Sunday, April 23, 2017

In which the pond does time with a white feather woman, aka petulant Peta ...

(An anonymous note written on the back of what is thought to be a 10 year old boy's picture: What a promising boy… Now wear this brooch and buttons and your frilly white dress. ‘Whilst your brother goes to war (his older brother was 16 at the time and a member of the Royal Field Artillery), riding gallantly, the town all sees your ways… Chicken you are!! - here).

The pond would like to approach today's reptile column cautiously and indirectly, by noting one of the more contemptible aspects of World War One, a war notorious for introducing a vast range of contemptible ways of making war, from chemical weapons to warm bodies being treated as mindless bullet and munitions stoppers ... and that's before we get on to the vast meaninglessness and futility of the enterprise in which so many innocents were lost for no good reason, and others who survived had their lives ruined ...

This particular contemptible phenomenon featured women, and it involved an idea which devolved from a group of women who formed an Order of the White Feather (as noted above, more here).

This noxious, cowardly, devious, nasty, toxic notion involved flourishing white feathers at men so that they might be shamed into heading off to war ...

As always, there were victims ... the site linked to above provided this story by Francis Becket, published in The Guardian in 2008, about his grandfather, shamed into fighting:

He had three small daughters, which saved him from conscription, and his attempt to volunteer was turned down in 1914 because he was short-sighted. But in 1916, as he walked home to south London from his office, a woman gave him a white feather… He enlisted the next day. 
By that time, they cared nothing for short sight. They just wanted a body to stop a shell, which Rifleman James Cutmore duly did in February 1918, dying of his wounds on March 28. 
 My mother was nine, and never got over it…. She blamed the politicians. She blamed the generation that sent him to war. She was with Kipling: “If any question why we died, / Tell them, because our fathers lied.” … But most of all, she blamed that unknown woman who gave him a white feather, and the thousands of brittle, self-righteous women all over the country who had done the same… (the story can be found in full at The Graudian here).

There are always petty, mean-spirited, noxious, toxic women ready to hand out the white feather, and so the pond can now turn to the latest modern example ...

You've got to wonder why people write this sort of simple-minded rhetorical meaningless shit, of the golden age, there were giants in those days, kind, which strips people of their shared humanity.

You know, this sort of poster nonsense designed beguile fools and lead them to their death ...

There's always a point of course, in doing the compare and contrast, and handing out the modern white feather ...

It's done to demean the current living and the different... It's a form of rhetorical bullying and Colonel Blimp bluster, best done by those who've never seen or experienced action ... and it produces this sort of response to the dog whistle ...

Yes, it's that special brand of Terrorist reader ... a genuine fuckwit, addle-brained and bigoted to boot, who presumes to speak on behalf of others, while basking in the inner glory of his bigotry.

This sort of warfare usually results in a lining up of distant relatives - the pond's grandfather was a machine gunner in the Somme - to re-fight contemporary wars, with neither side actually anywhere near stomach-high churning mud, bullets zipping by or high explosives producing deafness at best, and instant death at worst ...(the pond's grandfather luckily settled for deafness).

The syndrome is best revealed by petulant Peta's opening gambit ... which naturally trades on a snap of men heading off to die in abundant numbers ...

There it is, a classic white feather moment. Note well that petulant Peta didn't stand, while a member of Australia's armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, though the opportunity was no doubt open to her ...

Instead, she stood in a touring party, no doubt with a handy security guard surrounding the party, amongst headstones and had an ecstatic moment of identification with the dead ... quite possibly before hopping into a business class seat and flying back home after a few nights in a decent hotel.

Talk about a cosmic joke, no doubt one that would be enjoyed by the diggers killed long ago in one of the most epically futile, stupid and useless military operations of a war noted for many such exercises ...

Once upon a time, the pitch was that Anzac Day was a time for remembering sacrifice and the fallen, not glorifying war ...

It's supposed to be a commemoration, and the long absent lord strike the pond down for quoting the man who gave Sydney the Olympics rather than infrastructure, but this was Bob Carr's take on it ...

