Terror and the Police State

Terror and the Police State is a book in the course of production.  It comes at a time when terrorism is prompting governments to seek more powers and to reduce the rights of their people.  It is an accepted paradox that such reductions of rights are the first steps taken by those who wish to create a police state.  I am not saying that we are seeing that now, but I am saying that we should not be panicked or rushed into striking out at our inheritance of eight centuries of what we know as the rule of law.

The first extract is from the opening chapter and sets out the terms of engagement of the book.

What is terror? Terror is extreme fear. If I feel terror, I feel an intense form of fear. When we talk of ‘the Terror’, we speak of a government that engages in terrorism – it pursues terror (or extreme fear) – for political purposes. Some people think that terrorism has only recently become a big issue. They are wrong. It is as old as humanity. The book of Genesis is full of it, with God taking an active part in many forms of terror and with terrifying results, as you would expect from a being that is all powerful. The Oxford English Dictionary says that terrorism is ‘government by intimidation’ and a ‘policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted’. The first instance of terrorist in the Oxford is ‘applied to the Jacobins and their agents and partisans in the French Revolution’. The editor might just as well have referred to the Russian and German examples that we will come to, but in all such cases, including the Jacobins, the terrorists were people in the government.

Except for a limited form in a black hole like North Korea, we do not see terrorism much in government now, at least not in a form that governments own up to. Some might see the killing of suspected terrorists on foreign soil as an instance of terrorism in itself, but the answer to the question will depend on what side you are on and where you are standing. If you have just seen your family obliterated by a drone sent my a regime that you regard as being as evil as it is faithless, you will see yourself as a victim of terrorism that entitles if not requires you to respond in kind, and just as randomly.

We still plainly see terrorism in those who try to bring governments down and in religious fanatics who want to achieve either that objective or some religious purpose. At the time of writing – in mid 2014 – some fanatics under the label IS are pursuing terrorism to create an Islamic state. One of their ways of inducing extreme fear is by cutting people’s heads off in public. This was the preferred mode of terrorism employed by the Jacobin government in France just a few years after the white people from England set up their first colony here as a jail. The French preferred the guillotine because it was more humane and more efficient, although, as we will see, circumstances would drive them to look for quicker ways to kill, as would be the case with the SS in Germany.

Let us take two examples of terrorism from Russia under the Soviet Union. Yezhov, the butcher of the NKVD behind the Great Terror of the 1930’s, said: ‘Better too much than not enough…If an extra thousand people are shot in an operation, that is not such a big deal.’ It would be hard to find a more express contradiction of what a civilised nation takes to be the first premise of its criminal law or indeed its laws at large.

During that terror, two NKVD operatives came at night to take away the mother of two young girls, Nelly and Angelina. This was a scene repeated tens of thousands of times in what was then known as the Soviet Union. The goons told the girls that their mother was going away on a long work trip. She was breastfeeding one infant, and the goons told the other girls who were aged four and two that ‘you will not see her again’. Orlando Figes goes on in The Whisperers: ‘As Nelly was led away, she looked back to see her mother being hit across the face. The two sisters were sent to different homes – Nelly to a Jewish orphanage (on account of her darker looks) and Angelina to a nearby children’s home. It was NKVD policy to break up families of enemies of the people and to give the children a new identity.’

One reason for this policy was that, as the author later remarks, ‘orphanages became principal recruiting grounds for the NKVD’. Their Darwinian moral systems and strong collectives with weak family links showed that if you terrify people hard enough and long enough, you could leach them of their humanity and reduce them to your own level of brutality. On this occasion the mother was allowed by the NKVD to keep the baby at her breast. Her husband had been taken away some months before. She was now charged with failing to denounce her husband. Her crime was loyalty to humanity. She was sentenced to eight years in a labour camp at Kazakhstan, a Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland. After a ten day trip during which she had to fend off common criminals, she was separated from her baby for five years.

No parent can read this kind of story and stay calm, but we need to look at this brutality and inhumanity when we look at the forms of terror that were inflicted and suffered under other regimes. There is nothing abstract about terror, and the story of Nelly and Angelina is but one drop in the sea of misery that overcame all the Russias. We must never be seduced or even deflected by numbers. Nelly and Angelina were human beings not integers. We do after all have the teaching of the great English poet and man of God named John Donne – ‘Do not ask for whom we say our funeral rites – we say them for you.’

To remind us of the agony of real people, Christopher Hibbert gave the following list from the Liste Generale des Condamnés in the French Terror.

Jean Baptiste Henry, aged 18, a journeyman tailor, convicted of having sawn down a tree of liberty, executed 6 September 1793. Jean Julien, waggoner, having been sentenced to twelve years of hard labour, took it into his head to cry ‘Vive le Roi,’ was brought back to the Tribunal and condemned to death. Stephen Thomas Ogie Baulny, aged 46, was convicted of having entrusted his son, aged 14, to a Garde de Corps in order that he might emigrate, condemned to death and executed the same day. Henriette Francoise de Marboeuf, aged 55, widow of the ci-devant Marquis de Marboeuf, convicted of having hoped for the arrival of the Austrians and Prussians and of keeping provisions for them, convicted and executed the same day. Francoise Bertrand, aged 37, publican at Leure in the Department of the Cote–d’Or, convicted of having furnished to the defenders of the country sour wine injurious to health, convicted to death at Paris and executed the same day. Marie Angelique Plaisant, sempstress at Douai, convicted of having claimed that she was an aristocrat and that she did not care ‘a fig’ for the nation, condemned to death at Paris and executed the same day.

We see here something of what is random and surreal in what will come to be called a police state.

What is a police state? It is a nation or state in which government claims the right to control all aspects of public and private life. The government is all powerful – there is no rule of law to check it. The executive makes law by its actions. Any purported legislature or judiciary is sad and toothless. The most feared arm is the secret police. Sparta was the ancient model. 1984 is the fictional model; the Deutsche Democratische Republik was one of its most fearful modern examples.

What is a revolution? We are here talking of revolutions in government. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a political ‘revolution’ as ‘a complete overthrow of the establishment in any country or state by those who were previously subject to it; a forcible substitution of a new ruler or form of government’. Since the ‘complete overthrow’ will invariably be effected by the use of force or the threat of force, the short definition for our purposes is a ‘forcible substitution of a new form of government’. The French and Russian Revolutions are examples. When we speak of a coup d’état (‘a blow at the State’) we are usually referring to a forcible change in the personnel at the top of the government, and not in the system of government itself.

