Doctor and activist


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Tag: Peace

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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Our Military

April 15 2021

If you ask soldiers to do totally unreasonable things, you should probably expect totally unreasonable things.

The Australian Commander, John Cantwell was of the opinion that the Afghan war could not be won, and every Australian life lost in Afghanistan was totally wasted. He was on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian armed forces but he took himself off the list and retired in 2011 with PTSD and wrote ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ in 2012. It is inconceivable that he did not tell the Australian hierarchy that the war was unwinnable prior to his resignation in 2011, which is 10 years ago.

To ask for ethical behaviour from the troops, when there is none at the top of the nation is hypocrisy writ large.

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Australia to follow the US out of Afghanistan

15 April 2021

Australian troops are to leave Afghanistan, now that Biden has taken the Americans out.  The fact that we had no strategic interest there, and that we were merely there to please the US merely shows how pathetic our efforts to please the US are. 

We go into foreign wars in the hope that if we are ever attacked the US will defend us as they did in the Second World War.  Let us look at some realities.  The British had promised to defend us in WW2, but when we were attacked they sent two battleships that were promptly sunk and they wanted to keep our troops in North Africa and assured us that if we were captured they would come and recapture us when they had (hopefully) won in Europe. 

The US came to help Australia as they could not let the Japanese take us over and they were already at war with them.  The US visited Jakarka just before Indonesia invaded East Timor, so it must be concluded that they were happy to let that little country go.  If in  future the US has a global war problem, they will act on their immediate strategic interests which may or may not mean helping us.  Being a bit player in historic wars in Vietnam or the Middle East will not be top of mind.

So we are giving our troops absurd tasks where they go overseas and see their mates killed for no real purpose.  Note that the Australian commander in Iraq and Afghanistan,  John Cantwell wrote ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ and developed PTSD from what he said was an unwinnable war in Afghanistan in 2012. 

We go into wars for no godo reason without so much as a a Parliamentary debate- the Cabinet just decides.  We buy American arms wily-nilly to spend the 2% of our budget that the US demands in order to help their arms industry and balance of payments, picking up lemon fighter planes and overpriced and probably obsolete submarines. We let the US station its force in Darwin.  We cooperate with the Israelis in weapons development and we sell arms to practically anyone, including Myanmar and the Saudis  in Yemen. The arms industry is giving hugely to the Australian War Memorial but want more modern displays.  It seems that the object is not to remember the fallen and that they fought for peace, but rather to have a Temple of Militarism where our youth can have their warrior fantasies.

There are some Peace groups that have achieved good things. Australians for War Powers Reform want Parliament to decide before we are committed to wars, and other groups are active’  IPAN, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network,  MAPW, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, and  IPPNW, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

But a lot more action is needed if we are to stop this military folly.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/australia-to-withdraw-all-troops-from-afghanistan-after-biden-vows-to-end-war-20210415-p57jeb.html

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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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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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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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Reflections on Einstein.

9 September 2018 At a recent visit to Berne to look at Swiss democracy, I visited two Einstein museums.  I do not propose to give his biography, but merely to point out a couple of points that struck me as his life was proudly displayed.  He had been a pacifist all his life and in […]

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