Doctor and activist


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Category: Peace

Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

6 February 2022

Probably not, but it is possible and they are likely to take some action.


The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was largely due to their economy being unable to compete with more efficient market-based ones. But US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 promised Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards.


The Eastern European countries were effectively given independence. Their attitudes varied. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were very keen to have protection. Poland, which was abolished as a nation in WW2, simply being divided in half and incorporated into Russia and Germany by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 was also looking for protection.

NATO, led by the US has been joining up countries so that only the two closest to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have not joined. Now the US is now loudly proclaiming Ukraine’s ‘right’ to join NATO if it chooses. The US has a lot of hubris, a tin ear, an arms lobby that needs sales and a recent history of doing what it likes. It has also installed military facilities in some of the countries closet to Russia. Those with long memories may recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 when Russia tried to station missiles there and there was a major confrontation. The US has bases all over the world encircling its rivals. The Russians do not, and when they tried to these was a major confrontation. One can also note that there are no natural barriers to military advances in Europe. Napoleon and Hitler swept across Russia and Russia swept them back.


Ukraine, the former ‘breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union is the closest big country to Russia and also could control Russian access to the Black Sea so has special significance. Internally it has quite a varied attitude to Russia. Those in the Eastern part of the country are very pro-Russia, while those in the West would like more integration with Western Europe. There is a succession movement in Donbass, an eastern province, and Russia is accused of helping the separatists. The capital, Kiev, is on the Dnieper river, which bisects the country from north to south, just downstream of Chernobyl. In 2014 there was a coup which was shown to be CIA-supported. The Parliament was invaded, much like the US on 6 Jan 2021, but in Ukraine’s case the President fled and new government was installed, highly favourable to the US. Russia responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula, which has their key naval base in the Black Sea. It might be noted that in a plebiscite a huge majority of Crimeans supported Russia against Ukraine.


In an interview on 7.30 on 1/2/22 Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner pointed out the US hypocrisy on NATO membership. He also pointed out that Russia does not want to invade. There would be Western sanctions, but Russia would also be stuck with a guerrilla war situation having to suppress part of what they occupied perhaps indefinitely. They cannot count on being welcomed even into eastern Ukraine. Invading armies usually are not. They would lose a lot of face internationally and there would be trouble on side or another in selling their gas to Western Europe.


It might be overlooked with all the US statements on Ukraine that Germany, France and Italy, surely the heavyweights of Europe, have been very silent. Germany has decommissioned its nuclear plants, cut down on coal and now gets a third of its energy from Russian gas. It cannot replace that amount of energy in the short-term. They are very aware of what a war in Europe means. Europe is more economically integrated and in general, this is good thing.


Russia will be supported by China if the sanctions start to bite, and the US dollar is gradually becoming less important as a world currency, a trend that the Chinese are working hard to accelerate.Even the Ukrainian President is now on record saying that the US must take much of the blame for the current situation.


It seems that the US arms industry, which has spent decades having little wars to keep itself at the centre of that fading economy is lost in its own hubris. It sees this merely as an opportunity to sell arms to the Ukrainians. It is a market, and an economic game. The Russians have existential concerns, not to mention the loss of face. They are likely to take some action. Diplomacy needs to work and the US has to be restrained. Finland has lived on the Russian border for many years as a democracy that minded its Ps and Qs. The Ukraine should probably do the same.

Press stunned as Ukraine leader points finger at West

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Afghanistan- a Callous debacle

26 August 2021

A brief history of Afghanistan. 

It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries. 

The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.

The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926

King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border.  His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973. 

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government.  It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious.  It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims.  Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.

The Cold War

It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). 

(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence.  Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there.  I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).

The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government.  Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979.  The Russians invaded in December 1979.   The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.

President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools.  The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians.  The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.

The Russian Legacy

The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.

The Taliban

Taliban means ‘student of Islam’.  The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen. 

In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country. 

In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.

9/11 Leads to the US Invasion

The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse.  They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.

Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.

The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled.  It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble.  The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest.  The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.

Exit Wounds 2013

The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering.  He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed.  Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20).  Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won. 

Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry.  So much for democracy!

Australian Embassy Closed May 2021

The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well.  It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger.  An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.

Taliban Victory

The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians.  The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.

The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline.  Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to.  The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life.  American hubris would be very clearly shown.

