Us and the U S – Chapter 9

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

                                                            9

Government

The Declaration of Independence was of, by, and for, white men.  Opinions were asserted in 1776 that would find no place in America more than two hundred years later.  We have seen that the Indians were written off as savage mass murderers.  The statement that ‘all men are created equal’ was, to the certain knowledge of the authors, untrue – unless a black man is not a man.  That is one count of dishonesty.  The second count is the lack of candour on the causes of the revolt.

There is no history of the American Revolution that has been written that says that the American colonies revolted from their subjection to the British crown for any of the reasons that are set out in the eighteen clauses of the Declaration of Independence.  The primary reason for the revolt of was the imposition of taxes by the British parliament – when those being taxed had no direct representation in the parliament levying the tax.  But British taxation is only referred to once in the Declaration of Independence and then in false terms.  They say the King imposed the tax.  The Glorious Revolution had put paid to that.    Most divorces are about money, and this one was no different.  American historians are silent or coy about this.  So, the Declaration was infected by two counts of deceit, which you can still see at work today.

The American Declaration of Independence is therefore of limited historical value in explaining why the Americans proceeded as they did, or what values of humanity they proposed to pursue for their future.  The tragic truth is that the barefaced lie about slavery would haunt the young republic until it was expunged by the death of more than six hundred thousand Americans in the Civil War and by the moral courage and intellectual genius of Abraham Lincoln, the one unquestionable gift of the United States to humanity.

The United States Constitution is an altogether more prosaic affair.  It has served the needs of the nation reasonably well.  It was designed to permit the working of government consistently with the rights of its citizens.  It was not designed to be an ideological platform, although the amendments that are collectively called the Bill of Rights inevitably invite political, if not ideological, debate.

Perhaps because the U S was moving away from a monarchical government, its constitution invests much more power in its president than do similar constitutions where the monarchy is retained.  But a rigidly doctrinal adherence to the separation of powers has produced what for others appear to be unfortunate results.  A president may be confronted by a hostile Congress which is bad for both the efficiency of government and the faith of its citizens in the workability of government; and the president is not accountable to Congress in the sense that he can be examined in Congress, as is, say, the prime minister of England every day of the parliamentary year.  There is a related problem of the president not being in the parliament – neither is the leader of the opposition, because there is no such office.  This does not conduce to honesty or sense from the party not holding presidential office.  The result is a sustained divorce from reality that is not healthy and that cannot last.  Other difficulties in the Constitution and party system are being fully tested in 2017.  Just as tax was hardly spoken of in the Declaration, so no one speaks of it in U S government today.

The First Amendment begins: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’  England still is the direct opposite.  It has an established church of which the queen is the head and it has a constitution that bars Catholics from sitting on the throne.  Yet religion at least appears to be far more prominent in U S political life than in, say, England, France or Germany where it is almost entirely irrelevant.  That is the difference between a doctrinaire American and a pragmatic Englishman.

And the one shot that was heard around the world came in 1831 when the British Parliament outlawed slavery.  That very significant act of political and moral courage was brought about after an inspired campaign to change and direct public opinion in Britain that was organised and directed by the established church, the Church of England, and a group of religious fanatics who had been hardly done by in America, the Quakers.

The picture of the United States that emerges from a comparison of the beneficiaries of the English and French Revolutions, is one of a conservative, staid and risk-averse political backwater.  There are times when sadly the Americans just resemble a God-happy, gun-happy and flag-happy people still in search of a lost king.

***

The institutions of government in Australia were built by middle class people with at least some education, but the progress was less eventful or momentous.  It is about as riveting as the story of the merger of a few town councils.  The Australian colonies adopted the Westminster system for each government, and considered the American example in adjusting powers between the states, as the colonies became the Commonwealth of Australia.  The federal body was given specific powers, and the states kept the rest.

Allowing for two world wars and the Great Depression, the Commonwealth did what it was appointed to do.  Largely as a result of tax decisions of the High Court during the second war, the Commonwealth became preeminent in income tax and therefore political power to an extent not reflected in the Constitution itself.  State functions like education, health and transport are de facto run out of Canberra, because it has the money, and this has been a buck-passing Godsend to politicians of all colours at all levels.  The average voter, at least in the cities, feels no closer to government in Melbourne or Sydney than Canberra, and the states in America have more impact on life at large than in Australia.

The party that became the conservative party – the Liberal Party – took its time to emerge, but the Labor Party almost from its inception developed a capacity for publicly blowing its brains out by having leaders rat or by self-immolation in a split after World War II that disenfranchised a generation.  As a result, it may have provided soul food to its own faithful, but it badly let the people down by failing to provide an electable alternative to the Pontius Pilates opposite them, and the nation drifted into a mindless conservative mediocrity – or, at least, that is how some saw it.

America and Australia now both have a serious problem getting the party model of parliamentary democracy to work.  Government is no longer small, and never will be again; taxes are no longer small, and never will be again.  We know that we have too much government and too much law.  We also know that no one will try to fix it even if they could.  It is no good for a political party to remain ideologically pure if it will lock itself out of government for a generation.  The government has to govern for the people, and an opposition has to offer an electable alternative.  Both nations need to see political parties offer a rational choice on how to go forward – but neither offers grounds for optimism.

Us and the U S – Chapter 8

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

8

Migration

The nations that we know as America and Australia still see themselves as predominantly white.  They got to be that way with laws that each passed to preserve its racial integrity, although they may not have used that language. Before they could get to that stage, white people had to be introduced on to lands previously used or occupied by people whose skins were coloured.  The colonies had to be settled and then peopled.  Without white migrants, the whites would not have gained supremacy.  It is therefore obvious that migration is essential to the history of each of these two nations.

There is an essential difference to the course of migration into each country.  For the most part migrants to America arrived under their own sail or steam, or by dropping down from Canada.  For the most part migrants to Australia arrived with the help of government.

We saw that the first settlers did not come to America under the aegis of the government of England.  They were either quitting England for religious purposes – these were in truth refugees from persecution on the grounds of religion – or they were going out in ventures of what we would call venture capitalism, intent on making a new life – and profits.  The Americans soon learned how to combine a pious love of God with a pious regard for wealth.  The Puritans back home had never had any problems on this.  Any espousal of poverty would have been as sure a sign of madness as an espousal of democracy.  Their place as God’s elect justified them in this world and the next.  Their success on earth here was proof of their acceptance in heaven.

Four years before the colony at Botany Bay started, Benjamin Franklin had said that America was a good place to get rich and that ‘nowhere else are the labouring poor so well fed, well lodged, well clothed and well paid as in the United States of America.’  This was a land, he said, ‘where a general happy mediocrity prevails.’

The population in 1800 was north of five million, but it was close to doubling in twenty years.  Napoleon needed to fund his war – and more agony for Europe – and the Louisiana Purchase and the brutality of President Andrew Jackson on the Indians opened up vast areas of new land when the population in Europe was exploding.  Immigrant ships dared the Atlantic, and more than 30,000 arrived each year.

Naturalization Acts had acted as a colour bar since 1790, but the inflow from Europe was colossal.  In the century after 1815, about thirty million crossed over, and it ran at about one million a year during World War I.  The California Rush for gold in and after 1849 put before the world the dazzling promise of America, and public and private money was spent on selling America.

