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Ships in the Night: A Vietnam war story, by Greg Dodds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/08/2021 - 4:45am in

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Greg Dodds’ career began as a professional Australian soldier who served as an intelligence officer with the Australian Task Force in Vietnam in the late 1960s. In this racy 200-page monograph, Dodds disposes with scholarly requirements – no footnotes, no glossary, no reading list or sources. To appreciate its full context, the reader should have some knowledge of the war, its causes, its leading characters and its aftermath. Even without such background, however, this is a captivating memoir.

Dodds demolishes myths about the freedom-loving South Vietnamese being set upon by bully boys in Hanoi on behalf of Communist superpowers. He contextualises the war against earlier invasions – by Thais, Burmese, Mongols and Chinese. He describes what became a Vietnamese tradition of fierce resistance, typified by the Hai Ba Trŭng sisters, national heroines who overthrew China’s first domination of Vietnam in AD 40.

He observes that the racist arrogance of 19th-century French settlers, and their seizure of lands for rubber plantations, lit a fuse of local resentment. The fuse remained alight through the return of the French at the end of the Pacific War and their comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. It burned more strongly throughout what the Vietnamese call ‘the American War’, finally to explode when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon in April 1975.

Dodds gives his personal take on some Vietnamese leaders. Surprisingly, he describes the autocratic, Catholic southern president Ngo Dinh Diem as a ‘good political thinker’. Dodds is more accurate in describing Ngo’s sister-in-law, Madame Nhu, the Dragon Lady, as a disaster. She fomented enormous resentment in the south by contemptuously describing self-immolating southern bonzes like Thich Tri Quan, as ‘BBQ parties’. But after the assassination of her husband and brother-in-law, she prophetically told an audience in the United States in the late 1960s, ‘You Americans enjoy making other people cry, and you make many of us Vietnamese cry today, but you will cry twenty tears for our one. This I promise you.’

Of all the northern leaders, Dodds has the most praise for Le Duan. Raised in a poor rural family and then jailed by the French from 1930 to 1945 as a communist agitator, Le Duan enjoyed a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of Vietnamese Communism as Party Secretary in Hanoi in 1960. He remained Party Leader until 1986. A genuine believer in collective leadership, Le Duan was responsible, Dodds claims, for galvanising a tiring Ho Chi Minh to go to war against the United States by invading the South in the early 1960s, rather than just providing material assistance to local insurgents.

Dodds re-constructs how he supposes the North prepared for war in the south. How could they avoid the Americans’ massive firepower and air-borne mobility? Part of the answer was to deploy camouflaged battalions rather than unwieldy brigades or divisional formations. And although these small formations could never match the mobility of American Huey helicopters, they could deploy themselves with remarkable agility – especially if they were very fit, which their commanders insisted they must become through punishing forced marches carrying nothing but water, dried fish, a bag of rice, and their rifles.

Concerning Australia’s involvement in the war, Dodds briefly describes the complex history of Phuoc Tuy, a province close to Saigon in the southeast. It was here in 1966 that the Australian Task Force disengaged itself from its earlier integration with US 173rd Brigade at the massive American military base in Bien Hoa province, and established its own tactical area of responsibility (TOAR). Phouc Tuy was a challenging piece of territory – home to ‘pirates’ and ‘bad hats’ in the Long Hai mountains, Viet Cong units in the Rang Sat swamps and a substantial community of Catholic refugees from the North in the rice-growing paddy fields. 80 per cent of the population lived in the provincial capital of Ba Ria. Some were VC sympathisers, others committed anti-Communists. Most supported neither Hanoi nor Saigon, simply wanting to be left alone to pursue farming, fishing and trading.

Dodds describes conflicting Australian and US military doctrines. Weighed down by too much equipment, well-nourished Americans smelling of cigars and after-shave tended to charge through the jungles supported by the massive firepower they could ‘call in‘ from patrolling fighter jets and Huey gunships. Australians preferred to patrol silently in section or platoon strength, hoping to catch the enemy by surprise. It was a tactic developed during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 and reinforced at the Canungra jungle training school in Queensland.

Australians, Dodd claims, were more relaxed about confronting the VC than the Americans, especially in the Phuoc Tuy port of Vung Tau, a funnel for much-needed war supplies for both sides. They knew the Viet Cong were neighbours, but the two sides tended to live and let live unless the presence of the other became too confronting. One such occasion occurred when the VC had carelessly left a pallet of Semtex high-explosive melting in the hot sun on a wharf. Discovered by a South Vietnamese official, the VC were roundly chastised by a furious official for leaving around such an unstable compound which could demolish the whole city.

Communications were a continuing problem between Australians and Vietnamese. Major Huy was an earnest English-language scholar who had devoured English literature at a university in Hanoi. He was appalled by the banality of conversations he overheard between the downed American flyers he guarded in the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison camp. Transferred with the 1/33 Regiment to Phuoc Tuy in the later stages of the war, Major Huy was frequently puzzled by the chatter he overheard between Australian diggers outside bars in Vung Tau. What was the connection between a rat going up a rope and the sexual prowess of someone called Bazza? Why was a term of abuse like ‘you old bastard’ apparently a term of affection? What was a drover’s dog, and how could it be a more effective leader than some Australian staff officers? For their part, some Australians who became reasonably fluent in Vietnamese learned at the RAAF Language School at Point Cook. But they did not understand Vietnamese idioms either.