The Debacle

It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years.  What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse?  It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there.  One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins.  One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans.  Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.

The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does  our government work for us or the US?

The Fate of our Interpreters

Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city.  The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families.  The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam.  It is a horrible story that has not yet ended. 

www.smh.com.au/national/he-could-have-done-something-why-diggers-feel-let-down-by-scott-morrison-20210820-p58kks.html

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One China or Two?

29 April 2021

The One China policy was basically the recognition of reality. Mainland Communist China won the revolution in 1949, and when China got its economic act together the world needed to trade with it as it was far more economically significant than Taiwan.


Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang leader, was defeated by Mao Tse Tung and fled to the island that had previously been called Formosa, now Taiwan. He maintained the idea that he would lead a counter-revolution, so there was One China.  This counter-revolution became increasingly ridiculous with time, but was not abandoned.  The Communists claimed Taiwan and treat it as a rebel province, and they stated that there is One China and that the price of trading with them was to have Taiwan excluded from the UN and other international bodies. That has been the situation for many years, and almost all countries accepted the One China policy, and stopped recognising Taiwan, even if they traded with it.

By definition, if there is One China, who governs Taiwan is an internal Chinese matter. We may not like what China does in Hong Kong, with the Uighurs or in Taiwan, but it is the US that has accepted the One China policy for years. 

After WW2 at Bretton Woods it was assumed that free trade would allow countries that were competitive to rise, and those that were not competitive to fall. This was so that there would not be war over markets.  But the system that the West set up gave an advantage to countries with lower wages, and if they were smart enough to get the fruits of their labour rather than stay as colonies with foreigners owning their industries, they rose.  So China rose and is now a world power and the US are now seeking to intervene in Taiwan and re-create a two-China policy. One can hardly expect China to accept this massive loss of face. 

The assumption was that Taiwan would eventually solve its differences with mainland China peacefully.  After recent events in Hong Kong, this has become less likely in the short and medium term, but is still viable or even inevitable in the long term, which has always been China’s position.

China has done some sabre-rattling with flights over Taiwan and obviously the recent events in Hong Kong have made everyone nervous.

This article looks at the similarities of the Chinese way of doing business to capitalism.  It could be said that the model of an intelligent government cooperating with industry is more successful than a few large industries competing.  Competition works if there are many small producers competing in a market.  When there are a few oligopolies using trademarks or patents to make more money and not to share knowledge, the old adage that ‘private competition is the best way to run things’ starts to break down.  It may not just be cheaper wages that is allowing China to out-compete the US.

Starting a war because you are losing the peace seems a very unwise course of action. 

Australia has to stop being the US lapdog. We are not taking the right path.

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Is the Australian War Memorial being hijacked to be a Temple of Militarism?

16 April 2021

Here is an article in Meanjin asking why the Australian War Memorial airbrushes history.  It seems to me that this is to be expected.  The lesson of the War Memorial should be respect for those who died, but a reminder that we must work for peace.  Under Brendan Nelson with $500 million for the armaments industry to modernise the weaponry on display it is becoming a shrine of militarism.

ANZAC was a military debacle and the incompetence of the British generals on the Western Front was appalling.  The ANZAC ‘legend’ of the birth of Australia was created to cover up this incompetence, so that any criticism of what happened was changed into a lack of respect for those who died.  Presumably any criticism of what is happening at the War Memorial will get the same treatment.

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Myanmar, What is likely?

14 April 2021

The Myanmar Generals are shooting their population, who at present continue protesting.  As I have written before on my visit to Myanmar in 2017-8 my observation was that the population have no time for the military, who were hanging onto power and had kept Aung San Suu Kyi as a figurehead without power or real democracy.  The military were socially isolated, but in a highly privileged world of their own.

The government has a capital 4 hours from Yangon and totally isolated  from the reality of the rest of Myanmar.

If the people are willing to be shot as they protest, we might ask where this will go.  Gandhi used passive resistance against the British, where the people just kept coming as the police beat them with batons. The strategy was to look for a changed response from those doing the beating.  I am unsure whether this will work in Myanmar.  Perhaps the military will just keep shooting. 

