STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Middle life crisis / Damaged goods? / The green carnations
, March 8, 2003
Middle life crisis
As someone long-interested in demonstrations and demonstrators, in different countries, dating back to the anti-Suez campaign in the UK, the Australia-wide demonstrations over Iraq ("No War", they are called, with a full-stop after War) showed a level of organisation and coordination which deserves professional praise.
As to the European and English ones, and the American, I can only judge from numerous news broadcasts. But they all appear to have been well-organised, globally-coordinated, and almost completely free of the violence which had been a constant feature of anti-American, anti-globalisation, and Left demonstrations throughout the West - including Australia.
I would think this peaceful policy was a strategy agreed upon and, quite remarkably, enforced by the central organisers.
There is a sociological maxim here: if a group or movement taking to the streets, especially on a regular basis, knows that they are isolated, even unpopular, they are far more likely to raise the ante and express their anger and resentment against people and society in general, as well as their avowed hate-object.
The public at large resents this indiscriminate hostility - they feel they
have done nothing, but this cause is not their cause.
Like being blamed for stealing children, massacring aborigines, or having racist attitudes when they know they have done none of these things or approved of attitudes now being attributed to them.
But when there is a large body of marchers and wide public support, violence or destruction is otiose and, most usually, disliked by the body of demonstrators themselves.
It is the task of the organisers to gain assurances from the violence/destruction seekers, that they will not try to disrupt matters; failing that, to isolate them; or else to exclude them.
Earlier on at least, that strategy generally worked in the UK but far less successfully in Australia. There were too many people intent on disruption for its own sake, in getting attention, or with a separate political agenda. People as intolerant of the discipline of a demonstrative group as they were of the society to which they were purportedly opposed.
These people were present over the past few weekends, but were swamped. But
, the test will come if the demonstrators don't appear to be achieving the results hoped for - e.g., the Government stands firm - and changing events lead to numbers dropping. Then, the full-time radicals have their chance. "We've tried being peaceful; it's got us nowhere. Our leaders are selling out. Raise the stakes!" And they proceed to take over the campaign, but with a very different script.
This process sometimes works, but usually splits the movements and discredits the original cause - which soon gets lost in the mists.
But our radicals should have been pleased at the recent demonstrations. In the absence of any coherent, agreed policies, the radical agenda - viz. anti-Americanism and No War of any kind, under any circumstances, now or in the future - rules the roost.
This is a pacifist position, espoused by people who are anything but pacifist.
The other coherent thread running through the proceedings - apart from a permanent aversion to John Howard and the Government, expressed from the time they were first elected in 1996 - was the legitimisation of Saddam Hussein and his regime, no matter what criticisms be made of him or his friends, no matter what evidence of his UN non-compliance, or his involvement with terrorism, might be produced.
As to the repressive barbarities of his regime? Don't ring me, I'll ring you, said the demonstrators. Saddam is now untouchable, as was Stalin, Mao and Castro.
This might pose problems for Labor, but I'm sure the ALP will bend to the wind.Damaged goods?
The radical core of the protestors could not complain about the choice of speakers, either here or overseas. Vulgar Marxism, infantile communism, We-Are-The-World populism, rabid anti-Americanism, and strong emanations from the golden days of Vietnam, all had their interpreters.
In London there was Desmond Tutu and Jesse Jackson! What? No Mandela?
In the USA, characters whose names I have already forgotten, but with faces going back, it seemed, to the days of John Kennedy. And in Victoria.... Aaah!
Trades Hall chief Leigh Hubbard said "We are all workers, and the workers of the world should unite".
Bob Brown, talking of everything except the bushfires, but concentrating on anti-Americanism, personal abuse of political leaders, and demands that Labor fall into line (which Crean did the following day). Midnight Oil being himself, Stott-Despoja advocating a species of pacifism; an Anglican senior indignitary whipping up apathy with readings from the Death of Little Nell
. There were messages from Jim Cairns and Jean Maclean. An announcement from Bill Hartley that Iraq wanted to buy another 500,000 tonnes of wheat (does that mean they'll pay us the $500 million they already owe us?). But Bill spoke for the Australia-Iraq Friendship League.
Then there was the building union's Martin Kingham - an outstanding advocate of democracy and non-violence. His semi-permanent legion of street activists - Melbourne's squadristi
- promise to be on hand for the next phase.
