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Said of the Sixties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/09/2021 - 2:05am in


Politics, reviews

Although Brennan’s book prioritizes Said’s English-department dramas, his longstanding anti-militarism is arguably at least as interesting a thread to follow, and one that seems destined to stay interesting longer.

Answers to Trump questions about attacking China and Iran

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/09/2021 - 3:53am in



The question of who would tell Trump the truth when needed and who would stop him if he tried to go to war with anyone became increasingly urgent as his presidency unfolded. On the matter of war, we now know the answer.

The Washington Post has published key excerpts from a book to be published next week: Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. They are compelling and credible reading.

They provide an answer to the question on Trump and going to war. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, the most senior US military officer, took action against a possible disastrous directive from Trump.

So deep was his concern about Trump’s state of mind and intentions that he twice called his Chinese counterpart General Li Zuocheng to assure him that the US was not preparing to attack China and if that changed, and orders were in fact being implemented for such an attack, he would let Li know “ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise”.

It was not just China. Trump had also talked about attacking Iran which led Gina Haspel, director of the CIA, to express alarm that, “we are going to lash out for his ego”.

Clearly, Milley was aware of the profound importance which attaches to the chain of command, from the president, as commander-in-chief, then downwards through the military.

He checked with others his estimation of Trump’s state of mind and intentions — for example with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He and Pelosi agreed that Trump was “crazy” and according to a transcript obtained by Woodward and Costa, Pelosi had demanded to know from Milley “what precautions are available to prevent an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or from accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike”. Milley asserted that there were “a lot of checks in the system”.

That assertion, while hopefully true, sits uncomfortably alongside the reverence held in the US system for the office of the presidency and the chain of command.

The situation Milley believed the nation and the system faced, was excruciating, but he took it on and, sought support from other senior officers, presumably the joint chiefs. According to the authors, he obtained from them an oath that any order by the president on the launching of nuclear weapons would not be actioned, if Milley was not also involved.

An aspect of Woodward and Costa’s report which is highly relevant to the future, is the view held by Haspel, and others, that the events at the Capitol on January 6 constituted an attempted coup and that the movement and motives it involved, are not over.

That movement which, inter alia, continues daily to insist that the presidential election was stolen from Trump, remains numerically large and has captured the Republican party. The party’s sharpest focus, during this year, in the 30 States where it controls the legislature, is to pass laws restricting voting. Trump had made clear his belief that the more people who could vote, the harder it would be for Republicans to win.

Trump has already declared Milley’s action in calling his Chinese counterpart treason. Some Republican representatives have spoken of the clear abrogation of the chain of command that took place and the “crime” of passing classified information to China.

Milley would have had quite a wrestle with all of this. Interestingly, his awareness of Trump’s capacity to act unconstitutionally was underlined when Trump tried to have him and the military attack US citizens protesting on Black Lives Matter. Milley was bitter about that and apologised publicly for having been in Lafayette Square with Trump on that day.

It is unlikely that history will conclude that he needs to apologise for his two phone calls to Beijing.

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The Professional-Managerial Novel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/09/2021 - 1:00am in

Pretending that all workers are the same obscures rather than clarifies the reality of class.

Why Lecture?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 5:00am in



It’s easy to see how lectures got a bad rap. We have all been subjected to someone who abused the privilege of an audience. 

Misreading Dark Emu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/08/2021 - 3:14am in


Politics, reviews

Criticisms of the book Dark Emu and its author, Bruce Pascoe, continue to appear, and to become more puzzling. It is as if the overwhelming popularity of Pascoe and his message have disturbed comfortable convictions about Australian history shared across a wide segment of Australian society.

Many seem to have accepted that Pascoe has been proven to be quite wrong, particularly with the publication of Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s book Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate, which assured us that Aborigines were hunter-gatherers and had no ambitions to become farmers.

Is the implication that we need no longer be concerned about their subsequent history? But that history, as created by the settlers, is the major topic of Bruce Pascoe’s book.

I want to show that the detailed, disparaging interpretation of Dark Emu in Peter Sutton’s chapters in Farmers or Hunter-gatherers is seriously misleading. (Keryn Walshe’s archaeology is less relevant here.) The anthropologist’s irritated corrections of some careless referencing and reckless claims made in a popular, non-academic text ignore Pascoe’s themes, arguments and intentions.