Well your average, war-mongering white feather woman isn't going to have any of that ... there must be viciousness, and trading off on a snap of even more graves ...

Oh fuck, here it comes, the valiant warrior, petulant Peta, is going to go to war and blather about the "unique set of Australian values that set this country apart". 

Exceptionalism, provincialism, dunderheaded parochialism never dies ... it just dons its set of white feathers and flaps squawking into the sky ... but please don't forget to include a shot of fighting diggers so that the white feather woman might pose amongst them ...

Actually, the pond's grandfather came back from the Somme shattered by his experiences of war, and turned into a hopeless drunk, who occasionally bashed his wife when he was fully on the piss, and then turned remorseful and gentle and kind when he sobered up.

Demons raged within him, and he stormed around the house shouting at pink elephants (it was what alcoholics were supposed to do, and so he did). He routinely locked us out of the house, and when he was in his cups, he made life miserable for all of us ...

He never talked about the war ... most of those in the pond's extended family who served - and being lumpenproletariat country folk, there were many who were ripe to be cannon fodder - never talked about their experiences.

The few hints they dropped consisted mainly of the hope that fuckwits and jingoists of the white feather kind might never put their descendants in harm's way ...

They were also inclined to be surprisingly tolerant, which isn't that surprising. After you've lain in a trench and seen the man next to you have his head blown off, questions of gender and tolerance and such like seem quite minor matters ... but not to your average valiant white feather woman ...

Every Anzac Day there's at least one contemptible column that comes the pond's way, and this is it, at least until the next reptile has a go. 

What would the white feather woman make of the pond's grandfather hitting the pond's grandmother ... "real men don't hit women". 

But he was a real man, one of those bronzed Anzacs the twits blather about, a machine gunner at the Somme, up to his guts in winter mud, at a time when machine gunners were a prime target because of the damage they could do (though he wasn't bronzed, and by the time the pond knew him, he was white haired and feeble).

He just happened to be a tortured and lost soul, but at least he was a tolerant man ... and as a result, we enjoyed the free food sent across by the Chinese running the restaurant across the road, and formed a friendship with the owners - lumpenproletariats and aliens together ...

It seems safe to say he would have loathed the words of a white feather woman rabbiting on about identity politics, and would have gone with family over ideology ... after all, the pond notes with some pride that his sister was barking mad and ended up a nun, and others in the family were barking mad, and so all got along famously barking at each other ...

No doubt it helps explain why the pond turned different, and moved amongst other aliens and dissidents ... and routinely takes heart that others think that petulant Peta, the onion muncher and the like are just a jingoistic bunch of dickheads ... likely to reveal all that's worst about themselves and their beliefs on significant occasions ...

And so to a few ways to change the tone ...

Everybody was once made to study the poem below at school, and the pond still likes it. The ADB has a tidy short biography of Kenneth Slessor here ... it pleases the pond to note that he was an agnostic to the end and had a secular burial service, along with this reminder of his once common larrikin stance ...

...His admiration for the ordinary soldier combined with his sharp eye and linguistic skill to make him a distinctive correspondent, but his dislike of military authority, and his frustrations with wartime censorship and military bureaucracy, led to disputes.

Put it another way. It was a great tradition to mock horses' arses, and the sort of cheap, easy, jingoistic rhetoric of the sort of horse's arse crap spouted by the white feather woman ...

First the pond must borrow a couple of cartoons from the Kiwis ...

And a couple from plucky Aussies ...

And so to that Slessor poem ...

Now there's a spirit the pond understands ... and if anyone wants to feel sentimental, forget the stupid war on political correctness and remember the sharing ...


