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Familiar lies are music to our nation's ears. Australians always punch above their weight. We are the most generous people on earth. Our soldiers are the most professional in the world. In fact, we're so professional, that even when our troops shot at the Iraqi Trade Minister's bodyguards in June, killing two people and wounding four others, our military carried out an investigation without bothering to interview any Iraqis. Defence Force chief, Angus Houston, found that our soldiers had "acted in accordance with their rules of engagement". In November, when the US Marines murdered Iraqi women and children in their homes in Haditha, this action was also said to comply with the "rules of engagement". In that case, the toll was 24. Perhaps it was this death disparity that led Air Marshall Houston to conclude, "the Australian soldiers might have been over-cautious". While the government has agreed "in principle" to pay compensation, it has decided "in principle" not to apologize.

The Australian media have lately been enthralled by a public spat between the country's Treasurer, Peter Costello, and its Prime Minister, John Howard. The treasurer publicly stated that the PM promised to hand the top job over to him before the start of the next next year's election but John Howard denies this. On Monday, a poll of 1416 voters showed that most Australians believed the Treasurer's version of events, which is not all that surprising, given our PM's forked tongue. The rest of the poll is illuminating. Despite their judgment that John Howard is a liar, Australian voters still prefer him to stay on as Prime Minister. Part of me understands this. In today's explosive world, there is something reassuring about a grey suited leader in a regimental tie who has, for over a decade, been shrinking our minds on the TV news, while spooning out imperial inanities. Iraq is doing great. Afghanistan is off and running. Kyoto is biased. Since our forefathers took possession of Australia, the treatment of indigenes has been even handed. We can be a future energy superpower, riding clouds of yellow cake and soot. The Pentagon's Military Commissions are just. Foreign footy referees are weird. Gays mustn't marry gays. Israel has the right to inflict collective punishment. And so on, endlessly repeated until the brain snaps.

Howard works hard for his country. The economy is purring. His unconditional embrace of White House is derived from a belief it will guarantee future security. From the outside, Australia looks good; the Opera House, Nicole Kidman, the Barrier Reef, jocks in hotpants. Some of this is an illusion. The interior of the Opera House is a letdown and the Barrier reef is dying. Sport dominates the media-scape. Listening to political debate today is like being locked in the Alzheimer ward with the treasurer and a shock jock. After ten years of John Howard, the image that speaks to the inner self is Edvard Munch on the Harbour Bridge, screaming. But this is a minority view.


Not only have most Australians fallen in love with our self applauding fantasies, but citizens from other nations are following suit. "God, I love Australia", writes Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post, "an island of tranquility in a roiling region ... Australia has no illusions about the 'international community' and its feckless institutions... For Americans, Australia engenders nostalgia for our own past, which we gauzily remember as infused with John Wayne plain-spokenness and vigor". (Actually, that sounds like America's present). Most of all, according to Krauthammer, Aussies are "sympathetic to America's predicament as reluctant hegemon". True, our government couldn't be more sympathetic if it tried.

In his dubious role as deputy sheriff, our Prime Minister is assisted by powerful friends, especially global mogul Rupert Murdoch, a fervent supporter of George Bush and concocted invasions. VOTERS TELL PM TO STAY is a front page Murodchian headline and his commentators chorus it's in everyone's interest. Readers are being softened up for another term of amnesia. Oh, the Middle East Crisis? Turn to page 6, where we learn that valiant Israel is "resisting help" from an "international military force", as it punishes the citizens of Lebanon. So far 254 people killed, over 500 wounded, "all but 13" civilians. Numerous tourists and Lebanese nationals are trapped, terrified and starving. Israel has denied the Australian government safe passage for its citizens. George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and the Murdoch media agree that Israel had been "obliged to strike back in self defence", following the capture of its soldiers - one in Gaza, two in Lebanon. No mention that the number of Palestinian children currently in Israeli custody is 388. No comment on the unashamed sadism of Israel wanting "no one to sleep at night in Gaza." No reference to the fateful 9 June explosion on a Gaza beach, which wiped out 8 Palestinians and injured another 30. Nor is the "valiant Israel" narrative clouded by mention of Palestinian casualties since September 2000, the killing of almost a thousand children and minors, the injuring "in various degrees" of another 18,800+. http://ptimes.org/main/default.aspx?_contenttype=art&_contentid=5419184a-aae7-445e-9994-597cbb5fe912
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Such data cuts no ice with Bush, Blair or Howard, three leaders who put the match to Iraq, the ones who are loaded with moral responsibility for every innocent death and mutilation triggered by that squalid invasion, since descended into pack rape, pillage, torture and terror. More than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq in the first half of this year.
Yesterday, 50 corpses, 100 wounded. Maybe the three leaders barracked for Israel's right to commit war crimes to divert attention from their own. They trashed Geneva, let Ehud Olmert trash Geneva. Murdoch's still blowing his bugles, eager for cheap oil. His paper's editorialist glanced at the flames of Beirut from his Sydney office and concluded, "Israel is doing Lebanon a favour...." http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,19809776-601,00.html.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Robert Fisk reports on the massacre of Marwaheen, "All the civilians killed by the Israelis had been ordered to abandon their homes in the border village by the Israelis themselves a few hours earlier. Leave, they were told by loudspeaker; and leave they did, 20 of them in a convoy of civilian cars. That's when the Israeli jets arrived to bomb them, killing 20 Lebanese, at least nine of them children" .

In Haaretz, Gideon Levy puts it like this: "In Gaza, a soldier is abducted from the army of a state that frequently abducts civilians from their homes and locks them up for years with or without a trial - but only we're allowed to do that. And only we're allowed to bomb civilian population centers." There are bastards and angels on both sides, but noble leadership on neither. Israel has the right to defend its citizens, but not to annihilate neighbours.

All this carnage on the 70th anniversary of the fascist bombing of Guernica, which prophesized calamity. Four Islamic lands now under aerial bombardment, more in the firing line. For all the bright lights, witty musicals and executive jets, the world is reeling. Polluted heavens, clouded judgments, melting glaciers, declining oil, burning forests, rising seas and ... that sinking feeling. At the dawn of the 21st Century, we are stuck with leaders whose mindset is medieval.
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Richard Neville has been a practicing futurist since 1963, when he launched the countercultural magazine, Oz, which widened the boundaries of free speech on two continents. He has written several books, including Playpower (71), the bio of a global (more...)

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