Dark Emu is not about whether Aborigines were agriculturalists or hunter-gatherers, but about how they were seen by explorers, settlers and other observers. Pascoe is challenging popular beliefs about Aborigines. His modest aim, he said, “is to give rise to a possibility of an alternative view of precolonial Australia.” The public recognised this message as a valuable corrective to public and political misconceptions. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? shows almost no interest in popular knowledge or public sentiment. Thus, the disagreement is less about the status of hunter-gatherers than about “who is to be master” of Australia’s colonial history.

Full disclosure: Like Peter Sutton I began the profound experience of anthropological fieldwork with a remote Aboriginal community in the 1970s. My original research in southern Arnhem Land explored Rembarrnga women’s traditional lives. Subsequently the cultural interface and race relations became the focus of my ethnographic work.

Sutton’s fieldwork gave him a deep understanding and abiding fondness for those Wik people he calls the Old People and their “classical culture.” His meticulous research into their languages and traditional lives attracts respect. But Dark Emu is not about an allegedly static precolonial past. It is about Australia’s history.

Catching fish a lazy way

Sutton subjects Dark Emu to repetitive micro-analysis, but he ignores the book’s main theme, which is made clear when Pascoe quotes a young settler’s observations in 1897 in his introduction:

a black would sit near the [weir] opening and just behind him a tough stick about ten feet long was stuck in the ground with the thick end down. To the thin end of this rod was attached a line with a noose at the other end; a wooden peg was fixed under the water at the opening in the fence to which this noose was caught, and when the fish made a dart to go through the opening he was caught by the gills, his force undid the loop from the peg, and the spring of the stick threw the fish over the head of the black, who would then in a most lazy manner reach back his hand, undo the fish, and set the loop again around the peg.

Despite this ingenious system, the settler concluded:

I have often heard of the indolence of the blacks and soon came to the conclusion after watching a blackfellow catch a fish in such a lazy way, that what I had heard was perfectly true.

Sutton turns the argument around by repeatedly accusing Pascoe of reviving “the old Eurocentric view held by the British conquerors of Aboriginal society.” But when was Eurocentrism discarded? It is true that anthropologists of the twentieth century were dedicated to understanding and respecting Aboriginal traditions and often admired the complexities of kinship, ritual, religion and the economic system. But such work, perhaps inadvertently, reinforced public images of a static society — in the singular — with ancient practices that intrigued intellectuals, but would inevitably give way before modernity. That inevitability is affirmed by the anthropologist’s emphasis on contented hunter-gatherers, thus relieving us all of the colonial guilt that Pascoe’s book evokes in some readers.

Old facts

Sutton focuses repetitively on “the facts.” “Evidence” would be a better term to decribe detailed knowledge of traditional societies and their marked variation across Australia. None of us has direct experience of precolonial societies, so some humility would be appropriate when claiming knowledge of them. Social facts require interpretation and attract debate, for instance about how assumptions shape even the most scientific observers’ interpretations, and how specific terms carry value judgments. Foraging and farming are not only descriptive terms; together they carry a commonsense meaning of progress through time.

I am also fond of facts and there are many facts about Wik history that tell of a century of bloodshed, land theft and interference throughout Cape York before Sutton arrived there in 1970. Sutton lived with people who, he claims, “in many cases had been born and raised beyond the reach of the British Empire.” His companions must have been very old indeed to have escaped the influence of settlers who arrived in Cape York in the ninteeenth century with the protection from the Queensland state apparatus.

Sutton’s professional work as an expert witness in Native Title cases might explain his respect for facts over interpretation. Native Title courts, operating under the Native Title Act, are tasked with identifying traditional owners of particular country. The process is adversarial, so there is little room for considering the ambiguity of the alien concept of “property,” or taking account of changing circumstances, let alone of shared responsibility for an area between the moieties — mother’s country and fathers’ country.

The one thing the Native Title process has in common with traditional Aboriginal practices of dispute resolution is the considerable time involved. In Arnhem Land, I saw Aboriginal people resolving major disputes through slow, careful dialogue. Each speaker sought common ground and avoided causing offence to rivals with the aim of avoiding violence. The process was not adversarial but based on negotiation.

