Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gerard Henderson, and time for some necessary historical effusiveness ...

(Above: John Frith in The Bulletin, 8th October 1941).

Men and women of the United States:

I speak to you from Australia. I speak from a united people to a united people, and my speech is aimed to serve all the people of the nations united in the struggle to save mankind...

... It was, therefore, but natural that, within twenty days after Japan's first treacherous blow, I said on behalf of the Australian Government that we looked to America as the paramount factor on the democracies' side of the Pacific ...

We looked to America, among other things, for counsel and advice, and therefore it was our wish that the Pacific War Council should be located at Washington...

Etc etc etc and thanks to Curtin University and ABC Radio Archives, you can listen to the entirety of John Curtin's supplicatory speech to America, on the 14th March 1942, here.

I suppose it could be called more a pitiful, down on bended knees, prayer for help and aid, a beggar crying for alms, than a mature democracy proposing an alliance.

No doubt this would suit Gerard Henderson's blinkered view of history, on display yet again in Whoever started it, the US embrace has turned into a group hug:

Like many successful entities, the Australian-American alliance has numerous parents. Interviewed on The Bolt Report this month, the ALP operative John Della Bosca declared: ''The Labor Party created the US alliance.'' But in Canberra last week Julia Gillard referred to the 60th anniversary of the alliance - which takes us back to 1951, when the Coalition's Robert Menzies was prime minister.

Ye cats and dogs, is there nothing that Bob Menzies can't do, including the turning of the alliance between the United States and Australia into a mere afterthought of his own intrepid work. Please do go on notorious Sydney Institute operative Henderson:

The fact that ownership of the alliance is contested between the two main parties demonstrates that it has become a bipartisan political fact of life. In truth, it has a bipartisan background. Joseph Lyons, who led the conservative United Australia Party government, first raised the issue of a Pacific pact - involving Australia and the US - at the 1937 Imperial Conference in London. The proposal did not get very far, but the Lyons government began proceedings to set up an embassy in Washington. This was created in 1940, shortly after Lyons's death in office, by his successor, Menzies.

Yes, it seems opening an embassy is roughly equivalent to forming an alliance, in which case it's astonishing how little peace there is in the world, since it would seem that almost every country is in some kind of alliance with every other country, seeing as how there are so many embassies and ambassadors gallivanting around the globe.

Never mind that Curtin, with his speech, got the period equivalents of David Flint, and their forelock tugging loyalty to the old country and the monarchy into a right old tither, and sent Churchill into a rage.

The statement caused a sensation. Churchill was furious, and addressed an angry cable to Curtin. President Roosevelt mistakenly believed that Australia was a British colony in 1941, and felt that Curtin's speech smacked of disloyalty. (here)

And where was Bob Menzies in all this, as Curtin withstood the pressure to redirect the 7th Division to the defence of Burma? Why standing firm, and so ...

... the 7th Division was saved from almost certain destruction. Curtin suspected that Churchill regarded Australia as expendable. He was briefly ill from the strain.

Menzies and the Opposition parties had supported Churchill. Never had the division between those backing supposed Imperial and Australian interests been so exposed; Curtin's decision was a landmark in Australian history. (John Curtin - Australian Dictionary of Biography).

The problem confronting Curtin was a practical one. Churchill had diddled him, Macarthur felt diddled by Roosevelt, and so the pair got together to work out a way forward.

How does Henderson try to befuddle and confuse the historical record? Why by dragging in Joe Stalin and kicking the Communist can ...

Curtin's article has been cited by many on the ALP's right wing as evidence that Labor founded Australia's military alliance with the US. But it's not as simple as this. In that article Curtin also said, ''Australia's external policy will be shaped towards obtaining Russian aid, and working out, with the United States, as the major factor, a plan of Pacific strategy, along with British, Chinese and Dutch forces''.

