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As predicted, ScoMo has rushed to sign us up for a US ‘mission’ in the Strait of Hormuz, by assigning two warships and 200 troops to help patrol the Persian Gulf, so-named because it’s literally in Iran’s backyard. Ostensibly, the purpose is to protect oil tankers operating through the 39 kms narrow strait. The announcement was slid out quietly under cover of a news cycle full of Pell’s Smell.

Foreign Minister Payne had the Orwellian effrontery to say that this commitment would ‘de-escalate tensions’ in the region. How does that work? Big Donald had unilaterally withdrawn the US from a successful multinational nuclear control agreement with Iran, thus triggering off some tit-for-tat shipping harassment by both sides.

Britain and France are not onboard yet, so we get maximum brownie points with our great ally and protector, Uncle Sam. As usual there is no parliamentary debate, and the Opposition fails to interrogate the objectives of another military adventure far from Australia’s shores. We-will-never-learn.

Folks, this has been going on since NSW sent troops to NZ to help quell rebellious Maoris in mid 19th century. Later, Australian colonies chose to defend the Empire in Sudan, South Africa, China and above all in WW1. Then we changed patrons and followed the US into Korea, Malaysia (just for old time’s sake), Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others I’ve forgotten.

In Unnecessary Wars, Henry Reynolds traces the inglorious involvement of our colonial troops in the Boer War of 1899-1902. The fabled light horsemen were in fact up to their bloody elbows in cruel mistreatment and murder of Boer civilians, which was then covered up with fake news of heroic actions. 

The causes of Empire (‘one country, right or wrong’) and nation building, combined with a glorification of war and militarism were a heady mix and precursor of Anzac myth making. The states and new Federal parliament did debate the South Africa engagement, but the pervasive pro-war ethos prevailed, and set the scene for 120 years. We’ve since jettisoned the need for even a simulacra of parliamentary analysis. Gung ho!

 

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Oh no, here we go again – I have that sinking feeling in my stomach, or is it my blood boiling. ScoMo is already following that long tradition of erstwhile Liberal PMs sucking up to a US president by offering to support the USA in actions against Iran (following America’s withdrawal from a nuclear deterrent agreement!). All the way with Donald J, who didn’t even request our help. Just like Vietnam back in the day, where we asked to join in. Remember how well that went for Australia, not to mention the poor Vietnamese?

Ironically within days Professor Hugh White, noted academic military strategist, has launched a new book ‘How to Defend Australia’, where he apparently argues strongly that we should shed any further delusions about Australia sheltering under the safety of a US security umbrella. A fictitious treaty obligation used by successive Australian governments to justify going to war alongside Uncle Sam, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan? Another calamity for all sides involved!

As China rises and US dominance in Asia wanes, we are gunna be on our own, says the expert professor, who also suggests doubling our military expenditure and even discuss getting our own nuclear weapons. Tell him he’s dreaming, which he clearly is! But meanwhile he could drop by ScoMo’s Canberra office on his way to uni, and let him in on the latest strategic thinking. So that we don’t have to risk Australian troops on another needless military excursion into the Islamic world. With no guarantee of US protection insurance. 

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Louis de Bernières’s book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin sold well in the day and prompted a movie with Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz, which I haven’t seen. Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, the over-tragic love story deals with its wartime occupation by German and Italian forces, and the subsequent Greek civil war.

Although the plot is over-wrought and the characters over-drawn, the book has a hidden gem worth mentioning. Chapter 35 “A Pamphlet Distributed on the Island, Entitled with the Fascist Slogan ‘Believe, Fight, and Obey’” is a funny, sarcastic and hyperbolic take on Mussolini’s life and rise to power in Italy, in seven pages.

“Italians! Let us celebrate together the life and achievements of Benita Amilcare Mussolini, Who from unpromising beginnings has led us to perdition.

In His infancy He was thought to be dumb, but later proved to be incorrigibly garrulous and more full of wind than all the cows that browse the pastures of the Alps. As a boy He blinded captive birds with pins, plucked the feathers of chickens, was deemed uncontrollable, and pinched little girls in school in order to make them cry. He led gangs, started fights, sought quarrels without provocation, and refused to pay up on the bets that He lost. At the age of ten he stabbed a boy at supper, and then stabbed someone else shortly after….”

That covers just the formative years, followed by ever-increasing levels of violence, political manipulation and eye-popping transgressions. I’m not familiar with the history of the Mussolini years, but I presume the author hasn’t invented something so fantastically obscene?

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Recently in Hawaii your eagle-eyed correspondent discovered on a wall in a humble abode this ironic (iconic?) reference to a famous all-male supper, which may have taken place on 01 April many years ago. That’s what we call juxtaposition!

Hawaiian last supper

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John Menadue (Qantas boss at the time) recently posted online a memoir vignette of my brush with infamous French agents in the South Pacific:

https://johnmenadue.com/peter-ohara-my-lunch-with-french-secret-service-agents-who-sank-rainbow-warrior/

French agents

P.S. Latest news from Hao is a proposed Chinese project to build the largest fish farm in the South Pacific – Bon Appetit!

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The mind-bending Trumpian world, which operates in a bulletproof moral and factual vacuum, has made sarcasm and irony, my tools of trade, largely redundant there. So I’ve refrained from commentary on the Big Schlanger since his election.

However, his latest diplomatic sortie, meeting his mate Vladimir in Helsinki and his subsequent press conference is obviously redolent of Alice in Wonderland. The BS explained that when he said ‘would’ he meant ‘wouldn’t’ or v.v. This famous quote below from that literary masterpiece has probably come to mind for many of us.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

 

Humpty Trumpty

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Tim Cope is an Australian adventurer who made a remarkable solo trip by horseback from Mongolia to Hungary over a three year period from 2004. His book ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads’ is a fascinating record and tale of high adventure, replete with maps and photographs.

Cope’s story of survival on the remote fringes of the Eurasian Steppes and ex-Soviet Union, with his loyal horses and dogs, is well told. They suffer extreme temperatures, dry marginal landscapes and encounters with rough locals. And are welcomed and embraced by traditional hospitality, which saves his life often.

The expedition is truncated by Tim’s return to Australia and elsewhere for various reasons, and we share his life story over those years, with some romantic interludes and companions.

I found it all engrossing, and closely followed the expedition’s detailed movements over the maps provided. His insights into the histories of those frontier territories, and the thread of nomad traditions that runs for thousands of kilometres, is fascinating. A great read!

Mongolian steppe

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