By Kyran O’Dwyer
No. Seriously. WTF just happened?
In a week when metaphors have been stretched and tortured to make analogies, which have been further stretched and tortured to create news, the truism “The first casualty of war is truth” has never been more evident, let alone significant.
Governments around the world have been declaring war on everything for decades now. We have had wars on drugs, wars on poverty, wars on terrorism, wars on homelessness, wars on welfare. Pick an ‘evil’ and governments will declare war on it. They’ve even tried wars on discrimination – gender, pigmentation, ethnicity, religion, sexuality – but even they realised they could not wage war on the differences they sought to amplify, albeit through unsubtle dog whistling with megaphones.
This week in Australian politics we witnessed the unedifying spectacle of a government declaring war on itself. Never before have the ‘infantrymen’ of a war been so inadequate that they are unable to discern the difference between ‘live’ and ‘blank’ ammunition, let alone which side they are on or in which direction they are shooting. That alone makes identifying a target problematic, evidenced by the number of ‘friendly fire’ incidents. Never before have the media installed themselves as the independent arbiters of victory while simultaneously handing out munitions of varying capacity to combatants of lesser capacity in the hope of furthering the promotion of the most miserable of human beings. A conflagration that can only be described as a “Bonfire of the Vanities”.
The phrase initially referred to the “bonfire of 7 February 1497, in Florence, Italy, the focus of the destruction being on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors and cosmetics”. If only these shallow fools had the capacity to read and comprehend the lessons of the past. The recreation of the salutary caution in book form is even more relevant, not merely for its more recent occurrence, but for its refined themes.
“The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City.”
It can come as no surprise that, in a war waged for no other purpose than the vain ambitions of mindless, soulless, characterless, vacuous fools, ‘truth’ was not just a casualty, it was a fatality.
All of this is in an age when truth has never been more accessible and verifiable, where the mere provenance of a muttering is no further away than a few keystrokes.
It seems an eternity ago that (then) US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, issued his ‘de Profundis’ on fearing fear. Using extraordinary leaps of logic and reason, he dismissed ‘truth’, ie the known, by suggesting pursuit of the unknown was a more urgent crusade.
To be fair, it was issued on February 12, 2002, a mere five months after the horror of September 11, 2001. To be even fairer, Rumsfeld was a product of a military/political upbringing, wholly supportive of and committed to corporate America’s numerous and various ‘war machines’.
The provenance, context and background of his ‘Unknown unknowns’ are interesting, even though the substance is baffling.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
The components of the ‘Johari Window’ and the ‘theoretical genius’ of his speech are best left to those of superior intellect. Their expertise is still available, albeit in the confines of the few remaining asylums for the mentally impaired.
“Unknown unknowns are risks that come from situations that are so out of this world that they never occur to you.”
It’s a reincarnation of the ‘God Defence’, a distorted quasi-legal doctrine, making it incumbent on the non-believer to prove there is no God, rather than on the believer to prove there is a God. The skeptic had to prove the unknown, rather than the believer having to prove their known.
Rumsfeld went further. In his world, we were not only meant to believe that there are risks we can never reasonably expect to foresee, but that we should be afraid of them. Once that fear of fear is established in our psyche, we should simply trust the likes of Rumsfeld, a hawk, to be our shepherd. The risks that are clear and present dangers can be ignored whilst we speculate on the possibility of another risk that may be nothing more than the fancy of a deluded mind.
This was his argument for invading Iraq in 2003. Clearly, governments were tiring of their figurative wars and felt a literal war was in order. The ungodly triumvirate – Bush, Blair and Howard – formed their infamous axis of evil, a term used by Bush “to describe governments that he accused of helping terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction”. The misdirection and deflection toward Iran, Iraq and North Korea will likely see him and his compadres recorded in history in the ‘Greatest Illusionists’ column rather than the newly proclaimed Trump-ian ‘Great Grate Leaders’ column.
In February, 2003, one year after Rumsfeld’s edict on fearing fear, Anti-War Protests were held around the world.
“Social movement researchers have described the 15 February protest as “the largest protest event in human history”.”
Obviously, events weren’t pre-sold and figures on participation were ‘estimated’ rather than audited. The estimates? They were wildly variant.