But if there is a national strike and the economy falters, what then? Will the Chinese step in and help?  For how long? Myanmar also has immense internal problems with ethnic armies fighting the central government. These are quite well armed, but have been confined to their own provinces.  Will they link with the people against the common enemy, the military junta?  Will the world take action?  Probably not militarily against a well-supplied army fighting for their own country- this might actually allow the government to get legitimacy against the foreign threat, and no country is likely to want to be in the front line.  The UN is unlikely to be able to act anyway with Russian and Chinese  arms sales and UN vetoes.

I fear that there will be immense bloodshed.  The question is whether change can be achieved. There is little doubt that the people want it and have waited a long time, so will be willing to sacrifice a lot. 

Here is Peter Hartcher’s opinion from the SMH of 13/4/21

Trump’s example playing out in Asia, the world has to intervene

The generals of Myanmar decided to follow Donald Trump’s example. Like Trump, they declared a free and fair election to be a fraud. Like Trump, they made an unconstitutional grab for power.

But where Trump was frustrated in his attempted coup, the generals of Myanmar were successful. Or so it seemed. There was a moment of quiet shock on February 1, when the army cancelled parliament and locked up the elected leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced a one-year state of emergency and installed himself as ruler. But resistance has built every day since. At first, it was demonstrations by students and young people, then the whole society seemed to join in. Truck drivers stopped delivering goods arriving at the ports. Workers went on strike, forcing banks to close. Civil servants stayed home, cutting government services. Doctors marched against the junta. The army restricted internet access to try to stop protesters organising.

The Myanmar military controls a multibillion-dollar business empire that funnels profits from jade, rubies, banking, oil and gas, construction and mining into the army’s pockets. These independent profits allow it to operate outside the structures of the state and to act with impunity.

So the resistance aims to shut down the economy as a way of curbing the army. It is starting to work. Myanmar’s economy thrived during its decade of democratic rule, growing at 6 per cent every year and doubling in size.

Now the World Bank expects it will shrink by 10 per cent this year. The financial information company Fitch Solutions says that “all areas of GDP by expenditure are set to collapse”, that a 20 per cent economic contraction this financial year is “conservative”.

And a second front against the army soon opened. The ethnic armies that once warred against the state had become largely inactive, but in the last few weeks the Karen and Kachin and the Shan and the Rakhine militias have joined forces with the civilian opposition. The ethnic armies are demanding that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, restore civilian government. And they are moving to take up arms.

“If the Kachin, Karen, Shan and maybe Rakhine insurgents were to engage in widespread military operations, however loosely co-ordinated, and at the same time there is an increase in violence in the heartlands, the Tatmadaw would face a huge problem,” according to Anthony Davis, a security analyst with Jane’s intelligence. He estimates the total strength of the ethnic armies at around 75,000 fighters.

Two fronts – the civilian opposition on one side and the ethnic armies on the other – is too many for the regime. Fearing exactly this, the Tatmadaw asked for negotiations with the ethnic armies. That was rejected. So the air force has started bombing them instead.

At the same time, the military has grown increasingly violent with the civilian protesters too. The army’s latest escalation came on Friday. It was bad enough that troops had been firing into crowds of peaceful protesters for weeks, worse that they’d started to order snipers to shoot unarmed civilians in the head.

But on Friday the army launched a dawn raid on a protest camp in the ancient capital of Bago, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at unarmed demonstrators. They killed at least 80 that morning, the biggest massacre in any one place since they launched their coup. The Tatmadaw has killed more than 600 civilians in total, according to a monitoring group.

The two resistance movements are in the process of formalising their alliance: “We are waiting on a daily basis for the announcement that a national unity government has been formed,” says Chris Sidoti, Australia’s former human rights commissioner and one of the three members of an international expert group calling itself the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

The “unity government” would include Aung San Suu Kyi’s National Democracy League and its elected members of parliament as well as civil society leaders and the ethnic armies.

“The military lacks legitimacy and it seems to be losing control,” observes the Australian federal Liberal MP and former diplomat Dave Sharma, who is convening a parliamentary sub-committee on foreign affairs and aid to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.

The UN’s special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, predicts a “bloodbath” unless there is some sort of intervention. The UN Security Council, however, is paralysed – vetoes by China and Russia prevent it from even condemning the coup, much less taking any action.

Sharma worries about a worst-case scenario: “If you have a protracted civil conflict it inevitably pulls in outside actors and you can have a situation where Myanmar becomes Syria in Asia,” as neighbouring countries take sides to protect their own interests. A failed state in the heart of Asia, in other words.