Sutton is incorrect when accusing Pascoe of denigrating Aborigines as “mere hunter-gatherers.” This is careless reading: Pascoe was quoting others’ use of that term, emphasising the pervasive belittling of the natives in early observers’ texts. Such belittling is still with us. The common term is racism.

The past is not the history

Studying the past is not the same as studying history. Sutton claims access to an authentic, unchanged native tradition, but he leaves us ignorant of how the Old People related to white explorers, land-hungry settlers, missionaries and miners and their beliefs about “savages.” Missionaries enticed Wik people to become sedentary, but when a massive bauxite deposit was discovered under the mission houses at Mapoon the people were forcibly moved and their houses burned down. Sutton may admire the Old People but, surprisingly, his work lacks any interest in living, changing, adapting and resistant Aboriginal societies — let alone our colonising forebears that labelled Aborigines “mere hapless wanderers.”

Sutton has not always ignored the Aboriginal present. He was an activist in Queensland in the 1980s, actively promoting recognition of Aboriginal culture and land rights. But his 2009 book The Politics of Suffering was his anguished response to the violence among contemporary Wik people. Sutton held the liberal policies of cultural recognition responsible and endorsed the Howard government’s 2007 Northern Territory Intervention. As fellow anthropologist Basil Sansom observed: “Sutton now argues that Aboriginal culture (Australia-wide) is bad [and] should not be conceded space to flourish.” It is only the Old People’s culture that Sutton admires, and we know what happens to old people.

Affluent foragers

Social evolutionism was upended by anthropologists when they recognised that the agricultural revolution was the “worst revolution in human history.” The American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins famously named foragers “the Original Affluent Society” because they had limited needs and abundant leisure. Humans had lived thus across the whole globe for millennia before agriculturalists developed major food surpluses, storage and denser populations. There followed cities and slaves, poverty and affluence, inequality and injustice — a downward spiral for humanity.

Anthropology students were taught the superiority of hunter-gatherer societies, but Sutton must know that primitivist thought remains alive today in popular imagery and convictions despite the work of anthropologists like Stanley Diamond. Admiration for hunter-gatherer societies is often derided as romantic primitivism, even by some anthropologists.

Pascoe shows how easy and convenient it was for settlers to share the conviction that Aborigines had not developed into modern humans and that a natural evolutionary process meant they had to give way to advanced Europeans. And that idea has not been eradicated. A further, repeated emphasis in Pascoe’s book is how settlers’ farming practices destroyed what Aborigines had preserved. Pascoe — along with most people — sees agriculture as a “development” from a simpler economy and in this he affirms that the continent was inhabited by dynamic societies. Such a view is more in line with scholarly knowledge of the deep human past than is Sutton’s emphasis on the Wik’s stasis. Social change may have been imperceptible for long periods, but human societies are living entities, not static or self-satisfied as the “Old People” appear in Sutton’s work.

Admiration for Pascoe’s book stems from its “profound challenge to conventional thinking about Aboriginal life on this continent” (Marcia Langton) and a critique of Australia’s “underlying supremicism” (Penny Wong). Sutton says primitive imagery of Aborigines is “a colonial-era fiction long expunged from Australian law.” But the Native Title Act was only passed in 1993 against powerful resistance and two centuries of primitivist and racist assumptions. Aboriginal ownership is still vigorously contested, moreover, and Sutton’s professional life as a Native Title anthropologist depends on that contestation.

Social archaeology

Anthropologists are often confused with archaeologists who study the evidence of human societies before written records emerged. Contemporary anthropology retains its focus on cultural specificities and variations, with the practice of ethnographic fieldwork ensuring that the discipline has a contemporary focus on living cultural histories and responses to changing conditions, rather than merely the past.

Perhaps Pascoe’s popularity has annoyed some, but I am more troubled that a classical anthropological text such as Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? presents Aborigines as the Old People who belong indisputably to Australia’s past. Because it ignores living social history, Peter Sutton’s work can reasonably be defined as social archaeology. Sutton may have missed the work of the anthropologist Eric Wolf, who in 1982 urged social anthropologists to move beyond images of timeless, unchanging native societies and attend to post-colonial histories that are in urgent need of documentation.

