their jealousy, but that he showed himself so clever—so like a Stak-hanovite miner who first announces that he will set an unusually high norm—filled them with apprehension. Miners do not like any of their comrades who are too inclined to accumulate honors for having driven others to a speed-up.

His self-criticism was so skillfully written that it stands as a classic declaration of a writer renouncing the past in the name of the New Faith. It was translated into many languages, and printed even by Stalinist publications in the West. In condemning his previous books he resorted to a special stratagem: he admitted openly what he had always secretly thought of the flaws in his work. He didn’t need dialectics to show him these flaws; he knew them of old, long before he approached Marxism, but now he attributed his insight to the merits of the Method. Every good writer knows he should not let himself be seduced by high-sounding words or by emotionally effective but empty concepts. Alpha affirmed that he had stumbled into these pitfalls because he wasn’t a Marxist. He also let it be understood that he did not consider himself a Communist writer, but only one who was trying to master the Method, that highest of all sciences. What was remarkable about the article was the sainted, supercilious tone, always Alpha’s own, in which it was written. That tone led one to suspect that in damning his faults he was compounding them and that he gloried in his new garb of humility.

The Party confided to him, as a former Catholic, the function of making speeches against the policy of the Vatican. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to Moscow, and on his return he published a book about the “Soviet man.” By demonstrating dialectically that the only truly free man was the citizen of the Soviet Union, he was once again reaching for the laurels of supremacy. His colleagues had always been more or less ashamed to use this literary tactic even though they knew it was dialectically correct. As a result, he came to be actively disliked in the literary ghetto. I call this a ghetto because despite the fact that they were lecturing throughout the country and reaching an ever larger public the writers were now as securely locked up in their collective homes and clubs as they had been in their pre-war coffee-houses. Alpha’s fellow-authors, jealous of the success his noble tone had brought him, called him the “respectable prostitute.”

It is not my place to judge. I myself traveled the same road of seeming inevitability. In fleeing I trampled on many values that may determine the worth of a man. So I judge myself severely though my sins are not the same as his. Perhaps the difference in our destinies lay in a minute disparity in our reactions when we visited the ruins of Warsaw or gazed out the window at the prisoners. I felt that I could not write of these things unless I wrote the whole truth, not just a part. I had the same feeling about the events that took place in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, namely that every form of literature could be applied to them except fiction. We used to feel

strangely ashamed, I remember, whenever Alpha read us his stories in that war-contaminated city. He exploited his subject matter too soon, his composition was too smooth. Thousands of people were dying in torture all about us; to transform their sufferings immediately into tragic theater seemed to us indecent. It is sometimes better to stammer from an excess of emotion than to speak in well-turned phrases. The inner voice that stops us when we might say too much is wise. It is not improbable that he did not know this voice.

Only a passion for truth could have saved Alpha from developing into the person he became. Then, it is true, he would not have written his novel about the old Communist and demoralized Polish youth. He had allowed himself the luxury of pity, but only once he was within a framework safe from the censors’ reproaches. In his desire to win approbation he had simplified his picture to conform to the wishes of the Party. One compromise leads to a second and a third until at last, though everything one says may be perfectly logical, it no longer has anything in common with the flesh and blood of living people. This is the reverse side of the medal of dialectics. This is the price one pays for the mental comfort dialectics affords. Around Alpha there lived and continue to live many workers and peasants whose words are ineffectual, but in the end, the inner voice they hear is not different from the subjective command that shuts writers’ lips and demands all or nothing. Who knows, probably some unknown peasant or some minor postal employee should be placed higher in the hierarchy of those who serve humanity than Alpha the moralist.

#1530; In which Beats are Sweet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 4:00am in


comic, history, Music

People will claim lots of things to impress some random moron.

Doctor Who: BBC Comp Video Celebrates Show's Historical Adventures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/11/2021 - 12:38am in

In honor of the new series of Doctor Who, the BBC has released a compilation video focusing on the show's more historical moments.

COP26: The Curtain Falls (2X Updated).

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/11/2021 - 2:56pm in

“The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death
sentence for us.” If all the pledges are fulfilled,
the world is heading to 2.4ºC. (source)
One doesn’t need to be environmentally conscious or a proud Commie worker – like yours truly – to empathise with the Maldivian Environment Minister Aminath Shauna.

As COP26 was drawing to a close early this Sunday morning (AEDT), Shauna said:

“We put our homes on the line, while those who have other options decide how quickly they want to act to save those who don’t.

“What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time,” she said.

“It will be too late for the Maldives.”

Hearing her, no common person could have missed – or avoid being moved – by the quiet bitterness and the dignity in her voice.


Much the same could be said about the interventions of the representatives of countries as different as Mexico, the Marshall Islands, Fiji, at one hand, and Liechtenstein, Switzerland or the European Union, at the other hand. The impotent anger and exhaustion in their words are unmistakable.


Earlier in the morning, as Aussies were asleep, countries like Mexico and a number of small island states were rebuffed for attempting to amend the already watered down third draft resolution (they were petitioning for financial compensation for damages and losses).

The draft required unanimous approval from the parties, they were reminded. Last minute amendments could jeopardise the efforts to approve said draft.

Although unhappy with the unaltered third draft, those representatives chose the greater good.


A few hours later, India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav demanded the draft to be further watered down. An additional last minute amendment was required: Instead of “phasing out” coal, the resolution should read “phasing down”. China and South Africa – like India, major importers of coal – quickly supported the Indian motion. If they had been warned against last-minute amendments, they didn’t seem to take notice. The greater good did not concern them as much.

In their case, their last minute amendment was accepted, without even the formality of being presented in a printed form.


Readers may have noticed that Cold War 2 ideological friends of Australia (Narendra Modi’s India is a Quad member) and arch-foes (Xi Jinping’s China) shall keep buying Aussie coal, until the world is well and truly baked. A true clash of ideologies: on one side, liberal democracies; on the other, an authoritarian regime. Good versus evil.

Reality shows that ideology is not as all-powerful as Western intellectuals claim.


One should imagine the Australian negotiator, James Isbister, who has flown under the radar during the whole process, feels relieved. Australia is one of the world’s major producers and exporters of coal and gas.


The point of this story? Appeals to compassion or even basic human decency have a good chance with common people.

Perhaps in a socialist world, if common people have real power, compassion and decency may be decisive criteria. I won’t really promise that, to be honest, but it seems within the realm of the possible.

What I can say with absolute certainty, based on a lifetime of experience, is that in a capitalist world such appeals – addressed to our “leaders” – are doomed to fail. In a capitalist world, compassion or decency are irrelevant. Might is right.


Do those people have blood on their hands? I’ll let history be the judge of that.


Updated. 14/11/2021 19:30 AEDT.

Some 21 hours ago, Bevan Shields, Europe correspondent who covered the Rome G20 Summit and COP26 for The Sydney Morning Herald (the bloke who actually asked Macron “do you think Scott Morrison lied to you?”) reported that multiple delegations believed that Australia was behind the push to further weaken the draft resolution.

He himself, however, doubted that was the case. Lacking further information or evidence, his position seems warranted, although one would have thought a little probing would have been indicated: the suspicion is understandable.

Ben Lewis, SBS’s Chief International Correspondent, agreed with Shields: “Australia can let other big emitters (Saudi, China, Russia) take the lead on watering down coal/fossil fuel language. They all face less domestic fallout for doing so.”

Lewis actually approached Isbister and asked whether he had anything to do with that. Isbister neither denied nor admitted it, mumbling instead “it’s not my job to speak” or something to the effect.

Sadly, the ABC’s coverage of the last week of COP26 has been lacklustre.