“… between six and eleven million people took part in protests in up to sixty countries over the weekend of 15 and 16 February; other estimates range from eight million to thirty million.”
From that same link, the estimates for Australian participation were also wildly variant.
“Friday also saw protests in Melbourne, Australia where around 150,000 people (BBC estimate) (Over 200,000 organisers estimate) joined a demonstration.
On the Saturday protests also took place in Australia’s six state capitals with 200,000 protesters (BBC estimate) demonstrating in Sydney, and an estimated 600,000 demonstrating in cities around the country.”
By any estimation, the protests were significant. As the majority of the demonstrations were held in countries espousing democratic principles as their cornerstone, you would expect that our ‘leaders’ would at least pretend to listen. To underscore the irony, the motive to move against Saddam Hussein was portrayed as much to install democracy as a crusade to find the elusive, illusive Holy Grail, the mythical, mountainous caches of hidden WMDs.
“The unprecedented size of the demonstrations was widely taken to indicate that the majority of people across the world opposed the war. However, the potential effect of the protests was generally dismissed by pro-war politicians. The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, claimed that the protests were not representative of public opinion, saying “I don’t know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people that turn up at demonstrations.” In the United States, the then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was reported as saying that the protests would “not affect [the administration’s] determination to confront Saddam Hussein and help the Iraqi people”.
Her view was borne out as the day of protests, along with the protests that followed it, failed to stop the war. However, the protests and other public opposition have been held up as a key factor in the decisions of the governments of many countries, such as Canada, to not send troops to Iraq.”
It is a little galling, isn’t it? Had John Howard, or anyone else, been capable of organising pro-war protests, attended by millions of people across the planet, it would invariably be reported as ‘a mandate’ for unilateral, brutal intervention. Ignoring the protests of millions, globally, these three stooges “helped the Iraqi people” alright. They helped them all the way back to the stone-age. The irony that the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ and the ‘Birthplace of Writing’ was reduced to rubble by a megalomaniac and three stooges should have been a caution to the rabble currently masquerading as ‘government’.
This blight on civilisation isn’t an aberration, it’s a recurring scenario. The ramifications of this week in Canberra pale into insignificance when compared with the preventable loss of lives caused by the actions of 2003. Likewise, the human costs of Iraq and our subsequent launches into interventions in the region pale into insignificance when compared with previous military actions recorded in the annals of history, usually with some god on our side. The number of wars promoted by those in charge, usually for their own personal vested interests and the interests of their benefactors and sponsors, is well recorded and the motives are as old as ‘modern history’ itself.
In that context, the Fools on the Hill in Canberra can be seen in their true light. Not one of the contenders at any stage issued one word about ‘policy’. Not one word was issued on our environment, a pending crisis this government has ignored for more than five years. Not one word was issued regarding our national broadcaster or its importance. The obscene gift of half a billion dollars to a ‘charity’ to save the GBR was obliterated from our conscience, allegedly. Education, health, the impending deaths of children on Nauru, the ongoing incarceration of men on Manus, the ongoing ignoring of our First People. The list of items of such insignificance to these fools that they didn’t merit a mention is long. That these items may be of importance to everyday Australians is insignificant to those who consider themselves ‘leadership material’. Not one of the contenders or pretenders issued anything other than a ‘FIGJAM’ (Feck I’m good. Just ask me!), a paltry standard readily accepted by the media as their manifesto.
It came as no surprise that on Monday, 20th August, co-incidental to Dutton’s initial launch of the new, improved, touchy-feely, smiley, reincarnation, articles appeared out of America declaring ‘Truth isn’t truth’.
“Giuliani said: “When you tell me [Trump] should testify because he’s going to tell the truth so he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”
“I don’t mean to…” Todd spluttered, his face contorted with disbelief.
And then it came, like manna from heaven, the glorious mantra for which Trump’s White House has been waiting so long.
“No, it isn’t truth!” Giuliani roared. “Truth isn’t truth.”
In a world that has given us “fake news”, “enemy of the people” and – infamously and also to a disbelieving Todd – Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”, Trump’s war on reality had just found its jingle.
“No, no, don’t do this to me,” Giuliani said, head in hands, when he realized the hole he had dug for himself.”