By failing to address Bruce Pascoe’s historical themes, Sutton appears to be tilting at windmills. He may be right in seeing Dark Emu as a challenge to work that confines its attention to old Aboriginal people with long memories in remote places. But tilting at the windmill of contemporary popular, public and political thought doesn’t enhance the reputation of our discipline. It is the Native Title Act’s emphasis on Aboriginal traditions that keeps social archaeology alive in Australia and diverts interest from the varied ways Aborigines once lived and have since adapted, responded, resisted and perhaps most importantly thought about the culture that now dominates the continent. It is not Sutton, but Pascoe who encourages such progressive thought.

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Review: ‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/08/2021 - 3:01am in



What a marvellous book! A powerful refutation of one of the most deeply entrenched and mistaken assumptions built into our taken-for-granted world view that human nature is nasty.

For thousands of years, almost everyone has believed that human nature is nasty, that we are basically selfish, competitive, aggressive and prone to violence, and that civilisation is a “thin veneer” that restrains us but is easily fractured.  Bregman contrasts this Hobbesian view with that of Rousseau, who argued that our original nature was not like this and that it is “civilisation” that is causing the trouble.

The book is a long and detailed examination of lots of evidence on related issues, with 53 pages of mostly scientific references. It is clear and written in an engaging style (although much too long.) It is very convincing. The critiques I found do not dispute the validity of his main arguments.

He begins by demolishing the well known Lord of the Flies book by Golding, which portrays a group of boys stranded on a desert island descending into barbarism. Bregman describes what actually happened when a group of boys were stranded on a Pacific island for many months. They got along just fine, setting up a commune and working together to build shelter and collect food until they were found.  One is still living in Queensland. When they had an argument the rule was for the parties to separate for some time, then come back and shake hands.

Bregman summarises the studies on what happens in disasters such as hurricanes, or accidents when there are no authorities around to impose order.  People typically jump into helping and cooperating to fix things.  It is not the case that when the veneer of civilised order cracks a war of all against all breaks out. There follow four hundred pages of analysis of similar situations and phenomena.

Bregman marvels at the way the negative assumption has dominated thinking for a least two thousand years. “In almost every country most people believe that most other people cant be trusted.” (p. 12.) He puts it in terms of the clash between the Hobbesian ”veneer” view that the state of nature is nasty brutish and short, and thus that civilisation is a fragile shell over it and requires tight top-down rule or order will crumble, and Rousseau who argued that it is civilisation that is the problem, keeping humans “everywhere in chains” and that things were OK in the “state of nature” before civilisation was invented.

Bregman argues that what most characterises the human species is friendliness. “… we are one of the friendliest species in the animal kingdom.” (p. 245.) We like being around others, being on good terms, helping and co-operating. “Humans crave togetherness and interaction.”  (p. 80.) This he says is the major factor in the progress of our species, much more important than competition. Friendlier homo would have been better at communicating and cooperating. “Survival of the friendliest.” Above all, we, and many other animals, enjoy playing with each other. You have heard of Homo Ludens but Bregman calls us Homo Puppy.

Hobbes and the rest of the pessimists think life was problematic until civilisation came along. Bregman goes over the established case that while civilisation has had its merits its coming was a disaster.

Much space is given to the way we humans lived for a very long time as hunter-gatherers. These societies were friendly, not hierarchical or aggressive, providing a high level of freedom for children and women (who were usually able to terminate a partnership and form another as they wished … “serial monogamy”) and “allergic to inequality.” They shared everything and did everything together, in a group rather than as individuals. They had no taxes, bosses, states, religious domination, property or inheritance. Decisions “… were group affairs requiring long deliberation in which everybody got to have their say.” (p. 97.)  One survey of 339 studies concluded that they are “… all but obsessively concerned with being free from the authority of others.” (p. 97.) They had mechanisms for preventing inequality and the rise of powerful individuals, especially the use of shame. The successful hunter would say and be told, that his meat is not much good.  “For hundreds of thousands of years, we had efficient ways of taking down anyone who put on airs.” (p. 101.)

He says they did not make war. In cave paintings from that era “ … there’s not a single depiction of war.” (p. 93.) “How much archaeological evidence is there for early warfare, before the days of farming? … The answer is almost none.”  (p. 93.) Some three thousand skeletons have been found and the analysts “…see no convincing evidence for prehistoric warfare.” 93

But this is not what Pinker claims.  He is famous for claiming that “…we started off nasty” (p. 80) and have been improving since.  Bregman goes into the anthropological literature against this claim. (p. 92.)