2nd Update. 15/11/2021 18:13

Ben Lewis further elaborated:

  • “Cannot understand why Australia’s representative at the pointy end #COP26 @AusAmbEnviro  wouldn’t (or wasn’t allowed, as I suspect) to speak to the media. Almost every other country had a climate envoy who frequently briefed the press to explain what was happening in talks.” (here)
  • “We learnt almost everything about the Australian approach to the negotiations from other national delegations and civil society groups.” (here)
  • “Should add, we requested interviews- or even off-camera briefings with @AusAmbEnviro on multiple occasions over the two weeks of COP.” (here)

The Upside Down: The Appeal of Hibernation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2021 - 10:31pm in

The Upside DownThe Appeal of Hibernation

If humans can’t yet hibernate, could we approach something like the ‘torpor’ that bears and other larger mammals practice? asks John Mitchinson


As the temperature in our northern climes begins to drop, and the uncertain light and slimy dampness undermine even the most cheerful of moods, the fantasy of hibernation returns. What if we could go to bed in December and slumber though until March? Imagine the savings on food, fuel, family strife and box-sets? Lockdown would have felt very different if we’d been in an altered state of consciousness.

We may not have to wait much longer. Human hibernation is firmly on NASA’s agenda as a possible solution to the challenge of long-haul space travel. The stumbling block is our stubborn body temperature which is set at 36.5–37.5 °C.

Unlike many mammals, we aren’t able to reduce our core temperature and enter a state of arrested metabolism, although research into drugs that would help us do that is already advanced, not least because they might have a value in treating insomnia. Sleep is usually triggered by a reduction in core body temperature which happens as part of the circadian cycle, but this cycle is often scrambled in chronic insomniacs. If we can’t yet hibernate, maybe we could approach something like the ‘torpor’ that bears and other larger mammals practice? In fact, there is some evidence that remote peasant communities once did exactly this. 

At the beginning of the 19th Century, France was four-fifths rural. Almost a third of the population lived in hamlets of fewer than 35 people. Without an industrial revolution to transform its roads, railways and canals, travelling in ‘la France profonde’ for the metropolitan elite of Paris was as exotic as a trip to the lands of Tartary. In the years after the revolution of 1789, reports came back of almost unimaginably rudimentary lifestyles. 

The paysan’s year was divided into two seasons – five months of labour, during which 99% of the work was done, and seven months of winter. As money was practically unknown in rural France until the late 19th Century, there was little motivation to do anything other than conserve energy. It seems in many places whole families just took to their beds, snug under their hayloft, with a supply of dried and preserved food and their animals in the next room to keep them warm. If anyone died, the corpse was stored on the roof and buried when the weather got warmer. 

Wish You Were HereThe Persistence of the Postcard
John Mitchinson

An official 1844 report from Burgundy describes how “after making the necessary repairs to their tools, these vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and to eat less food.” In a 1909 edition of the journal La Geographie, the geographer Raoul Blanchard recorded how the inhabitants of Queyras in the French Alps “re-emerge in the spring, dishevelled and anaemic”, and the 1908 diary of the writer and academician Jules Renard observes how “the peasant at home moves little more than a sloth”. 

This hibernatory behaviour wasn’t particular to the French. A British Medical Journal report from 1900 describes a similar winter routine among peasants from the Pskov region in north-west Russia: “At the first fall of snow, the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day, everyone wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread, of which an amount sufficient to last six months has providently been baked in the previous autumn. When the bread has been washed down with a draught of water, everyone goes to sleep again. The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence, the family wakes up, shakes itself, goes out to see if the grass is growing, and by-and-by sets to work at summer tasks.” They even had a name for their winter sleep – lotska.

There are no reports of British peasants taking to their beds all winter, but this may be a question of diet as much as tradition. Far from the rich provincial fare of cuisine de maman that we now associate with rural France, the average French peasant was more to be pitied than envied by their British counterparts. According to the English traveller John Aylmer, writing in 1559, the French were a nation of half-starved vegetarians: “Oh, if thou sawest the peasants of France, how they are scraped to the bone, and what extremities they suffer, thou wouldest think thyself blessed… They eat herbs: and thou beef and mutton. They roots: and thou butter, cheese and eggs. They drink commonly water: and thou good ale and beer.”

Ah, those distant days of ale and mutton! From the Brexit winter of 2021, with its supply chain disruptions, polluted rivers and still far-from-tamed virus, the Franco-Russian torpor option seems increasingly tempting. 




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Old photographs, and the “what might have been” of the nativist imagination

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2021 - 1:01am in

Lately, I find I’ve been spending more and more time looking at Facebook groups of old photographs of Bristol, the city where I live. I particularly enjoy the aerial photographs of the interwar period, often colorized. There are lots of reasons for this: I like photographs, I like history, I like cities. But it isn’t just Bristol, I can also spend hours on the Shorpy site, sometimes going to Google Street View for a modern take, and I own several books comparing the Parises of Marville and Atget and the New York of Berenice Abbott to the same scenes today, as well as multiple volumes of Reece Winstone’s collection of historic Bristol pictures. So what’s the attraction, indeed the compulsion? What is drawing me and others to these scenes? And does this attraction also have a problematic side to it?

One common response to the images is a sense of thwarted possibility. You see a functioning, bustling city, full of life, and full of beatiful surviving buildings, densely packed. The train is everywhere, with bridges, tracks, sidings, sheds to match. Sometimes a locomotive is in view. The rail infrastructure criss-crosses with the water, canal and harbours. Factories with their chimneys sit adjacent to medieval churches with their towers and spires. The technology often looks amazing, as with the Ashton Avenue Bridge (1905)(covered for photoblogging a while back), which in its day was a double-decker swing structure, with road on the top deck and rail running below. These days it has but one functioning level – the old rail deck is for pedestrians and cyclists – and it hasn’t swung since 1951. The “then” pictures give us the romance of industrial modernity combined with the charm of the medieval.

Since, whole districts of terraced housing have gone, churches bombed or demolished, roads cut and widened at the expense of shops and dwellings. The sense of order present in pre-war photographs is accentuated by the patriotic but pointless wartime removal of iron railings, never replaced. The pictures invite us to ask what these streets might have become without the Bristol blitz that destroyed so much in 1940 and ’41? But also, what might they have become without a postwar reconstruction in which the car was king and where “slum” areas were cleared to make way both for roads and also for “modern” housing that went rancid within a couple of decades?

In other words, there’s a kind of hypothetical utopianism in play with these pictures. We see a functioning city, physically attractive and dynamic, with citizens bustling in smart clothes, and wonder how things might have evolved differently if we started again and re-ran the tape without the Luftwaffe destroying 80,000 buildings, without planners, and without other social changes that leave people with a sense of disappointment, of melancholia. Naturally, we wonder why we can’t we have these nice things. The answer preferred by many Facebook commenters is to blame the Council, the planners, the experts, a distant “them” who are nothing to do with “us” but who, by their decisions, have imposed their ugliness upon us. We can hardly forget, even in this Remainer city, that the distant them was the target of those who wanted to “take back control”.

While many of the photographs are of buildings and infrastructure, some are of people, or include people. A surprisingly common scene has a group of children in a carless street. Although Bristol was not a completely white city in the pre-war era, it is fair to say that nearly all of those depicted are white and often they shown in streets where the population today would include a lot of black or South Asian faces. The utopian re-foundation, the hypothetical re-running of the tape, seems to include, in the minds of many commenters, the thought that of these white communities being rolled forward in the imagined preserved or reconstructed streets. To be fair, the moderators are now generally on the case, so that overtly racist comments are deleted or perhaps never made. Occasionally, though, a not-too-subtly coded remark makes it though, perhaps opining that St Pauls was a nice area “before multiculturalism”.