The deranged author of that deranged thought, Rudy Giuliani, is a poster-boy for all that is wrong in the world. He has been a Democrat, an Independent and a Republican, yet is represented as a man of unwavering principles. He repeatedly campaigned on ‘law and order’ issues, rendering those in his charge subject to draconian punishments for relatively minor transgressions, yet constantly ignored serious accusations of corruption against both himself and his administrations. With his questionable integrity, he was a natural choice by Trump as legal counsel to defend against allegations of corruption. His reputational greatness emanates from an accident of history – he happened to be the Mayor of New York when homicidal maniacs plunged the city into chaos. John Howard also claimed greatness for no other reason than his proximity to the calamity.
“Howard was in Washington when hijacked airliners crashed into the towers of New York’s World Trade Center, the Defense headquarters the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania. Among the thousands killed were 22 Australians.
In an interview to mark a decade since the attacks, Howard said he has no regrets about joining the war in Afghanistan, cautions against a premature withdrawal of troops, and said history will vindicate Bush’s response to the new threats.”
All of these fools have survived by the incessant peddling of fear, which is constantly perpetuated by their sycophants in the media. This week in Canberra saw the same endless parade of fear for the sake of fear. Postulating preposterous ‘What ifs’ to speculate on which candidate – in a vote none of us got to cast – would likely do us more or less harm. All the while there were two undercurrents. The first being that this was a mess of our making because we voted for them, an absurdity barely worth mentioning. The second being that the greater threat was the likely election of a Shorten/ALP government if these fools ‘don’t get their shite together’.
There are many incarnations and uses of the expression “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Some 70 years before that ill-fated ideological foray into Iraq, Franklin D Roosevelt gave his 1933 inaugural address.
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
My apologies for that confused and convoluted explanation as to why this week has been the same as every other week, and why it’s offensive. Not just here, but everywhere. At a time when humanity has never had a greater opportunity and capacity to effect meaningful change, on an inclusive basis, we are stuck with the same old same old. The Anti-War protests that occurred in 2003 were no different to the global Anti-Vietnam-War protests in the 60’s and 70’s. The ‘Occupy’ protests, the ‘Arab Spring’ protests, the ‘MeToo’ protests, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, the ‘Change the Rules’ protests, the ‘Australia Day’ protests, the ‘Climate Change’ protests. Great numbers of people have taken part in great numbers of protests over great numbers of centuries and the response has always been the same.
“I don’t know that you can measure public opinion just by the number of people that turn up at demonstrations.”
Isn’t that the saddest part of this reality? Those that are in power and who have authority – whether it be political, corporate, moral or social – aren’t just deaf to those they claim to represent, but are resolutely opposed to the aspirations and ambitions of those they claim to represent, let alone their interests. Even worse, they would have you believe that many in our midst should have no entitlement to aspiration or ambition, however platitudinous the offering, based on nothing other than the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, their religion, their ethnicity.
Then come the galling headlines of the aftermath;
Trust in politicians is reported in the realms of 13%. The only surprise is that there are 13 in every 100 who still trust them. This is a profession that relies on lies, then wonders why they aren’t trusted.
This is a profession that is held in contempt, which is hardly surprising given that is the only regard they have for us. There are trust barometers all over the place, none of which paint a pretty picture. That a politician, or a media sycophant, would even suggest there is a prospect of that trust being restored after this week, let alone that Scummo would be the one to do it, is so far past laughable that tears seem the only realistic eventuality.
Lie to me once, shame on you. Lie to me twice, shame on me.
We have these archaic, dated concepts of leadership, and the need for leadership. That we are so disparate, confused and desperate we are inevitably reliant on a leader, a person of character, to lead us. We have nostalgic, romantic recollections of leaders past whose character was measured by the courage they have in their convictions. Of people who had the capacity to use logic, reason and compassion not just to make their case, but to make their case capable of evolving and subject to refinement. We even have historical examples of leadership that was not just intelligent and compassionate, but was empathetic to the needs and aspirations of all.
These were leaders who saw rights as valuable only if they were available to us all. These were people who saw the issuance of rights to one person, to the exclusion of another, a most vile and base abuse of the very thought of rights. These were people who saw the sanctity of human rights as being the very core, the very fabric of any meaningful society.
Continued and concluded tomorrow …
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