So the state of nature seems distinctly not to have been nasty, brutish and short.  Rousseau 1, Hobbs nil. Round two begins.

Then it just about all went wrong. Humans took up farming and Civilisation began. “Rousseau saw the invention of farming as one big fiasco…” (p. 105.) Diet deteriorated markedly and being confined in settlements close to many others and to animals led to poorer health.  More work had to be done. Patriarchy began. Inequality, elites, kings and tyrants began. “The 1% began oppressing the 99%.” (p. 105.) Vindictive vengeful religion began. With property to leave to offspring “… female virginity became an obsession.” It seems debt began; the first evidence of writing we have is of recorded debts.

And it is here that war begins, evident in the first cave paintings of war, and in the kinds of skeleton injuries occurring. “…the first archeological evidence for war suddenly appears 10,000 years ago.” (p. 200.)

But that’s not the worst of it. The “…final catastrophic event so lamented by Rousseau…(was) the birth of the state.” (p. 109.) Bregman concludes, “Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.” (p. 112.)

So, Rousseau 2, Hobbes still 0?

But if we’re so friendly, why so much warfare? Bregman’s impressive answer is essentially … because we are so friendly. Again his case is good on evidence. Let’s start with, do soldiers fight wars because they are aggressive and want to kill? It’s pretty clear that in general, they don’t.  After the battle of Gettysburg 17,347 muskets were collected and it was found that 90% were loaded but not fired. (p. 84.) Other similar studies support Collins’ conclusion, “Humans are hard-wired for solidarity; and this is what makes violence so difficult.”

Why then do soldiers fight so hard? He says large studies have found that the answer is not ideology but the strong bonds between the men and the determination not to let comrades down. For example, this stood out in 15,000 pages of transcripts of conversations overheard among German POWs, and also in studies among American soldiers.  (p. 208) Fighting it seems is in fact due to … friendship. “Comaraderie is the weapon that wins wars.” (p. 208.)

Bregman devotes the last half of the book to the ways the Hobbesian assumption leads us to do so many things the wrong way.  “… we continually operate on a mistaken model of human nature.” (p. 251.) It tells us that humans are selfish, vicious, and untrustworthy, and therefore control, repression, correction, and punishment are necessary. He considers the resulting ways we organise corporations schools, prisons etc. Then he provides examples of practices based on contrary assumptions, documenting the stunning achievements when relations are based on friendliness and trust.

Above all the Hobbesian view tells us we need rulers.  We are fallible, perverse and violent animals in need of control from above. How remarkable that a doctrine providing such clear proof of the legitimacy of the ruling class should be so indubitably accepted!

Bregman seems to me to be powerfully correct, (Rousseau wins, OK?) and his analysis has very valuable implications for policy at the personal and social levels.  My concern is that in order to understand the mess the world is in we need to go further than he goes. The basic causal factors in our predicament are not well analysed primarily in terms of our good or bad human nature.  They require attention to be focused on our faulty institutions, systems and culture, and what it is about us that allows them to persist. Without the hunter-gatherer’s levelling mechanisms the few unfriendly and shameless get to the top and run things, including states, to enrich themselves. They are the ones who start the wars.

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SOS: the women who helped derail war in Vietnam

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 5:11pm in

Many Australians know nothing of the courageous actions of anti-war activists in the 1960s and 70s, particularly those who defied the law and resisted conscription during the US war in Vietnam.

Carolyn Collins’ book tells their story. You will read about illegal sit-ins and chain-ups in Parliament, anti-war fashions at the Melbourne Cup, hijacking Billy Graham’s evangelical rally, rallying to support jailed conscript Bill White outside Prime Minister Harold Holt’s house, and avoiding capture in the “underground” draft resisters’ network. And there were songs and poetry along the way.

In particular, the book focuses on Save Our Sons (SOS), set up in Sydney in May 1965 by Joyce Golgerth to fight the Menzies Liberal government’s conscription laws, introduced that year.

There were other groups with similar aims but SOS cultivated a respectable image of concerned mothers from all classes. They dressed in 1950s-style middle class “ladies” attire complete with handbags, hats and gloves, trying to avoid accusations of being “just a communist front”. Not all its members opposed conscription outright and not all opposed the war in Vietnam.

