Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Michael Breen on Dangerous Knowledge: Impressions from the 2011 Sydney Writers Festival

In yesterday's piece on his impressions of the 2011 Sydney Writers Festival my friend and colleague Michael Breen wrote that:
"Three streams of thought emerged from the sessions I attended. One was what you could call dangerous information, the second information in decline and the third the non-rational gap between information and action"
In this the second part of his reflections on the Conference, Michael discusses some dangerous knowledge uncovered by Australian war historian Greg Lockhart who documents a military and history cover up used to to serve imperial power and stoke racial fear. As Michael points out in his summary, Greg Lockhart's work demolishes historical myths that have sustained Australia's national identity.  The complete article by Greg Lockhart that Michael is referring to can be found here on the online edition of the Griffith Review.

The first part of  Michael's article What Economists Can't Buy You and Have We Got a Lie for You was published previously (here).  Part is published below.

An earlier piece Michael wrote on the Legacy of memories of Jimmy Governor is one of the most read pieces on this blog. 

After many years as a Jesuit teacher, educator and leader in Australia and overseas, Michael lived in Western Australia for many years where he established one of WA's leading small management consultancies. I was fortunate to work with and learn from Michael in the early years of my consultancy career.

Michael retired to Canberra and now lives in the NSW Southern Highlands where he continues to write and think about contemporary issues and educates and agitates about social and political issues. 
Impressions  from the Sydney Writers Festival 
Part 2:  Media-politician folie a deux and Gatekeepers, Whistle blowers and Imperialism
by Michael Breen

Before returning to a monumental national information scam I want to look at the third emergent matter which was the sick relationship between government and the press. The scene resembles two snakes with mouths full of one another’s tails stifling discourse and infuriating citizens. Kerry O’Brien facilitated a Town Hall session of over 1600 people involving Bob Carr, Lenore Taylor, Bob Ellis, Barrie Cassidy and George Megalogenis on finding leadership. There was majority agreement politics and its coverage were at a spectacular low, though Carr says it is always like that and that pollies ought just get on with it.  Others redistributed responsibility to the media, politicians and people who want to be entertained rather than informed. The bread of consumerism and the circuses of cheesecake are still winners, as Roman emperors knew so well. The mainstream media profit from the supply of bread and celebrity circuses.

Lindsay Tanner had a session on “Sideshow” his book in which politicians and the media dumb down lest they offend anyone who matters. Politicians have to be seen to be doing something. Have you noticed how often they now say, “We are working very hard on or with so and so about this matter”? Howard perfected the get out of an interview corner technique with “We are spending so many dollars over the next whatever years on that.”  Lindsay says maintenance of assets is not a popular area for politicians because there is not the chance to invite the media to “a grand opening”. Politicians have to put on a funny hat or budgie smugglers or go on a commercial TV pop show to get noticed, and recognition is everything for them. Press conferences are endangered activities in Canberra these days. The snake cycle-media wants-poly speaks-journos pounce on cosmetic slip up-poly defends-media wants just goes mobiously onwards. Abbott makes an art form of it in a confessional-penitential way. He outrageously overstates, then when confronted and found to have sinned, as he knows he will be, confesses pleads human fallibility and has had more exposure than getting it out right in the first place.

This year’s Alan Ramsey’s chat with, the still The Hon Senator, John Faulkner was anything but a chat. Ramsey barked grumpily, disappointed that Labor is no longer Labour. He grilled Faulkner who was caught between the Scylla of Labor’s silly factions and the Charybdis of the Carr, Bracks and Faulkner committee report on failure and reform in the party. Poor Faulkner could only point to genuine values and his commitment to lobbying his comrades to act honourably. 

Andrew Denton yelled from the gallery, “Why must we have a Prime Minister who cannot communicate who talks in stolid unexciting blurts?” Ramsey held firmly to No Questions! which made AD the focus of the meeting after the meeting. 

The most enthralling session by far for me was Military Historian Greg Lockhart’s segment in a Griffith Review panel with British Journalist Barbara Gunnell, Assange watcher, and ex MP John Langmore. The title “Gatekeepers, Whistleblowers and Imperialism” conveys the flavour of the session but nothing could have prepared those attending for Lockhart’s material and its historical and cultural consequences.  