Pictures of the Colston statue, famously chucked in the harbour last year, also lead to fierce back-and-forth, with threads quickly closed. In these old photographs of his statue, the slave trader appears as the city’s benefactor, looking out over the all-white crowds who are presumably grateful for the bounty he bequeathed them. The details of how he and they got wealthy being by then a little-discussed memory, since the descendants of the victims of the slave traders were yet to appear on Bristol’s streets in any numbers to question the city’s indulgent complacency about itself and its patron. Under Colston’s eye, the homogeneous community prospers, with racial and indeed any social conflict invisibly out of frame.

Real Bristol wasn’t much like this, needless to say. In the private spaces behind the ordered exteriors, people were poor and often sick, leading shortened lives after exploitation in the tobacco factories, ironworks, docks and warehouses now reclaimed as places of culture and entertainments. Nor has Bristol been all that socially harmonious, with political riot being a local tradition going back centuries. Moreover the wider social system of which Bristol was a part is invisible in photographs that inevitably focus on the local. As a major port in the imperial metropolis, Bristol handled the materials produced by black and brown people in Britain’s colonial possessions, as it had earlier played its part in the triangular trade that transported the enslaved to the Caribbean. Here we only see the shiny surface with no clue to what lies behind the scenes or in the disant beyond.

So much as there is pleasure, then, at looking at these scenes, there’s also an implicit melancholic nostalgia that carries a conservative, indeed reactionary, charge. “We” see what we have been denied by “them” and notice the ugliness, the physical loss, and the replacement of the decently dressed and apparently disciplined white burghers by the motley betrackied population of today. Wasn’t it lovely? we find ourselves asking, perhaps especially if we are ourselves white and of advancing years. For some of us, politically committed, well read, highly educated, what we know about the world and history and our sentiment about other losses (the divorce from Europe, for example) is sufficient to break this photographic reverie. But it is easy to see that for others this postcard image of the past and its unrealized future has a stronger hold.

Colonial Amnesia: The Forgotten Victims of Transportation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 11:01pm in

Colonial AmnesiaThe Forgotten Victims of Transportation

Katharine Quarmby explores why Britain’s story of transportation – the biggest forced migration in its history – has largely been buried 


Walk towards the River Thames and away from the grand front entrance of the Tate Britain, you come to a grey stone buttress. A modest plaque, the letters faded, states: “Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1880. This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

There is little trace of the prison, also known as Millbank Penitentiary, which once stood here. Now, much of its foundations are hidden underneath the capital’s art gallery. But there was a time when men and women walked chained down the river’s steps and onto longboats to be rowed to ships which would take them on their final journey along the Thames. The river winds down to the seaports where the ships often weighed anchor before they set sail at last to Australia and the convicts left their home country behind them, usually for ever. 

Transportation to mainland Australia and Tasmania – the largest forced migration of English, Irish, Scots and Welsh people ever to take place – is part of our colonial history. Yet it is almost invisible and unmarked in the UK. There are just a few plaques and statues across the UK and in Ireland, in seaports such as Portsmouth and Plymouth and several statues commemorating political dissidents who were transported and mostly were never seen or heard of again. But there is no museum of hulks and transportation to remember this part of our history, although London’s Migration Museum estimates that there are around two million people in the UK with convict history in their families – around one in every 30.  

The National Archives, based at Kew, estimate that around 162,000 British and Irish convicts were transported to mainland Australia and Tasmania between 1787 and 1868, when the practice ended. Clare Anderson, Professor of History at the University of Leicester, ran the Carceral Archipelago project, looking at the states – many of them empires – which made use of transportation. Her work exposes how transportation was used to expand imperial borders and how convicts were used as unfree labour, a form of labour exploitation that had a longer history in European empires than slavery itself. Prof Anderson estimates that the British Empire exported around 376,000 people – making Australia the biggest recipient of British convicts during the period of transportation.

Britain’s history of the practice started in 1618 and then gathered pace as convicts – around 50,000 men, women and children – were sent to America. But, when Britain was defeated in the War of Independence in 1776, the prison hulks – decommissioned ships – used to house convicts on the Thames became severely overcrowded and politicians sought another solution. In 1778, the so-called First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay, now a few kilometres south of Sydney’s business district. The British at this time called Australia ‘Terra Nullis’ – unowned land; a doctrine only overturned in 1992 by five Strait Islander people.

British folk history, such as it is, only faintly remembers that most of those transported were poor men and women, the former mostly convicted of property offences and the latter of prostitution. In fact, very few women out of the 26,000 or so who were transported were actually transported for that reason, with most also convicted of crimes such as theft or robbery. Some 20,000 children, mostly boys, were sent out. 

The ostensible reasons matter because they speak to our dim memory and understanding of transportation. Now, contemporary historians are focusing much more deeply on the real reasons why Britain exiled so many people and a deeper analysis of imperial exile is coming into focus.

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Many groups agitating for political change were subjected to transportation. Among them were rural convicts, especially the Swing Rioters from east and southern England from around 1830 onwards, many Chartists from the 1830s and 1840s, Welsh workers protesting labour conditions, and political prisoners and dissidents from Ireland and Scotland. 

Some of these groups were mentioned in E.P. Thompson’s seminal 1963 book, The Making of the English Working Class. Writing in the preface, he observed: “I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘Utopian’ artisan… from the enormous condescension of posterity… Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.”

But Thompson did not follow the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper or the Swing rioter out to Australia, where so many ended up. There is no mention of transportation in the book’s index or of Australia itself. That erasure encapsulates the British forgetfulness, even on the left, about our transportation history. 

Once people were sent away, forcibly exiled in the largest mass deportation policy from these shores, it was as if they no longer existed. But they did, and many thrived and continued to protest. They did not vanish from history – they vanished from a peculiarly British, insular version of history.

A Forgotten Past

The late Stuart Hall, one of the most incisive observers of British colonial history, observed in The Empire Strikes Back that “empires come and go. But the imagery of the British Empire seems destined to go on forever. The imperial flag has been hauled down in a hundred different corners of the globe. But it is still flying in the collective unconscious.”

Others have also interrogated the British public’s inability – or perhaps reluctance – to talk about the multiple legacies of empire. But it seems particularly apt when looking at the many thousands of people who were transported. 

Up until recently, this also seemed true of our institutions and official bodies, although that is changing. Dr Tim Causer, a senior research associate at University College London, researches the life and thoughts of the reformer Jeremy Bentham, as well as histories of convict transportation, colonial history and crime and punishment. He notes that the “blind spot” of transportation remains neglected in the wider public space, even though it was a major plank of the penal policy of the British and all the other major empires.

“Beyond the Tolpuddle and Scottish Martyrs and the Chartists there really isn’t that much recognition,” he says, while adding that there is more knowledge and folk memory in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He is also struck by the lack of physical memorialisation of transportation in the UK – a far cry from the vibrant history sector in Australia, where the “convict stain”, as the habit was known of not talking about what was at one time seen as a shameful past, disappeared a long time ago. In its place is a vivid sense of both the history of transportation, and, increasingly, attention to the deep injustices that the British ‘invaders’ (as many Australians now prefer to say) imposed on First Nation Peoples (not just in Australia, of course). 

When I visited in 2018 to research the stories of two young convict women transported in the 1820s, I found a country discussing – and at times even re-enacting – its convict past. I attended the bicentenary commemoration of Parramatta Gaol and what remained of the Female Factory, where women convicts who were not assigned or married were housed in the 1820s and 1830s.

I spoke to local historians with convict roots, many of whom were dressed up in costumes from the 1800s. The writer Thomas Keneally, who is descended from Irish convicts, spoke with fervour about how the English had convicted and transported so many Irish people in particular.