There were other things beside the huge wages.  Liberty.  The vote.  No political police.  No conscription or aristocracy.  No censorship.  No arbitrary arrest.  No secret police.  No legalized class distinctions – except those based on colour.  (American Negroes did not go into the melting pot.)  There was no state church or any tithes backed by the state.  Since there were few poor, there were no poor rates.  After the Depression, the epoch of unrestricted mass immigration had come to an end.  Now politicians are competing to show who can slam the door the hardest.

***

There is likely to be a great difference in outlook between someone going to the New World to glorify God and to make their fortune and someone who is expelled from home because he has got seven years for theft – or the troopers that have been sent to act as prison wardens for the refuse of their nation at the other end of the world where Tiger snakes and trap-door spiders kill people and sharks eat them.

It was not until after 1830 that free migrants to Australia exceeded convicts.  The U S was closer and the voyage was shorter and cheaper.  Australia competed by paying the fares of British migrants.  This was funded from the sale of land which in turn made land much dearer than in the U S.  Well over half of the migrants coming to Australia up until, say, 1970 had all or most of their fare paid for them, and they might look to being looked after on arrival.

The founders of Australia had a very different attitude to government than Americans – one government that had encouraged them to go and another government that paid their way and showed what it had to offer when they arrived.  As a result, Australia remained much more firmly British and, for a very long time, a lot less cosmopolitan, than the U S – and a lot more staid.  Geoffrey Blainey said: ‘Here was one of the mainsprings of the welfare state which emerged so clearly in Australia and New Zealand.  As most migrants were subsidised, they tended to lean on the government that initially cared for them.  Self-help dominated American attitudes, but ‘lean on the government’ was common amongst Australian attitudes….Nothing did more to give Australia an ethnic unity than the practice of selecting and subsidising the migrants.  This sense of unity was to encourage later generations of Australians to fight on Britain’s wars on the far side of the world.  In contrast, in the United States the ethnic disunity helped to deter that nation from fighting in foreign wars.’

We might add that the U S attracted more people of means, more middle class settlers, in its formative years.  These differences still run very deep indeed.  Among other things, telling Australians that they will have to lose their entitlements may not fall far short of telling them that you will take away the air that they breathe.  It is likely to sound downright silly.

After the colonies federated and became States, all of them adopted a policy of subsidising migrants from Britain before 1914.  The whole scheme was determinedly ‘White Australian’, a label then used with no blushing at all.  Indeed, in some quarters there was antipathy to Italians on the ground that they were not quite white.  After World War I, those on the Labor side began to be hostile to open-ended immigration.  It was ‘Populate or Perish’ against ‘Save Our Jobs.’  But the closeness of the savage Japanese invasion, after the fall of Singapore, revealed the vulnerability of that vast empty nation.

It was a Labor Government, followed by a conservative government uninterrupted for a generation, which saw a massive increase in assisted migration after World War II, and a much broader migrant pool including European refugees.  This time it would be European migrants like Greeks or Italians who would feel the brunt of the natives’ blunt insularity.  The wave of post–war immigration helped to put aside the old Anglo sombreness, and the waves of Asian and African immigration after the Vietnam War have helped even further – until the rednecks got restive about colour and refugees, and their leaders toed the line.

Us and the U S – Chapter 3

Us and the US

[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception; 3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]

3

Birth

The Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod in November 1620.  There were forty-one families and they were what we call Puritans.  These very religious people thought that the Church of England was too much like the Church of Rome.  We might now call them fanatics, or fundamentalists.  They wanted a religion free of abstraction in thought and hierarchy in action.  God was over all, but no mere mortal could be superior to another.  They had been persecuted because they were dissenters.  In the New World they could start a new life and they would have the numbers.  Their country would be God’s own country because they were God’s chosen people.  As John Winthrop said, ‘Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill…. we shall be… a by-word throughout out the world.’

On their way over, they entered into a written covenant.  The critical words are ‘combine ourselves together in a civil body politic.’  We may owe allegiance to an English king, but it is we who will combine to make our new world.  If that combination comes into effect with the blessing of God, well, then, how can we fail?  These boat people brought to the New World God, conviction, strength, and a contract.  They set out as families and for good reason thought that they were exceptional.  They were nothing if not American.

In 1606, the Virginia Company was formed to recover for Christ ‘a number of poure and miserable souls wrapt up into death in almost invincible ignorance.’  Well, it was unlikely that the colony set up at Jamestown could survive on the conversion of the Indians.  There was capital was riding on this venture.  This was not the work of government – people had sunk their own money into the company.  The colony started to take hold when investors were offered land in return for their capital.  Later settlers were offered land in return for labour.

The colony at Chesapeake Bay nearly went the same way as the first Virginia settlement. It was saved by the enterprise of a mercenary called Captain John Smith.  Smith was candid.  ‘For I am not so simple as to think that any other motive than wealth will ever erect there a Commonweale’.  He wondered about people ‘making religion their colour when all their aim was nothing but present profit.’  Tobacco would do for Virginia what wool would do for Australia.  The company also said the colonists would have ‘the rights of Englishmen’, and the first General Assembly of Virginia met.

Rhode Island arose for those who had had enough of the Brethren.  So did Maine, parts of which had been dominated by the French.  Salem was settled and The Massachusetts Bay Company was formed in 1629.  Later, John Winthrop, a Cambridge man trained at Gray’s Inn, arrived.  He rejoiced that the Indians had been wiped out by smallpox.  Winthrop was in truth a dictator, and Salem was more intolerant than England ever had been.  The purges of alleged witches at Salem are a lasting stain on the nation and a reminder of the threat that religious fanatics pose to others.  They prefigured Senator McCarthy.

Maryland was named after a Catholic queen.  New York was named after James II, the Duke of York, after it was changed from the Dutch New Amsterdam.  William Penn arrived in Delaware for what was to be Pennsylvania.  This future state was handed over for the release of a debt of £16,000.  Penn was settling for the benefit of the Quakers who had been shockingly mistreated in the other settlements. Quakers from the Rhineland settled at Germanopolos.  Philadelphia would be the birthplace of the American Declaration of Independence.

In the meantime, people from across Europe were settling.  The American colonies were from the start far more middle class and cosmopolitan than the Australian colonies, and they were always much better equipped to lose any sense of dependence on the Mother Country.

***

The coming of the white man to Australia was not attended by any romance at all.  The First Fleet assembled at Portsmouth.  There were two warships, six transports, and three store ships; there were nineteen officers, eight drummers, one hundred and sixty privates, thirty wives and twelve children.  There were more than seven hundred convicts, about a quarter of them women.  Assembly and provisioning took months amid chaos, squalor and despair; the shopkeepers at Portsmouth lowered their shutters, while slatternly female convicts lolled on the decks with such clothing as they had.

They dropped anchor at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788, after a journey of more than eight months.  They arrived a year and a half before the fall of the Bastille, a signature prison of the Old World and Ancien Régime.  They did not like what they saw, now blasted by a summer heat.  They found a better spot, Sydney Harbour, one as gorgeous as the two they had stopped at on the way – Rio de Janeiro (also built by convict labour) and Cape Town (whose Robben Island is now a shrine to the imprisonment of the great Nelson Mandela).  On 26 January 1788 the white people hoisted an English flag. That day is celebrated by some annually as Australia Day.  It does not have quite the same élan as Bastille Day or Independence Day.

Shortly afterwards, fourteen couples were joined in marriage; the colony had to be peopled.  The Protestant Ascendancy also had to be preserved.  On 13 February, Captain Phillip swore an oath about the real presence.  There had been trouble a few days before when the women had finally been released from their ships.  Some of the sailors got into the rum with the women, and there were appalling scenes of debauchery.  But somehow the colony survived until the second fleet arrived two and a half years later.  The financial drain might for a while have been a concern to London.

