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.

TERROR AND THE POLICE STATE: CHAPTER 13

 

 

[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.]

13

Popular courts and show trials

The phrase ‘popular justice’ is usually a contradiction in terms – a ‘show trial’ is generally all show and little or no trial.  Two elements are essential to our conception of due process or natural justice.  The body hearing and determining a legal dispute must be neutral and not have an interest in the outcome issue that might prejudice its hearing; and it must give an equal opportunity to both sides to be heard on the issue.  Instances of popular justice and show trials commonly violate each of those precepts quite shamelessly.

A popular court nowadays is likely to be a descendant of the posse, either the medieval common law version or that which was popular in the Wild West, and the lynch mob.  Their political counterparts now are opinion polls and shock jocks, those two forces that demean all decency in democracy.  Just as our politicians now are seen not to act on principles but to respond merely to what people want at the time, so a popular court will be seen, and most likely be welcomed in being seen, to be acting not according to law, but merely to respond to what people want at the time.

The problem can be seen in the term ‘enemy of the people.’  It is ‘the people’ who make that allegation, and if it is ‘the people’ which hears it, then the mere laying of the charge – that in effect says that ‘you are against us’ – just about proves any case, because ‘we’ are gainst ‘you’.  If in a time of conflict, a government says that it is entitled at law to apprehend anyone who is seen to be against or is suspected of being against it, the issue of whether that person has been lawfully apprehended is also effectively answered.  If the only penalty or remedy for being apprehended in that condition is death, then any hearing on any aspect is likely to be at best perfunctory.

The problem is the same if the criterion is being anti – or counter-revolutionary.  Those bringing the charge are those who claim to be behind and to represent the revolution.  The object of the revolution is to do good for the people.  It follows that someone who is against the revolution is against the people.  If you accept the premises, the logic is sound; shock jocks and the gutter press – the descendants of Marat and Goebbels – trade on it all the time.

What you see a lot of in a police state is people who become outlaws – people who are outside the law or beyond the protection of the law.  This was a major part of the enforcement of the law for our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.  A criminal taken in the act was without more an outlaw.  The issue is not whether he has committed a crime, but whether he has become an outlaw, which was effectively a sentence of death.

People making a revolution will want to invoke people’s courts because they claim to stand for the people, and because they say that the people can be relied on to meet current needs better than the old-fashioned and cumbrous system of the judges which was designed to protect the status quo and to shield the guilty.

The Paris Commune asked the Assembly for a revolutionary tribunal.  One deputation said said: ‘The Commune has deputed us to ask for the decree on the court-martial.  If it is not passed, our mission is to wait until it is.’  Robespierre said: ‘If the maintenance of the peace, and above all, of liberty, depends on the punishment of guilty men, you must secure the machinery for this.  Since the 10th [August, 1792, that set up the Paris Commune] the people’s just desire for vengeance has not yet been satisfied….Those men who have covered themselves with the mask of patriotism in order to kill it, those men who affected the language of legality in order to overthrow all the laws….’(Applause.)

The French did not really go in for show trials during the Terror.  A show trial is not a trial at all.  It is a sham.  A trial involves reaching a decision on an issue.  That does not happen in a show trial – the decision on guilt has already been taken by people in government who have the power, either by law or in fact, to take and enforce that decision.  The ‘trial’ is a show for the benefit of the regime, a propaganda exercise to demonise the culprit and to lionise themselves.  It is little like a triumph celebrated by a conquering Roman general on returning victorious to Rome – you humiliate the vanquished as part of the bread and circuses that you feed to the masses; that makes them feel better and it makes you look good.

Hitler saw himself like a Roman emperor or Turkish Caliph, or perhaps, in a lesser moment, as a medieval English king, the source of all law, justice, and authority.  His principal weapon in gaining and maintaining power, the Gestapo, was beyond the reach of the law.  The trial after the burning of the Reichstag was a show trial that flopped.  The court gave a considered judgment.  Having been harangued by Goring, the court concluded that the Communist Party had planned the fire, but that there was insufficient evidence to justify a conviction of the Communists before it.  Hitler and Goring were outraged.  Was not their word good enough?  ‘Treason’ cases were transferred to a special People’s Court by a decree of 24 April 1934.  It dealt with ‘political’ offences.  The decree provided that it should proceed according to National Socialist principles.  Like the French Revolutionary Tribunal, it started slowly but it then picked up speed.  If the Gestapo did not like a result, they would put the released culprit into ‘protective custody,’ or just shoot them.