In Tasmania, I visited the well-tended ruins of the Cascades Female Factory with Alison Alexander, President of the Women’s Press, who showed me around the grim former distillery where British and Irish convict women were imprisoned between 1829 and 1855. One in four of the children who were born there died. Alexander is the author of several books looking at the history of the island, women and the long legacy of empire. She and other women have traced their family lineages back to the UK and there is a lively sense of family and island history in Tasmania.

When I ask her why this isn’t replicated in the UK, she wonders whether the “yearning for empire only includes the good bits” as “people want to believe the Empire was benevolent… spreading the benefits of British civilisation around the globe”. “It seems as if the British Empire’s tantalising mystique and glory lingers on… after the Empire itself had gone,” she adds. She also notes that the convict stain seems to have faded as time has gone on in Australia: “Although Australians shunned any mention of convicts until about the 1970s, 1980s, they’re far enough in the past now to be interesting and novel.”

A depiction of the Female Factory at Parramatta

The Politics of Transportation

Many political radicals deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’ – Irish rebels, agricultural workers, industrial protestors – were banished to Australia.  

Tony Moore, Associate Professor of Media at Monash University, charted their history in his book Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788-1868, which was made into a feature-length documentary featuring the singer Billy Bragg and Thomas Keneally.

Since then, Prof Moore has set up and runs a digital history project, ‘Conviction Politics’, which investigates and explores the link between the actions that convicts took to control their unpaid labour and political and social democracy in Australia. He has used convict records to show how the many political prisoners who were transported resisted being exploited. 

Conviction Politics is part of the British Australia Season of work for the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this year and next, working with museums, trade unions and universities in both countries. The People’s History Museum in Manchester has launched Conviction Politics in the UK this month, with a panel discussion exploring the story of some of those who were transported.

It includes the stories of Scottish Martyr Thomas Muir; the Newport Chartist uprising; the Young Ireland revolutionaries of 1848; and the first black leader of a British political party, London Chartist leader William Cuffay, whose father was born into slavery. Cuffay was transported for his political activities, lived to be reunited with his wife and to see the last transport ship arrive in his adopted homeland. These are stories of how convict women and men resisted the brutal penal system while advancing democracy and workers’ rights in Australia.

Prof Moore estimates that at least one in every 45 convicts was transported because of their political beliefs, although the proportion could be even higher. Characterising transportation as the “largest involuntary exploitation and export of unfree workers in history”, he says that it is no coincidence that it came off the back of the Enclosures.

“Land hunger in Britain was caused by turbo-charged capitalism – what Max Weber called the disenchantment of the countryside,” he explains. “Then the land hungry of Britain are given the land of the dispossessed in Australia, at the same time as removing the trouble-makers and the ringleaders and putting them to work.”

He is struck by the fact that it is the “educated middle class in Britain who look to civil rights in the US but have forgotten about the relationship to Australia”; that they “remember post war immigration but have forgotten the emigration out”.

Another part of Britain’s colonial amnesia is around the attempted genocide of Indigenous people in Tasmania and the massacres that took place across Australia when First Nation Peoples resisted. As Prof Moore says, “imagine you take the most developed industrialised society on the planet and bring it to the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet and bring them into conflict. It’s not going to end happily”. But, he adds, some of the convicts, particularly the Young Irelanders, “saw commonality between what was happening in Ireland and what was happening with Indigenous people”.

Prof Moore wants to use Conviction Politics to connect all the digital archives together and to create a deeper global understanding of transportation history.

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Raising the Dead from Paper

Dr Tim Causer believes that we are barely aware of the connections between the hulks, the penal system and transportation and that “a museum would be quite important”. “This was an enormous movement of people who were forced to move, and many of them left their families behind,” he says. “There is no memorialisation of that.”

Prof Moore too, embraces the idea, sitting alongside his transmedia project to bring the history of transportation to life and connect Britain to Australia at a deeper level: “We want to understand how some of the people who made Britain and Australia safe for democracy sacrificed their lives or freedom for that. We need to remember them and honour them. A Museum of Transportation would be just the ticket.”

I think of the young woman I traced from a stray line in a history book about my Norfolk hometown, a survivor of the horrific trauma of witnessing her mother being staked after death for a suspected crime for which she was never convicted.

I followed her through the historical archives in Norfolk to the Refuge for the Destitute in Hackney, where she met another young woman. They then appeared together at the Old Bailey, the Millbank Penitentiary and at a prison hulk. My search ended with a line from the Superintendent of the Refuge for the Destitute, back to a lawyer in my hometown, saying that the Norfolk girl had been transported to Botany Bay. With that, she disappeared from British history – a poor young woman convicted of grand larceny with her friend and castigated in official records.

In many ways, her crime was to be poor and to resist. By creating a Museum of Transportation, she and others can at last return to British history – and be seen in a different way. 

Katharine Quarmby’s novel, ‘The Low Road’, based on a true story about the transportation of two young women in the 1820s, is forthcoming. Professor Clare Anderson’s book ‘Convicts: A Global History’ will be published by Cambridge University Press in December




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A War Christmas: What Exactly Are We Remembering?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 9:00pm in



A War ChristmasWhat Exactly Are We Remembering?

Otto English explores how Remembrance Sunday has been commercialised and weaponised to feed hollow national myths


On the green in the Essex village where I grew up, there is a monument, like the thousands of others that dot Britain, bearing the names of those who died fighting in both world wars. 

Remembrance Sunday didn’t mean much to me in early childhood, as I stood on that patch of grass in the chill November wind, while a local child played the Last Post badly on his bugle. It was just one of those events, like Christmas and Harvest Festival, which dotted the calendar. 

As I grew older, I became increasingly struck by quite how long the list of names was, for such a small village, and just how familiar so many of those surnames were. I might never have known the dead, but I had grown up knowing their widows, children, brothers, sisters and cousins. These were the families in our community whose loved ones had marched off to war, never to return.

Well into the 1980s, millions of British people had lived experience of the wars. Most of us knew someone who had been there and, in many cases, they were parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Those numbers have now dwindled. 

The last ‘Fighting Tommy’ of the First World War, Harry Patch, died in 2009. A very small number of super-centenarians alive today were small children in 1918, but those people apart, nobody can recall the Great War now. An estimated 100,000 people are still alive who played an active role in the Second World War but their numbers too are declining and you would have to be 85 plus to have any memory of the events of 1939 onwards and well over 90 to have participated in it. 

The time is not so very far off when there will be no one left who can actually remember any of it – let alone the people who died. 

I was back at that Essex village last week for remembrance of another kind. My 91-year-old uncle, who spent his own wartime childhood as a refugee on the other side of the Atlantic, died in the summer and my extended family gathered to pay tribute to him.

Afterwards, with time to kill before an evening dinner, I wandered into a supermarket in Harlow. Just inside the sliding doors, someone had laid out a table with a printed silhouette of First World War soldiers, heads bowed, marching above the legend “lest we forget”. Manning the stand, was a dead-eyed mannequin, covered neck-to-toes in poppies and topped off with a plastic helmet.

The display in Harlow’s Sainsbury’s. Photo: Otto English

There was something comical about it all. Nobody could have looked at this ‘poppy monster’ and thought ‘now there’s an appropriate tribute to the fallen’. It was weirdly reminiscent of the sort of thing made by cargo cults in the islands of Melanesia in the post-war era. And perhaps with good reason because, as actual memories of war and the people who died in them fade, Britain’s collective fetishisation of war has become something very much akin to a faith. 

‘War Christmas’ now runs from late October through to Remembrance Sunday and, if you want to celebrate in style, there’s all sorts of festive stuff you can buy. 