The conflict could spill across borders, driving big flows of refugees, as Sharma points out. “I think this problem is only going to get larger for Australia and the region. We will need to examine policy settings and co-ordinate with regional countries.”

There’s no evidence of any activity by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne – which is probably why it falls to Sharma, a mere backbencher, to try to stimulate debate, though he’s too polite to say so.

Sidoti has a list of policy ideas for Australia. One is to join the US and Britain in imposing sanctions on the Tatmadaw’s commercial empire. Another is to join the two-year-old genocide prosecution of the Tatmadaw in the International Court of Justice.

A third is to work with Thailand to make sure humanitarian help flows into Myanmar. Fourth is to work with ASEAN, which is having trouble bringing coordinated pressure to bear on the Tatmadaw, partly because ASEAN can only act with the agreement of all 10 of its members and Myanmar is one of them.

Who would represent the country at an ASEAN meeting? Australia could help break the impasse by convening a larger initiative to mediate with the regime, including some key ASEAN members plus the US, China, India, Timor-Leste and Japan, suggests Sidoti.

Finally, Canberra should stand ready to recognise a united national front as Myanmar’s legitimate government the moment it is announced. The coup attempt didn’t work for Trump, gratefully. The world has an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t work for Myanmar’s military either.

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Crikey- While Porter Parties, his protection racket inflicts misery, By Bernard Keene

 
https://www.crikey.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/20181204001374704937-original-600x320.jpg
While Porter parties, his protection racket inflicts misery BY: BERNARD KEANE As Alan Tudge tried to protect Christian Porter from embarrassment, so Porter is trying to protect Alexander Downer from scrutiny over his role in the bugging of Timor-Leste. Privilege protects privilege. So it seems after further revelations today about how Alan Tudge pressured an ABC journalist to delete a photo taken in a Canberra night spot that, according to Four Corners’ bombshell report on Monday, would have embarrassed and compromised Christian Porter. Any minister of the Crown learning that a colleague may have placed themselves in a position to be compromised should have immediately alerted the prime minister, possibly for referral to intelligence agencies. Public Bar in Manuka is a well-known locale for politicians, staffers and journalists, the latest in a succession of such nightspots in Canberra. Don’t think people connected to foreign intelligence services weren’t mingling there on Wednesday nights as well. Who else took a photo of Porter, more surreptitiously? In any event, Tudge, a child of Melbourne privilege — elite Haileybury, Melbourne University, Harvard — sought to protect another child of privilege, Christian Porter, whose offensive frat house behaviour as a young man — as opposed to his alleged continuing partying these days — was well documented by the ABC. Significant as it is in itself, the incident is the perfect symbol for what party boy Porter himself is doing for Alexander Downer. Downer ordered ASIS to bug the cabinet rooms of the Timor-Leste government in 2004 in order to give Australia an advantage over the fledgling state in negotiations over resources in the Timor Sea. The advantage gained would accrue to resources company/de facto government agency Woodside. After leaving politics, Downer took a job with Woodside. His DFAT secretary of the time, Ashton Calvert, took a directorship. Porter’s authorisation of the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery for revealing ASIS’ crime is intended to punish them for exposing Downer and the Howard government. Porter’s conduct in the prosecution, however, is designed to cover up Downer’s role.
He has sought to make the trial secret, he has repeatedly intervened in proceedings (separately from the DPP; Collaery and K face two legal oppositions — the barristers of the DPP, and Porter’s barrister trying to keep as much as possible secret); Porter has so stymied and delayed the trial of Collaery that his barrister has been twice chided by magistrates for delays. There is a key question in this trial about Downer: what authority did he have to authorise ASIS’ conduct? Did prime minister Howard, his cabinet or the National Security Committee approve it, or did Downer decide himself? We may never publicly learn the answer to that crucial question because Porter is trying to keep it secret. Privilege protecting privilege. Only, instead of demanding the deletion of a photo, Porter is trashing basic rights like open trials and long-standing norms like the Commonwealth’s status as a model litigant. Porter’s conduct has had enormous impacts on K and Collaery — two men who have served their country and protected its national security in ways Porter could only dream about as he sleeps off another big night on the dance floor. K remains unclear exactly as to what he is being asked to plead guilty to, having indicated that, given his health and the mental toll Porter’s vexatious prosecution has inflicted, he wants the whole thing done with. Collaery’s practice has been wrecked and he is living on borrowings. The process has so far dragged on for more than two years, with 42 hearings so far without a trial date in sight — the majority driven by Porter’s interventions. It includes the juvenile tactic of requiring Collaery to travel interstate to view, but not retain, the allegedly secret brief directed against him. All while Porter, according to footage aired by the ABC, carried on carousing, and allegedly compromising himself as a national security risk far worse than even the fantasies claimed by the prosecution of K and Collaery. The bugging of Timor-Leste and the persecution of K and Collaery are the biggest political scandal of recent decades in Australia. That the press gallery seems to have been mostly uninterested in it — or have fallen for Porter’s tactic of dragging things out so long people forget about it — doesn’t change that. It’s been a raw demonstration of the ugliness of how power is used in Australia by well-connected corporations, their political shills and the parties that protect and enable them. Power used at the expense of the people of Timor-Leste. Power used at the expense of K and Collaery. And despite Porter’s efforts at secrecy, at least some of it has occurred in plain sight at the ACT Law Courts building, in full view of the press gallery if they wanted to come five minutes down the road. Like Porter’s alleged behaviour in Public Bar, in full view five minutes in the other direction from Parliament House. If you’re not enraged by the smug, smirking indecency of it all, you might want to check your moral compass. It’s an obscenity.
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Veterans’ PTSD costs $241 million 3/1/21