It is not just Germans who should reflect on these questions.  Lawyers from what used to be East Germany had to face similar questions after the Wall came down in 1989.  These are not easy issues for lawyers or judges who have never been exposed to a regime like this to pass some kind of judgment on.  In April 1933, the Civil Service Law applied to all magistrates and got rid of not just those who were racially undesirable, but those who were politically undesirable – anyone who ‘indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.’  A Civil Service law of January 1937 called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for ‘political unreliability.’ Defence lawyers appearing before the People’s Court or Special Court had to be approved by Nazi officials.  How many lawyers will put their hands on their heart and say that they would have refused to accept such sanctions?

There is not much point in looking at the Russian justice system since Russia has never had a justice system in the European sense of that term.  The Russians have never acquired any sense of the rule of law.  They have gone from the absolute rule of the Tsars to the absolute rule of the Communists to the present uncomely collage of a tolerated corrupt despotism and a subservient legal system.  The very idea of a judiciary was quaint; that of a separate and independent judiciary was absurd.  Yet a man as cruel and paranoid as Stalin would not be able to resist the idea of a show trial, just as Hitler would want to see the frightful death throes of people convicted of trying to kill him – when they were filmed being left to die by strangulation while suspended by piano wire.  One historian says of the show trials: ‘This is revolutionary terror with a difference; one feels the hand of a director, if not an auteur.’

There were clusters of show trials where the accused appeared to make confessions that many found less than convincing.  However, many people outside wanted to believe in the process until the whole regime was unmasked by Khrushchev in the 1950’s.  It is another indication that people believe what they want to believe.

Passing Bull 133 – The agony of CNN

 

The President of the United States might allow us to add the concept of ‘worst man’ to that of best man.  It’s hard – very hard – to think of anyone less suited to his office.  (Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller?  How could an Almighty be so peevish as to put three such unlovely people in the one room at the same time?)  This gives journalists a problem.  How do we maintain a balance in reporting on a man who seems bent on outstripping himself in nastiness every time he opens his mouth?

CNN is up there with The New York Times as a bête noire of this president.  Given his historically great unpopularity, this would suggest that these two arms of the media are just doing their job.  (It does make you wonder how a politician elected on what is said to be a ‘populist’ ticket can get to be so unpopular.)  But, each of these reporting bodies is respectable, and each therefore may feel acutely the problem of balance.

CNN has in my view come up with the worst possible solution in segments broadcast from Los Angeles anchored by two very sensible and professional journalists, Isha Sesay and John Vause (one of whom is a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge).  In a nation overloaded with qualified neutral commentators, such as the splendid professor from Loyola Law School who appears on this segment, CNN has inflicted on these two journalists the job of trying to extract sense from sundry partisan spin doctors – one giving Republican spin and the other giving Democrat spin.  Some at least have the grace to blush occasionally, but you will see immediately one problem – in the events that have happened, what, if anything, do Republicans believe in?

The more significant problem is that what drives most people mad is the polarised spruiking and preaching of soi disant politicians and members of the press.  It’s called tribalism.  The ultimate bogey man is Fox News.  (The Murdoch outfit down here, Sky News, is not as bad, but they are working on their game and they may catch up with the U S model.)  The worst of the lot are what are called spin doctors.

But they are precisely what CNN is inflicting on these two fine journalists – and me.  It’s an insult to them, and it’s an insult to me.  If you wanted an analysis of a contest between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, you wouldn’t set up a panel consisting of one-eyed desperadoes from the cheer squads of each side.  That would really get up our noses.  What light could be shed by those galahs?

But that is what we get here – cheer squads.  And to show their credentials as spin doctors, we are greeted by men with drop-down smiles like those of Barack Obama, or those that were painted on to the faces of what used to be called air hostesses.  One is so inane that he has no recourse but to giggle at himself – nervously and guiltily.  And there is much reason for both the nerves and the guilt.  The poor man sounds demented at times, as when he raves on about Hillary and Nazis.

It is deeply troubling to watch people grin about something like Charlottesville, Roy Moore, or shitholes.  But that’s what we get – until we turn it off in disgust.  If the object has been to show that the Republicans stand for nothing, or that the average American voter is easily duped, the segment has prospects.  Otherwise it is even worse than morning television.  In an effort to convey an impression of balance, CNN has brought itself into disrepute.