What were the convicts like?  Manning Clark said:  ‘When these men and women spoke for themselves before their judges, they seemed to be liars, drunkards, and cheats, flash and vulgar in dress, cheeky when addressing their jailers when on top, but quick to cringe and whine when retribution struck… they were men and women who aroused their contemporaries to disgust and apprehension, but rarely to compassion, and never to hope’.

There may have been a limit of, say seven years on their term of imprisonment, but for most it was a one way ticket – for the reason that they could never afford a return ticket.  By 1800, about two thirds of the colonists at New South Wales were free.  Transportation ended on the east coast in 1850.  More than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia.  But free immigration was on the rise.

A Scottish military man was sent out with his own regiment after a kind of rebellion, and over a period of twelve years, Governor Macquarie encouraged emancipation.  He even offered land to aborigines.  A London commissioner recommended injecting terror back into transportation.  This suited the sheep farmers who were squatting on crown land and becoming rich off the sheep’s back.  Some of them even fancied their own kind of aristocracy.  The squatters were the big hitters in the first century of the white people down under.

So, one nation started with free enterprise and the better people seeking God and their fortune; the other was a government job to get the dregs off-shore.  One started with liberation and hope; the other with imprisonment and despair.  That is one hell of a difference.  One nation craved independence and won it; the other fears independence and ducks it.

Here and there – The Wars of the Roses on the BBC

 

In 1964, the year of the Demons’ last flag, the BBC made a televised recording called The Wars of the Roses.  It consisted of a heavily edited version of four plays: Henry VI Parts I, 2, and 3, and Richard III.  The editing didn’t involve just cutting – new dialogue was added.  You can if you like try to spot the additions.  I couldn’t be bothered (and I suspect that my ear may be as dodgy as my palate).  The issue may in one sense be sterile, since it is unlikely that anyone will chance their arms by putting on the whole of the Henry VI trilogy in this country – they don’t try it often in England.  We get either an abridgement, or nothing.

This TV show was a huge undertaking.  The set was both massive and novel, and the cast was of the kind called ‘stellar’ in the popular press, although the producers were prepared to chance their arms.  The show was recorded over eight weeks with many stars who had been involved in a recent Stratford production of the four plays.

One object of the production was to demonstrate the relevance of many themes of the plays to modern politics.  The director, Peter Hall, said:

I became more and more fascinated by the contortions of politicians, and by the corrupting seductions experienced by anybody who wields power.  

The RSC issued a three CD set of the trilogy in 2016.  The show was shot in black and white and its grainy appearance lacks the definition of High Noon, but it is a great and historical production.

Each of the three parts is punishingly long – far too long to be taken in one hit in comfort.  When the BBC replayed the series, they did so in eleven parts.  The truth is that all four of these plays are too long, at least for Australian audiences.  Many years ago, I saw the RSC do the Full Monty on Richard III at the Barbican, and it was an ordeal for back and bum of Wagnerian dimensions

Before watching the series, you may wish to look at the supplement that has interviews with two surviving stars – David Warner (Henry VI) and Janet Suzman (Joan of Arc and Lady Anne).  Both would go on to wonderful careers, but each was hesitant at this stage, and their selection carried risk.  Warner was offered his role after three auditions.  He said he couldn’t believe it, and that he spent the first few days apologising for his selection.  It was a great choice.  His face, which is on the cover, was made to express the pain and indecision of a pious disaster.  Of his part, Kenneth Tynan would say ‘I have seen nothing more Christ-like in modern theatre.’  Either the critic had a queer view of Christ, or he missed that part where this idle fop disinherited his son so that he could hold on to power for a few years more.  (And I am a Tynan fan.)

When offered the role of Joan la Pucelle, Suzman asked who was she?  ‘Joan of Arc, you bloody idiot.’  Then she turned up on the set, and all ‘the big guns were there.’  I’m not personally familiar with how the hierarchy in the theatre manifests itself to relative novices, but I imagine you could get the kind of snakiness you may find among some barristers and test cricketers – that is, naked bitchiness.  Suzman says the editing was a corrective to a ‘biblical’ view of Shakespeare.  Her features then, and fifty years on, radiate a kind of strength – of a kind, perhaps, that the Lady Anne lacked.

One of the big guns that may have put the wind up Janet Suzman was Peggy Ashcroft.  She plays Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI, and the ‘she-wolf of France.’  She appears in every segment, and is the driving force for a lot of the action as the proud wife of an anaemic king, and the protective mother of his betrayed heir.  She starts as the young French girl who is wooed into a negotiated marriage, becomes the de facto ruler of England, and the serial killer of the enemies of her house, and ends as a savage old hag at risk of being accused of witchcraft (which they all believed in back then.)

Since the actress was fifty-six when she played this part, pulling it off would be a feat – but pull it off, she did.  Here is how a contemporary critic saw what appears to have been the original stage production.

.. the quite marvellous, fearsome performance of Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret of Anjou, who skipped on to the stage, a lightfooted, ginger, sub-deb sub-bitch at about 11.35 a.m. and was last seen, a bedraggled crone with glittering eye, rambling and cussing with undiminished fury, 11 hours later, having grown before our eyes into a vexed and contumacious queen, a battle-axe and a maniac monster of rage and cruelty.. even the stoniest gaze was momentarily lowered from this gorgon.

Peggy Ashcroft said of her part as Margaret that she was:

….a Dark Lady if ever there was one – and prototype for Cressida, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth – was Shakespeare’s first ‘heroine’ – if such she can be called… It takes four plays to make her one of the great female characters in Shakespeare – and the full-length portrait has been seen only in The Wars of the Roses cycle – but she has facets that are not touched on in any other.

Margaret’s feral growls and hideous curses could cost you some sleep.

Janet Suzman is vital and gamin, and utterly followable as Joan of Arc.  The scene where the big hitters elect to pick either a white rose (York) or a red rose (Lancaster) resembles heavy chested Harley riders.  What are they missing that makes them show of so dangerously?  In truth these magnates resemble the Mafia more than the Hell’s Angels.  And the Mafia and the feudal system both evolve out of the same disorder – the failure of central government to provide security drives people to make other arrangements.  They seek protection elsewhere.  You look after me and I will look after you.

These lords and knights have that marvellous medieval accompaniment – their ‘powers’.  Their puissance, another word much used in these times, leads others to pledge allegiance – to their liege lords.  It is I suppose the kind of thing you see in shows like House of Cards, but there is something less prosaic about ‘powers’ than poll ratings or factions or unions or think tanks or talk shows.

We are talking about chess played with extreme prejudice.  The magnates are like the knights and bishops, or even rooks, except that the rules are there to be flouted.  The concept of allegiance was at best fluid.  The followers – the powers – of the Duke of Burgundy or Lord Gloucester were as solid and reliable as the Tory ministers of Mrs Theresa May.

I will not mention all the players.  The cast includes Roy Dotrice, Brewster Mason, Eric Porter, and the others mentioned here.  The rose pickers include Donald Sinden as Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and William Squire as Suffolk (the wooer and lover of Margaret).  Sinden’s voice reminds me of Drambuie.  There is something about it that makes it instantly recognizable, rather like the deflated Kevin Spacey.