Historians have been reluctant to describe the accession to power in Germany by the Nazis as a ‘revolution’. There is, however, no doubt that force, both applied and threatened, was an essential part of their winning of power, and that the consequences were on any view revolutionary in at least the popular sense of that term.

You can see the difficulty in talking of a revolution as something that can have a purpose or an aim, or something that can be betrayed. A revolution is not a thing. The word ‘revolution’ here is a label that may be applied to a series of events which later can be seen to have produced consequences by means that satisfy the criteria that we have identified. Revolutions like wars have two sides. What the revolutionary process looks like will depend on what side you are on. Nelson Mandela was once a terrorist, but since his side won, we are allowed to accept him, and properly so, as one of the most revered statesmen of the world. The terrorists of Northern Ireland did not win and are still seen by many as terrorists. One man’s insurgent or terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, liberator, servant of God, or martyr. Which side the Taliban or IS may come down on will turn on the result of their wars and from what side you are looking at them.

Since a police state violates what we know as the rule of law, we should say what we mean by that term. It is fundamental to every part of this book. The great English jurist A.V. Dicey identified three elements of the rule of law during the reign of Queen Victoria. Before saying what they were, Dicey referred to the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville. He found England to be ‘much more republican’ than Switzerland. It was said by de Tocqueville that:

The Swiss seem to still look upon associations from much the same point of view as the French, that is to say, they consider them as a means of revolution and not as a slow and sure method of obtaining redress of wrong ….The Swiss do not show the love of justice which is such a strong characteristic of the English. Their courts have no place in the political arrangements of the country, and exert no influence on public opinion. The love of justice, the peaceful and legal introduction of the judge into the domain of politics, are perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of a free people.

The first element of the rule of law identified by Dicey was the absolute supremacy of regular law over arbitrary power. This was the supremacy of law over people. Aristotle had, after all, said that ‘the rule of law is preferable to that of any individual.’ This explains the reaction against the English Law Lords in the decision in Shaw v DPP, where they claimed a residuary power for judges to enforce morals by law, with H.L.A. Hart comparing the decision with German statutes of the Nazi period which condemned anyone who was deserving of punishment according to the ‘fundamental conception of a penal law and sound popular feeling’.

The second aspect of Dicey was equality before the law, or the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary laws of the land.

The third part is characteristic of the common law. Those brought up in the English tradition of laws being derived from precedents found in previous cases – the common law – see the constitution as resulting from that process that has made the ordinary law of the land. The constitution is not the source, but the consequence, of the rights of individuals. The constitution is itself part of the common law. The Europeans tend to see it the other way around – they see private rights deriving from public institutions. Dicey said, ‘Our constitution, in short, is a judge-made constitution, and it bears on its face all the features, good and bad, of judge made law’. He went on to say that, ‘the Habeas Corpus acts declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty’. This is as close to dogma as the common law gets.

You can see how offensive a police state is to someone brought up in the Anglo-American tradition. A police state is a living violation of the rule of law that underwrites western civilisation.

We need now briefly to state the historical background for the three reigns of terror or police state that we are considering in this book.

The second extract is from a much larger chapter dealing with the banality or the surreal in the three reigns of terror considered in the book – that of the French and Russian Revolutions and that of Nazi Germany.

Kings do not have surnames – they do not need them. This historical fact did not suit the new regime in France. It had a fine taste for bureaucratic order and protocol. When the Convention arraigned the former King Louis XVI, he had to be given a name. They found reason in the history of the Capetian line to call him Louis Capet. (Cromwell and his men had done much the same for Charles Stuart one and a half centuries beforehand.) Louis said ‘I am not called Capet, and the name has never been more than a sobriquet’, but the trial went ahead against him under that name.

When the Duke of Orleans presented at the relevant office to enrol to vote, he said that his name was Louis-Philippe-Joseph d’Orleans. ‘That cannot be. It is a feudal name forbidden by law.’ There was a polite discussion that they could not resolve. He was referred to the council of his commune (our local town or city council). ‘These councils alone have the right to give a family name to citizens who do not possess one, such as bastards and foundlings. So, nameless citizen, proceed to the Hotel de Ville, and when the Commune has come to a decision about you, come back and see us and you will be allowed to vote.’ The Duke of Orleans, which he no longer was, took himself off to the Hotel de Ville where the Grand Council was in full session. They settled on the name ‘Equality’ (Égalité). When he made a face, the still nameless citizen was offered an insulting Roman name. So, he became Philippe Égalité, but acceptance into the fold did not bring immunity. When the wheel turned, as wheels do, the ci-devant duc was guillotined under his revolutionary name, and not the ‘feudal’ title.

The English Marxist historian Doctor Christopher Hill wrote a book called The World Turned Upside Down about radical ideas coming out of the revolution in the mid-seventeenth century that ushered in the protestant ethic. The French Revolution had its full quota, and their manifestation could be bizarre. The alternation between the banal and the surreal gave some a sense of release, and just added to the uncertainty and insecurity of the rest of the world turned upside down world.

About ten years later the wheel turned again. It turned on those who had unleashed the guillotine on monarchs and nobles. A Corsican soldier of the most shabby gentility came to be crowned emperor – in fact he would crown himself in the presence of the pope. It was a riot of pomposity, because Napoleon believed that it is by such baubles that men are ruled, what Francois Furet described as ‘Carolingian kitsch’. All of the ‘honours of Charlemagne’ were there, the golden crown, the sword, the imperial globe. After the sovereign couple received the triple unction, ‘the solemn mass began, during which the insignia were blessed – the hand of justice, the ring, and the sceptre – and the coronation, properly speaking, began. Napoleon ascended to the altar, took the crown, and placed it on his own head. Then he took the crown of the empress and stood before her and put it on her head; meanwhile the pope recited a prayer used by the archbishop of Reims at the coronation of the kings of France.’ The pope was little more than a witness, and the new emperor did not believe one word of it.

The word ‘banal’ comes from France – curiously, a banalite was one of those feudal obligations that led the peasants to burn down chateaux. The dictionary says that ‘banal’ means trite, trivial, or commonplace, but there is often a suggestion of emptiness or hollowness behind feigned or usurped importance that is pejorative. This may have been behind the observation in Fowler’s Modern English Usage that ‘we should confine banal and banality, since we cannot get rid of them, to occasions when we want to express a contempt deeper than any of the English words can convey.’