  1. We don't see or hear much about it nowadays but maybe those who most loudly spruik about Australia's part in WWI being all about "defending our freedoms" should perhaps try to remember this:

    "The One Day of the Year is one of the most provocative plays ever staged in Australia, and was banned for fear of offending members of the Returned Services League. A panel of judges had chosen the play to be performed at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1960. But before rehearsals commenced the board of governors of the festival banned it, believing the content to be insensitive to returned servicemen. The decision to ban the play aroused considerable controversy and an amateur group defiantly staged it in a suburban hall in Adelaide several months after the festival, with some funding from the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. It was a success and a Sydney production followed. The first professional production of The One Day of the Year opened on 26 April 1961 at the Palace Theatre in Sydney after bomb threats kept the cast out of the theatre for 24 hours."
    [ ]

  2. Very well said, DP.

    My own family has a somewhat similar story, of a great-grandfather I never met though he didn't die until I was ten; he came back from the Great War "not quite right", and eventually just wandered off. I suspect it was a very common experience among families with members who served in WWI - which would have been the vast majority of Australian families at the time. I wonder how deeply Credlin has looked into her own family's history, or whether she's just been happy to accept the legends?

    I've long admired that American term "Chicken Hawk", used to describe enthusiasts for aggressive military action, defence buildups and military service who have somehow managed to avoid ever serving themselves. Perhaps membership in "The Order of the White Feather" is an appropriate Aussie equivalent.

  3. Hi Dorothy,

    "A Bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends"

    Attributed to Lenin but used by the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia during WWI.


  4. Credlin has clearly had a very limited education. Never saw "All quiet on the western front", or even our own "Gallipoli". Never read "The bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling" or "Her privates we", or even "Goodbye to all that". Never seen what damage a 303 can do to anything in its way. But, would it make any difference if she had?

  5. One of my grandfathers was too young, and the other too bolshie to "fight for English businessmen", but I had two great-uncles at Gallipoli - one survived the charge at the Nek only to die at the hands of a British engineer with too much TNT and too little self-restraint to ensure his mine was clear before detonating the charge. The other survived three years of combat, only to endure 60 years of night terrors and addiction. Sad to say he, too, was occasionally given to expressing his PTSD with his fists. The only time I know of him speaking of it was his description of ferrying shells forward to the gun line near Passchendaele, having to cross the skyline of a ridge and being "in the sights of every damned gun in Belgium". My great-aunt gasped, "I don't how any of you came back sane!" He simply smiled, rolled up another Capstan and growled, "What makes you think we did?"

    1. Yes I had a grandfather on the Western Front, also given to 60 years of night terrors, unhappily married. Even though my father grew up listening to his fathers nightmares he had no hesitation leaving his reserved occupation for the Air Force. Grandfather was adamant that the Dawn Service was only for men who returned from the trenches and thought the RSL was only for servicemen who RETURNED from service overseas. Not sure Korean veterans counted.

  6. While Slessor's Beach Burial is beautifully elegaic, I prefer the trenchant criticism of Owen's Dulce et Decorum est:
    ...If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori

    Or better yet La Chanson de Craonne, the scurrilously cheerful dirge of French soldiers marching towards the deadly plateau of Craonne, only hours after seeing the rich on the boulevardes of Paris, utterly unaffected by the war:
    Ceux qu'ont le pognon, ceux-là reviendront
    Car c'est pour eux qu'on crève
    Mais c'est fini, car les trouffions
    Vont tous se mettre en grève
    Ce s'ra votre tour messieurs les gros
    De monter sur l'plateau
    Car si vous voulez faire la guerre
    Payez-la de votre peau!

    Those with the dough, they'll all come back,
    They are the reason we die.
    But that's over now, 'cause all of us grunts
    Are going to go on strike.
    Now its your turn, all you fat cats,
    To climb up on the plateau.
    'Cos if you want to make war,
    Pay for it with your own skin.

    1. Ah yes: the 'Nivelle Offensive', the glory of General (later Marechal) Petain and Un petit peu de décimation.

      I can't recall any English (much less Australian) equivalent of the Chanson de Craonne though - the anglo works seem to be the simpler mournings of a Slessor or Owen.

    2. Thanks for that personal moment FrankD, and the pond still remembers the moment that it first came across Wilfred Owen a pacifist slap across the cheek ...


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