Some time ago. I was driving through Western Sydney and saw a huge billboard for army recruitment.  An interesting and challenging job, training for a trade etc.  I then stopped in a supermarket and there was a much smaller ad for a charity that helped Veterans who were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I wondered why they needed a charity when the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs has a much larger budget per patient than anyone else.

I asked a clinical psychologist friend of mine about this.  The psychologist had a good practice and admitted that a lot of work came from ex-Veterans, commenting nervously that almost all the Veterans had PTSD, but that it was a closely guarded military secret.  I was not surprised.  I had read ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ by John Cantwell, the ex-commander of the Australian forces in Afghanistan.  He had PTSD and took himself off the short-list to be the chief of Australian defence to go into a psychiatric hospital for treatment.  He wrote in 2013 that the war in Afghanistan could never be won and that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  Troops are still there, presumably until the Americans all leave.

In 2019 I went to a pub dinner with a group I knew vaguely at a hotel in Kings Cross.  I had arrived late from work and as I moved to the end of our table, a man sitting alone on the next table moved his pack so that I could get in. I nodded thanks.  My group said a brief ‘hullo’ and went on with a conversation about people I did not know, so I remained a little detached.  After a while the man on the next table stood up and asked me in a broad Scottish accent if I would mind looking after his pack while got another beer.  He was unshaven and looked very dejected, perhaps in his early forties in age but his clothes were new.  I moved his pack so that it was more directly in my line of sight, and noticed that it was a state of art pack, perhaps a military one.  When he returned I asked him what part of Scotland he was from.  (This is always a good opening line for Scots as they hate being asked what part of England).  He said that he was a stonemason, who had lived with his single mother until she had become unwell with memory loss and needed institutional care. He wanted to get a ‘powder ticket’ so that he could have his own quarry. He could not afford this training so he had joined the British Army. Seemingly he learned his explosives quite well and was posted to Afghanistan. He had had to do ‘a job’ involving explosives and was praised by his commander as he had apparently done it well from a military point of view.

He did not elaborate much at this point as he choked back his tears, but he felt utterly worthless and had asked for an immediate discharge from the army. He had an elder brother in Australia from whom he had been estranged since his parents separated when he was young and he had in arrived in Australia this very morning to find his brother at the most recent address he had.  He had no phone number or email.  The brother had left the address, so he had stopped for a drink. He had no friends, no country and was very, very depressed. 

As his tale unfolded, I was increasingly wondering what I could do, but in this case luck was with us both.  One of the others on the table I was in theory still having dinner with had started to listen to our conversation.  She was a counsellor in the Kings Cross area and joined in. She took over and found him accommodation, promising to get him some PTSD counselling when she finished a morning appointment the next day, and quite subtly got him to promise reciprocally not to commit suicide overnight. 