One narrative put about by the Americans and their allies after the war concerned the vindictiveness of the North Vietnamese in victory. Dodds disputes this, claiming that the North Vietnamese victors did not incarcerate large numbers of the southern population in re-education camps. He alleges that the real figure, although hard to judge, was around 300,000, about 0.01% of the southern population, or 8% of those of military age. Revenge was way down Hanoi’s list of priorities. At the top was Hanoi’s objective to convince the majority of Vietnamese that the war was over and the right people had won. Dodd contrasts Hanoi’s policy with that of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where Pol Pot tried to eliminate the entire urban class.

Do Muoi, a former wharfie from Hai Phong became Le Duan’s successor as Party Secretary-General. Accredited as initiating the transition of post-war Vietnam into a vibrant market economy, Do Muoi died in bed in 2018 at the ripe old age of 101, the oldest Head of State in the world at the time.  He was alive to see the enormous improvements in Vietnam’s standard of living which followed the end of the war.

The American preference (echoed by the Australians) was to describe their disengagement from Vietnam in 1972/3 as a ‘withdrawal’ rather than a defeat. Dodds disagrees. It was clearly, he asserts, a total defeat made even more impressive because the North had none of the massive military reinforcements that the South Vietnamese regime was able to draw upon.

Greg’s editorial team, led by Denis Gastin, said that Greg had much more to say in his memoir, but his untimely death in 2020 robbed him of the time and opportunity to do so. It is, nevertheless, a substantial addition to Australian literature on the subject.

This review first appeared in Australian Outlook on 2 August 2021

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The People, It Depends

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 8:12am in

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Even when talking about class, elite discourse is the motor force of history for Frank. If only suburban lawn signs talked more about class and less about racism and sexism, all of our problems would be solved.

The People, It Depends

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 8:12am in

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Even when talking about class, elite discourse is the motor force of history for Frank. If only suburban lawn signs talked more about class and less about racism and sexism, all of our problems would be solved.

A review of ‘The Dance of Folly: or how theatrics have tarnished the rule of law in Hong Kong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/07/2021 - 3:42am in

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A series of acute points are made by Henry Litton in his new book, The Dance of Folly.  These typically pivot on his observations of how judges, across various courts in Hong Kong, have been drawn away – by lawyers – from what he argues is the essence of well-grounded, common law reasoning towards playing dubious games with legalized expressions and theory-based arguments.  The result is that dangerous stress has increasingly been placed on the operation of the One Country Two Systems (OCTS) framework, which governs the relationship between Hong Kong and China.

Some will disagree with the central arguments made.  But where they do, most will still find themselves thinking deeply about what is being argued in this robustly readable work.

As I read the book, it prompted significant reflection – and a particular memory

Over four decades ago, as I was completing my LLB at the University of Melbourne, I began attending various courtrooms to see the law actually being applied.  Armed with my new legal-classroom understanding, I found I could follow what was going on.  Rather like when one learns the rules of football; watching any game afterwards becomes far more engaging.

On one occasion I was fortunate enough to happen upon a murder trial, in the Victorian Supreme Court, where the facts were exceptionally lurid.  The two accused, a wife and her lover (call them “X” and “Y”), were charged with murdering her husband (“A”).  The evidence showed that all were no strangers to the professionally criminal way of life.  Apart from myself, a number of X and Y family members were in court paying close attention.

The husband and wife, A and X, had a hilly countryside allotment in the well-timbered, modest mountains bordering Melbourne to the east.  By arrangement, Y had arrived one damp day, to coordinate with X in order to murder A.  Husband A was rendered unstable by a blow to the head and fell heavily.  Mr. Y then ran over A with his motor vehicle more than once.  Subsequently, X and Y, discovered that husband A was still drawing breath.  A small calibre rifle was fetched and Y shot A, finally killing him.

After all this was established, the barrister for Y, asked to lodge a new defence to the charge of murder.  To do this mid-trial is unusual.  The judge agreed to a voir dire (a separate hearing within the trial) to allow the barrister to make his application.  The jury was sent from the courtroom so they would not hear the argument unless the judge said it was admissible.

The barrister for Y then advised the judge that his client now wanted to plead self-defence.  The judge asked the barrister what the basis for this argument could possibly be.  The barrister explained that, although husband A was significantly injured prior to being shot, it must have been the case that he was also extremely angry with Y, by that stage, and thus, had he been able, he would certainly have been minded to kill Y and Y, thus, shot husband A dead in order to defend himself.  The judge shook his head slightly in what looked like disbelief and smartly told the barrister that this argument was improper and would not be allowed to be put to the jury.

I had heard how lawyers could argue that black was white, but here I saw that sort of ability applied in real life for the first time.

The judgments in the cases analyzed by Henry Litton do not involve vividly lethal facts to compare with those just outlined but they do rely on putting legal arguments to work, unfittingly in Litton’s view, in ways which have adversely shaped the operation of the common law system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

Chapter 4 of this new book is entitled, “Do Judges Run Prisons?”  Henry Litton provides a withering review of a case involving certain personal hygiene and appearance procedures applied within prisons in Hong Kong.