There are ‘remembrance cards’ that you can send to friends to wish them a Happy Poppymas and commemorative coins ‘blasted with the sand of the Dunkirk beaches’ that you can rub gently, perhaps, in the hope of summoning up its spirit. Football clubs sell poppy badges with their team logos on them. Some people deck their homes in cardboard tanks and lights (as catalogued by the twitter handle @giantpoppywatch). Amazon heaves with poppy brooches, tie-pins and cufflinks – many of them clearly not associated with the official Royal British Legion campaign. And, while the Legion, as a charity, undoubtedly does good work, its website is frankly awash with ghastly commercial poppy offerings that have little to do with the poem and the carnage and the sense of mass collective loss that inspired the symbol. 

Where once there was a choice of a paper poppy with or without a leaf, there are now poppy hair ties, watches, keyrings, coin purses, tea towels, rucksacks, handbags, ear-rings and – inevitably perhaps – face masks.

Alongside this commercialisation, there has been a slow-burning weaponisation of remembrance. You would have to be very brave indeed to appear on TV without a poppy in your lapel in 2021: wearing one is not really a choice for a public figure. Drop it or forget it and you will be trolled to within an inch of your life online. It has become less an act of remembrance and more a badge of loyalty to the tribe. Right-wing pundits on GB News have proudly been sporting theirs, even as they discuss whether it would be a good idea to go to war with France. 

For the best part of a decade, their fellow presenter, the High Priest of Brexit, Nigel Farage, has made a big deal of thrusting himself to the forefront of all things remembrance and this year has been no exception. He has done almost as much to diminish remembrance as he has to the reputation of this country.

On 4 November, he took GB News cameras down to a stand in Chelsea and ended up behind it, rattling the tin. The uncomfortable participation of Britain’s best-known right-wing nationalist politician, prompted the Royal British Legion to repeatedly put out a statement on Twitter saying that they were aware of it but that: “This visit was not on behalf of or organised by RBL. The RBL is strictly non-partisan and believes the Poppy Appeal is a time for remembrance.”

Otto English’s grandfather Murray Scott, who fought in both world wars, in 1914. Photo: Otto English

But inevitably, the continual fetishisation of all things war, the political mainstream exploitation of Britons’ unique (if non-existent) ‘Blitz Spirit’, and the depressing ‘us against the world’ narrative of the post-Brexit years has led to a conflation of war-remembrance and nationalist 21st Century politics. The fallen are no longer actual people with a wide and colourful range of political beliefs and cultural backgrounds. They are a homogenous mass of white heroes and victims who fought for ‘our freedom’; men who willingly marched off to war with a song in their hearts – and who believed that dulce et decorum est pro patria mori* was an aspiration and not, as Wilfred Owen pointed out in his famous poem, a “lie”.

This country’s morbid religio-fixation with the wars has been a breeding ground for the sort of populist, mutton-headed notions that fed Brexit and I have written many times about that and the weaponisation of the poppy. What was striking this time however, was that having posted the picture of the supermarket mannequin, an awful lot of ex-service people got in contact to tell me that they agreed with me. Some said that they had stopped wearing the poppy. Many more expressed their dissatisfaction with the Royal British Legion and wondered why provision for injured servicemen and bereaved wives was left to the care of a charity. If you have fought and suffered for this country, perhaps the very least you might expect is that its government might help you and your loved ones subsequently.

The increasing tackiness of remembrance leaves me wondering how much longer this can all go on. And, when nobody is left who can remember the dead, what exactly will we be remembering?

Of course, it is vital that the violent events of the early 20th Century never slip from our memory. We need to understand that history and understand it properly. What was built subsequently, both in the peace that was forged and the will that it would never happen again, was a testament to the people who were there. That was their legacy and one every bit as important as the little stone crosses in British towns, cities and villages. 

We would perhaps do well to remember that instead.

*It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland




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The Today Programme and the War on the National Trust: An Episode in Shameful Journalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/11/2021 - 2:58am in

The Today Programme and The War on the National TrustAn Episode in Shameful Journalism

A discussion about wokeness, colonialism and the National Trust on the BBC’s flagship radio show came across like a public school reunion dinner, says Brian Cathcart


On one level, it was amusing. Like somebody who refuses on principle to use satnav and immediately gets lost. But our national public service broadcaster really should do better. 

On 30 October, the BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today programme tackled issues of  ‘wokeness’ and colonialism at the National Trust. Who did the talking? Three prosperous white male journalists and former journalists in their 50s or above: interviewer Justin Webb, former Times editor Simon Jenkins, and former Telegraph city editor Neil Bennett.

It was like eavesdropping on a public school reunion dinner. The National Trust had lost its way, the colonialism thing was a fuss over nothing, and by the end a chuckling Webb was even suggesting that they had solved the problem by agreeing to put Jenkins in charge. Jenkins coyly demurred.

But the problems with this interview only begin with the personnel, and are not amusing at all.

Today‘s editors need to turn the satnav on. This is 2021 not 1971, and whatever you may think about wokeness or colonialism you can’t seriously address them without stepping outside the old boys’ network.

In terms of journalistic standards, Webb, his editors and his researchers were guilty of failure after failure. As a result, they perpetuated falsehoods and allowed the issue to be misrepresented to their listeners. 

Bennett, who heads a PR company, spoke for a group called Restore Trust, which opposes the current National Trust management on the grounds that it is woke. As for Jenkins, it would be nice to think that he was asked to participate on the basis that, as a former chair of the Trust, he would defend it. Unfortunately, the BBC likely knew that he would not do that or at least that he would only do so on his own rather limited terms.

Just three weeks previously, after all, Jenkins wrote a column for the Guardian under the headline: ‘The National Trust has Needlessly Provoked an “Anti-Woke” Campaign’. This provoked an angry response from the Trust’s director of curation, John Orna-Ornstein, which was also published in the Guardian. Jenkins, in other words, was a known critic of the Trust’s present management. 

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In fairness to the BBC, it had asked the National Trust to provide a speaker for the programme and the invitation was declined, although a Trust spokesperson said that it supplied a lengthy briefing document setting out its position. A spokesperson told Byline Times: “Our presenter and guests led a robust and lively discussion about the National Trust and the ongoing challenges to its leadership. Both the National Trust and the authors of the newly published report were invited on to the Today Programme for this item – both declined to be interviewed.”

This left the Today programme looking for an alternative guest if the discussion was to go ahead. Even so, the choice of Jenkins was absurd and wrongheaded.

The issue might still have been successfully addressed if Webb had engaged with it seriously, but he did not. Instead he repeatedly allowed both of his guests to make unsupported allegations without proper challenge.   

The discussion opened with Webb inviting Bennett to summarise his complaint about the National Trust, which was that it was “going down a very politicised line of actually standing against the nation’s heritage”. Prompted by Webb about a Trust report on links between its properties and slavery and colonialism, Bennett added that this was “a bad report littered with inaccuracies” that was “produced very much for political motives”.   

At this point, a conscientious journalist would have done one or more of the following things: insisted that Bennett produce evidence for his claims; stressed that these were opinions that were vigorously disputed by the National Trust; explained to listeners why no one from the Trust was there; and quoted from the briefing document. Webb did none of these things.

Instead, he turned to his other guest and invited him to agree with Bennett: “Simon Jenkins: first, just on the colonialism report, do you accept that, that report, you believe that that report was sub-standard?” Jenkins duly declared that, while some study of the kind had to be done, the report had been written by a “frankly dire group of people” and that he would give it a “gamma minus” mark. 

Webb knew, or certainly ought to have known, that after Jenkins attacked the colonialism report in the Guardian, the newspaper had been obliged to correct his article twice because of factual errors. Webb also ought to have read the letter from John Orna-Ornstein that was published by the Guardian, which explained: “The report was authored and edited by a number of the most experienced curators in the National Trust. It went through a robust review process with internal and external curators and academic historians before it was published.”