When I lived in South Yarra, I could walk to and from work in the east end of Collins St, about thirty-five minutes each way, and in about four months listen to all thirty-eight plays.  (It was then that I was glad that I had seen Cymbeline and Troilus and Cressida because I would not be doing so again; and Cyril Cusack’s Iago put me off Othello for life.)  I suppose I had heard A Winter’s Tale on four or five occasions, before one day, out of nowhere, on the tan, I recognized the voice of the lead – there was no doubt it was William Squire who played Hunter in nearly all the twenty or so episodes of Callan.  And in this trilogy there is also a lot of that eyebrow rolling and nasally drawled incredulity.  It is bliss for Callan fans.

Gloucester (Paul Hardwick) is the definitive politician and the unfortunate Winchester (Nicholas Selby) is played like Joel Grey in Cabaret.  Both could have walked straight out of Yes, Minister.

The Jack Cade sequence was to my mind hopelessly over the top, and too violent.  Indeed, there are many scenes of horrific violence.  We get to see what a blood feud can really look like, generation after generation.  Janet Suzman remarked on the violence, and the role of cabbages in the decapitations.  She said people were fainting all over the place.

One of my favourite scenes from this playwright is the confrontation between Queen Margaret and the Duke of York.  She taunts him about his progeny.

And where’s that valiant crookback prodigy,

 Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice

Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?

Well, we’ll get to see this Dicky in full murderous flight in the next episode, but this French-born woman steels herself not just to extinguish her womanhood, but her humanity.  She will mock not just knighthood, but fatherhood.  She rubs the nose of York into the blood of Rutland (his son) on a handkerchief.  She says she mocks him to make him mad so that she can sing and dance.  She puts a paper crown on the head of the man who would be king and says:

Ay, marry, sir, now he looks like a king

Ay, this is he who took King Henry’s chair

And this is he was his adopted heir.

But how is it that great Plantagenet

Is crowned so soon, and broke his solemn oath?

Off with the crown, and with the crown his head!

And whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead!  

 

The BBC version is not for children.  Margaret by now is oozing hate, and we start to get that old Greek feeling of whole houses being cursed.  (In the McKellen film, Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth gave meaning to the phrase ‘Ay me!  I see the ruin of my house’ – ‘Welcome destruction, blood, and massacre’.  She was right.)  The violence was perhaps not so surprising after the assassination of Kennedy, and the beginning of the war in Vietnam.  And the Cold War was stepping up, so mutilation by a sickle in the area of the groin may have then had different significance.  We have now been exposed to so much more horror, that this level of explicitness looks as unnecessary as it is unkind.

In the final part, we see evil made manifest in Richard III played by Ian Holm.  Richard III is a master class in the kind of stunt pulled by Peisistratus that was made whole by Mussolini and perfected by Hitler.  The part as played by Ian Holm is so threatening because it is underdone.  It’s as if the producers wanted to comment on the ‘banality of evil’ that Hannah Arendt saw in Eichmann.  (He was one of those mass murderers who went to work with mass death in his brief case.)  What we are presented with here is not motiveless malignity, but wanton evil.  Most people can get hot for sex; the world must be peopled; but some people, sadly, get hot for evil.

Ian Holm was born to act.  For this role he also brings the advantages of relative youth and shortness of size.  He said:

I played Richard very much as a cog in the historical wheel, and not as an individual character. We tried very hard to get away from the Olivier/Irving image of the great Machiavellian villain.

When Richard is confronted with his bloody past, we get the kind of apologia that Fox News reserves for Donald Trump.

Look, what is done cannot now be amended.

Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes

Which afterhours gives leisure to repent.

 

The scene where Richard confronts Anne is difficult, because it is revolting.  But we have been rudely reminded that quite revolting people – including racist morons – might appeal to people who don’t mind being revolted, or who just don’t care.  And we are also reminded of the difference between the power of sex appeal – that this king had none of – and the sex appeal of power.  When we say that power corrupts, it is not just the wielder who can be corrupted, but those who come within its thrall.  The regimes we least admire work on dragging people down to their level and then locking them into the regime by their complicity.

All that and more is on show here in this remarkable trilogy for the preservation of which we owe much thanks.

PS. May I add a note about Hunter? Callan worked for the British spooks.  He was dragooned into it, and to do dirty hit jobs, because they got to him in the Big House.  He has come up the hard way.  His only mate is a scruffy Cockney cab driver called Lonely.  Hunter is from the Establishment.  So is another agent, Toby Meares.  They are observing from afar Callan on a dangerous mission to meet a deadly Russian killer.  Hunter scowls – he’s good at that – when Meares expresses a moral qualm about the danger to Callan.

Well, then, what would you do if you were in my position, Meares?

Well, on reflection, I think I would do nothing, Sir.

In that case, I would applaud your reticence, Meares.

Oh, don’t applaud, Sir – that way your right hand might know what your left hand is doing.

 

If you watch William Squire in The Wars of the Roses – he is Buckingham at the end – you will see immediately why he was a natural for the part of Hunter – and why he continues to play a substantial part in my entertainment.  As it happens, Buckingham is one of the most vapid and watery liars the world has known.  He is the Platonic form of the kind of politician who drives the rest of us mad.

Here and there – Gallipoli by Les Carlyon

 

When I visited Gallipoli nearly twenty years ago, my guide, a most affable former naval officer, was proud to show me the gun emplacements on the Asian side where ‘the sick man of Europe’ had stopped the greatest navy in the world – in circumstances that still excite misgivings and bad feelings, and not just down here.  I can’t recall now whether Ali said that the Turks were lucky that the British navy stopped the fight after only one day of its concerted attack, because the Turks were dangerously low on ammunition.  This would not be the last time in that war that the British pride in their navy operated to make them duck putting a critical battle to the issue.  That’s exactly what Lord Denning thought Jellicoe had done at Jutland, and Denning never forgave him.

We looked at those guns on our way to Troy.  Then, after a night at Cannakale, we returned to the European side.  We then spent about five hours going around the major sites, such as Anzac Cove and Lone Pine.  When we got to the summit of the ridge called Chunuk Bair, we could see the narrows of the Dardanelles.  My guide told me that the New Zealanders had taken this peak, and that if the Allied forces had been able to hold it, they could well have broken through and gone on to Constantinople.  In light of all the human misery and inanity I had been looking at that day, this hypothetical was hardly comforting.

Well, as Les Carlyon remarks more than once in his book Gallipoli (2001), the battles around Gallipoli, like those of the Trojan War, were full of ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys.’

The man who led the charge to the summit of Chunuk Bair was a New Zealander commanding soldiers from around Wellington and Otago, Colonel William George Malone.  He certainly looks the part – one of those solid, square-jawed six-footers that you see in the forward pack of the All Blacks, a man apparently born to lead.  (Some of the Maori units performed the haka before battle, to the bemusement of the locals.)  As well as being a land agent and solicitor with five offices, Malone was a farmer.  He had about 2000 acres around Stratford.  This is what Carlyon says of this farmer turned warrior.

Malone, tall and straight-backed, didn’t fit any of the stereotypes.  He was born near London but saw himself as a New Zealander.  He was of Irish descent and the temper of his adopted land was Scottish.  He spoke French and loved classical music.  He liked soldiering but was never going to make general: he was ambitious but not in the sense that he was prepared to win promotions over the bodies of his men; he was always going to be more popular with his men than with his superiors. He was bossy and petty, a man of tidy habits that bordered on fetishes, yet his men loved him.  Sixty years after Chunuk Bair, old men who had served with ‘Molly Malone’ spoke of him with reverence.  He was their father; he had looked after them.