Similar groups set up independently in Melbourne, Newcastle, Brisbane, Townsville, Wollongong, Adelaide and Perth.

They started with demonstrations to coincide with conscripts arriving at army bases, public meetings, vigils, petitions, letter-writing, always protesting within the law mostly as an education strategy. Most felt that the public was misled and would support their anti-conscription stance once they understood the issues.

Many were housewives and mothers with sons threatened with conscription, or already conscripted, but SOS attracted other women and men of all ages and backgrounds.

By 1965 there was a small but self-educated layer of activists who knew about Vietnam, in the context of a left that had opposed military conscription since before the First World War. They faced a determined government and a complacent society, apathetic about the war.

While SOS’s genteel image seems to have enabled it to attract many women beyond the left and new to politics, SOS women’s main support network was among left and trade union activists and among the Melbourne arts community. A relatively large but declining Communist Party (CPA) held important union positions and organised among working class activists. ALP and CPA union leaders often supported anti-war actions.

SOS became an important link for unwilling conscripts and their parents to access legal and political support to avoid the draft and its repercussions, as the aim of saving sons came into conflict with obeying the law.

Lottery of death

The Australian government sent advisors to join US troops in Vietnam from 1962. In November 1964 they announced a two-year conscription period for 20-year-old men. What became known as the “lottery of death” ran like a bingo game. If your birthday was drawn you would be compelled to register or face jail.

Meanwhile Australian society was changing culturally and politically as young people questioned the strict conservatism which dictated cultural norms, including the length of hair and frowned-on new fashions like mini-skirts.

Inspired by the US Civil Rights and then anti-war movements, radical student groups developed a new militancy based on civil disobedience. The core activists were anti-capitalist revolutionaries against US imperialism and the USSR.

The situation for women was changing—strict laws against contraception and abortion were being questioned, with the contraceptive pill available selectively from 1961. In the boom years following the Second World War, labour shortages meant women were being drawn into workplaces and immigration was extended to southern Europeans (challenging the White Australia policy).

Anti-war demands made little headway before the 1966 federal election, which saw the Liberal government returned convincingly. Yet that year was a turning point. Rather than demoralise the anti-war activists, electoral defeat sharpened their politics. Earlier in the year the first conscript, Errol Noack, had been killed in Vietnam and police savagely attacked demonstrations against the visit by US President Johnson.

SOS was clearly in the moderate wing of the anti-war movement but some members were sympathetic to the radicals. In 1967, demonstrations were again attacked by police. In Queensland further restrictions on protesting led to a defiant civil liberties campaign. In Melbourne students and SOS defied a ban on leafletting after many arrests (SOS secretary Jean McLean was arrested 17 times), which succeeded in early 1968. From then on civil disobedience became a favoured tactic.

Four important events shook capitalism in 1968. In January the Vietnamese Tet Offensive exposed US military weaknesses; in May a massive general strike in France saw that government retreat; and in August the USSR sent troops to quash the Prague Spring uprising and US police violently attacked protesters at the Chicago Democratic Convention.

Another turning point came in 1969. An August opinion poll indicated a majority of Australians, 55 per cent, supported withdrawal of troops. Labor came close to winning the election later that year.

Stop work

Most importantly in May 1969 a revolt by the union movement starts, as strike action by one million workers won the release of a union official and made the anti-strike laws a dead letter. Anti-war activists were linking up with unionists. Collins records the rising of new social movements against sexism and racism—the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) began at the end of 1969 with working women already campaigning for equal pay.

The May 1970 Moratorium, the first of three working day political strike rallies, drew an estimated 200,000 people into the streets, with 100,000 in Melbourne and a rowdy sit-down. The slogan “Stop Work to Stop the War” reflected the disruptive strike action already taking place.

Unfortunately, Collins doesn’t adequately explain the new confidence and the impact of radical action, as militant demonstrations and strikes went beyond the norm.

While SOS did not support the anti-US imperialism politics of far left students they did prove Deputy Labor leader and anti-war activist Jim Cairns wrong when he warned occupations of government offices would likely turn people against them.

Five members of Melbourne SOS were arrested during a second sit-in in 1971 at the Department of Labour and National Service. When these “mothers” spent 11 days over Easter at Fairlea women’s prison it was a public relations disaster for the government.