He commenced waving a copy of a neatly handwritten 1911 record by General Nicholson Chief of the Imperial General Staff; minutes of an Imperial conference at which Australia’s Minister for Defence Senator George Pearce offered to develop an Australian expeditionary force to be at the service of Britain wherever in the world Britain wanted. The document was buried in the Director of Military Operations’ file as War Office 106/43. That is for nigh eighty years before John Mordyke an Australian military historian unearthed it in 1988. As Lockhart says before this “…there was no public knowledge that the key military discussions that determined Australia’s entry into World War I had ever taken place” Griffith Review 32 P.144. 

The cover-up was necessary because the “offer” was contrary to the letter and the spirit of the 1904-revised Defence Act and the minds of many in Federal Parliament and the Australian people. The act permitted an Australian defence army but not an expeditionary force especially not under the command of another nation.

The bones of the story lie thus. The British were keen to have Australian help in time of war. Kitchener visited Australia and in a report recommended compulsory military training for Australian youth. 92,000 boys between twelve and seventeen commenced compulsory training in 1911. Kitchener put the wind up Australian politicians about the likely threat of an attack from Japan as John Mordyke covers in his second book “ ‘We should do this thing quietly’ Japan and the Great Deception in Australian Defence Policy 1911-1914” (2002).   

The constructed threat was the suggestion that following the Sino Japanese war Japan would turn expansionist eyes on Australia. Australia’s response, “We cannot defend ourselves; better we chum up to Britain and the motherland will defend us”. Sound familiar? After the secret deal Pearce gave the nod to train an Australian expeditionary force in 1912.  So by the outbreak of war in 1914 Australia had trained 18,000 men in a British type of brigade and 2,000 light horsemen. Munitions, clothing and saddlery factories were going full steam.

The official line, which underpins the Anzac myth, is that the Australian army was trained in six weeks which common sense and documents prove is a lie. Visiting Australia four months before the declaration of war in 1914 the Imperial Inspector General of Overseas Forces, General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote, to British Prime Minister, H. H Asquith  “…Play the tune of an Australian army for Australia, and they dance to any extent not otherwise. Australia-not Empire-is then the string we must harp on. That is to say, we must encourage them to do what they will do willingly and lavishly, namely pay up for safeguarding a White Australia from the cursed Jap! Then when the time comes, and we are fighting for our lives in India or elsewhere, I for one am confidant that the whole military force of Australia will be freely at our disposal”.

And thus it did happen and still does in “the domino theory”, “the threat from the north”, “the yellow peril”, the White Australia Policy and now military white papers claiming that as China becomes more economically powerful it will be more militarily powerful and want Australian soil. That is unless we get big friends to protect us. In fact the opposite is true. By clasping hands with America we have made ourselves more a target from terrorists. Obvious as this is Mick Kelty chief of the Federal Police stated it out loud and John had him retract immediately. Bali bombings claimed a greater percentage of Australian lives than the percentage of American lives lost in the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2001. Who doubts that this would not have happened were we not seen as mates of Bush’s USA?

There are many more pieces to the story of the great deception including the fact that the first convoy of Australian troops sailing in 1914 was escorted across the Indian Ocean by friendly the Japanese battle cruiser “Ibuki.”

Let’s see more from Lockhart again, “Deceptions are part of politics. What makes this one special is its continuing centrality in Australian history. ‘Twenty thousand volunteers were enlisted in six weeks beginning in early August 1914’. But, all too easily dazzled by these enlistments, generations of historians have failed to see that without extensive prior planning, organization and training, the AIF could not possibly have been constituted as it was for the Gallipoli landing”.

It seems that since a White force from Britain seized Australia in the eighteenth century there has been an ongoing fear that a dark race will in turn treat aboriginal people and us as and grab us. The current fear fuel is that boatloads of dark refugees and illegal immigrants will overrun us; not the white British and American white ones who come in by plane. Instead of celebrating our isolated position have a non-alliance policy we join imperial, immoral forces in silly conflicts as if this will be some kind of insurance. Then we have to sneak out with lives and integrity lost after Gallipoli, the Western Front, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. We create hatred from nations who should be our friends. We spend more money on militaristic toys and propaganda than building relationships. Were this Gallipoli lie not so central to our culture we could be excused for forgetting about it.

By perpetuating the heroic Gallipoli and ANZAC myths of men who miraculously became soldiers overnight such was their valour and strength that we bury the fact that they and Australia were tricked into the whole business by a Kali motherland deceiving us into believing that if we hated locally, fought globally and gratuitously we would be safe.

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