Mention Russia in earshot of Henderson, it seems, and you're in trouble, but actually in terms of proposing and forming a military alliance, the record shows it was as simple as that. So there's even greater need for the blinkered Henderson to befuddle the record:

By Russia, Curtin meant the Soviet Union - led by Joseph Stalin. It was naive to believe the Soviet Union could be a partner with Australia in establishing peace in the Pacific. Moreover, Curtin's attitude to Britain in his article was insensitive and unwise. There was nothing inconsistent in Australia looking to both the US and Britain.

Now it turns out that parts of Russia actually sits on the Pacific, dab smack right next to Japan. It might have been a forlorn hope, given Russia's problems elsewhere, but at the time everybody was looking to Russia for help, and in the end it was the weight of Russia's sacrifice that saw Russian troops roll into Berlin before anyone else. Reluctantly or otherwise, Churchill and Roosevelt all danced with the Russian bear, and while you might call them naive, the pond prefers the notion of realpolitik.

For Henderson to trot out nonsense in favour of Churchill and Britain - given the dismal failure at Singapore, Churchill's relentless lack of interest in the fate of Australia, and the pressing march of the Japanese south is ... well how to put it? Some might say it's insensitive and unwise, but we'll settle for ideological revisionism and zealotry in the guise of faux history.

On and on he rabbits, looking for ways to muddy the water and distort the actual unfolding of events, looking at history through the wrong end of his warped ideological telescope.

And if kicking the Commie can fails to convince, there's always the UN can to kick:

Throughout the 1940s, during the prime ministerships of Curtin and Ben Chifley, Labor's foreign policy was driven by the external affairs minister, Bert Evatt. Evatt was essentially an internationalist who believed in the United Nations. His emphasis on the UN led to a scaling down of Australia's relationship with the US after the end of the Pacific war.

Oh yes, Doc Evatt was an internationalist and his belief in an organisation that wasn't actually formed until 1945 ruined everything in 1942.

Let us revert to John Curtin 14th March 1942:

We looked to America, among other things, for counsel and advice, and therefore it was our wish that the Pacific War Council should be located at Washington. It is a matter of some regret to us that, even now, after 95 days of Japan's staggering advance south, ever south, we have not obtained first-hand contact with America. Therefore, we propose sending to you our Minister for External Affairs (Dr H.V. Evatt), who is no stranger to your country, so that we may benefit from his discussions with your authorities. Dr Evatt's wife, who will accompany him, was born in the United States. Dr Evatt will not go to you as a mendicant. He will go to you as the representative of a people as firmly determined to hold and hit back at the enemy as courageously as those people from whose loins we spring... those people who withstood the disaster of Dunkirk, the fury of Goering's blitz, the shattering blows of the Battle of the Atlantic. He will go to tell you that we are fighting mad; that our people have a government that is governing with orders and not with weak-kneed suggestions; that we Australians are a people who, while somewhat inexperienced and uncertain as to what war on their own soil may mean, are nevertheless ready for anything, and will trade punches, giving odds if needs be, until we rock the enemy back on his heels.

Ye anguished cats and dogs, Doc Evatt's such an internationalist, he got hitched to a woman born in the United States!

The nakedness and the obviousness of Curtin's cry for help - pandering with a reference to marrying a dman Yankee - apparently can't penetrate the thickets of Henderson's myopic thinking.

There's more of course, how Menzies was a nationalist rather than an internationalist, and how ANZUS was all the work of the Liberals, and how no doubt as a result, the Liberals own the alliance with the United States:

Until Bob Hawke became prime minister in early 1983, there was always some ambivalence within the ALP about the Australian-American alliance.

Might that have something to do with getting involved in the completely useless war in Vietnam, courtesy the American alliance?

Might the coalition right at this moment not be experiencing some ambivalence about the completely useless war in Afghanistan, courtesy the American alliance?

Well indeed some in the coalition might, but not Dr. No, off doing his Putin routine last week (Tony Abbott makes surprise visit to Afghanistan).

It seems Henderson might have been unnerved, perhaps even sickened by the sight of the Obama caravan dashing briefly through the country:

The problem with the current state of the relationship does not turn on policy but rather that it may be unnecessarily effusive.