I followed this up with the counsellor and she was apparently successful.  He went with an Australian PTSD sufferer to a farm in the Central West where rehab is done for ex-Afghanistan veterans. Hopefully it was successful longer term.

But this story is largely luck, and success is not assured.  Here was the real face of the foreign policy stupidity in the Middle East, and prevention is far better than any hoped-for cure. 

The Vietnam war may have been ‘lost’  on the TV screens of America, but it is highly dubious that it could have been won anyway.  Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan do not look like having any chance of the West winning. But since the Falklands war, journalists are embedded with the Army and so are on one side that gives them protection and restricts their information, so there is no peace movement of any political note to stop the foolish machinations of Australia in fawning to please the US in wars.

I am not sure that Veterans have ‘unlimited access’ to mental health services- if they did, why would there be charities appealing for support?  My experience is that all funding bodies including Veterans Affairs try to deny the existence of a problem.   It seems the concern of the article is the cost of the rehab. The answer of course is to stop the war. 

The Buttery mentioned was the one of very few live-in addiction rehab programs that I could find when I was in Parliament.  It was near Bangalow on the North Coast and had endless trouble getting funding.  If it is now exclusively used by Veterans others will be missing out.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/bill-for-veterans-mental-health-care-reaches-241m-with-20-000-in-rehab-20201030-p56a9w.html

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China and the Taiwan Question. 1/1/21

As China increasingly decides to assert its status as a World Power, Australia has been given the message fairly clearly.

Morrison foolishly, and perhaps encouraged by Trump in his pre-election hubris, criticised China’s management of the Coronavirus.  If China was looking for a middle-sized power to humiliate using its Trade power, Australia had stepped conveniently stepped into the role. This is still playing out. If China squeezes hard, we are likely to have a recession and Morrison will lose the election.  If not, probably not.

China is asserting its dominance over the South China Sea by building bases on the Spratly Islands, and the US and Australia are sailing through them to show that they still can, but this does not prove that the balance of power is not shifting quite dramatically China’s way.

China has asserted that it is not a democracy and that the Communist party will be dominant for the foreseeable future.  It did not tolerate independence in Tibet, nor with the Uighurs, and most recently with Hong Kong, moving to crush local democracy, lest anyone else in China get ideas.  The democracy activists in Hong Kong who tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat were caught, tried and imprisoned (ABC News 30/12/20).

Taiwan, which had an indigenous population as Formosa, became Taiwan, when Chiang Kai-shek, the pro-US, Nationalist loser of the Chinese Revolution fled there with 2 million Chinese in 1949.  Their safety at that time was guaranteed by the US Navy and their economy benefitted mightily from the Korean War (1950-53), where they industrialised to manufacture goods for the US war effort.  The US has effectively guaranteed their separateness from China.  China has never accepted that Taiwan is a separate country, regarding it as a renegade province that will eventually return to China by negotiation.  Taiwan agreed that there was One China, as it intended to overthrow the Communists and re-establish their Nationalist government.  This has become increasingly unlikely and is now at the point of absurdity, but political parties that are pro-reunification with the mainland have been doing quite badly in Taiwanese democratic elections.  The Taiwanese population enjoy both democracy and relatively high incomes.  They are naturally concerned with events in Hong Kong, as they are the next domino. 

If China wanted a military victory and to assert its new Great Power status moving across a short strait into its own backyard would seem the logical step, and it is doubtful that the US would have the capacity to prevent this, even if it had the will.

Frankly, Australia has to accept the reality that China has arrived at great power status.  We cannot get involved in a war over Taiwan.  We should take a more neutral position between the US and China, and think in terms of more intelligent trade bargaining and not selling out our assets to foreign powers of any colour.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56111.htm

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ANZAC Day- Lest We Remember

24 April 2020 It is ANZAC Day again and we are urged as always, ‘Lest We Forget’. It is right and proper to remember the heroism and sacrifice of our troops, and to reflect that we are lucky to have lived our lives without having to risk them in battle. But the distorted perspective of […]

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Lest We Remember

4 November 2018

My grandfather was wounded at Passchendaele.  My grandmother was the Army nurse who  looked after him in hospital.  He was one a five brothers all of whom went to the war. Three came back, one a respiratory invalid from chlorine gas.  He did not speak much about the war and rarely went to any of the commemorations.  He had a lot of medals in the drawer when he died.  I pressed him once on what it was like and he said cryptically, ‘You had to shoot them or they would shoot you’.  He did not elaborate.  Perhaps he knew that the stories about the glories were to hide the realities but he could not say so.