If that is right, Malone was everything that most of his English commanding officers at Gallipoli were not.

Three days before his last on this earth, Malone wrote the following letter to his wife.

I expect to go through all right but, dear wife, if anything untoward happens to me there are our dear children to be brought up.  You know how I love and have loved you…..If at any time in the past I seemed absorbed in ‘affairs’, it was that I might make proper provision for you and the children….It is true perhaps that I overdid it somewhat.  I believe now that I did, but did not see it at the time.  I regret very much now that it was so and that I lost more happiness than I need have done.  You must forgive me; forgive also anything unkindly or hard that I may have said or done in the past….I have made a will and it is in the office in Stratford….I am prepared for death and hope that God will have forgiven me all my sins.

Malone woke his batman at 3 am on 8 August 1915 and gave him the address of his wife in case he got killed.  He shook hands with the man and said ‘Goodbye.’

The Wellingtons advanced sixteen abreast and got to the summit of Chunuk Bair with relative ease.  They were to be joined later by Gloucesters and Welsh Pioneers.  As Carlyon says, ‘thoughts of victory teased.’  But they also saw that the summit would be hard to defend.  In the area were Sikhs, Australians, Gurkhas and New Army boys.  Monash, Australia’s best general, was having what Charles Bean, the military historian, called ‘one of those black days’.  The young Kiwis astride Chunuk Bair were about to be put to the test that no sane man wants to face.

Some New Zealanders who fought on Chunuk Bair never saw the Narrows.  Malone didn’t stare at them for long.  He was a practical man; he knew that looking at the narrows was not the same as owning them.  He had to hold this awkwardly shaped summit; that was the first thing.  And after 5 am, when the haze lifted and the Turkish riflemen could see their targets, clinging to that summit became one of the epics of the Gallipoli campaign.  ….By 5 am the Turks were starting to pick off the Wellingtons.  The Gloucesters and Welsh Pioneers were shot down as they came up to reinforce Malone.  The Gloucesters on Malone’s left broke as they tried to dig in….  The Turks could creep to within twenty yards of the Wellingtons before being seen.  The front trench, which was too shallow anyway, became clogged with dead and wounded.  By 6.30 am, Malone was running a tremendous battle….The New Zealanders’ rifles became too hot to hold.

Even by the standards of Gallipoli and Troy, this was hell made flesh.  One Kiwi took a Turkish trench, and ended up standing on the dead and wounded.  He said the colour of the earth was blood.  The Wellingtons made short bayonet charges at the advancing Turks.  Malone himself used a bayonet.  It was buckled by a bullet.  An officer told Malone a man of his rank should not lead such charges.  Malone replied: ‘You’re only a kid – I’m an old man – get out yourself!’  A reporter on the beach later met a New Zealander with ten bayonet wounds.

Malone moved about all day amid this carnage trying to hold morale.  At about 5pm Malone was hit by a misdirected shrapnel burst that had come from either an Anzac battery or a warship.  He fell to friendly fire.

So died one of the grand and original figures of the Gallipoli campaign, a free spirit who could stretch his mind beyond the clubby world …and would stretch his integrity for no man.  It seems unconscionable that he received no posthumous decoration for his day on Chunuk Bair.  By the standards set at Lone Pine, he should have received the Victoria Cross.  In death, as in life, Malone was not much loved by those in authority.  He was always going to be an outsider.  Mater [his wife] took her three children to England during the war and never returned to New Zealand.  Malone’s farms were sold and his large family home burned down.  His son Edmond died of wounds in France in 1918.

The vast tragedy that engulfed the House of Malone could have come straight out of Homer.  It is within my personal knowledge that the Australians who fought in that war held two lifelong gripes against the English officer class – their incompetence or heartlessness in the field, and their lousiness in accepting the courage and competence of the colonials.  If medals are given to those who carry out their duty over a sustained period of time while facing probable death or mutilation, then in a just world, every one of those poor bastards on Chunuk Bair should have got a Victoria Cross, dead or alive.  Of the 760 Wellingtons who had arrived on the crest that morning, only two officers and 47 men remained unwounded.

They looked like the nightshift leaving a clandestine abattoir.  Their uniforms were torn and spattered with blood.  They had drunk no water since dawn and barely slept for two days.  According to Bean, they talked in whispers, trembled and cried.  Some bled to death and others went mad with thirst.  Some asked when the stretcher-bearers were coming and were told they weren’t.  Others prayed or hallucinated or passed out…..Some of the wounded from August 8 took three days to travel down…, attacked by flies the whole way, thirsty the whole way, covered in dust with bloody clothes stuck to their bodies.

The New Zealanders left on the summit were relieved later that day by British New Army Battalions.  They were swept off the summit on 10 August by an attack led personally by Mustafa Kemal in what Carlyon calls ‘death by avalanche.’  The Australian war historian Charles Bean dropped his guard at a time when people did not blush to use the word ‘race’.  ‘The truth is that after 100 years of breeding in slums, the British race is not the same….It is breeding one fine class at the expense of all the rest.’  Good God, did the descendants of convicts see themselves as ethnically superior to the stock of the Mother Country?  Well, putting race to one side, the nemesis of the British had intervened once again to save his nation from defeat at the hands of accursed infidels.

One Victoria Cross was awarded to the immortally brave New Zealanders who took Chunuk Bair and held it until they were relieved.  It was given to Corporal Cyril Bassett, a signaller.  Carlyon said that Bassett knew the truth about Chunuk Bair.  ‘All my mates ever got were wooden crosses.’

By contrast, seven Australians won the Victoria Cross at Lone Pine, two of them posthumously.  The British saw Lone Pine as a win.  Chunuk Bair was a loss.  We must suspect that the British were laying the seeds of what has become a vicious trait in the Australian psyche.  We don’t like soldiers who lose.  We turned our back on those returning from Vietnam, and we are now giving the same treatment to those who fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The French lost more soldiers than Australia did at Gallipoli, but they were not a young nation in quest of a legend.  And statistics can be demeaning.  They can rob a story of its moral horror.  To understand that horror, and the ghastly sense of chance and waste, we need to be reminded of the story of Molly Malone and his men.  That story is worth more than all the charts and graphs on earth.

It looks to me that Carlyon told the story of Gallipoli as it should be told and that he is very sensible and fair in looking at those responsible.  Churchill’s conception was at best romantic – his family said he was always dangerous with a map in his hand – but his powers of persuasion turned the heads of those who should have known better.  Fisher was sceptical but erratic.  Kitchener was aloof and out of date, but the others walked in fear of him.  The command at home was divided and the overall strategy bears an uncomely resemblance to that of the English and Americans in Iraq.  Hamilton was literate and urbane, but they are not the qualities you need in an abattoir, and he walked in fear of his betters.  The original plan was to have the navy do the job, but the navy got timid, and Plan B was not thought through.  Then there was the incompetence or cruelty of the officers on the ground.

Two young nations sacrificed the flower of a whole generation in a great Imperial balls-up.  When Kitchener finally got to Gallipoli, he was driven to a confession, although this old man may not have seen it that way.  ‘The country is much more difficult than I imagined, and the Turkish positions….are natural fortresses, which, if not taken by surprise at first, could he held against very serious attacks by larger forces than have been engaged…..To gain what we hold has been a most remarkable feat of arms….Everyone has done wonders.’  Nothing ever surprised the Turks in this campaign.  The Minister of War was therefore admitting that his ignorance had led to the unnecessary slaughter of thousands upon thousands over seven months in pursuit of what was obviously unattainable.  When Kitchener told the ANZACS that the ‘King has asked me to tell you how splendidly he thinks you have done – you have done splendidly, better even than I thought you would’, those poor deluded remnants cheered him heartily.