Hannah Arendt wrote a book called Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil. She explained the sub-title as follows:

When I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to the phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial. Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing could have been further from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain’. Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal; he certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post. He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realised what he was doing……He was not stupid. It was sheer thoughtlessness – something by no means identical with stupidity – that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period. And if this is ‘banal’, and even funny, if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann, that is still far from calling it commonplace.

These observations derive from intellectual integrity, and they are of great moment. Arendt had previously said to the same effect: ‘The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were and still are terribly and terrifyingly normal.’ Eichmann was no devil or demon; he was just human, and the trouble for us is that he was ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal’. Those who do not accept that Eichmann was just human, and that there is a little of Eichmann in all of us, are seeking to impose some kind of grid or cattle pen over humanity and are at risk of falling into the error that fed the derangement of people like Stalin and Hitler.

We might here note the matter of fact assessment of R R Palmer on Carrier, the man who drowned priests by the boat load in the Vendee, and after being at fist applauded, was later guillotined for what we would now describe as war crimes.

Carrier, it may safely be said, was a normal man with average sensibilities, with no unusual intelligence or strength of character, driven wild by opposition, turning ruthless because ruthlessness seemed to be the easiest way of solving a difficult problem.

As Arendt said, ‘it was sheer thoughtlessness…that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period.’

It is in the French Revolution more than under Stalin and Hitler that we see people with little or no prior experience of government trying both to govern and lay down a system of government, each of which tasks was beyond most if not all of them. These tasks require more than a lifetime of experience – they require generations of history, centuries even. It is here in France during the revolution that we see ordinary people placed in a whole new world doing their best in good faith to stare down chaos and the void and just getting slowly more out of their depth until they run out air.

We see this all the time. If you have any experience with what we now call risk management, you will know that your biggest worry is the functionary that is getting out of their depth and either does not see that or is incapable of admitting it. These are simple, obvious facts of life, but historians tend to forget that most humans are just that – ordinary human beings – when they consider how some of them reacted when the volcano that was France erupted. When looking back on how events unfolded, with the curse of ignorance and the false hope of hindsight, we may not be surprised to see that some ordinary people did some things that they would do very differently if they had their time again. There was no procedure or manual telling Robespierre how he might react: the script had not been written because no one had seen anything remotely like it before. And we might also remember that if the French could at least look back on the experiences of both England and America in their revolutions, the Russians had the benefit of the lot, and made a worse mess than anyone.

If France was short on heroes for its revolution, it was long on characters. Here is the last Bourbon king on Marat in the National Convention: ‘Then on the benches opposite me, I saw a sickly little man with a pale and hideous visage shaking with convulsive movements; he had a coloured handkerchief around his head and was wearing a threadbare greatcoat, which was very dirty and covered with stains. This man was Marat. It was he in his odious paper so impudently entitled The People’s Friend, demanded every morning that three hundred thousand heads should roll to have done with the enemies of liberty.’ As we might expect, Hippolyte Taine was a little more graphic: ‘At the mere sight of Marat, filthy and slovenly, with his livid frog-like face, round, gleaming and fixed eyeballs, bold maniacal stare and steady monotonous rage, common sense rebels; people do not accept for their guide a homicidal bedlamite.’

Well, vast numbers of the people did just that, and when Charlotte Corday took him out with one strike in his bath, most of France mourned. The funeral rites were frightful. The court painter, David who was always on call for a hero, caught the martyr in death. The genius of embalming plied his art, and Marat lay in state on a bed, after the putrefaction had been checked, at the Cordeliers. The bed was set against tricolour draperies with two stones from the Bastille engraved ‘Ami du Peuple’. A crown of oak-leaves was put on his brow to show his immortal genius, and flowers were strewn on the bier. Far below – according to a truly ghastly painting of the scene –the laurels of his martyrdom were reverently displayed – the porphyry bath, the bloody robe, and the inkwell and paper. His writings were displayed in the chapel. Vinegar and perfume were used to quell the stench, which was possibly more vibrant in death than in life.

A torchlight procession allowed the people of Paris to strew flowers on the heavenly whitened visage. His immortality was assured and celebrated. One orator prayed: ‘Let the blood of Marat become the seed of intrepid republicans.’ His ascension was as assured as that of Christ, and his immortal heart was cut out and put in an agate urn and hung from the vault of the Cordeliers to swing over the heads of his inadequate successors. Then the renaming started. Montmartre became Mont-Marat, and one of Napoleon’s best generals, Murat, a future king of Naples, signed up for the cult by changing his name. Then when the wheel turned a few years later, some equally repellent people called the Gilded Youth dug up the remains of Marat and threw them into the sewer.

The banality could be childlike in the most revolting instances. A Temporary Commission of twenty was set up to oversee the execution of the orders to punish Lyon. This task would be brutal. It would in truth involve mass murder. As Professor Palmer drily observed, ‘The obscure persons thus raised to power were not above a common frailty: they wished to be recognized.’ They needed a uniform. They were not modest, and they forbade anyone else from wearing their chosen colour, bleu.

For each one, out of public funds, were ordered to be exact: a blue coat with red collar, blue trousers with leather between the legs, breeches of deerskin, an overcoat and leather suitcase, a cocked hat with tricolour plume, a black shoulder-belt, various medals, six shirts, twelve pocket handkerchiefs, muslin for six ordinary cravats, black taffeta for two dress cravats, a tricoloured belt, six cotton nightcaps – would they be wearing these on duty? – six pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, kid gloves a l’espagnole, boots a l’americaine, bronzed spurs, saddle pistols and a hussar’s saber.

That anecdote stands for much of this whole book. We may be sure that these worthies were normal, indeed terrifyingly normal. When so attired were they part of the crowd that savoured the sight of French people like themselves being cut down by cannon fire one cricket pitch away from them before being finished off by professional soldiers who were then free to rob the corpses? With what relish or pride, both so evident from their choice of costume, did they relate such events to their wives and children over Sunday dinner?