In March 2012, Leung, Kwok Hung was convicted of a criminal charge before a magistrate.   Leung was, for an extended period, a Member of the Legislative Council (LegCo).  He was widely known as “Long Hair” in recognition of the way he had worn his hair over many years.  After exhausting the appeal process, he commenced his sentence of four weeks in 2014.  His hair was cut short in accordance with long established prison regulations (page 39).

After some indecision about appealing against this hair-cutting decision because it was discriminatory – women prisoners in separate prisons are not ordered to have short haircuts in the same way – Leung lodged an appeal to the High Court, which was heard in April and May, 2015.  A declaration was given in Leung’s favour in a 39 page judgment delivered 18 months later in late 2016.  The Court of Appeal (CA) reversed this outcome in another prolonged judgment in April 2018.  In November 2020, the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) overruled the CA and restored the original judgment, once more explaining why at length.  The entire process took over five years.  It transformed what Henry Litton powerfully argues was clearly (and justly) a matter best left to be decided (as it had been for many years) by the prison administration, into an immensely elongated discussion of equality rights, which now complicates custodial discipline measures (pages 39 – 49).

He finds the outcome absurd.  He says the Judge at First Instance failed to accept his basic, judicial gate-keeping responsibility.  The judge should have stopped the original case from proceeding in the interests (inter alia) of good governance.  Subsequently, the disarray was compounded when the CFA failed in its leadership role by giving the procedural (access to judicial review) aspects of the case “not an ounce of thought”, simply following where it was led by counsel (page 50).

Litton concludes by observing that: “The judges, at all three levels of the courts, seem drawn to overseas case law as moths to a flame: apparently brushing aside the inconvenient truth that the common law system operates under the principle of One Country Two Systems.  Such a mind-set spells disaster in the long run.  It is not a formula for the long continuation of the common law in Hong Kong” (pages 50-51).

 

The book is conspicuously based on the penetrating analysis of a series of high profile cases – mostly cases seeking judicial review.  These include (apart from the case above) the court-based review of: the election of the former Chief Executive C. Y Leung (2012); procedures under the Complaints Against Police Ordinance (CAPO) and police identification (2020); the Face-Covering Case (2020); and a bail-procedural case related to the new National Security Law (NSL) in 2020 (chapters 1 to 8).

 

Litton perceives – and documents in detail – the clear failure in many such judgments to come to terms with the substantive factual evidence as they each detour into “forensic games” typically played by discussing abstracted interpretations of the Basic Law and most recently, the NSL, both of which are nationally enacted fundamental laws applying in the HKSAR (chapters 1 to 8).

He repeatedly notes the failure to stop improperly based applications for judicial review (many of which are publicly funded by legal aid) proceeding at all.

The criticisms leveled are sharp but they are typically argued, step by step, with clarity.  In his analysis of the Face Covering Case, Litton makes one perceptive point after another (chapter 3).  At the outset he notes that judicial review is meant to aid those with a real grievance in the public law field and not “a mere agitator” (page 28).

Litton explains that all the applicants seeking a review of the new, emergency face-covering regulations (made under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO)) applied on October 5, 2019 by the HKSAR Government, were LegCo members, apart from one who was a former LegCo member.  Litton asks the question which the court did not: were the applicants “legislators or agitators”.  Why come to court – why not argue these matters within LegCo (which, as it happens, had largely been rendered non-functional by these same LegCo applicants).  Litton goes on: “Were the applications made in good faith – or were [the applicants] just pursuing a political agenda?”(pages 28-29)

In an extraordinary judgment, the two High Court Judges hearing the case at first instance declared that the ERO was unconstitutional and they also struck down most of the regulations, themselves.  This was a plainly dangerous on at least two levels.  First, it badly handicapped the Hong Kong Police who were in the midst of managing the most difficult crisis they had faced in decades: trying to bring an end to the immensely violent and destructive multi-month insurrection which began in June 2019.  Second, it openly challenged the fundamental constitutional role of the sovereign.  Beijing explicitly reviewed the laws of British Hong in February, 1997 and then adopted most of those laws, in general.  Next, a list was provided of particular laws which were not adopted because they contravened the Basic Law.  The ERO was not on this list.  The judgment also singularly failed to consider the vital nature of the public interest as an existential threat to the social and constitutional order of Hong Kong unfolded (see Cullen, Richard, “Ruling on mask ban a reminder of centrality of public interest”, China Daily, March 1, 2021).

The CA overturned the ERO declaration and restored most of the regulations.  Finally, the CFA dismissed every ground relied on by the applicants – restoring all the regulations.  By this time, the judgments, described in the book as a “carnival of words” ran to over 320 pages, in total.  Litton trenchantly notes that: “It should have been blindingly obvious that counsel’s arguments that the [ERO] was unconstitutional verged on the absurd.  Why was it given oxygen by the judges?”  He summarizes the final outcome in these words: “After so much huffing and puffing, what has been achieved?  The answer is zero, except to show how the law can be made ineffectual when the discipline is ignored” (page 32).