I picked up Sydney on the box to see John Pilger extolling the virtues of recreational hydrophobia. You know, I suspect he doesn't like
the US or Tony Blair, or the West!
There were other spruikers, but the level was flat, uninformative, repetitive, and confused. Confused, probably, because the speakers had surprisingly little to say. But as I said, there were signposts: No wars are any good. At least, those waged by the West. The Americans are steeped in perfidy and so is Howard. It is a war for oil. (By the way, the US takes five per cent of its oil from Iraq. France 30 per cent.) For some the UN is the icon, but for others, it should be ignored if it recommended force.
There seems little doubt that the demonstrations here and elsewhere greatly encouraged Saddam and Co to continue defying the UN, as it helped to throw a cloak over the activities of Chirac, the Germans, Russia and China. And were intended to. Remembering the effect of the long campaign of demonstrations over Vietnam upon American resolve, our marchers thought they could do the same, while reinventing themselves.
But Americans have changed. This time our protestors have been caught in the act. There also seems little doubt but that most demonstrators don't know about Saddam's regime or have forgotten. Just as Chirac doesn't care about the behaviour of Saddam or Mugabe or Gaddafi - or earlier on, French leaders didn't care what Idi Amin and Bokassa did to their people or neighbours.The green carnations
Remembering Solzhenitsyn's observations following upon his sojourn in the West, about the almost complete collapse, or retreat, of moral and physical courage among the peoples of the democracies, and the ubiquity of fears (often irrational) in what were, by world comparisons, stable, prosperous and peaceful societies ... one should not be surprised by the fear campaign being run through Australian society as we move to do what we started but didn't complete in the first Gulf War.
A lot of the younger demonstrators seemed to think they might be called up, while some women were saying their teenage sons were in jeopardy. Ah! Bring back Vietnam!
There is no danger of this. War is for small groups of highly-trained, highly-motivated people. Otherwise ... just consider the floods of post-traumatic stress disorder claims a few years hence! Forget it! As Noel Coward sang of their 1930s equivalents:"Faded boys, jaded boys,
"Womankind's gift to a bulldog nation
"And in order to distinguish us from ordinary chaps,
"We all wear a green carnation."
Hundreds of terrorism experts have suddenly appeared and the media are picking those who sing their song: which is mainly that of 1938-9 - "More Time"; "War will produce unmentionable consequences, etc".
I remember or have read of that period. Even before Guernica and the use of Stukas against an undefended town, the received wisdom was that air power would decimate Europe. Cities like London and Paris would be wrecked. Casualties would be enormous. These stories continued until the outbreak of war and were continually used by France and Britain and peace movements - then very large - everywhere and always. We might beat the Germans, but think of the destruction to our
The Left said we should oppose Hitler, but not rearm or fight. The Right said we could make Hitler our friend; Business said we needed him to help us out of the Depression.
In this vein, when Hitler occupied the demilitarised Rhineland - in clear breach of Versailles - his five divisions were ready to move out if the West marched in. Mussolini said he'd put in his troops to stop Hitler. Britain and France refused. Think of the bombing, and public opinion!
The same occurred in 1938 preceding Munich. Twelve German divisions faced 50 French on the Rhine. Twenty-four Nazi divisions threatened the Czechs, who had 20 divisions dug in behind formidable, Maginot-type defences. German officer dissidents slipped over to Britain to implore the West to stand firm, for then Hitler would be finished. But if not, he would be uncontrollable. We know the denouement.
But this Western surrender was greeted with world-wide relief. "Peace in Our Time"! No German bombing!
So, when Hitler invaded Poland the next year, he, the peace movement and the rest of us, were astonished when the French and British declared war. I suspect that had there been Gallup polls, media campaigns and the kind of attacks on our servicemen being conducted by our Left journos, most Australians might have cried off - knowing little, because told little of what Nazism was already
doing. Same as now.
Roosevelt knew but couldn't motivate his country to act until they were attacked. Had he been able to intervene in, say, late 1940, the duration and the course of that war would have been very different. I won't speculate about the Holocaust, but some might.
The Western peace movement - one English one had five million members - had been virtually hijacked by communist and pro-communist cadres, and it helped to very nearly lose us the West 60 years ago. They had their eyes on 1914-18 - not their present. Ours have on Vietnam - 30 years past, but not the present. And with the help of the same kind of people who hijacked the '30s peace movements, the same business types who wanted to make money by trading with and appeasing the enemy, and those who hate their country, so love its enemies - we could lose the West this time around.