‘Banal’ is hardly the word here, because we do not want to believe in the results, and we do not want to ask whether we are different or better from other ‘normal’ people. The moonshine over the funeral of Marat would come within most people’s understanding of the word ‘banal’ if not surreal, but it might all pale beside the torch-lit Wagnerian rites for the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the former head of the Gestapo, and a man of incomparable evil. There was one funeral in Prague and another in the Reich Chancellery. Himmler gave the eulogy. Hitler attended and comforted the children of the martyr and placed his decorations on his funeral pillow – the highest grade of the German Order, the Blood Order Medal, the Wound Badge in Gold, and the War Merit Cross First Class with Swords. Privately, Hitler said that Heydrich had been an idiot to expose his person, but he then set about the reprisals. A Czech town called Lidice was chosen at random and destroyed. Adult males were shot. Females were sent to camps and the correct looking children were sent for Aryan adoption to bolster the race. The deceased would have been greatly moved.

More and shorter extracts will follow in later posts, with details of eventual publication.


Whiplash is a rite of passage film. A young student is put to the test by a hard instructor to see if he can make it. It is like An Officer and a Gentleman, except that this hero wants to be a musician and the hard man is a cruel psychopath who is intent on breaking young people by publicly humiliating them. The cruelty involves insulting students by their family history or sexuality in the crudest and most hateful terms. It is obviously therefore outside the law, but one disquieting feature of this film is the absence of fraternal support among the victims. This gives the film, which drags, a 1984 feel. Are they all so driven that they will face breakdown rather than failing – or showing support for one of their own? Are these young Americans driven to the same suicidal depths as young Asian students are fabled to be? The plot is rarely credible and always corny. We hope that the young man can play the drums because he is a walking time-bomb socially, and God has made him accident prone. To accept this movie, you will have to accept two premises. First, genius might have to be brought out by bastardization. Secondly, cruelty that gets results is justified, even while its victims pile up. Both propositions are offensive, but the second is also pure bullshit. Geniuses are born. The best thing that teachers can do is not to block them. The notion that Charlie Parker, the twentieth century version of Mozart-Lite, became the genius of ‘Bird’ because a pro threw something at him is moonshine fit for the Batman cartoons before the kids’ flicks. Bastardization is outlawed now for officers’ schools after generations of proof of its evil that even the army could not duck. To suggest that it might work on artists is worse than silly. The United States should have a class action for defamation.



My elder daughter sent me an email to tell me that Gough had gone. That was kind of her. He had been fired before Kate was born, but she knew how fond I was of Gough, and how let down I have felt about those who came after him – from either side.

What could I say? Throughout the day, a zany message kept whizzing around my head. Gough was like a Ferrari to me. In the name of God, why? The mere thought of either was enough to make me smile, because somehow I felt better. Against all the odds, and against all sense and even decency, there is kind of style and a kind of giving that happens to make me feel better. It can happen with Mozart or Billy Slater or St Henri, or Ferrari. Some things just make me feel better.

As it seems to me, Gough did two things for us. He resurrected democracy in this country. Our system of government depends on our having two political parties, but one of ours had ceased to function, at least as an electable force. Gough pulled them into line, and he got elected to prove it. That was terrific for him and a God-send for us.

His other achievement was just as substantial, but it could only have happened after the first. He made us feel at home being Australian. We no longer had to apologise for what we are. We did not have to kowtow, tug our forelock, or dip our lid to any queen, president or pope. It was acceptable to be what we were. This was his achievement from a democracy that he had reinvented for the purpose. You can assess how great this was for us from the way that we have gone backwards since. A sure criterion of bad government now is one that does not make us feel at home with being Australian.

But Gough’s government fell, and it fell twice. There were many reasons, not least the generation that his party had spent in the wilderness, and the ineptness of most of his colleagues. But the other side had also been damaged by a generation of one party rule, and they had forgotten how to behave in opposition. How would they know? They had never been there before. I have a fair understanding of the weaknesses of Gough, and his imperial ego, and of the frightful weaknesses in his party, but I have had great problems in coming to grips with the behaviour of his opponents. As they keep reminding us, they were and are born to rule this country. When it comes to breaking the rules, the born to rule crowd claim their seigneurial right to go first. Conservatives should seek to conserve our constitution which, like all our laws, ultimately depends on enough people being prepared to follow those customs that separate us from the gorillas.

We have a representative democracy. We elect people to represent each one of us. For that purpose, candidates for election come together as members of political parties. Until recently, we have broadly followed a two party system. So have England and America. It follows that the proper functioning of each of the two parties is essential if democracy is to work for the nation at large. It then follows that those parties and their members have obligations to the nation as a whole that go beyond the interests their own party. Gough’s greatest win was to get his party, the Australian Labor Party, to accept that simple proposition.

As I saw it, the tragedy for Australia – and I do think that it really was a tragedy – is that the other side, the Liberal Party, chose to deny that premise of our government. In their eagerness to get rid of Gough and his rough mates, they acted against custom and decency. God only knows that Gough’s mates had provoked them, but as it seemed to me the born to rule crowd had a kind of nervous breakdown from which neither of us has yet recovered.

I still feel now the want of decency of Gough’s opponents in 1975. If it matters, I then vowed not to vote for those I saw as the real culprits of a fiasco at least while Gough was alive. That private interdict only operated at the federal level – at the lower level I regret that at least once I have given my vote to the party that looked after my dog – but if I am now discharged from that obligation, I am not presently jubilant. Nor have I lost my right to maintain my rage.

I was in the presence, if I may put it that way, on two occasions. The first was an MSO concert at the Melbourne Town Hall in about 1973 when the great Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau played the Emperor Concerto. I was in the front row of the stalls, and I looked back and up to see Gough and Margaret arrive. Claudio Arrau looked so small above his gleaming patent shoes. Gough looked so big, as he gave us an airy Napoleonic wave. I wondered who I should be more in awe of.

The other occasion was my first Wagner Ring Cycle in Adelaide in about 1999. I had paid for some swish service that got me an invite to Government House for drinks before Das Rheingold. (‘Cars at 4 pm’. I never knew what that meant.) I spotted Gough in a dreary crowd. I screwed up my courage, took another shot of Scotch, and determined to speak to the great man. I thought I might ask him if he had felt comfortable in vice-regal quarters since 1975. He was talking to a guy with a beard and thick glasses, who had a Kiwi accent. For some reason I thought that he was a Baptist and an accountant. (You can at your leisure count up your number of strikes or my prejudices.) At any rate, Gough seemed glad of the break, and Margaret was kind about my tie, before Gough resumed his discourse with that elevated tone that I knew so well, except that now I was getting it in the flesh. ‘The problem with Wagner is that he was such a megalomaniac that he had to write his own libretti. He badly needed an editor. Margaret and I saw Tristan in Dresden. The hero gets caught with the queen. In flagrante! [Downward cadence.] The king comes out to remonstrate. Fifty minutes! [Another downward cadence.] Ten would have been more than adequate.’