Unnecessarily effusive.

Please dear, get out the antimacassars and a nice lace tablecloth and our nicest doilies, and the very best china, and prepare a nice cup of tea and a scone, but please no lamingtons, because we don't want to be unnecessarily effusive.

No mention of Tony Abbott's unnecessary effusiveness:

Mr Speaker, it was once said that’s what’s good for General Motors is good for America. With rather more confidence it could be said that what’s good for America is likely to be good for the wider world because the United States is the most benign, the least self-interested superpower the world has ever seen. (nauseate yourself further here).

Yes, yes, let's effusively mention a permanent joint facility while we're at it, along with Pine Gap and Kojarena. Or effusively posturing in Afghanistan.

As usual, our prattling Polonius finishes with a resounding rhetorical flourish:

It's a long time since Lyons thought getting closer to the US was a good idea.

Yes and it seems an even longer time since Curtin first proposed a boots and all military alliance with the United States in 1942.

I couldn't imagine a longer time, unless you happened to be taking the time to look for someone who professes to being a historian confusing the setting up of an embassy with the establishment of a military alliance.

Even Tony Abbott isn't such a complete doofus:

Mr Speaker, to the Liberal National coalition, the American alliance is the cornerstone of Australian security, as it has been since we first “looked to America”, in anticipation of the fall of Singapore ...

Uh huh. Singapore fell in February 1942, and Curtin looked to America in March. Oh okay, he also looked earlier, but the pond likes to think that the fall of Singapore and the speech to the American people was the real turning point.

Do go on ...

... and Prime Minister Menzies and President Truman subsequently concluded the ANZUS Treaty.

Dear sweet absent lord, and they say history should be about accuracy rather than ideology, or else you can end up in the revisionist land of the Communists, but here we are with Curtin wiped from the record, his speech gone and forgotten, and the slate wiped clean for Bob Menzies to strut his stuff, and never mind Mr. Churchill, guv'nor ....

It seems Uncle Joe isn't a patch on the revisionism doled out in the antipodes ...

Come on down Jacinta Livingstone, Brisbane Girls Grammar School and remind us that history can be done without ideological blinkers in your prize winning essay:

Imbued with a strong nationalism and facing the likely prospect of a Japanese invasion, Prime Minister John Curtin shocked many of his fellow Australians, especially those who had long regarded themselves primarily as British subjects living in the Antipodes, with his New Year message for 1942 printed in the Melbourne Herald on December 27 1941. 'Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom,'' the message said (Curtin, 1941). The fact that in some of the darkest days of World War II Curtin's words were greeted as an insult by an angry British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and with concern and disdain by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, attests to the importance of the statement. On the one hand, the statement represented a significant turning point in Australia's foreign policy. This was because after 163 years as an outpost of Britain, still frequently referred to as the 'mother country' by many Australians in the early 1940s, Curtin faced a clear choice and opted, prudently, to put the nation's security ahead of imperial sensitivities. On the other hand, however, the statement also represented a continuation of the spirit and direction of Australian foreign policy since Federation in that it tied the nation's security and wider interests to another great power with whom it also shared a common language, a democratic system of Government, a mixed free enterprise economy and a Judeo-Christian ethic - the United States of America. (here).

By golly, will someone give Jacinta a column at Fairfax? She almost persuades me to join with Tony Abbott in thinking Curtin was proposing a military alliance before the fall of Singapore. Before of course the Liberals set up ANZUS to save us from the Japanese and the UN and the Ruskies ...

On the evidence, she sounds a thousand times more sensible than that myopic Dr. Henderson ...

(Below: William Mahony, Daily Telegraph 1942, found here).

1 comment:

  1. Yeah. The Age had the right idea. They got rid of the idiot. I think Andrew Jaspan gave him the shove after Hendo recycled one of his regular character assassinations of Doc Evatt. Jaspan asked the younger journos at The Age if they'd ever heard of Doc Evatt. Half of them hadn't and the ones who had couldn't care less. After that it was bye, bye Gerard. But sadly, only in Melbourne.


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