The book also includes a chapter that provides an overview of the new NSL (chapter 7).  Litton first outlines the history of the failed attempt by the HKSAR to enact new a National Security Law in 2003 pursuant to the requirement to do this spelled out in Article 23 of the Basic Law.  He then concisely summarizes the terrifying extent and impact of the lengthy 2019 insurgency and the paralyzing of LegCo.  He also notes how this massive dispute in Hong Kong was used, inter alia, as a means to advance geopolitical interests aligned against China.  In these circumstances, the need to upgrade national security protection became urgent (page 71).

In a paper written by Paul Harris, a leading Hong Kong Senior Counsel and now Chair of the Hong Kong Bar Association, it is said that NSL Article 43 (listing police powers), “goes far to create a police state”.  Litton says that this claim is a “gross exaggeration”.  He goes on to argue in detail and convincingly against this paper – and a related paper on the Joint Declaration by the same author (pages 77 – 85).

The concluding chapter deals with the “35 plus primaries” organized by the Pan-Democrat opposition in July 2020 (after the NSL was proclaimed) to prevent vote-splitting and to find the candidates most likely to be elected in the (then approaching) September, 2020 LegCo elections, who would use their LegCo powers to apply new constitutionally disruptive pressures on the HKSAR Government (chapter 9).

Litton argues that what was sinister about this scheme was that it was designed “to implement a wider plot called “ten steps to mutual destruction” which had been outlined in a pro-democrat newspaper, Apple Daily on 28 April, 2020”.  He explains, convincingly, based on the outlined plan, that, if the 35 plus majority had been secured, the new legislators were committed to using their powers to create chaos (page94).

More recently, the author has written a related, influential article.  Published in early July, 2021, it reflects on the first year of operation of the NSL in the HKSAR.  It is entitled “A Close Run Thing” – drawing on a remark made by the Duke of Wellington after winning the Battle of Waterloo, against Napoleon, in 1815.  Litton states, definitively, that in 2019, “What Hong Kong faced was an insurgency, the overthrow of government, nothing less:” another close run thing.  In the conclusion to this article, he briskly notes how inadequately protected – compared to the NSL – potential defendants are under the measurably harsh text deployed within the US national security regime.

This sort of clear comparative analysis provides one foundation which shows how repeated Western claims of freedoms being stifled in the HKSAR under the NSL are starkly and purposefully detached from reality.  Litton agrees with Mr C. H Tung that Hong Kong has been systematically used as a proxy within a wider power conflict.

The central message of this book can be summarized as follows:

  • Hong Kong is inalienably and fundamentally part of China;
  • As the HKSAR, it enjoys remarkable special, constitutional, political, economic and social privileges and opportunities within China under the OCTS framework;
  • But it also owes deep obligations to China, under OCTS, to protect national security within the HKSAR and within China;
  • This obligation has been singularly amplified by the increasingly hostile efforts by the US (and heavily-encouraged-allies) to confront and contain the rise of China, which threatens American superpower hegemony more seriously than at any time since the end of World War II;
  • The key to maintaining OCTS so that it operates to the best advantage of Hong Kong through until 2047 and beyond, is building and sustaining a level of fundamental trust between Hong Kong and Beijing;
  • The Judiciary in the HKSAR is uniquely placed and has a special responsibility both to maintain the essential principles of the common law and to maintain that trust;
  • There have now been too many instances, within the judiciary, of a “carnival of words” unfolding where there is a lack of “focus on the true issues [while] forensic games [are] played with a  national law”;
  • This has led to an increase in mistrust of the HKSAR Judiciary in Beijing;
  • This is a grave current problem which needs to be addressed candidly and effectively.

Prior to the decision in the Face Covering Case, one might have argued that these concerns, though real, were rather strongly stated.  After that decision, however, it is hard to disagree with the basic tenor of where Henry Litton says we now find ourselves, judicially, and why – and why this has led to a measurable undermining of cross-border trust.  A central and difficult concern presents itself, which the judiciary in Hong Kong has to address.

This review has been republished from The Legal Scholarship Blog (LSB) in the Faculty of Law at HKU.

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Finding Fukuyama’s Ends

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 1:30am in

Western liberal democracy is something worth aspiring to—an optimal destiny, not an imminent fate.

The Mountbattens: the British Establishment at its most privileged and eccentric.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/07/2021 - 3:58am in

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“There are four kinds of officers: hard-working and intelligent, lazy and intelligent, lazy and stupid and hard-working and stupid. The first are fit for top staff appointments, the second are fit for the highest commands, the third can be tolerated, but the fourth type could prove dangerous and should be instantly removed.”

This framed quote graced Lord Louis Mountbatten’s desk when he was Viceroy of India. According to Andrew Lownie, author of ‘The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves (August 2019), “he never said which he considered himself.”

The supremely well-connected British Royal Navy Officer Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten was the 1st Earl of Burma, Admiral of the fleet, the maternal uncle of Prince Philip, second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth, Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in World War II, the last Viceroy of India and the first governor-general of a newly independent India.