Although I have made my pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and to the Western Front, the mystique of Anzac Day remains as impenetrable to me as that of the Holy Trinity.  I wonder what that hard head Molly Malone and his men would have made of it.  I can’t help wondering if their response might be: ‘Why in the name of God are you celebrating the campaign where good and brave men got slaughtered – and all for nothing?’

Carlyon closed his chapter on Lone Pine citing a letter home from a young soldier who wrote home to his parents in Hawthorn (Melbourne).  Private James Martin had given his occupation as ‘farmhand’.  He told his mum and dad that the troops had got a present from Lady Ferguson, the wife of the Governor-General – ‘2 fancy biscuits, half stick of Chocolate and 2 sardines each.  I think I have told you all the news so I must draw to a close with Fondest love to all.’

Private Martin craved a letter.  Across the top of his letter he scrawled: ‘Write soon.  I have received no letters since I left Victoria and I have been writing often.’  A little over a fortnight later, he died from heart failure, probably caused by enteric fever, and was buried at sea.

His enlistment papers gave his age as 18.  At the time of his death, he was 14 years and nine months.  Among his effects was a scrap of red and white streamer that he had picked up as his troopship left Melbourne.

It sounds like the poor little bugger never made it off the boat.  God only knows how his mum and dad took the news when the telegram arrived back at Hawthorn on the other side of the world.

Passing Bull 143 – Addition

Apologies – I was so mesmerised by ‘Send in the clowns’ that I forgot the Bloopers.

‘Now just imagine the reaction here in Australia if a comparable number of farmers had been brutally murdered by squatters intent on driving them off their land.’  Tony Abbott on Mr Dutton and white South African farmers.

The Saturday Paper, March 24-30, 2018.

Some Australians may have a similar view about murders committed by squatters.

 

Laura Ingraham of Fox News had tweeted that David Hogg, who had survived the most recent school shooting, had been ‘Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates.)’

On Thursday, Ingraham tweeted an apology.

‘Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA,’ she wrote, ‘incl[uding] David Hogg. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.

‘For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David immediately after that horrific shooting and even noted how ‘poised’ he was given the tragedy. As always, he’s welcome to return to the show anytime for a productive discussion.’

The Guardian, I April, 2018

Ms Ingraham may have attended the same Twitter school as the light of the life of Fox News.  In America it is par for the course to invoke Christ, or Holy Week, in the course of a crude political stunt.  She took a week off after this one.  Sky News is bad – but Fox News is a curse.

 

 

Passing Bull 143 – Contradictions in terms

 

A group of people purporting to be members of our governing parties are acting so as to raise doubts about their sanity or good will – or both.  They were consistently, manifestly, and unrepentantly wrong about climate change.  Now they seek to perpetuate their error, and the consequent harm to the nation, on the issue of energy.  They have formed a group called the Monash Forum.  It is, I gather, what used to be called a ‘ginger group’.  They want a new coal-fired power station run by the government, and, if necessary, paid for by you and me.  It is not surprising that the Monash family are not amused.

The labels ‘conservative’ and ‘populist’ are at best fluid.  So is the term ‘socialist.’  You don’t meet too many of them any more.  For most people, it is a term of abuse.  Most Australians would not regard their federal government as socialist, but most Republicans in America may find it hard to duck applying that label to us.  But however watery the term ‘socialist’ is, it is hard to disagree with Paul Kelly in The Australian when he says:

The idea that drives the latest core conservative revolt — a new coal-fired power station run by the government, if needed — is delusional and flawed at every point. It fails on policy, politics and consumer grounds. The conservatives are becoming coal power socialists. They are losing the plot.

You might imagine a conservative Socialist, but not a socialist Conservative.  (The choice of case is deliberate.)  It is just that contradiction in terms that raises doubts about the sanity or bona fides of these agitators or activists – to invoke other label used to put their objects down.  And it is not as if these activists didn’t have form.

But in analysing this irrational behaviour, Mr Kelly says:

Given Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce as spear carriers, this push is guaranteed to ignite populist conservatives and their media champions across the nation.  The drums will be beating — but many backbenchers have refused to sign.

‘Populist conservative’ is to my mind another contradiction in terms.  People who seek to seduce the gullible are not trying to conserve what is best in our community.  Disraeli and Churchill made a fair fist of a kind of populism, but they were freaks in another era and in another hemisphere.  The nightmare that is called Donald Trump shows how nauseating the cocktail is when you mix conservative and populist.  That is why in my view the media champions that Mr Kelly refers to engage in deception when they call themselves, with unblushing pride, ‘conservatives’.  They’re not and their behaviour is not more attractive because they do it for money.  (The politicians so engaged do it for another well-known evil – faction.)

There is another protean term that Mr Kelly invokes – ‘progressive’.  Well, they must think that all their Christmases have come at once.  Seeking public money for a venture in coal that the banks won’t touch would be an unbeatable way to qualify as the antithesis of ‘progressive.’  It’s not surprising, then, that Mr Kelly concludes his piece this way:

The government seems caught in conflicting emotions. Is it trying to destroy Turnbull’s leadership without having any successor in mind? Is it determined to ignite a new internal brawl over energy policy without having a viable alternative option? Has it given up on the election in pursuit of domestic battles it intends to wage in opposition?

For me it recalls the words of Stephen Sondheim in one of the most beautiful songs ever sung:

Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?

Me here, at last, on the ground

You in mid-air

Send in the clowns

Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?

One who keeps tearing around

One who can’t move

Where are the clowns?

Send in the clowns

Just when I’d stopped opening doors

Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours

Making my entrance again with my usual flair

Sure of my lines

No one is there

Don’t you love farce?

My fault, I fear

I thought that you’d want what I want

Sorry, my dear

But where are the clowns?

There ought to be clowns

Quick, send in the clowns

What a surprise!

Who could foresee?

I’d come to feel about you

What you felt about me

Why only now, when I see

That you’ve drifted away?

What a surprise

What a cliché

Isn’t it rich?

Isn’t it queer?

Losing my timing this late in my career

And where are the clowns?

Quick, send in the clowns

Don’t bother They’re here.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 16

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

16

Propaganda, religion, and cults

These regimes are so full of themselves that there is no room for God.  They eject Him.  That is understandable, but then they try to put something in His place, which is not so understandable – especially when they offer up one of their own for Him, which is at best ridiculous and at worst revolting.  We are used to looking at the worst of these excesses with Stalin and Hitler, but unfortunately for him and his reputation, Robespierre came very close to pioneering their path to becoming the object of a cult.

The French tended to look to Rousseau, the Calvinist from Geneva.  The Russians looked to Marx, the German Jew living in exile in England.  Since Hitler made no intellectual or philosophical claims, he did not look to anyone; Mein Kampf is scarcely literate and barely readable claptrap fuelled by hate.

The Church in France was part of the old regime that would come under attack and fall.  The Church had acted as an arm of government, and bishops, and in many areas priests were viewed with the same hatred as the aristocrats.  This was far more marked in France than in England.  This question was put, and with predictably fearful consequences that continue to this day to resonate within France on the felt need to keep Church and State utterly separate.