Whether or not this kind of thing finds favour in America, it is doubly offensive down here.  If we want partisan humbug, we can turn on Fox News.  But to get access to either CNN or Fox News, we have to pay a hefty monthly premium to a Murdoch entity that has the rights here.  So, in return for paying Murdoch a fee to enable us to avoid polarised claptrap, CNN is inflicting just that on us poor but suspecting Australians.

The issue came to a head the other night – our time – when Isha Sesay was getting the usual brush-off from a sour-pussed Republican about African shitholes.  Ms Sesay was moved to announce that she is African and that words matter.  That led to another zany pre-recorded political speech.  We pay our premium to get accurate news and fair comment.  This process serves to annihilate both.

This may just be Rupert’s ultimate revenge, but it is so sad that a respectable broadcaster is his accomplice.  It is silly to pile inanity on inanity.

 

Here and there – The tiresome irrelevance of our national day

 

On 5 November, 1963, President Kennedy sought to unite the rival claims to Thanksgiving Day of Virginia and Massachusetts, and of the harvest and God.  There had long been secular thanksgivings in Europe; then the new Americans gave thanks to their God.  They started in 1619.

On 4 July 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain.  Their Declaration of Independence said that all men were equal.

On 26 January 1788, the English claimed to own what is now called Australia.  White officers hoisted an English flag and drank porter to toast the Crown.  They had come to open a jail.  A few days later, the women came ashore; the sailors hit the rum; and their pandemonium was an orgy.

On 14 July 1789 the Paris mob stormed the Bastille, the symbol of the ancien régime and feudal Europe.  Then they promulgated their Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The Americans and the French celebrate these days.  Why wouldn’t Americans celebrate the cream of the old world making a brave new world under God?  Why wouldn’t the French celebrate the birth of their freedom and a proclamation that stands with the Declaration of Independence?  These are days of national identity.  But why would Australians want to celebrate the English dumping their scum on this God-forsaken land?

True, these latter-day patriots are like one-eyed Collingwood supporters.  The Puritans were a minority in England, but in America they had the numbers, and the intolerant will to use them.  They gave us Salem and a gritty determination not to pity those who had failed.  The Declaration’s reference to ‘equality’ was a bare-faced lie.  The Founding Fathers were patrician slave-owners.  They disdained commoners and they loathed democracy.  Their war of separation saw terrorism and atrocities.  The atonement for slavery only began with the next Civil War.  It goes on still.

Terrorism was inherent in the French Revolution from day one.  The mob wanted to burn to death a woman believed to be the daughter of the Bastille’s governor before his eyes.  Instead they paraded their victims’ severed heads.  France would know a ghoulish Daesh style depravity.  Napoleon brought order – and the Empire and aristocracy – and more than five million dead in his endless wars.  It took France a century to get over it all.  Their anthem still celebrates ‘Aux armes!’

Both America and France, then, paid a fearful price in blood for their ennobling Declarations.

But we can understand the American and French national days.  The West sees the triumph of the Enlightenment in each revolution.  In Washington on the ‘fourth’ and in Paris on Bastille Day, you might even sense something sacred in the buzz.  But who gets a charge out of opening a slammer?

That’s why some down here can’t get excited about Australia Day.  If anything, its ineptitude seems to be sadly Australian.  But there is more to our queasiness.

First, we can’t have our Independence Day because we are not independent.  We need Britain for our head of state.  We started out under the English Crown and we are still under it.  Should we still celebrate our self-imposed immaturity?  Should we thank God that after 200 years, we still can’t stand on our own two feet?  Or should we not feel humiliated?  And are not those who are loudest in proclaiming the glory of Australia Day on 26 January also the loudest in saying that we should retain our dependence on Britain?

Next, and relatedly, these same people are our own eternal no sayers.  They don’t want change.  I do.  I’m desperate to see us grow up.  But our patriots for 26 January are often against equality, at least in marriage, and against sense, at least on climate, energy and the environment.

Finally, boat people had arrived here before the First Fleet, but how ironic is it that the people determined to celebrate these English boat people are also the most determined to shut out the refugees we demonise as boat people?  Human history has a mean streak that we saw after both the American and French revolutions.  Those who make it into the club want to slam the door hard in the face of those left outside.  It’s dreadful to see migrant nations doing that to refugees.

This conflict between the older, meaner, and more fearful, and the younger, warmer, and more hopeful reminds us of the sad schism of Brexit.  And here, perhaps, is the foundation-stone of our mediocrity and of our fear of the new.

