July 3rd 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: NZ Labour legislates to effect 'same-sex marriage'

EDITORIAL: Free Trade Agreement's tilted playing field

ECONOMICS: Setting pay to create new jobs

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Profile of Mark Latham's star new recruit

AGRICULTURE: Western farm subsidies rising, Australia's falling

OVERSEAS DEBT: Foreign debt grows as we live beyond our means

SAME-SEX COUPLES: Gays comprise 0.5 per cent of couples: parliamentary survey

FAMILY: Neurobiology says mothers play vital role

EDUCATION: The gender agenda

POLITICAL IDEAS: Distributism - the neglected tradition

COMMENT: The 'battlers' want jobs, not platitudes

EUROPE: New EU Constitution faces mounting opposition

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Moving the lounge chairs in the retirement village / Still picking up the pieces / Selective indignation

Flouting the law (letter)

Grameen Bank (letter)

Howard Government defended (letter)

Restoring Murray River communities' confidence (letter)

Reagan's wit (letter)

BOOKS: Target North Korea, by Gavan McCormack

BOOKS: An Imperfect God: George Washington, his slaves and the creation of America

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Moving the lounge chairs in the retirement village / Still picking up the pieces / Selective indignation

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, July 3, 2004
Moving the lounge chairs in the retirement village

The European Union elections for their assembly, plus Britain's own local elections, have given the media much trouble. These elections didn't really conform to any stereotypes, let alone those of our Red Circus. In fact, the underlying theme was the low voter turnout - everywhere - but especially in the new eastern EU member countries.

Europeans are less and less enamoured of the EU and certainly unlikely to support any moves from Brussels to further weaken the national sovereignty of its members.

Tony Blair's party's poor showing was attributed to Iraq: yet Chirac and Schröder suffered massive defeats; but journos thought something else was - must be - the reason. But a new, interesting development is the emergence of the Eurosceptics, specially in Britain where they are best organised.

By the time Britain has her next general election (due next year), the sceptics could be a major player.

This campaign to destroy Blair is costing Labour dear. The Conservatives are divided and bereft of ideas: fruits of the palace revolution which removed Margaret Thatcher.

British conservatives appear nowhere as the "People's Choice", while many of those who vote for the Liberal Democrats do so because they don't expect them ever to have to form a government. In this atmosphere, the Eurosceptics could do well, particularly because the general voter turnout will be low.

In fact, so puerile are our British Tories, that anti-Blair Labourites might plan to overthrow him, put in Gordon Brown and call an early election. Before the Eurosceptics can spread the word and before a referendum promised by Blair to approve a new constitution for the EU can be put to the people. How any of this would enhance the prestige or the long-term prospects of British Labour is hard to see, but then the British Left has not considered such mind-blowing questions for many years.

As to the new EU, a serious economic downturn of some duration could probably finish the union while throwing up a whole new crop of political parties.

In many parts of Europe - and not only Europe - new types of conservatives are getting the votes of the discontented, the poor and the losers in economic change, whereas older established conservative parties still campaign on behalf of the affluent and the upwardly mobile.

But their trouble is ... so do Labour and the Social Democrats, while the Greens attract them in droves. A new hobby. So the coming Conservative/Right formations in Europe could be very different.

Still picking up the pieces

A few more thoughts on that fateful period - 1917 until the early 1920s - of which I wrote in previous issues. Everyone was sick unto death of the War - and war in general - except for some politicians and military men who couldn't let go, who wanted to continue to enjoy the enormous power that they had wielded over other people, and the deference and applause to which they had become accustomed.

They were addicted - like some Australian ex-politicians who just won't leave the stage or who, when forced off, dream and talk of their past triumphs: ad nauseum and ad infinitum.

The fact is, these World War One politicians and generals were tired and, like most people, emotionally exhausted - but worse, leaders exhausted of new ideas and in a state of permanent denial. Denial of the catastrophe of the recent war which was a pyrrhic victory - if it were anything - for the winners. Having completely underestimated the likely carnage and the duration of the great conflict, how the war plans of various states had crumbled in their hands; and being unable to admit that war had controlled them, not they the war.

The wartime leaders of the West were incapable of creating the New World for which everyone craved - "a land fit for heroes". So, they tried to serve up more of the old stuff.

So many of the young people who would have seized the reins from these flawed characters had been killed, so political senility held the floor long enough to inflict more irreparable damage. The riposte to this deadlock were movements which became parties promising a New Order, a New World and a different kind of leadership: not the one that had led Europe into a raging torrent, then watched so many of the dupes drown while awarding one another medals.

These new forces were Communism and Fascism with their emphasis on Youth, the irremediable corruption of the bourgeois parties and ideologies, and the redundance of previous ideas and ideals. Sound familiar?

But the New Men appealed to the young, and to women who were refusing, initially, to repeat the submissive roles of their mothers. The Nazis disappointed the latter. The Communists not. Meanwhile the "Victors" of the War sowed the seeds of future wars.