Back to the question of his calibre as an officer; as Commander of the British Royal Navy K-Class Destroyer HMAS Kelly, his outright stupidity (Lownie’s term) contributed in no small way to its May 1941 demise. His level of culpability with respect to the ill-fated Dieppe raid is controversial. By contrast, as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in 1943, his immediate measures to improve public health in the British army in India resulted in a sharp decrease in malaria casualties.

Perhaps it was just that he was, like humans everywhere, a messy tangle of personal and professional contradictions. A human characterised by occasional outbreaks of competence, and outbreaks of other, more dubious qualities and judgement calls. His blatant support for the Dismissal has been documented by Professor Jenny Hocking. Then there’s the probable threat to national security posed by his and his spouse’s personal life. And faint whispers about other issues.

Inestimable numbers were displaced and died in the aftermath of the Partition of India with which name ‘Lord Mountbatten’ will forever be synonymous with as last Viceroy of India. The scale of this humanitarian disaster was catastrophic even by murderous 20th century standards. (Lord Mountbatten, born in 1900 and assassinated by the IRA in 1979, knew a thing or two about those). Where, and on whom, should the blame be laid? On him? How much?

‘The debate continues’ says Lownie in the section of the book devoted wholly to this issue. Andrew Roberts in Eminent Churchillians argued for his impeachment over the matter. Lord Mountbatten’s own view as confided to BBC journalist John Osman was that he ‘****ed it up’.

But give him his due, he was great at naval communications. And he could charm people on every level of the social strata and get them to do what he wanted, even if this useful trait was adulterated with more mundane bureaucratic qualities: micromanagement, impetuosity, and self-promotion. (He was mates with Noel Coward, who deftly rebadged the dubious circumstances of the sinking of the HMAS Kelly into the academic award winning propaganda film In which We Serve.)

Lady Mountbatten, the wealthiest heiress in Britain when she married Lord Mountbatten in July 1922, could claim a few contradictions of her own.  Punctuated at short intervals by a never ending series of affairs, her life reads like a manual of significant addiction issues. Her affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, probably compromised the British administration’s capacity to oversee the fraught Partition situation.

Goodness knows where she found the time and energy for another obsession. ‘Restless and bored, Edwina now decided to go travelling’ are the casual opening words of Chapter 9, which proceeds to then document her 1932 adventures wandering through ‘Jerusalem, Damascus, Akaba, Baghdad, and Tehran, travelling only with basic camping equipment and a change of clothes’ and how ‘at the buried city of Persepolis she spent a week with the archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld’.

These passages in the book are evocative.  Oh, to be able to vanish, as she did, into the South Pacific with a long term lover such as Harold (Bunny) Philips, and live off ‘sea snails, lobster, fish and sharks that they could spear or shoot’. Mind you, wealthy 1930s heiresses had the means to vanish at a whim into exotic locations. Elsewhere the plebs were recovering from a vicious world war, shivering in the cold, frequenting soup kitchens, and gearing up for another global conflict which would prove unprecedented in its savagery, if such a thing were imaginable at the time.

World War II, it seems, was the making of her. Her 1939 appointment supporting the war effort as Lady County President of the Nursing Division of London was her first in a lifelong career in humanitarian work. Its culmination was, in Lownie’s view, one of her finest hours; the coordination of the multitude of aid and relief services in response to the Partition humanitarian disaster.

Despite this, she and her husband still exemplified the British Establishment at its most privileged and eccentric. But even if that makes you nauseous, this book is still compelling reading. There’s the fact, for example, that Lord Mountbatten and Tsar Nicholas II’s children were childhood playmates. Fast forward to 1967, and you are reading about his involvement in a proposed military coup to replace the unpopular Harold Wilson government. (‘Wilson was alleged to be a Soviet Agent?’. I shrieked, turning the pages excitedly).

Further allegations raised by Lownie, although not in themselves entirely new, are more disturbing. In a previous article for Pearls and Irritations, I pointed out how the recurring themes of the recent Royal Commission Inquiry into Institutional Response to Child S*xual Abuse  compare and contrast with those – half a world away – of the Dame Janet Smith review into the culture and practices of the BBC when Jimmy Saville worked there.

Depressingly familiar institutional themes haunt the circumstances of the notorious Kincora Boys’ Home in Northern Ireland. In parallel with the cases of Royal Commission Inquiry, it was investigated by the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry at around the same time.

Lownie’s book includes allegations that, amongst other things, ‘leading British Establishment figures were in a vice ring that abused boys’ from Kincora and that ‘Kincora and Potora Boys’ Schools were used as homosexual brothels by many prominent figures, including Lord Mountbatte.’ Then there’s the 1944 FBI Report which quotes American writer and society figure, Elizabeth de la Poer Beresford (Baroness Decies) saying that Lord Mountbatten was known to have ‘a perversion for young boys’. (The FBI also opened a file on Lady Mountbatten in 1955.)

Wealth and privilege ooze and trickle out of every paragraph of this exhaustively documented story of two key figures of the 20th century, and all its research and footnotes and interviews and quotes from famous people and laudable attributions of other people’s views. Yet again we are reminded, as if we need to be, of the importance of holding power to account.

But back to the question: what kind of officer was Lord Mountbatten, in so many ways the one-man embodiment of that eventful, conflict-ridden, momentous and murderous epoch? Option number four, perhaps.