In late 1971, the government announced that most troops would return by Christmas, following the US lead. They also conceded that conscription would be reduced to 18 months. This was totally unacceptable and protests continued.

In October 1970, the Draft Resisters Union had announced that draft resisters would be protected with “sanctuary in the form of shelter, work and sustenance to all young men who courageously defy the National Service Act”. In fact, much of this activity was started by SOS in 1969.

In 1972 Barry Johnston stood as an ALP candidate for parliament during his sanctuary and came close to winning the seat of Hotham in Victoria, held by Don Chipp, Minister for Customs. The ALP won that election and Whitlam promised to stop conscription; draft resisters were the first to benefit and left their hideouts.

This is an important book that uncovers a history of women activists and the way they organised that most other histories of this period ignore. To explain the omission of SOS from his own history, Silence Kills, Cairns admitted to Collins that women were often unfortunately taken for granted, even though he relied on SOS Victoria secretary Jean McLean as one of the key officials for the 1970 Moratorium.

SOS women are also not included in the histories of feminism, probably because they began earlier than the WLM and lasted only until 1973 and, according to Collins, because their maternal rhetoric did not fit the new radicalism of the period.


The focus for SOS and of this book was conscription. However, as the book shows, all activists would learn from the struggle that the wider issues were inextricably linked.

As Collins argues, SOS clearly made a difference as a small section of a vibrant anti-war movement. The movement helped end the war—alongside the heroic military resistance of the Vietnamese people and the National Liberation Front.

There is little discussion in the book of the turbulent arguments between radicals and moderates in the movement and the reasons why the Vietnam War happened in the first place. Collins does illustrate, however, that education to change public opinion was not enough and that SOS gained from engaging in civil disobedience, even if she does not consider the role of militant industrial action.

It was clear that the ousted Liberal government had wanted to make conscription permanent so it was a major victory when conscription was ended formally in July 1973.

SOS decided to go “into indefinite recess” but promised to be back if conscription was raised again. While no government has dared to do so since, the Keating Labor government’s Defence Legislation Amendment Act of 1992 gives federal parliament the power to introduce conscription.

Collins’ book shows what can happen if we fight. The story of SOS is one important piece of the story of the 1960s’ radicalisation.

By Judy McVey

Save Our Sons: Women, Dissent and Conscription during the Vietnam War by Carolyn Collins
Monash University Publishing, $34.95

The post SOS: the women who helped derail war in Vietnam appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Pictures at a Restoration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 12:30am in



Once safely out of office, he acknowledged that “millions of Americans” had been “spooked by a black man in the White House.” An undeniable truth, but one that was miles away from the embrocations he had offered the country when he launched his national career by declaring that “there is not a black America and a white America.” That kind of thing sounds like denialism to some, a postracial utopia to others, and then, in certain places, like a threat.

Pictures at a Restoration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 12:30am in



Once safely out of office, he acknowledged that “millions of Americans” had been “spooked by a black man in the White House.” An undeniable truth, but one that was miles away from the embrocations he had offered the country when he launched his national career by declaring that “there is not a black America and a white America.” That kind of thing sounds like denialism to some, a postracial utopia to others, and then, in certain places, like a threat.

Bringing ‘the Doc’ to the masses – review of Gideon Haigh’s new book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/08/2021 - 4:47am in



H. V. Evatt could be a massively polarising figure and that is more than unfortunate. It has closed many minds to what we should be celebrating and promulgating as true Australian values. Those values – not merely espoused, but judicially declared and enacted by and because of Evatt – are in evidence throughout Gideon Haigh’s new book on “the Doc”: The Brilliant Boy.

But how do we get this book into the hands of the mass of voters who would benefit so much from the light it sheds on what Haigh calls “the great Australian dissent”.

That’s a hard one. Even if people under 50 have heard of Evatt – state MP, High Court Judge, Foreign Minister, Federal Opposition Leader and NSW Chief Justice – it is often sadly only in the context of him having been at once brilliant but untrusting and petulant.

My family, which included two members of Evatt’s federal Caucus in the 1950s, left me with a pretty skewed view of “the Doc”. The family legend was that at different times during one particular leadership crisis, Evatt had separately summoned each Fraser brother (Allan and Jim) for a view on the other’s loyalty. This was around the time of the much-recalled story of the Doc jumping on a table and shouting for the Caucus secretary to get the names of those moving against him, who were of course in plain view.