That’s why some Australians can’t take seriously Australia Day on 26 January.  And that’s without one word about the blackfellas.  Or the Honours List.  Or that glorious day at Cambridge University when a lecturer of colour referred to our first white boat people as ‘water-borne parasites.’

Here and there – The Third Man and Shakespeare

 

A few weeks ago, on a desultory whim, I watched The Third Man for the nth time.  I realised I had never read the book, so I ordered a copy.  Graham Greene wrote the screenplay too, but there are some differences in the two versions.  The cuckoo clock didn’t get a look-in in the book, but the book’s account of the lecture given to the British reading group in Vienna is different and hilarious – and loaded.

You will recall that Rollo Martins (Joseph Cotton) is a bashed up American writer of cheap westerns.  He is in Vienna to check up on his mate Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  A member of the British Council named Crabbin thinks that Martins is the distinguished novelist named B Dexter.  Crabbin invites Martins to address a meeting of the local British literati.  When Martins is more under the weather than usual, he gets picked up and delivered to the meeting.  He is very sore and terse.  But after a while, he realises that he is making ‘an enormous impression’, least of all when he said that he had never heard of James Joyce.  Graham Greene was having a lot of fun, and settling some old scores.

A kind-faced woman in a hand-knitted jumper said wistfully, ‘Don’t you agree, Mr Dexter, that no one, no one has written about feelings so poetically as Virginia Woolf?  In prose, I mean.’

Crabbin whispered, ‘You might say something about the stream of consciousness.’

‘Stream of what?’

\A note of despair came into Crabbin’s voice……

Martins ends up signing books by Dexter ‘From B Dexter, author of The Lone Rider of Santa Fe.’  He is trying to make his escape via the dunny when Sergeant Paine patiently collects him to have a word with Colonel Calloway (Trevor Howard).

As condescension goes, Mr Crabbin is a direct descendant of Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  For many, the highlight of the night, which was not in the film, had come as follows.

‘Mr Dexter, could you tell us what author has chiefly influenced you?’

Martins, without thinking, said, ‘Grey.’  He meant of course the author of ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’, and he was pleased to find his reply gave general satisfaction – to all save an elderly Austrian who asked ‘Grey.  What Grey?  I do not know the name.’

Martins felt he was safe now and said, ‘Zane Grey – I don’t know any other,’ and was mystified at the low subservient laughter from the English colony.

Crabbin interposed quickly for the sake of the Austrians, ‘That is a little joke of Mr Dexter’s.  He meant the poet Gray – a gentle, mild, subtle genius – one can see the affinity.’

‘And is he called Zane Grey?’

‘That was Mr Dexter’s joke.  Zane Grey wrote what we call Westerns – cheap popular novelettes about bandits and cowboys.’

‘He is not a great writer?’

‘No, no.  Far from it,’ Mr Crabbin said.  ‘In the strict sense I would not call him a writer at all.’  Martins told me that he felt the first stirrings of revolt at that statement.  He had never regarded himself before as a writer, but Crabbin’s self-confidence irritated him – even the way the light flashed back from Crabbin’s spectacles was another cause of vexation.  Crabbin said, ‘He was just a popular entertainer.’

‘Why the hell not?’ Martins said fiercely.

‘Oh, well, I merely meant – ’

‘What was Shakespeare?’

Somebody said with great daring ‘A poet.’

Now, all this is hilarious and beyond price.  It is a Falstaffian swipe at the snobs of the literary establishment who want to turn the popular entertainer called Shakespeare into a god, who helped to propel poor John Keats into the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and who still so meanly and sadly turns up their noses at the wonderful writing of Graham Greene.  Off the top of your head, what writer wrote novels that people enjoy reading more than those of Graham Greene?

It’s as if Greene foresaw his doom.  The establishment wouldn’t give him a Nobel Prize – but they would give one to Bob Dylan.  Well, at least there’s no bloody doubt about his being a popular entertainer.

It’s idle to compare artists, and it is arrogant to purport to rank them, but this extract from The Third Man suggests to me that Greene may have had one thing in common with Shakespeare – just, say, in the wistful remark of the kind-faced woman in the hand-knitted jumper.  You get the impression that it’s just a matter of waiting for some bastard to pull the plug out – and down it all comes.  It’s as if, somehow, God gets in on the act.  Either way, we have been blessed.