Andrew Lownie is fighting to gain access to diaries written by Lord Mountbatten between 1918 and 1979 that are held by the Southampton University. Both the university and the Cabinet Office are appealing a decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to release the papers. The appeal will be heard in November unless the appeal is discontinued following a following recent press campaign.

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Pressure cooker valve: the AFL and the business of sport

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:08am in

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All aspects of life have been disrupted by COVID-19, including entertainment—from live music, cinema and the arts to the deep-rooted popular football codes, Australian rules and rugby league.

Simultaneously, the pandemic has exposed and magnified the fault-lines of profit, power, sexism and racism in this class society. Michael Warner’s book The Boys’ Club sets out to examine the inner workings of the Australian Football League (AFL)—run as a particularly obnoxious capitalist business.

Warner’s criticisms of the Melbourne-based executive of the AFL Commission shine a light on the business model of a powerful section of the Melbourne ruling class.

As Frank Galbally, QC and former Collingwood board member, says: “If you want to do anything in Victoria, if you want to get to anybody in Victoria, the way to do it is through an AFL club. 

“If you know a [club] president, you know someone in the AFL, that’s the way to get to politicians, get whatever you like. They all think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  

“It’s the power of Australian Rules football. And more particularly in Victoria than anywhere else.”

Behemoth

Warner, in his bid to “reform” the AFL executive’s hold, traces the roots of it becoming the unaccountable, sexist behemoth that is today. 

The AFL, its predecessor—the Victorian Football League (VFL)—and the individual football clubs have always been run by businessmen, emphasis on “men”, with tight connections inside the ruling class of Melbourne.  

All the people Warner interviews are part of the ruling class, although with the shift from the VFL to the AFL not all from Melbourne.

Richard Goyder, the Chair of the AFL Commission, is also head of Wesfarmers and Qantas. He lives in Peppermint Grove in Perth, which former WA Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, once dubbed “the Monaco of WA”.

In Sydney, rugby union plays this networking role in a lesser way, as the sporting wing of the Liberal Party. 

Warner shows how the AFL Commission office has a toxic culture of sexism, with many women forced to leave their dream job because of the entitled misogyny of the male bosses. This is despite having women commissioners like Linda Dessau, the Governor of Victoria.

The book details the splits and cracks inside the ruling class, especially over the AFL executive’s high-handed and sexist workplace behaviour and how it deals with crises such as player drug-use, racism and betting. The AFL garners 8 per cent of its revenue from betting.

But while Warner understands the AFL is a successful business, highlights the bad practices of that business model and acknowledges its pulling power, he doesn’t explain why this sport has such traction inside the working class. 

There are 613,000 members of the 10 AFL clubs in Victoria, almost 1 in 9 residents of the state. Workers follow and play football but it is not “a working class game”. 

The AFL recognises its first direct predecessor game as taking place in July 1858 between two elite schools, Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College.

Like rugby, one of Australian rules’ predecessor codes, this new sport was a product of English private schools, which idolised “manliness” as a prerequisite for the running of a colonial empire.

Candid

Upper-class schools divided their students into “houses”, which became competing tribes. The ruling class used this as a template for dividing and ruling society at large. 

Warner interviews the “Who’s Who” of the ruling class of Melbourne, including former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, former president of the Hawthorn Football Club. Kennett is candid about the role AFL plays.

“For so many people, after their family and place of employment, AFL football gives them the opportunity to vent their spleen in support or opposition … It is, for so many people, the pressure cooker valve.”

People watch sport because of the alienation of work under capitalism. It is an escape from drudgery—but even here the bosses aim to commodify workers’ leisure time. As Gillon McLachlan, CEO of the AFL and a scion of the South Australian McLachlan family, said: “For me, the vision is about having an unassailable hold on the Australian community.”

Another component part of the AFL’s appeal is nationalism. Here is apparently the “Australian game” unlike the imported rugby league or soccer.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote in the mid-1930s: “In the sphere of philanthropy, amusements and sports, the bourgeoisie and the church are incomparably stronger than we are. We cannot tear the working class youth from them except by means of the socialist programme and revolutionary action.” 

When the system is being fought by workers then sport will play a less important part in their lives. 

By Tom Orsag 

The Boys’ Club: Power Politics and the AFL by Michael Warner
Hachette Australia, $32.99

The post Pressure cooker valve: the AFL and the business of sport appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Alternative to the anti-China xenophobia and militarism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 10:58am in

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reviews, China

David Brophy’s book China Panic is a timely intervention into the growing nationalist hysteria about China. Shortly after the book’s release, Defence Minister Peter Dutton flagged an anticipated increase in US troop rotations in the Northern Territory. He said that, facing a growing threat from China, Australia, “must be prepared for any contingency”.

Similarly, Scott Morrison is determined to fan the flames of conflict between China and the US—two nuclear powers. In the lead up to the G7 Summit in Cornwall he gave a Cold War-style address warning China’s rise is a looming threat to the free world.

China Panic aims to counter exactly this kind of dangerous war-talk which is becoming louder by the day. Brophy is an historian who has studied and visited China’s Xinjiang province, as well as an active participant in the debates and protests at universities in support of Hong Kong, Palestine and around other issues.