Jenkins’s “frankly dire group of people” was in fact a team of senior National Trust curators, while their “gamma minus” findings were approved by external academic historians (who, we may assume, are better qualified to mark research work than Jenkins is). 

Webb was now in a tricky position. He knew that there was another side to this, but how could he put the record straight? What would he say to balance Jenkins’ allegations? 

What he said was: “Let’s put the colonialism report aside for one moment.” There was no challenge at all. Most listeners, in consequence, will have been left with an utterly unjustified impression that there was a consensus that National Trust management had commissioned and published a bad piece of work.  

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After putting the colonialism issue “aside for one moment”, the discussion managed to gain some kind of equilibrium as Jenkins challenged another of the myths propagated by Restore Trust, involving an internal National Trust discussion document about future trends. 

Bennett said that the document was “almost Maoist in its approach” and talked about “abolishing the outdated mansion experience”. Webb pointed out that no such abolition had occurred and Jenkins, now strangely fumbling for words, called it “a complete misunderstanding”.

Nonetheless, a delighted Bennett was given the last word and allowed to assert – a very serious charge, again entirely unchallenged – that, in elections at its AGM, the National Trust leadership had “stuffed the ballot by coercing their staff”.

And that was it. Six minutes of chummy chatter on the Today programme that enabled a string of tendentious opinions to be presented to listeners as if they were facts. Yes, it would have been better if the National Trust had been there to put its side of these arguments across, but that does not mean that the BBC was justified in presenting the Trust’s critics with an open goal. 

Journalists deal with facts and truth. Justin Webb and the Today programme, on this occasion, did nothing as facts and truth were trashed. And they must know the background to all this.

The current war against the National Trust is led by the Telegraph, the Mail, The Times and the Spectator and their tactics are simple: a falsehood is published; corrections and protests are ignored; the falsehoods are repeated ever more widely so that they come to be accepted as facts; then new falsehoods are published (‘now look what they’ve done!’) and the process is repeated until there appears to be a catalogue of evidence supporting the case when, in fact, there is none or almost none. 

No responsible journalist would play this game.

Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)




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You heard it first on Troppo folks: Up from the archives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/11/2021 - 6:22pm in


history, Law

Reading the publicity for this new book I remembered a name — pathologist Colin Manock — thinking it had been at the centre of some deliberations here some time ago. I was right — it had.

I reproduce the relevant column from the archives in 1910 for your delectation, though the comments thread also contains much that is of interest.

Nicholas Gruen posted on the weekend about a South Australian defamation matter called Manock v Channel Seven Adelaide Pty Ltd which has been going for almost 7 years and still hasn’t even reached trial.  Nicholas quite rightly cited the case as a good example of the deplorable tendency of Australia’s legal system to foster/tolerate gross delaying tactics and utterly unnecessary complexity and expense resulting in systemic unfairness.

However, the context for the Manock case is itself fascinating and well worth a blog post in its own right.  Dr Colin Manock is a veteran forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on a 29 year old Adelaide lawyer named Anna-Jane Cheney after her death in 1994.  Ms Cheney had drowned in her bath at home.  Dr Manock concluded that she had been murdered by someone using a technique effectively identical to the notorious UK Brides in the Bath murders in the early 1900s.  One George Joseph Smith had killed three wives in succession by suddenly grabbing their ankles and pulling their heads under water while they were in the bath.  Smith was convicted of all three murders in 1915 after some pioneering forensic work.  Dr Manock found bruises on Ms Cheney’s ankles consistent with a grip mark.  Ms Cheney’s fiance former bank manager Henry Keogh, who found her body, was subsequently charged with and convicted of her murder.

There is no doubt that Dr Manock’s testimony was a significant part of the circumstantial case against Keogh, although arguably at least as significant was the fact that shortly before her death Keogh had taken out 5 separate insurance policies on her life totalling some $1 million and had allegedly forged her signature on some insurance documents.  There was also evidence that Keogh had romantic relationships with two other women at the time of Ms Cheney’s death, and statements he made subsequent to the death in relation to the insurance policies to members of the deceased’s family. Keogh certainly had both motive and opportunity at the very least.

Subsequent to Keogh’s conviction a small group of people led by ex-Adelaide University law lecturer Bob Moles formed the view that Keogh had been a victim of a miscarriage of justice and began campaigning for a retrial or at least an independent re-examination of the evidence.   Their main arguments appear to revolve around alleged inadequacies in Dr Manock’s autopsy and his evidence at Keogh’s trial.  Unfortunately for them (and Keogh) the High Court twice rejected these arguments as did a SA Medical Board enquiry which found:

There is no basis for criticising the opinion of Dr Manock as to the cause of death.

There are valid criticisms of the autopsy which even Dr Manock acknowledged was less than perfect. However for the reasons which we have expressed, we do not regard those criticisms as a cause for disciplinary action.

I became aware of the Keogh case some years ago after I had some dealings with Bob Moles as part of my CDU duties, and he took the opportunity to send me a copy of his book about it.  Moles struck me as an intense, determined and possibly even obsessive-compulsive chap, an impression heightened by perusal of his voluminous website about the Keogh case.

After the endless publicity, petitions and court applications triggered by Moles and his group, you would have to wonder whether they are doing anyone including Keogh any favours by persisting in their endeavours.  Still, no doubt some people said similar things about those who assisted Andrew Mallard prior to his eventual exoneration and release.  That point was made by a recent ABC Background Briefing program about the Keogh case.  Even so, my own tentative conclusion about the case after reading much of the material on Moles’ site is that there simply isn’t enough doubt surrounding Keogh’s conviction to justify re-opening the case.

Nevertheless, it seems likely that Dr Manock formed a strong conviction about Keogh’s guilt at a quite early stage, and perhaps as a result failed fully to investigate and eliminate other possible if highly unlikely explanations for Anna-Jane Cheney’s death.  For example, one argument Moles and his colleagues have advanced is that Manock failed to disclose when giving evidence at trial that ordinary histology had not confirmed that one of the marks on Ms Cheney’s ankles was in fact a bruise, and that he utilised a test called polilight to confirm the diagnosis at least in respect of the thumb-print. They also argue that Manock failed to conduct an examination of Ms Cheney’s brain which, they allege, might have revealed some undiagnosed, unsuspected and completely asymptomatic medical condition such as epilepsy.  That hypothetical illness in turn might have caused a sudden blackout, which could have provided an innocent explanation for how a seemingly completely healthy 29 year old woman could accidentally drown while having a bath!!  They may well be correct about the shortcomings of Manock’s autopsy and evidence, but these arguments don’t strike me as providing a compelling case that a miscarriage of justice occurred.  Nor did they so strike the High Court (twice), the Medical Board or the SA Attorney-General (three times with a fourth petition currently being considered).

Another factor worth keeping in mind is that the second medical expert called by the Prosecution at trial also supported Dr Manock’s conclusion about the bruising and its being consistent with a Brides in the Bath modus operandi, while both defence experts conceded that Manock’s conclusion was possible on the evidence, but suggested that the bruising might also be consistent with the deceased having bumped her leg or had a fall at some earlier time.1

Anyway, make up your own mind.  Here is the full transcript of the Background Briefing program on the Keogh case, and I’ve extracted the bits particularly relevant to Dr Manock below:

Reporter: Keogh stood in the dock at Justice Duggan described the cold-blooded and long-planned execution of Anna Jane Cheney. The former bank manager was convicted by a jury of deliberately drowning Ms. Cheney in the bath in their Magill home.

Reporter: Keogh, now 41, will be in his mid 60s before he can apply for parole.

Hagar Cohen: Henry Keogh’s daughter, Alexis, was nine years old at the time.