I can recall discussing the disposition of Her Majesty’s corgis to break wind, and Gough told me that he had told that story to show the capacity of our queen to remain ‘serene’ in circumstances that might fairly be described as unseemly. Then Margaret politely ushered off a visibly failing Gough. Some years later, I endured Tristan and I feared that I might have to be escorted out of the theatre when the king came out to remonstrate. I was in a state of near paralysis.

Between Die Walkure and Siegfried I shot through for a couple of nights in the Flinders Ranges, with a return flight that would excuse me from the first act of Siegfried. (On my next outing, I went one better, and skipped the lot.) I forced myself to read through The Myth of the Nibelunglied, a worse catalogue of blood and guts than the Iliad. Toward the end, I discovered that Siegfried’s widow Brunnhilde remarried, this time to someone who has not had a good press – Attila the Hun. I felt an urgent need to tell my new mate Gough of this discovery. I caught up with Gough at the second interval standing patiently in a queue for coffee. I wondered if any other former PM would have stood in a queue for anything. I confirmed our acquaintance and told Gough of my discovery. He listened with acute interest – and he then proceeded to review the genealogy of Attila the Hun! In the sweet name of the son of the carpenter, here was an Australian PM who was more at home talking about history and opera than cricket or the footy.

My short time with Gough had given me an uplift that will stay with me.

I had one other connection of sorts with Gough. My best friend in the law was the late Jim Kennan, a barrister who was once the leader of the Labor Party at state level. Jim admired Gough, and we used to trade stories about him, although Jim had more stories because he was a member of the party and he was actively involved politically – I was neither. (We nearly got thrown out of the Hill of Content bookshop for expressing the hope that the sales of Sir John Kerr’s memoirs might sustain him in exile indefinitely.)

I grieved for Jim when he died a few years ago, and I still feel his loss, but something happened that made me smile. Gough sent Janet Kennan a long and considered letter of condolence that dwelt at length not on political matters, much less party matters, but on Jim’s career in the profession of the law. This was a mighty and decent effort from a lawyer in his dotage about someone who was less than stellar in his sphere, and I was, and am, as moved by this anecdote, as I was by that of my own meeting with Gough. I do, if you like, feel blessed by both.

So, now that Gough has gone, what can I say? Gough gave his life to politics of government run by parties, and the party system is collapsing in front of our eyes all over the western world. The parties do not stand for anything, and the bunnies that they put up for us lack all conviction. They are mediocre and they are gutless.

No one will ever say that Gough was either mediocre or gutless. No one. And he did bring change and growth to us, such that we can fully and truly say that he left us better than he found us, much, much better. We Australians should be thankful for what Gough did for us.

I am a God fearing doubter, and I sometimes wonder about celebrating the life of one who leaves us. I mourn for our loss of Gough Whitlam.

A Remarkable Politician – Joseph Fouché

Some politicians get by with luck and grit, and not a lot more. Perhaps that is all that it takes for most of them – as  tends to be the case for the rest of us. One such politician was Joseph Fouché who was active during the French Revolution and who, as the Duke of Otranto, was Minister of Police for the Emperor Napoleon. Fouché was the ultimate survivor. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who was an immensely popular novelist in the 1930’s, called Fouché ‘the most perfect Machiavel of modern times’ – ‘a leader of every party in turn and unique in surviving the destruction of them all.’. Here was a ‘man of the same skin and hair who was in 1790 a priestly schoolmaster, and by 1792 already a plunderer of the Church; was in 1793 a communist, five years later a multimillionaire and ten years after that the Duke of Otranto.’ Fouché therefore was not just a survivor – he was a winner.

In introducing his book about ‘this thoroughly amoral personality’, Joseph Fouché, The Portrait of a Politician, Stefan Zweig said this:

Alike in 1914 and 1918 [the book was written in 1929] we learned to our cost that the issues of the war and the peace, issues of far-reaching historical significance, were not the outcome of a high sense of intelligence and exceptional responsibility, but were determined by obscure individuals of questionable character and endowed with little understanding. Again and again since then it has become apparent that in the equivocal and often rascally game of politics, to which with touching faith the nations continue to entrust their children and their future, the winners are not men of wide moral grasp and firm conviction, but those professional gamesters whom we style diplomatists – glib talkers with light fingers and a cold heart.

Those observations have the timelessness of truth.

Joseph Fouché was born in the seaport town of Nantes to a seafaring mercantile family. The great places were reserved for the nobility, so Joseph went into the Church. He went to the Oratorians who were in charge of Catholic education after the expulsion of the Jesuits. He becomes a tonsured teacher, not a priest. ‘Not even to God, let alone to men, will Joseph Fouché give a pledge of lifelong fidelity.’ Three of the most powerful French political thinkers then – Talleyrand, Sieyes, and Fouché – come from an institution that the Revolution will be bent on destroying, the Church.

Joseph became friendly with a young lawyer named Robespierre. There was even talk that he might marry Robespierre’s sister, and when the young Maximilien was elected to the Estates General at Versailles, it was Joseph who lent him the money for a new suit of clothes.

When Joseph moves that the Oratorians to express their support for the Third Estate, he is sent back to Nantes. He then becomes political, discards his cassock, and, after marrying the daughter of a wealthy merchant, ‘an ugly girl but handsomely dowered’, he is elected to the revolutionary National Convention in 1792 as the Chairman of the Friends of the Constitution at Nantes.

Fouché is always cool and under control. He has no vices and he is a loyal husband, but he will be an ‘inexorable puritan’ and invincibly cold blooded, at his best working in the shadows as an unseen second to the limelighters. He prefers the reality of power to its insignia, but with ‘his resolute freedom from convictions’, he is quite capable of repudiating a leader who has gone too far. ‘He knows that a revolution never bestows its fruits on those who begin it, but only on those who bring it to an end and are therefore in a position to seize the booty.’