In the introduction, Brophy points out that the belligerence of the Australian government is bolstered by a torrent of anti-China propaganda from politicians of all stripes, intelligence agencies, the media, think tanks, journalists and commentators. Overwhelmingly, the terms of debate have been about how and why to engage in conflict with China, rather than whether to.

The first four chapters usefully review Australia’s current “China panic” and put it in context. Brophy points out that rhetoric about China’s threat to democracy and a “rules based” international order is deeply hypocritical.

The credibility of such rhetoric depends on ignoring the fact that Australia has joined the US in numerous, immensely destructive wars; and on pretending the US encirclement of the globe with a belt of 800 military bases is a neutral act.

The book is at its strongest in the chapter on “Influencing the Region”, which argues Australia is a “sub-imperialist” power. This provides a powerful explanation of the particular virulence of the anti-China agitation from Australia’s ruling class.

Brophy argues that Australia has always depended on an “ally capable of calling the shots in Asia”. In order to cement the increasingly contested US presence in the region Australia is convinced it: “can’t afford to simply ‘tag along’ with America’s efforts to uphold its dominance: Australia has to encourage Washington to step up the fight.” This is what drives Australia to be “more imperialist than empire itself”. Morrison’s pre-G7 speech is a case in point.

Key battlegrounds

Later chapters focus on key ideological battlegrounds in the China debate: Australian university campuses, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The latter two chapters offer some of the most interesting insights in the book.

Brophy describes “Let’s talk about Hong Kong” meetings organised on Australian campuses during the Hong Kong democracy protests, in a context where the media narrative portrayed mainland Chinese as unthinking dupes of Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Attended by both mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students, these meetings involved genuine critical discussion and indicated the sympathy for the Hong Kong protests amongst mainland students. The meetings indicated an avenue for change in China that doesn’t involve Western imperialism.

The chapter on Xinjiang is also a highlight. It is critical of the way Chinese state persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs is held up as proof of China’s unique barbarism, without minimising the extent of China’s crimes.

The chapter outlines how the persecution of Uyghurs was legitimised internationally by the Islamophobia the West used to justify its recent wars in the Middle East. It details how abuse of Uyghurs was mirrored across the border in Afghanistan, with extensive war crimes committed by Australian troops.

The analysis of anti-Chinese racism—now the fastest growing form of racism in the country—is also timely. His chapter on “Sovereignty, Values and Racism” explains escalating anti-Chinese racism as a product of elite policy.

Despite the book’s strengths, the discussion is too often framed in terms of foreign policy alternatives Australia should adopt. Yet foreign policy is always determined by what the ruling class understands to be in its own interests. There are economic and political imperatives to Australia maintaining its dominant imperialist role in the region.

An insistence on the threat that Australia and the US pose to global peace, democracy and national self-determination is the clearest answer to Morrison’s dangerous sabre rattling.

Overall, China Panic is an important counter to the warmongering of the Australian ruling class, motivated as always by profit and strategic advantage.

Alongside anti-China diatribes like Red Zone by Peter Hartcher, China Panic distinguishes itself as a critical voice. The disturbing ruling class unanimity about confronting China is a reminder that the opposition we need will only come from ordinary people and workers. China Panic is a much needed contribution to that effort.

By Adam Adelpour

China Panic By David Brophy
Published by La Trobe University Press, $32.99

The post Alternative to the anti-China xenophobia and militarism appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Unsettled – seeing First Nations histories represented in the Australian Museum

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/06/2021 - 4:59am in

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Museums, libraries and archives are traditionally not culturally safe spaces for First Nations peoples. As state institutions, they have supported the colonial process and they have privileged certain histories over others. The collections that they hold often position Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as objects or specimens of scientific and anthropological study. The historically biased nature of collecting institutions compounds the level of distrust they can raise for First Nations people, and access to them can cause significant discomfort when the materials deny or misrepresent First Nations peoples’ lived cultures and experiences. 

Telling the truth about Aboriginal histories and experiences can be uncomfortable, it can be painful, and it can be unsettling. The Australian Museum’s latest exhibition – Unsettled – draws visitors into contact with the lived histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. The stories told speaks to experiences of government control and the ongoing resilience and survival of First Nations peoples. Unsettled tackles painful Australian histories with strength and respect. It evidences colonial wars, massacres, mission and reserve histories, and the experiences of survivors of the Stolen Generations. It does this by drawing on primary sources, historical research, and importantly, by centring the voices of First Nations people.

Unsettled also embeds a narrative of healing and a recognition of the contemporary links between the past and the present. The exhibition shows that First Nations people have a living culture and histories by connecting people with these contemporary realities. The theme of cultural continuity is present throughout. Unsettled is the culmination of many First Nations voices coming together to produce an exhibition that is the first of its kind for the Australian Museum. It builds on previous work of collaborative and community-led exhibitions and public programs at the Australian Museum, specifically Weave: Festival of Aboriginal and Pacific Cultures and the corresponding Gadi exhibition in 2018.