Alexis Keogh: I remember reading things about my dad that I thought were about somebody else, they were just horrific. I was never ashamed of my dad, but because I just couldn’t deal with people’s opinions, I would often pretend that I wasn’t who I was.

Hagar Cohen: Alexis Keogh believes her father was convicted on the basis of false evidence.

Alexis Keogh: There are question marks. And that is the whole reason why the case has to be reviewed, because there shouldn’t be so many question marks. If a guilty verdict is brought down, it has to be beyond reasonable doubt, and there’s a lot of reasonable doubt. Now it’s just so hard to find out what actually did happen.

Hagar Cohen: For the past ten years a team of legal and other experts has been going through the evidence that led to Keogh’s conviction, and as we’ll hear, they are convinced it does not prove Henry Keogh killed Anna Jane Cheney.

The Keogh case is closed, so the South Australian Attorney-General must approve the re-opening of the case for new evidence to be heard. But the former Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, refused three petitions from Keogh’s lawyers asking for the evidence to be re-examined.

In 2003, after deciding on the third petition, Michael Atkinson spoke in parliament about the campaign to reopen the case. This is a reading from the parliamentary Hansard.

Atkinson Reading: Let me apologise to the Cheney family for the hurt that has been done to them. I met with Anna-Jane Cheney’s mother and brother the week before last. They have had to live with the campaign to release the murderer of Anna-Jane for nine years.

A few people – I repeat, just a few people – including a couple of lawyers and a former law professor, have questioned the competence of the prosecution and suggested that important pieces of evidence were withheld from the court. This is wrong. I deny it. Justice was done to Henry Keogh; let it be done also to the deceased, Anna-Jane, and to her family.

Hagar Cohen: A fourth petition has now been submitted to the current Attorney-General, John Rau. A spokesperson for Mr Rau said he will not comment on the case until the petition process is concluded. …

Hagar Cohen: Joe Crowley is a recent addition to a team of people who’ve been gathering new evidence for the past 10 years. One of them, Kevin Borick, says calls to reopen the case have so far failed to convince the Attorney-General.

Kevin Borick: That is the end of the matter. You can’t take it anywhere else, unless you can persuade a politician, the Attorney-General, the case should be referred back to the court. The former Attorney-General of South Australia, who’s been the Attorney-General for most of this, has made his position completely clear, that Henry Keogh was guilty of murder.

Hagar Cohen: So in light of this position, are you hopeful that anything’s going to come out of this?

Kevin Borick: It’s not a question of hope, there is no doubt that one day in the future, whether it’s going to be this year, next year or 20 years, the story of Henry Keogh will be told.

Hagar Cohen: Working closely with Kevin Borick, is Dr Bob Moles, a former law lecturer. And I spoke to him in his car on his way to visit Henry Keogh in prison.

Bob Moles: We’re on Grand Junction Road, which is the main circular road on the north of Adelaide, and we’re just a few minutes away from the Yatala labour prison. We’re going to see Henry Keogh this morning.

Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing was not allowed to speak to Keogh in prison, but Dr Bob Moles has been visiting him every two or three months for the past ten years.

Bob Moles: When I first came across his case, I was a Professor of Law at Adelaide University, and this was just one of the projects that my students had brought to my attention. When I first met with Henry, he said that if we didn’t get a move on, he will have been in prison for about six years, and that was when the Sydney Olympics were coming up, and he dreaded the thought of still being in prison at that time. He’s now been in prison for 16 years, and I have to say it’s all quite unnecessary.

Hagar Cohen: Why did you believe him?

Bob Moles: It wasn’t a question of believing him; the important thing is that I’m of the very firm opinion that no criminal event took place, and therefore it follows that he was not engaged in any criminal activity. I’ve been able to substantiate for myself, that this is a serious miscarriage of justice.

Hagar Cohen: On a Friday night in 1994, 29 year-old Anna Jane Cheney was found dead in the bathroom of her Adelaide home. Her fiancé, Henry Keogh said he found her after returning from a visit to his mum.

It became a murder case, where Henry Keogh was the only suspect.

Here’s a re-enactment from the trial, where Keogh was questioned by the Crown Prosecutor, Paul Rofe.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]How long after you stopped your car in the carport at Homes Avenue was it before you found Anna Jane?

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]As long as it would have taken me to get out of my car, lock it, walk to the front door, open that, close it quickly because Jordan came running towards me, give him a quick pat, call out ‘Hello’, see that Anna wasn’t on the chesterfields, stick my head around the arch, see that she wasn’t on the phone; turn around, call out again and walk towards the bedroom, however long that takes.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]Perhaps a minute or so.

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]Approximately, yes.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]Once you found her, you immediately took her out of the bath?

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]I tried to get her out of the bath immediately, yes. I would have immediately checked Anna’s pulse. There was none.

Hagar Cohen: Henry Keogh’s motive was said to be money. He’d taken out five insurance policies in Anna Jane Cheney’s name.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]So there’s no mistake, I am suggesting you killed Anna Jane Cheney, at least in part, hoping to benefit from those five policies.

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]No.

Hagar Cohen: The defence argued there was never a murder, and that Anna Jane Cheney’s death was an accident. But the prosecution said the circumstances of the death were highly suspicious. Prosecutor Paul Rofe put it to the jury.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]On 15th March last year, Anna Jane Cheney celebrated her 29th birthday. She was a fit, healthy, young woman. She had a promising career as a lawyer. She thought she was about to be married. Three days later, she was dead, drowned in the bath of her home in Magill. And on the Crown case, with recent bruising particularly on the left lower leg consistent with grip mark.

Hagar Cohen: The grip mark was only part of the story. Henry Keogh had two other girlfriends at the time he was engaged to Anna Jane Cheney. And he also took out the insurance policies on her life by forging her signature on them.

Here’s Paul Rofe again in his opening address to the jury.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]Her fiancé, Henry Vincent Keogh, stood to benefit $1-million-150,000 from her death as a result of five insurance policies he had taken out on her life some 12 months previously, policies for which he was the agent, co-owner and sole beneficiary. The accused, now aged 40 on the Crown case, was responsible for Ms Cheney’s death and he stands before you charged with murder.

Hagar Cohen: Henry Keogh maintained his fiancé knew about the insurance policies. A few days after the death of Anna Jane Cheney, police questioned him about the unusual financial arrangements.

At the trial, Henry Keogh was asked by the prosecutor about this visit by police.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]You knew, did you not, that the police had you under suspicion because of the amount of money involved. The will, the insurance, the house, as you told us this morning.

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]I didn’t know the basis for that suspicion.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]Again, are you seriously suggesting that you didn’t know why you were under suspicion?

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]I believed that it would all blow over. I really didn’t believe it could be a serious thought on the police’s mind that I had killed Anna Jane. I thought it would blow over.

Paul Rofe: [reconstruction]I suggest not only did you think it would blow over, but in time you would be able to successfully claim on the five policies you had taken out on Anna Jane’s life.

Henry Keogh: [reconstruction]No.

Hagar Cohen: The jury decided Henry Keogh was guilty of murder, and it was widely reported by the South Australian press.


Reporter: The judge told Keogh his principal motive was greed. More than a million dollars in life insurance policies. It was an elaborate and coldly planned scheme to kill Ms Cheney and profit from her death. The judge said he was satisfied Ms Cheney had no idea Keogh stood to gain so much.

Hagar Cohen: A key element of the evidence for the prosecution was the grip mark on the ankle of the deceased. It was a sign, the Crown argued, that Henry Keogh had forced his fiancé under water in the bath. An expert witness for the prosecution was Dr Colin Manock, who had three decades of experience in forensic pathology.

He’d conducted around 10,000 autopsies in his career, and the autopsy on Anna Jane Cheney was Dr Manock’s last big case before his retirement. His interpretation of what happened is disputed by Keogh’s legal team, and is central to their argument that the case should be reviewed.