Much is written about what it was like in the trenches, but ‘All Quiet on the Western Front[1]’ documents it well, a German description, translated by an Australian.  He describes the misery in the trenches, killing a man with his bare hands and the mental stress that would never go.

The British were ill-led at Gallipoli, landing on the wrong beach.  The ANZACs managed to occupy a hill that they then were ordered off and never managed to take in the next 10 months.  They were ill-led in France, with an anti-Semitic prejudice and personal jealousies hindering the emergence of a more innovative Australian General, John Monash.  The Battle of Passchendaele was hurried up despite the fact that neither the men nor the tanks could move in the muddy conditions because Kitchener, the British general, was in danger of being sacked and needed a battle, at whatever cost, to retain his position.  Prime Minster Billy Hughes was happy for the Australian forces to be used as shock troops as it increased Australia’s prestige, ignoring the excessive casualty rate.

It was not the war to end all wars and as Germany’s industrialisation continued to increase their strength.  A dictator capitalized on the injustice of the peace to start again.

After the blitzkrieg of Poland, Britain declared war on Germany to start the Second World War and our Prime Minister Menzies announced that ‘as a result, Australia is also at war[2]’, following the Brits without question.  Our troops went over to North Africa and when the Japanese landed in Papua the few soldiers on the Kokoda Track with uniforms coloured for the desert fought with minimal resources as the American Commander, General Douglas Macarthur, who had moved from Melbourne to Brisbane to be closer to the action did not think them very important.

Vietnam  showed on our TV screens what war was really like and this was blamed for the loss, but no invader who has come and gone has ever won against the people who live there.  Lives were wasted; the lack of thanks and respect for the Vietnam veterans has caused immense suffering ever since.  ‘If any question why we died, tell them because our fathers lied’ written in WW1[3] was ever true.

The largest protest march since the Vietnam war with 74% of Australians opposing our entry into the Iraq war was not enough.  John Howard followed the US into the war anyway, then on to Afghanistan and the deaths and refugees in their millions continue to this day.  Post-traumatic stress is rife in the Australian army but hushed up.  Foolish wars with people dying for nothing.  John Cantwell, the Australian commander retired with post-traumatic stress and explained this in his moving book, ‘Exit Wounds’.

An ex-US Marine from Iraq lectures on how he tried to keep his men alive but could not get the armoured vehicles he needed to protect them from the roadside bombs.  He believed the US government did not actually care about the troops.  It was ever thus.

Last week I drove back from Western Sydney.  There was a big billboard recruiting for the Army and a much smaller one in the supermarket asking for donations for discharged veterans with post-traumatic stress.  There was a lot of excitement over the Invictus Games as maimed soldiers tried to overcome their injuries.  No one asked why they were injured and the Games were generously sponsored by the arms manufacturers who are on steroids of late as Trump demands countries spend 2% of their GDP on weapons to help the US balance of payments and Australia decides it will become an arms exporter, starting with a big order to our friends the Saudis who are famous for beheading journalists not to mention millions of Yemenis.

This week will have massive speeches and commemorations of our heroic soldiers.  The War Memorial will be upgraded to bigger than any cathedral as our new shrine, generously sponsored by the arms manufacturers again.  And the politicians will make fine speeches and improve their electoral prospects. 

It is the glorification of folly.

Lest We Remember.

Biography

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans is a medical doctor who started as a surgeon but saw that preventive health was more important and went into the anti-tobacco campaign, including time with the activist group, BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions).  He spend some time  in NSW Parliament and was for time CEO of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Summary

Lest We Remember traces the history of how Australia was drawn into wars by the British and the Americans, and looks at how poorly the strategies had been thought out and how poorly the troops themselves have been treated.  The hype and hoopla of the centenary of the end of the First World War will be used by the arms manufacturers and the politicians to cover the folly and indeed to perpetuate it.


[1] Remarque, Erich Maria, Translated by Wheen, Arthur Wesley 1928

[2] https://aso.gov.au/titles/radio/menzies-speech-declaration-war/clip1/

[3] Kipling Rudyard, Epitaphs of War 1914-18.  He had encouraged his son to join up and his son was killed just after his 18th birthday.

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