Unsettled is unprecedented in its scale. Not only in physical space, the breadth of curatorial research, but also in the scale of the exhibition’s community engagement and consultation. To lay the foundations for Unsettled, the First Nation’s curatorial team, led by Director Laura McBride and Dr Mariko Smith, undertook a “large scale community consultation” which returned “805 formal responses from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from all major states and territories; 175 different Nations, clans and community groups.”[1] The community consultation identified that key to the exhibition would be a focus on truth-telling and the prioritisation of First Nations voices, and when it came to the topic of Cook, a 2019 community consultation respondent is quoted as saying:

As an Indigenous person, I can only associate the story of Cook with being the beginning of colonisation and the violence and genocide that came with it. [2]

It is no small feat to address centuries of misinformation, as Elder Waubin Richard Aken says; “Cook cooked the books” [3]. Unsettled successfully switches between cited data points such as “Did you know? According to market research commissioned by the Federal Government for the 2020 Cook Anniversary, 47% of Australians incorrectly think Cook and the Endeavour arrived with the First Fleet in 1788”, and First Nations voices clarifying the inaccuracies and distortions of histories and events.

A work newly commissioned by the Australian Museum for the exhibition, ‘klakul (Spears)’ 2021 by Senior Elder Abler Daniel Tom, Elder Kathuwa Yatha Rattler and Elder Waubin Richard Aken, demonstrates the lasting effect of colonial narratives of “discovery”, reassessing the story of Cook claiming possession of Tuined (Possession Island), the traditional country of Kaurareg First Nations people. ‘klakul (Spears)’ and the corresponding interview ‘Sovereignty, False Pretences Without Rightful Consent’ bring into question the story of the landing and claiming of Tuined by Cook through the inconsistent and conflicting accounts of the event drawn from diaries of the Endeavour crew and the Kaurareg people themselves. They provide evidence that Cook did not go ashore nor did he raise a flag. [4]

The impact of Covid-19 on the scheduled 250th-anniversary reenactment of the Endeavour’s 1770 East Coast voyage gave the First Nations team at the Australian Museum opportunities to reconfigure the exhibition that was initially intended to be the Australian Museum’s Indigenous-led response to the 250th anniversary. Rather, Unsettled circumnavigates Cook, creating space for First Nations peoples to resist the often-discussed narratives and legacies of the Endeavour’s arrival and speak on what is meaningful and self-determined. First Nations team maneuvered around the Endeavour and Cook narratives and instead turned attention to First Nations Elders, storytellers, historians, artists and warriors. The use of commissioned artworks and objects and dozens of new acquisitions from established and emerging First Nations artists not only centres First Nations voices in the exhibition itself but importantly has a lasting impact on the Australian Museum’s collection.

Nathan Sentance recently published an article discussing how the Australian Museum had developed a Statement of Reflection and how this act was an opportunity for cultural institutions “to critically reflect on history and how it influences the present.[5] Aligned to the Australian Museums and Galleries Association (AMaGA)’s First Peoples: A Roadmap for Enhancing Indigenous Engagement in Museums and Galleries, created by Dr Terri Janke the Statement is an opportunity for the Australian Museum to recognise the role of the institution in Australia’s colonial history.

Although Unsettled addresses many topics related to Australia’s colonial history, it did not explicitly engage in dialogue about the Australian Museum’s specific role in the unsettled histories that were shared. The historical practices of the Australian Museum could have been delved into deeper, and given the scale of the exhibition, it would have been worthwhile for the public to understand more of the role that collecting institutions play in supporting colonial processes. What was – and is – the role of national and state collecting institutions in perpetuating these harms? Whose histories were recorded and whose histories were silenced?

In a nation that is still reckoning with its histories of colonisation and dispossession, Unsettled contributes important dialogue on the topic of untold stories and truth-telling.

If the museum’s role is for the public to reflect on this country’s history, then Unsettled provides visitors with a lot to consider and take away with them. However, while museums seeks to reveal these untold histories, we must ensure that this is only the start of the journey to engage in truth-telling processes.

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose lands Unsettled is exhibited, and we pay our respects to Gadigal Elders past and present.

[1] Explore Australian Museum Magazine, Winter 2021, The first-ever First Nations dedicated issue, guest edited by Stan Grant. p.25. You can also read the community consultation report The 2020 Project First Nations Community Consultation Report here: https://australian.museum/learn/cultures/the-2020-project/

[2] Unsettled (Exhibition Catalogue). 2021. Authors Laura McBride, Dr Mariko Smith. Australian Museum. p.47

[3] Unsettled (Exhibition Catalogue). 2021. Authors Laura McBride, Dr Mariko Smith. Australian Museum. p.40

[4] Unsettled (Exhibition Catalogue). 2021. Authors Laura McBride, Dr Mariko Smith. Australian Museum. p.40

[5] Nathan Sentence. 2021. https://australian.museum/learn/first-nations/The-Australian-Museums-sta...

Unsettled is now open at the Australian Museum, Sydney.

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Dylan, Unencumbered

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/08/2020 - 2:40am in


Before the Covid-19 lockdown began, I had spent the year doing research in the Library of Congress, where, in their large collection of feminist ephemera, there are a series of pamphlets that take their name from Bob Dylan songs. In the first issue of Just Like A Woman: A Publication of Atlanta Woman’s Liberation in […]

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