In The Brilliant Boy: Doc Evatt and the Great Australian Dissent, Haigh brings both sides of the Doc together, finding that “one might well ask whether the detraction of Evatt is itself a little mad”, which was what many in Labor circles called the Doc, at least toward the end of his time in Parliament.

The two sides made Evatt “a rather murky study”, Haigh concluded. “He seems unclassifiable: not a patrician, not a larrikin, not a populist, not a statesman … an intellectual in a country that sees this as a kind of frivolous impracticality and a serial failure at the polls when in our time electoral success has come to be regarded as the sole criterion of political prowess.”

The concentration in The Brilliant Boy on the “liberal lion” that was Evatt on the High Court Bench in the 1930s (“peak Evatt”, as Haigh described it to Phillip Adams on Late Night Live) was a great eye-opener for me.

Many cases are mentioned but one stands above all: Chester v the Council of Waverley Municipality of 1939, in which the Doc’s dissent would shine, albeit under an Australian legal bushel for almost half a century (and 20 years after the Doc’s death) when a different High Court would finally overturn the majority and agree with Evatt that “nervous shock” was a compensable injury.

The brief facts were that council workers had left a large trench virtually unsecured. It filled after days of heavy rain and seven-year-old Max Chester, described by the doctor who treated his mother as a “particularly brilliant boy …the hope of her family”, drowned in it. His mother saw his limp body pulled from the trench after a frantic search of the neighbourhood and sought for the council to take some responsibility. No recompense came directly, and nor did the NSW Supreme Court think it should have and nor, more sadly, did a majority on the High Court.

Evatt’s dissenting judgment, at 14,000 words, was far longer than a usual judgment and picked up on the developing law of negligence, then in its infancy in the common-law world, after perhaps the best-known case in legal history, Donoghue v Stevenson, decided seven years earlier by the House of Lords.

The international jurist Geoffrey Robertson described Evatt’s dissent in Chester as “a masterly piece of jurisprudence, infused with humanity”, and “an example of Evatt’s profound belief that humanitarian principles could be deployed by judges to develop a common law that would meet the needs and challenges of a changing world”.

But the wheels of the judicial arm were slow. Not until Jaensch v Coffey in 1984 did the High Court finally side with Evatt’s judgment from 1939. As Justice (later Sir) William Deane put it, “The judgments of the majority in Chester have not worn well with time. The proposition is no longer, if it ever was, acceptable. It is simply out of accord with medical knowledge and human experience to deny that it is reasonably foreseeable that the shock suffered by a mother on seeing the body of her infant child, whom she was seeking, raised from the bottom of a water-filled trench might well be such as to cause psychoneurosis or mental illness. It must now be accepted that the conclusion on the facts in Chester in dissent is plainly to be preferred to that of the majority.” That’s about as strong as it gets in judicial language.

But how do we get people to read, if not the Doc’s judgments, at least Haigh’s book? The Chester case gives the perfect entrée: Ken McCaffery was another little boy on the street when Maxie Chester drowned and was called to give evidence in the case. Yes, Ken McCaffery, the Australian rugby-league representative, a centre at Easts and Souths. On reading this, Haigh, cricket correspondent for The Australian, did what good journos do. He picked up the phone. The 500 words or so at the start of The Brilliant Boy that outline Haigh’s initial contact with McCaffery, then in his 90th year, is as moving as you’ll read. It cries out for a double-page splash in the sports pages of The Daily Telegraph one Saturday: “League great’s link to historic legal advance” or some such.

It is that intersection of law and humanity that Evatt understood and promoted. His judgments can be at once a thing of beauty (including quotes from Blake and other poets) and yet so very real (his detailed descriptions of what people actually saw and felt and how the law can be made to serve them). However, the broader public image of the Doc remains that, yes, he was smart, but he was always odd and aloof, and just plain difficult.

Maybe he had much more of the everyman than so many of us used to think. Haigh reveals that Evatt was a league and cricket fan with knowledge of both sports beyond that of even a supposed “tragic” such as John Howard. Evatt’s Caucus contemporary Les Haylen noted a “strange rapport he could conjure up sometimes that went out beyond his supporters to the people themselves”.

Haigh’s book brings that Doc to life. It deserves the widest readership.

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