Fouché starts up the ladder. He had aligned with the moderates known as the Gironde on the issue of death for the king, but sensing the shift in the breeze, he stabbed them in the back with the words la mort when it came his turn to cast his vote. He acquires huge power as Representative on Mission, a kind of Roman proconsul. He has what we would call a communist social program, especially toward the Church. He issues an utterly chilling instruction: ‘Everything is permissible to those who are working for the revolution; the only danger for the republican is to lag behind the laws of the Republic: one who outstrips them, gets ahead of them; one who seemingly overshoots the aim, has often not yet reached the goal. While there is still anyone unhappy with the world, there are still some steps to take in the racecourse of liberty.’

The ci devant tonsured Oratorian declares war on the Church ‘to substitute the worship of the Republic and of morality for that of ancient superstitions.’ He abolishes celibacy and orders priests to marry or adopt a child within one month. In Moulins, he rides through the town at the head of a procession hammer in hand smashing crosses, crucifixes and other images, the ‘shameful’ tokens of fanaticism. This is the phase of dechristianization, far, far more brutal than the Reformation in England.

But we also speak of the Terror, when an anxious France was guillotining its enemies within, and Robespierre would implement the Law of Suspects. It is the black night of the revolution and it leads Stefan Zweig to this most remarkable judgment which still speaks so clearly to us at a time of a collapse in public life.

By the inexorable law of gravity, each execution dragged others in its train. Those who had begun the game with no more than ferocious mouthings, now tried to surpass one another in bloody deeds. Not from frenzied passion and still less from stern resolution were so many victims sacrificed. Irresolution, rather, was at work; the irresolution of politicians who lacked courage to withstand the mob. In the last analysis, cowardice was to blame. For, alas, history is not only (as we are so often told) the history of human courage, but also the history of human faintheartedness; and politics is not (as politicians would fain have us believe) the guidance of public opinion, but a servile bowing of the knee by the so-called leaders before the demons they have themselves created.

With those words, Stefan Zweig justified not only this whole book, but his whole life. The words ‘the irresolution of politicians who lacked courage to withstand the mob’ should be put up in neon lights in every parliamentary and government office, and in the booth of every shock jock, poll taker, and sound-bite grabber, and that of any other predatory bludger, urger, or racecourse tout.

And the Terror was in turn at its worst for those parts of France that had sought to rebel in bloc, like the great city of Lyon, the second of France. The revolt in the west in the Vendee was seen to be Catholic and Royalist; in Lyon, it was a revolt by class and money. The reprisals for each had a manic cruelty and intensity unmatched until the times of Stalin and Hitler. In the Vendee, a man named Carrier was responsible for the infamy of the noyades, when batches of priests were manacled, and placed on barges that were towed in the Loire and then sunk. Fouché executed revolutionary justice at Lyon where the guillotine was thought to be too cumbersome. The depravity is described by Zweig in these terms:

Early that morning sixty young fellows are taken out of prison and fettered together in couples. Since, as Fouché puts it, the guillotine works ‘too slowly’, they are taken to the plain of Brotteaux, on the other side of the Rhone. Two parallel trenches, hastily dug to receive their corpses, show the victims what is to be their fate, and the cannon ranged ten paces away indicate the manner of their execution. The defenceless creatures are huddled and bound together into a screaming, trembling, raging, and vainly resisting mass of human despair. A word of command and the guns loaded with slugs are ‘fired into the brown’. The range is murderously close and yet the first volley does not finish them off. Some have only had an arm or leg blown away; others have had their bellies torn open but are still alive; a few, as luck would have it, are uninjured. But while blood is making runnels of itself down into the trenches, at a second order, cavalrymen armed with sabres and pistols fling themselves on those who are yet alive, slashing into and firing into this helpless heard, of groaning, twitching and yelling fellow mortals until the last raucous voice is hushed. As a reward for their ghastly work, the butchers are then allowed to strip clothing and shoes from the sixty warm bodies before these are cast naked into the fosses which await them.

All this was done in front of a crowd of appreciative onlookers. The next batch was enlarged to two hundred ‘head of cattle marched to the slaughter’ and this time the avengers of the nation dispensed with the graves. The corpses were thrown into the Rhone as a lesson to the folks downstream. When the guillotine is again put to work, ‘a couple of women who have pleaded too ardently for the release of their husbands from the bloody assize are by his [Fouché’s] orders bound and placed close to the guillotine.’ Fouché declares: ‘We do not hesitate to declare that we are shedding much unclean blood, but we do so for humane reasons, and because it is our duty.’ Zweig concludes: ‘Sixteen hundred executions within a few weeks show that, for once, Joseph Fouché is speaking the truth.’ That may be so, but the invocation of humanity for this butchery defies all language.

I am relying on a translation (by Eden and Cedar Paul in the 1930 Viking Edition), but Zweig attributes to Fouché what he calls ‘a flamboyant proclamation’;

The representatives of the people will remain inexorable in the fulfilment of the mission that has been entrusted to them. The people has put into their hands the thunderbolts of vengeance, and they will not lay them down until all its enemies have been shattered. They will have courage enough and be energetic enough to make their way through holocausts of conspirators and to march over ruins to ensure the happiness of the nation and effect the regeneration of the world.

There, surely, you have a preview of all the madness and cant that will underlie the evil that befalls mankind in the next century.

Fouché and his accomplice get news that the wind may have changed in Paris and the other is sent back to cover their backs. Fouché now has to deal with Robespierre, ‘that tiger of a man, balancing adroitly as usual between savagery and clemency, swinging like a pendulum now to the Right and now to the Left’, who was unhappy with Fouché for having displaced his own henchman (the crippled lawyer Couthon who had no stomach for the task). Robespierre is the cold lawyer from Arras that we associate with the height of the Terror – and with its end. Zweig says that Robespierre was ‘wrapped in his virtue as if it were a toga’. That about sums it up, but Zweig has a most remarkable passage that includes:

Robespierre’s tenacity of purpose was his finest quality, but it was also his greatest weakness. For, intoxicated by the sense of his own incorruptibility and clad as he was in an armour of stubborn dogmatism, he considered that divergences of opinion were treasonable, and with the cold cruelty of a grand inquisitor, he was ready to regard as heretics all who differed from him and send them to a heretic’s doom…..The lack of communicable warmth, of contagious humanity, deprived his actions of procreative energy. His strength lay exclusively in his stubbornness; his power, in his unyielding severity. His dictatorship had become for him the entire substance and the all-engrossing form of his life. Unless he could stamp his own ego on the revolution, that ego would be shattered.