On 12 July 1790, two days short of an anniversary, the Assembly decreed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.  They were attempting to make Catholic worship part of the general structure of public life.  The number of dioceses was reduced to the number of departments.  Parish priests and bishops were to be elected by ‘active’ citizens.  The clergy were to be paid by the State.  They also had to take the oath to the constitution.  Spiritual investiture no longer depended on the Pope.  Louis agreed but the pope did not.  Pope Pius VI was an aristocrat who was advised by a French cardinal who was also opposed to the revolution.  The pope had in secret condemned the principles of the Declaration of Rights.  He then denounced the reorganisation of the clergy.  The Assembly insisted on the oath, and there was a frightful split that led to a cleavage at large in the allegiances of people.  Rebellious priests were suspected of being against the Revolution, and they suffered as much as if not more than the aristocrats.

Fouché launched what would be called de-Christianisation in the Church of Saint-Cyr at Nevers.  He preached a ‘sermon’ attacking ‘religious sophistry’ and unveiled a bust of Brutus.  The republicans were immoderately fond of their Roman predecessors, but did he know how great an insult this was?  Dante put Brutus in the lowest ring of Hell with Judas for the murder of Julius Caesar.  Church vestments were burned, crucifixes and crosses destroyed, and property confiscated for the nation or the war effort.  Fouché even put signs outside cemeteries saying ‘Death is an eternal sleep.’

The absurd cult of the Supreme Being in France in 1794 shows the limitation on the extent of what we call philosophy.  Robespierre and Saint-Just may have read philosophy and sought to state their political position in philosophical terms, but this was worlds away from the blue collar boys, the sans-culottes, and for that matter almost everybody else in the rest of France.  Once again the Government had lost contact with the ordinary people whom it idealized but never understood.  The comparison with Lenin is instructive.  He never understood ordinary people – but he was not disposed to idealize them either.  He, too, was on the way to becoming a cult figure before he became ill.  The Supreme Being died with Robespierre and has not been missed.

The revolutionary government did however take steps toward propaganda of a more lasting kind.  There was a body called, appropriately, the Committee of Public Instruction.  It, obviously, was in charge of education.  It aimed at universal literacy, since knowledge of the truth cured all ills, and by this means to cure the nation of prejudices (other than their own) and wean them off relics of darkness like the monarchy or the church.  The American Revolution was a fit subject, ‘the first philosophical revolution.’  By studying the heroes and constitutional liberties that the Revolution had produced, children at school would become steeped in ‘that national pride which is the distinctive character of free peoples.’

The Soviet Government confiscated all church property without compensation and took away the legal standing of the Church – it was annihilated juristically.  Groups could hire buildings for worship if they hired a ‘servant of the cult’ to perform services.  No other activity was allowed.  Education was of course forbidden to the Church.  The priest was just an employee, a hired hand, and charitable work, social meetings, and even bell ringing were all outlawed.  There was hardly anything left outside the weekly service.

The cult of Stalin was the Russian version of the myth of Hitler.  Every office school factory and farm was presided over by ‘Our Beloved Leader’ – who just happened to be the greatest mass murderer that the world had seen.  Stalin was a successor to Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible.  And, as with Hitler, this deification or mythologizing enabled the myth to develop that anything bad was the work of the minions.  The Russians were often content to say ‘If only the Little Father knew…..’

Hitler admired the Church of Rome, and he also feared it.  He, like Napoleon, struck a deal with the Vatican, a kind of mutual hands off arrangement.  The SS said ‘we live in the age of the final confrontation with Christianity.’  The SS developed its own marriage service with runes, fire, and Wagner.  Himmler said true morals came with denying the individual in the service of the race.  The torch parades, banners, and Wagner offered at least an alternative ritual.  Stalin relished being the object of a cult.  Hitler forbade it.  ‘National Socialism is a cool, reality-based doctrine, based upon the sharpest scientific knowledge and its mental expression’.

We need not pause to look at propaganda under Stalin or Hitler.  Each strived to use all means of communication and repression to control the way their people thought to an extent that would amaze Google and Facebook now.  Truth simply did not matter.

So, each of these three regimes sought to wipe out religion.  Their motives were different, but most governments, especially the very repressive sort, prefer to live with religion and its representatives, on the principle that religion can offer comfort or sedation to the oppressed, or join in helping to keep them that way. Robespierre wanted to set up a whole new religion.  The idea seems so weird to us, but it does suggest a naivety deriving from political immaturity.  Stalin relished being the subject of a cult, but it had nothing to do with religion.  Hitler rejected a cult and settled for a myth generated by the same means; his was the cult of death, and perpetual struggle.  Robespierre rejected atheism for the same reasons that Napoleon would do a deal with the pope.

The egos of Stalin and Hitler were too big to permit competition from God, and any way, there was all that lucre to be had.  At least when those who are at war with religion now say that it is at best ridiculous and at worst cruel, they might have the courtesy to acknowledge that when it comes to cruelty and ridiculousness, religion has nothing on those that have been offered up in its place.

Passing Bull 135 – Greed, madness, and fraud

 

In The Age on Saturday, it was alleged that the ‘prominent real estate figure’ John Mc Grath owes $16.2 million in gambling debts to the betting company William Hill Australia.  Mr Mc Grath has since denied that allegation, but according to The Age, he did not bother to respond to their written questions on the subject.  The paper said that the British parent is trying to sell William Hill.  That company is run by Tom Waterhouse, a figure of some colour and controversy in his own right.  Not surprisingly, some prospective purchasers have some questions about such a large debt.  Equally unsurprisingly, some of the shareholders of McGrath Real Estate Ltd have some questions about the impact of such a debt on the capacity of Mr McGrath to run a company that has attracted its own colour and controversy – all of the worst kind.

When asked about the debt of Mr McGrath, Mr Waterhouse said:

I am not aware of any individual client in terms of betting or whether they are a client, or not a client, whether it is Joe Bloggs or John whatever.

When it was put to him that the identity of such a gambler would be of critical interest to the betting company, Mr Waterhouse said that he would not say who the gambler was – if the company did in fact have a debt of that amount.  The identity of their clients is confidential.

He might be right on the last point, but the rest is pure bullshit.  It may remind us of the advice given to politicians – never tell a barefaced lie if you can bullshit your way through.  It’s just another indication of how the very idea of truth is sinking in the Trump sunset.

Should Mr McGrath have disclosed his gambling position to the publicly listed company, and should that company have disclosed it to the Stock Exchange?  Let me say two things.  If I was a shareholder – and I thank heaven I am not – I would like to have been told that the moving force of the company had what that distinguished football commentator Crackers Keenan called ‘attitudinal issues.’  Then, about twenty-five years ago, I was acting for a very large gaming entity that was subject to very close scrutiny from gaming and corporate regulators.  One regulator said that the company should disclose big losses to professional gamblers.  Had it done that, it may have had to disclose that disclosure to the other regulator.  This could have led to an infinite regress.  So, we issued serial greetings from Her Majesty to clear the air.

It is rare in the Inquirer in The Saturday Australian to find an assertion of verifiable fact.  It’s all just boxes, labels, and tribal grouping. On Saturday, Mr Paul Kelly was ruminating on the kind of things that that stable chews on.

The left continues to win the battle on defining issues.  With Shorten having embraced the integrity commission concept this week, it will be near impossible for the government to resist this initiative.  It is popular, populist, sanctified by retired judges, beloved by the progressive media and justified by a grand and fraudulent argument that it will restore trust to politics, a result not evident in any jurisdiction in this country where such commissions have long operated.