I should add to the Middle East settlement, those in Europe, too many of which were vindictive, opportunistic and aimed at impressing or placating local electorates. The Americans, in the person of Woodrow Wilson, were the only ones to produce new ideas, hopeful ones, aiming at procuring peace and justice and mutual forgiveness.

Old Europe undermined their efforts, deceived them and laughed at them for being naïve. The Americans departed, vowing never to mix in European politics again. Probably it needed Pearl Harbour to change the US collective mind. The League of Nations upon which so many hopes had reposed, became simply an extension of Anglo-French power. But they had lost their power.

Many say things would have been different if the US had stayed on. I now doubt that: they would have received the same treatment as they have been getting from Europe nearly a century later - being offered a meal of cold shoulder and tongue.

But as to the Middle East region, such was the hubris of the Anglo-French that a plan was drawn up to partition Ottoman Turkey. Russia - Tsarist of course - to take the north, Britain and France other segments, and ally Greece, new territory. The plan proved impractical but it whetted Greece's appetite, so, with Lloyd George's benign approval, the Greeks marched on Ankara from the Aegean coast.

Attaturk completely destroyed their army, advanced into the historic Greek communities on the Aegean and drove everyone out. A million refugees - Greeks and Armenians - were created. Smyrna (now Izmir) burned for six days. One hundred thousand Greeks and Armenians perished, massacred, etc. Such was the stench of the bodies lying in houses and in the streets, that battleships standing offshore had to move further back, away from the terrible smell.

Near the end Lloyd George ordered the Turks to halt their advance and threatened war. Britain and France versus Turkey. This was the Chanak Incident. Wiser counsels prevailed and Attaturk was left with a united Turkey. But when the Greeks realised the extent of the disaster - a permanent one - and their humiliation, they exploded. Six Greek cabinet ministers were shot by firing squad.

In Britain, the government decided they would have to get rid of Lloyd George. The gulf which opened between Greeks and Turks has never closed. All the result of the hubris of tired men out of their depth.

Iraq was scarcely better. Churchill's views on the use of poison gas against "uncivilised tribes" were supported by his military chief Sir Henry Wilson. Both had other things to say along the same lines, but I won't turn people off any further.

There are two books: Edward Taylor's The Fall of the Dynasties (1963) and M.H. Dobkin's Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (1971), which cover this period and deserve a look, although I am sure that there would be many other books on these matters.

The seeds of future conflicts, which were to be of a semi-ethnic kind, were sown then.

Selective indignation

Those who caught two SBS documentaries about the personal calamities befalling so many African women and children, may well consider these moral disasters far more important than the daily mouthings of the UN, the NGOs and their packaged indignation and padded payrolls, and Western politicians fighting for a say in African politics ... and a share of her pathetic social product.

One of these documentaries dealt with the widespread occurrence of major gynaecological traumas by women giving birth and particularly prevalent in the villages and hamlets. This was Sierra Leone, but apparently this situation is to be found in many other parts of Africa. There are some doctors and medicos around, but unskilled enough not to be able to prevent many injuries in deliveries. Fistulas are very common with the women being made incontinent and often unable to bear any more children.

It is normal practice for the husband to reject the woman, and eject her. She lives on the outskirts, or in the bush - usually any previous children are kept at the village. As one such woman said, "My life was finished."

Some dared to go to Freetown, the capital, for anonymity and perhaps help. There is little help.

By good fortune, British and other peace-keepers are there, for there is/was a civil war in Sierra Leone over diamonds. A medical team of five doctors took on the job of treating those damaged women. Even if they could only cover a fraction. Hundreds appeared in response to advertisements and many of those treated were returned to normality. As some of them said, "You have given us back our lives." Then, the women were welcomed back to their villages - and their children.

Questions to ask:

  • Why has the UN been so underwhelmed with this apparently widespread social tragedy?

  • Why are the aid multinationals so preoccupied elsewhere (offend the locals?)

  • Why has the Western media been concentrating elsewhere - such as with AIDS, the evils of George Bush, global capitalism, the rights of captured terrorists?

Because the fistula tragedy can't be politicised, so it is not polemical or sexy. Far from it. In reality, a microcosm of Western attitudes to Rwanda, Sudan and the tuning out on the rising tide of crime, lawlessness and poverty in the new-look South Africa.

And, what do these attitudes of traditional African villages to their unfortunates say about the general level of morality there? About human rights?

I would think that people in Australia for a start, especially young people, should put their careers - even as demonstrators and human shields - on hold, and go to these tragic places to help. Not be one of our aid leviathans but via any group formed to deal with this one problem. And if there is no group, help form one.

Robert Kaplan predicted that only those African territories with resources desired by the West could expect help: military, economic, or whatever. The others - resourceless - would drop out and dissolve into chaos and social disaster.

Sierra Leone and others do have resources, and the West is present - directly or via proxies - but that hasn't made them interested in the ordinary people, the losers. No money there.

  • Max Teichmann

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