That judgment may be too severe for Robespierre, but it looks dead right for Lenin – especially the last, about the insatiable need to stamp his own ego on the revolution. There is the key to the agony of all the Russias.

There followed a duel between Fouché and Robespierre. Fouché ‘had never asked Robespierre’s advice; had never bowed the knee before the sometime friend.’ Robespierre turned on Fouché in the Convention: ‘Tell us, then, who commissioned you to announce to the people that God does not exist, you, who are so devoted to that doctrine?’   Fouché is just one target in a speech that ends in a hurricane of applause. Fouché goes quiet, he goes underground, a he performs the then equivalent of working the phones – and then he surfaces – as the next elected President of the Jacobins Club! This is the rank and file of the ‘party’.

The response had to be nasty, and the next time Robespierre is brutal, with the by then standard allegation of conspiracy. ‘I was at one time in fairly close touch with him because I believed him to be a patriot. If I denounced him here, it was not so much because of his past crimes because he had gone into hiding to commit others, and because I believed him to be the ringleader of the conspiracy which we have to thwart.’ This was vintage Robespierre paranoia and the stakes were terminal. Fouché is expelled from the Jacobins. ‘Now Joseph Fouché is marked for the guillotine as a tree is marked for the axe…..Fifty or sixty deputies who, like Fouché, no longer dare to sleep in their own quarters, bite their lips when Robespierre walks past them; and many are furtively clenching their fists at the very time when they are hailing his speeches with acclamations.’

Robespierre is circling in his sky-blue suit and white silk stockings, and the very air is thick with fear. He gives a three hour harangue, but then declines to give names. ‘Et Fouché?’ gets no answer. Fouché furiously works the numbers: ‘I hear there is a list, and your name is on it.’ ‘Cowardice shrinks and dwindles, and is replaced by desperate courage.’ God rolls the dice, the bunnies become wolves, and Robespierre and his lieutenants are submitted to the blade that they had brought down on so many others.

Here Zweig permits himself a general political observation. He condemns those who overthrew Robespierre for their ‘cowardly and lying attitude’ who ‘to gain their own ends have betrayed the proletarian revolution.’ That is an assessment made in 1929 that many French historians would embrace, and Fouché had tried to get on a populist horse. This time he picked badly, and the new regime had different views about the Terror – and Lyon. Fouché ‘like many animals shams dead that he may not be killed.’ He goes underground for three years living on the breadline. No one mentions his name. As to the proletariat – what a dire and debasing word! – there is not much use crying over spilt milk. Those who are crying wanted the French terrorists to do what Lenin had tried to do, and transfer all power from the king to all those at the bottom inside one generation. It cannot be done. It took the English, who are geniuses at this, seven centuries.

Fouché lies low and poor. The carpet-baggers of the new shop-soiled regime, the Directory then the Consulate, need someone who can work in darkness, a cold-blooded spy, a collector of information on others, a man to hold chits IOU’s and grudges, and someone who can oil the wheels of power and money. Who else? ‘Joseph Fouché has become the ideal man for these sordid negotiations. Poverty has made a clean sweep of his republican convictions, he has hung up his contempt for money to dry in the chimney, and he is so hungry that he can be bought cheaply.’ Is it not remarkable how deathless are all these political insights?

The dark and dangerous mitrailleur of Lyons is back in town – as minister of State, the Minister of Police to the mighty and all-conquering Republic of France! Well, our man ‘has no use for sentimentality, and can whenever he likes, forget his past with formidable speed’. The Jacobins are a shadow of themselves, but they are also beside themselves at this heartless enforcer of tranquillity – who calmly says that there must be an end to inflammatory speeches! In France? In Paris? In 1799?

They have learned little during these years. They threaten the Directory, the Ministers of State, and the constitution with quotations from Plutarch. They behave as rabidly as if Danton and Marat were still alive; as if still, in those brave days of the revolution, they could with the sound of the tocsin summon hundreds of thousands from the faubourgs.

But our man has got his sense of scent back. He knows the public mood. The former president just closes down the Jacobins Club – the next day. People are sick of strife. They want their peace and their money.

Then some people higher up start to fear the information that he gets – on everyone. Knowledge means power, and Fouché has more knowledge than anyone – more even than Napoleon. And people start to notice that his eyes look upwards as well as downwards. Talleyrand, who also stands up to Napoleon and lives to talk about it, and who is another consummate and totally conscienceless puppeteer, says: ‘The Minister of Police is a man who minds his own business – and goes on to mind other people’s.’

But when Napoleon becomes Consul for Life, his family, the biggest weakness of the loyal Corsican, urge him to fire Fouché. Napoleon shifts him sideways, but ‘seldom in the course of history has a minister been dismissed with more honourable and more lucrative tokens of respect than Joseph Fouché.’ It was ever thus.

Fouché goes into retirement again, the polite and thrifty squire with his wife and children who gives a homely entertainment now and then. The neighbours see a good husband and a kind father. But the old campaigner feels the itch. ‘Power is like the Medusa’s head. Whoever has looked on her countenance can no longer turn his face away, but remains for always under her spell. Whoever has once enjoyed the intoxication of holding sway over his fellows can never thenceforward renounce it altogether. Flutter the pages of history in search for examples of the voluntary renouncement of power….Sulla and Charles V are the most famous among the exceptions.’

Napoleon senses the itchiness of Fouché but he does not want to take him back; ‘the argus-eyed unsleeping calculator’ is too dangerous. But then Napoleon errs – he has the Duke of Enghien kidnapped over the border and returned to France to be shot – he passes his grave on the way to his ‘trial.’ This leads Fouché (some say Talleyrand) to make the famous remark: ‘It was worse than a crime it was a blunder.’ Napoleon needs someone to hold the stirrup again, and on his ascension to the purple – he allows the pope to watch him crown himself – Son Excellence Monsieur le Senateur Fouché is appointed Minister by Sa Majeste l’Empereur Napoleon. He will become the Duke of Otranto and while the rest degenerate into ‘flatterers and lickspittles’, the Minister of Police stiffens his back, and minds his own business and that of everyone else.