So, we get the same old tribal labels – left, populist, and progressive media – and no evidence.  Since I hardly know what left means, I cannot see why an integrity commission should be a left initiative.  Since I hardly know what populist means, I cannot see how it is different to popular.  But if the proposal for an integrity commission is as popular as Mr Kelly suggests, to the point where resistance is ‘near impossible’, why should the government resist it?  Isn’t it the function of democracy that government reflects the mood and purpose of the majority of the people?  Some states have introduced such bodies and their working has shown why they were needed.  No sane party in those states would propose getting rid of them.  Are federal government people somehow different or cleaner?

People who use labels like left, progressive and populist do not often say what labels they would accept – right, regressive, elite or doctrinaire puritan? – and it remains a mystery to me why the people who were so dogmatic about climate change are now equally dogmatic about integrity commissions.  They are like cattle lowing in a herd.  They are almost indecently out of touch, but does that make them conservative – whatever that means?

But the reason I cited that passage can be found in one word – fraudulent.  That’s an allegation of dishonesty.  The only identified targets are retired judges and progressive media.  (You will have seen the graffiti smear of sanctified.) Well, I couldn’t give a bugger if the target was the queen or the pope, or Donald Trump.  I don’t know whether the allegation derives from malice or laziness, but it was grossly unprofessional, and it would not be allowed by a decent newspaper.  It is another symptom of the decline in standards that must accompany any partisan divide.  And that paper is almost as loaded with fire and fury as Fox News.

Ah, well, on the facing page, Mr Kenny has found the answer for the Liberal Party – ‘their most bankable political asset, still, is that they are not Labor.’

Quod erat demonstrandum.  And may God give the rest of us strength.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 14

 

 

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

14

Scapegoat

In Ancient Greece there was a practice or rite of casting out someone like a beggar or cripple or criminal in the face of some natural threat or disaster.  There are traces of a far older tradition in Syria when a goat would be invoked in the purification rites for the king’s wedding – a she-goat was driven out into the waste with a silver bell on her neck.  More recently, but before the Greek custom developed, the Old Testament, Leviticus 16:8, said that ‘And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.’  The goat of the Lord was sacrificed, and the high priest by confession transferred the sins of himself and the people to the goat that was permitted to escape in the wilderness – where its fate would depend on what sort of predators it may have to contend with.  There was a form of atonement.  The goat that escaped became the ‘scapegoat.’  The traditions or rites might be said to prefigure the role of the Son of God being offered up to redeem mankind by atoning for its sins.  A scapegoat is one who is punished for the sins of others.  This ancient Middle Eastern rite has become a universal custom involving people rather than goats.

But the term has got much wider than that – a scapegoat now is not just one that has to answer for the sins of others; it has to answer for all the problems and failings of what might be called the host people.  So, in the most gruesome example, the Nazis held the Jews responsible for all the lesions on the German people, moral or economic.  The war had been lost only because of the failings of some generals and because Socialists and Communists had stabbed the nation in the back.  Once the German people got released from the hold of these forces of evil, it could realize its potential for the first time, and nothing could stand in its way.  The German character was not just innately good – it was superior; therefore the reason for any failings had to be found elsewhere.  The notion of scapegoat was vital to the perversion of what passed for thought under Hitler.  It is the natural first base for a weak and insecure person who is a moral coward.  It is also the kind of sloppy thinking that attracts insecure people, edgy commentators and journalists, and weak governments.

Scapegoats played a far smaller role in the French Revolution.  Pitt’s gold – bribes from the British government led by Pitt – came to be a convenient source of all of the discontents of the people, and the aristocracy and church were loathed and attacked.  They had been principal pillars of the ancien regime that had failed and that was being rejected and replaced, and large parts of the aristocracy and of the church were opposed to those seeking to advance the objects of the Revolution.  The émigré royals and nobles were a real and not just imagined threat, or one conjured up for the purposes of propaganda.  The aristocracy was no more of a scapegoat than the clergy.

Nor does it make much sense to look for the role of scapegoats in the Russian Revolution.  The convoluted theories of Marx would lead to serious differences of view upon implementation at the best of times.  They were predicated on classes being in a conflict that was terminal, and the theories had an apocalyptic and prophetic air that commanded an adherence that was most devout among those who did not understand the theories – which meant most Communists, let alone Russians.  To that you must had the cold egomania of Lenin, who hardly gave the theories a chance, and the manic paranoia of Stalin, who could not care less, and you see that it hardly helps us in our inquiries to ask if the kulaks may have been seen as scapegoats.  The thinking that determined who might be targeted by regimes led by Lenin or Stalin – or, for that matter, Mr Putin – may be something that just passes our understanding.

A scapegoat may afford a kind of out for a regime, but suspects are at least a potential threat to it, at least ‘suspects’ in the terms that we are about to see.  There is no reason why one person may not fulfil the criteria of more than one category.  An aristocrat may have passed through a journey in time from being an enemy, to a threat, to a suspect, to a scapegoat.  One of the infamies of Hitler was his treatment of the Jews as scapegoats.  One of the darkest parts of the French Revolution is seen to be the Law of Suspects.

That law did not say that certain acts are criminal – rather it just empowers some people to take some action against some other people without the intervention of a court.  But what is clear is that if you had been refused your Civic Card, or if your Committee did not think that you had steadily manifested your devotion to the Revolution, they could cause you to be arrested and be held in prison indefinitely – without any charge having been made or even any breach of the law alleged; without any evidence having been required, collected, or tendered against the target; and without any intervention from any kind of judicial officer whatsoever.  And all at the expense of the victim.

There is nothing in the law that says that a suspect may be executed or otherwise punished for a breach of the law – it merely says that one class of persons may be detained for the duration, or until the peace.  Some historians have believed that your being a suspect might of itself have led to the guillotine – this may have been so in fact, but not because of this law.  It is not at all uncommon to find a law permitting a government to detain certain kinds of persons in a nation at war.

Nor is there much point in talking about onus of proof.  That notion is hardly determinative if lay people are asking whether they ‘suspect’ someone within the terms of the relevant law.  If someone was charged with an offence, then under the general French law, those bringing the charge had to prove facts sufficient to found a finding of guilt.  That was the theory, but the practice was different – for the most part, there was a kind of presumption of guilt rather than innocence, and a kind of onus fell on the prisoner to ‘beat the charge.’  There was a sense that the prosecutor, judge, and jury were all on the same team, and someone on the outer had real trouble getting back into safety.

When the accused were tried, each found himself involved in vague charges, based on a casual word here, or a piece of gossip started by some malicious neighbour – charges which it was pointless to disprove in detail, but which in total were fatal.

In The Russian Revolution, Sheilah Fitzpatrick said this: ‘Suspicion of enemies – in the pay of foreign powers, involved in constant conspiracies to destroy the revolution and inflict misery on the people is a standard feature of the revolutionary mentality that Thomas Carlyle captured vividly in the passage on the Jacobin Terror of 1794…..In normal circumstances, people reject the idea that it is better that ten innocent men perish than that one guilty man go free; in the abnormal circumstances of revolution, they often accept it.  Prominence is no guarantee of security in revolutions; rather the contrary.  That the Great Purges uncovered so many ‘enemies’ in the guise of revolutionary leaders should come as no surprise to students of the French Revolution’.

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.