Dr Manock has never spoken out publicly about the Keogh case, until now. He agreed to speak to Background Briefing about the case and how he diagnosed the signs of murder.

Colin Manock: Well, we just said, cause of death was drowning in fresh water.

Hagar Cohen: But how did it happen?

Colin Manock: I think that she was in the bath and I think she was relaxing, and I think that someone close to her who she had every confidence in, was probably kneeling or crouching by the side of the bath, and he put his right hand under the heels and lifted them up until the legs were vertical, at which stage her body would slide further down the bath, and at that stage when the legs passed above her head, his left hand gripped her left ankle, which puts the left thumb on the inside of the left calf, and in that position folded over almost jack-knife position, she was unable to struggle very much.

Hagar Cohen: Are you confident that it is beyond reasonable doubt that Henry Keogh had actually murdered Anna Cheney?

Colin Manock: Yes, I am.

Hagar Cohen: And you were confident of that all along? Nothing’s ever changed?

Colin Manock: Yes, that’s right.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Manock’s murder scenario was based on a 1915 murder case in England, known as the Brides in the Baths. George Joseph Smith drowned all three of his brides in the bath during their honeymoons. He did that, using a particular method that killed the women very quickly, and left no serious injuries on their bodies. Back in 1915, George Smith’s motive was money.

When Dr Manock observed the grip mark on Anna Jane Cheney’s leg, and the condition of her lungs suggested that she had drowned, he believed the murder scenario was clear.

Colin Manock: I read the copy of the transcripts from the George Joseph Smith case. I was quite familiar with the circumstances. And when I saw the circumstances of Anna Jane’s death, it was like seeing a friend across the street; I’d seen it all before.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Manock’s use of the 1915 scenario, concerned a number of pathologists reviewing the Keogh case. For example, Melbourne-based Dr Byron Collins, has been asked by Keogh’s defence to scrutinise the autopsy findings from the trial. He’s been working as an independent forensic pathologist since the early ’70s.

Dr Byron Collins says comparing the Brides in the Baths theory to the death of Anna Jane Cheney was distracting and irrelevant.

Byron Collins: I think really it’s drawing a long bow. Each case has its own specific individual characteristics. And that is what needs to be assessed at the time, and if one tries to relate a particular set of circumstances such as in this case, as something that has occurred previously, it may well cloud the mind and fetter the processes of reasoned deductive exercises. So while I think you know, it gives a good description for the press of Brides in the Bath type drowning, I think that’s about as far as it goes. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose in my mind in assisting –

Hagar Cohen: What about a diagnostic purpose?

Byron Collins: No, it serves no diagnostic purpose whatsoever.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Byron Collins.

As Keogh’s legal team continued their investigations, more questions about the murder theory emerged. The most hotly disputed part of the evidence is the existence of a grip mark.

Dr Manock stands by his diagnosis of a grip mark.

Colin Manock: What’s a grip mark? Well, you’ve got four fingers and a thumb, and if you grip something firmly, then the little finger doesn’t usually leave a mark, it’s usually the index and the middle finger that are the strongest, and the thumb. But we found three bruises on one side, and an opposition mark on the other side of the leg would be the thumb.

Hagar Cohen: That mark, how do you know it was a bruise, and how do you know that it was indeed the thumb?

Colin Manock: Well it’s the only way you can space the fingers to do it, and I know it’s a bruise because I cut into it, and you could see the blood in the tissues.

Hagar Cohen: This method of examination is known as histology. A bruise is a collection of blood in the tissue, usually confirmed through histology. But years later, during an inquiry by the South Australian Medical Board, which we’ll hear more about later, Dr Manock said that histology did not prove there was a bruise. Background Briefing asked Dr Manock how he could explain the conflicting evidence.

Colin Manock: This is 16 years ago, I can’t remember. We did something unusual. I’m talking about the way in which the bruises, I’ll call them, reacted to different wavelengths of light. If you have a red mark and you illuminate it with a red light, it looks white, or it disappears altogether. But if you illuminate it with blue light, it turns black. So if you’ve got something which is very faintly red, and you illuminate it with blue or even green light, and it turns black, then that would suggest that there’s a red pigment there.

Hagar Cohen: So can you say with certainty that that bruise in the inner side of the left leg, which you call the thumb bruise, was indeed a bruise?

Colin Manock: Yes.

Hagar Cohen: And was caused by the thumb?

Colin Manock: That is my opinion, yes.

Hagar Cohen: I’ll just tell you again. From what I read, my understanding was that in the medical tribunal you actually said that the thumb mark, you couldn’t actually say whether it was a bruise or not.

Colin Manock: I think that was only into consideration the histology.

Hagar Cohen: OK, so what are you taking into consideration now?

Colin Manock: The appearance under different coloured lights, that makes the difference.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Manock’s polilight evidence was not put to the jury. So the question about the scientific validity of this method never came up.

An expert in forensic photography, Professor Gale Spring, has extensive experience using the polilight, and he is familiar with the evidence in the Keogh trial. Professor Spring says the polilight technique would be of no use in this instance.

Gale Spring: The curious thing is, if you can see the bruise with your eye, the polilight’s probably not going to give you much more information than that. Where the polilight or ultraviolet radiation might assist in visualising some things actually when, say, days, weeks, months after an incident, where a bruise may no longer visually be seen, but this kind of technique could actually show where a bruise might have been. That technique will actually make the invisible become visible, and with the Keogh case it becomes interesting that this technique would have been used on what I understand was bruises that were already visually there; you could see them. So the polilight would have been probably of no use whatsoever.

Hagar Cohen: But what else can it be? I mean we know that there’s a mark; it looks visually as if it was a grip mark because you’ve got the three marks on the outer side of the left leg, and then the thumb mark; what else can it be?

Gale Spring: Well I’m afraid I can’t say what it is, and once again, I think this is where photography in forensic situations can be kind of dangerous, because once you produce a photograph which many people believe just as fact, and then you put a story with that photograph, people begin to read into photographs what they’re told. So I was never convinced that it actually was fingermarks or thumbprints, or whatever. What it is, nobody will know.

Hagar Cohen: Professor Gale Spring.

By 2004, the team investigating the Keogh case decided to complain about Dr Manock to the South Australian Medical Board.

They claimed Dr Manock’s autopsy at the Keogh trial was incompetent and his work on the case amounted to unprofessional conduct.

After extensive investigations and a second inquiry, it was referred to the medical tribunal.

The tribunal accepted that Dr Manock had made some mistakes, but cleared him of unprofessional conduct.

Reader: We find that those deficiencies were trivial or harmless.

Holding a mistaken opinion by itself does not amount to unprofessional conduct.

There is no basis for criticising the opinion of Dr Manock as to the cause of death.

There are valid criticisms of the autopsy which even Dr Manock acknowledged was less than perfect. However for the reasons which we have expressed, we do not regard those criticisms as a cause for disciplinary action.

  1. However, the alleged thumb-print on the inside of Ms Cheney’s ankle was fairly clearly not consistent with a bump or fall, which is why the fact that Manock was only able to establish with a polilight test that it was in fact a bruise becomes so potentially significant.  It appears that the central aspect of the current defamation proceedings between Manock and Channel 7 is the latter’s suggestion (no doubt at the urging of Keogh’s supporters), that the fact that the polilight testing was done and that it was the sole basis for Manock’s conclusion that this mark was a bruise, was deliberately suppressed by Dr Manock in his evidence at trial. It might be argued that the question of whether the mark on the inside of Ms Cheney’s ankle was a thumb-print bruise is critical to reaching a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt as to whether she was murdered in the way Dr Manock concluded. ~ KP