Fouché is a millionaire many times over, but he lives a frugal almost Spartan life. His image is part of his terrifying power. He and the Emperor are at arms’ length. ‘Filled with secret antipathy, each of them makes use of the other, and they are bound together solely by the attraction between hostile poles.’

The stakes have gone up now. At Marengo in 1800, Napoleon won with thirty thousand men; five years later, he has three hundred thousand behind him; five years later, he is raising a levy of a million soldiers. He will leave five million in their graves. And now Fouché must deal with the political genius of Talleyrand, another of the world’s very greatest survivors. ‘Both of them are of a perfectly amoral type, and this accounts for their likeness in character.’ For a long time tout Paris gazes in a kind of trance at the duel between Fouché and Talleyrand, and, as it happens, both survive Napoleon.

Fouché was either working for Napoleon or plotting against him, or both, even during the Hundred Days leading to Waterloo. In fact, Fouché served as Minister of Police to Talleyrand as Prime Minister after 1815 for Louis XVIII. Since he had voted for the death of that king’s brother, Louis XVI, this might be seen as the masterpiece of his slipperiness or negotiability. He then proceeded to orchestrate a new terror, the White Terror, against the enemies of the Bourbons. This revolted even Talleyrand, and Fouché was shifted again, this time for the last time. He died in his bed in Trieste in 1820.

It is hard to imagine our story, for that in part is what it is, being told better than Stefan Zweig tells it in this wonderful book. The author moves so easily from one graceful insight to the next, and like a true champion he makes it all look so easy and so natural. And as our author leaves his subject, he leaves us with the question that Shakespeare leaves to us with various bastards, in the proper sense of that word, and Richard III and Falstaff – why are we so taken with the life and character of such an absolute villain? And he also leaves us with the same old problem – glib talkers with light fingers and a cold heart.

Geoffrey Gibson

9 October 2014.




In Victorian England – in 1876 to be more precise – there were shell-bursts of moral outrage against atrocities allegedly committed by a Muslim power. The Ottoman Empire was governed from the Porte, called the Sublime Porte then, and Istanbul now. The Ottoman Empire was the seat of the Islamic Caliphate, so that outrages alleged against it were outrages alleged against the Caliphate. The Ottoman Empire (or Turkey, or the Caliphate, if you prefer) was experiencing revolts on a number of fronts. It then controlled a lot of territory west of Constantinople, that is, in Europe, that was peopled by Slavs. The resulting religious and ethnic tensions have plagued the world ever since. They were central to events leading to the Great War and they are still generating war crimes and genocide up to the turn of the millennium. By and large, the government of Benjamin Disraeli had sought to stay on terms with Turkey as a check on the capacity of Russia to move so as to block trade routes to India and the Pacific. The exercise was tricky because there was no attractive option – there was no nation in the Balkans that the English could decently associate with.

Then news started to reach England of an uprising against the Turks in what we call Bulgaria, and of the most savage reprisals by the Turks. Some historians say that the Turks were more tolerant of other faiths than the Jews or Christians, but the belief east of Vienna back then was that the Turks treated infidels like dogs. Reports reached England of the massacre of 12,000 Bulgarians by the Turks and of outrages against women.

Some crusading editors whipped up a campaign against the Turks – and Disraeli. Then the pious Christian W E Gladstone unleashed himself. This was at a time when the rivalry of Disraeli and Gladstone was already nation-gripping and when politicians were not tied to slogans or labels – it was not enough back then to intone some curse like ‘genocide’ as would be done now. This was a time when oratory was a bigger spectator sport than football.

Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudits, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams, and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall I hope clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to the memory of those heaps on heaps of dead; to the violated purity alike of matron, maiden, and of child….

The prospect of what we call ‘bashing’ Asian infidels was enough to unhinge the very deliberate Gladstone and send him clean over the top:

There is not a cannibal in the South Sea Islands whose indignation would not arise and overboil at the recital of that which has been done, which has too late been examined, but which remains unavenged: which has left behind all the foul and all the fierce passions that produced it, and which may spring up again in another murderous harvest from the soil, soaked and reeking with blood, and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed of crime and shame….

Would Gladstone or his target audience have got so incandescent if the victims had been Muslims or Jews – did I mention that the victims of these atrocities were Christians?

Disraeli was, as ever, urbane. He said privately that Gladstone’s pious sonorities had a ‘Christian’ aim and were fired in the belief that ‘for ethnological reasons, the Turks as a race should be expelled from Europe.’ Disraeli did, however, permit himself a mild racist jab in saying drily to the Commons that he doubted whether ‘torture had been practised on a great scale among an oriental people who generally terminate their connection with culprits in a more expeditious manner.’ It was, though, a mistake for him to dismiss the claims as ‘coffee-house babble.’ The claims were confirmed, but after a little while, the politicians, the newspapers and their readers found other things to talk about, and a hideous tragedy survives in some history books today only as a footnote on the political styles of Gladstone and Disraeli.

Well, at least they had style then. There is no political style now. The most recent calls to avenge atrocities committed by Muslims have been at best uninspiring. It was, I suppose, inevitable that the West might be called on to help meet the present threat since other interventions by the West are in very large part responsible for the appearance of this threat and the complete want of resistance of Iraq to it. It does look to all the world as if the West is being called on to offer its blood to police a sectarian dispute in another religion, and where the main beneficiaries of the intervention will be Russia, Iran, and Syria. But if it is the case that the West now faces an actual threat coming out Iraq that was not there before 2003, when will we see those responsible for that development brought to answer? Do you remember the purity of the bullshit? About Iraq being a ‘beacon of democracy’? Instead, it is the gateway to Hell. It was, I suppose, only a matter of time before some drone called up not a beacon of democracy but a light on the hill. In the name of God, do they never learn?

We are after all offered only three assurances on this outing. The Americans had to do something. We do not know how it may end, but no one can see a good end. And we do know that it will take a long, long time.

The views of Edith Durham on the Balkans, which she travelled extensively, are better thought of in some places than others, but the following observation made in 1905 does sound just right: ‘When a Muslim kills a Muslim it does not count; when a Christian kills a Muslim, it is a righteous act; when a Christian kills a Christian it is an error of judgment better not talked about; it is only when a Muslim kills a Christian that we arrive at a full-blown atrocity.’