Book reviews

Frontier Justice: Weapons of mass destruction and the bushwacking of America, Scott Ritter. Scribe, 2003. isbn 1 920769 04 8, rrp $25

George Orwell would have been proud of Scott Ritter’s latest book, Frontier Justice. It continues the tradition of using clear and precise prose to cut through the spin, lies and hype that pollute our world. Ritter examines the foundations of the marketing of the war in Iraq, and exposes the half-truths and lies that led the American public into war, as well as those responsible.

The strength of Frontier Justice is that it goes beyond the single issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the deeper ideological struggle to define democracy, the rule of law and freedom. The parallels that Ritter draws between the political strategies of the Nazis and the Washington neo-conservatives or, as Ritter labels them, the ‘PNAC posse’ [Project for the New American Century] are both eerie and disturbingly plausible. Some may say that Ritter’s analogy in Frontier Justice between Bush and Hitler is a tired leftist stereotype. However, the analogy is based on solid argument and highlights the gravity of the current American and global predicament.

Ritter recalls the words of Nazi minister, Hermann Goering  at the Nuremberg trial: ‘Why of course the people don’t want war … All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.’ The words are a powerful reminder that abuses of power continue, whether in government or the media. The exposure of such abuses in Frontier Justice makes it well worth reading.

Godfrey Moase

Best Australian political cartoons 2003, Russ Radcliffe (ed). Scribe, 2003. isbn 1 920769 06 4, rrp $30

At last year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival, cartoonist Peter Nicholson showed an early draft of his cartoon about Peter Hollingworth’s handling of the sexual abuse issue. The archbishop marches proudly onward, eyes on the future, leading his sheep, while at the back of the pack, unseen by the archbishop, a ram rapes a small lamb. There was an audible gasp from the audience. The published cartoon depicts the same scene with a vital diffference. The ram is staring down at the lamb, intent on intimidating, but without the sexual element the image is much less confronting. (The first, unpublished cartoon, forms part of this collection.)

Russ Radcliffe’s collection is a welcome assessment of the year past. Many of the cartoons depict the war in Iraq, and Australia-US relations in light of the justness or otherwise of that conflict. Remember too that 2003 gave us the ‘history wars’, the jailing of Pauline Hanson, the attempted dismantling of ATSIC, the ordination of an Anglican bishop who declared himself gay, accusations of ABC bias, the detention of children and Medicare overhauls. All have been rich fodder for Australia’s excellent political cartoonists.
The Nicholson scenario underscores the power of political cartoonists, and in an age of polished spin and obfuscation, we have never been more in need of their sharp analysis. While we might recognise the name of a columnist and immediately read on, or turn the page, the cartoonist is much more likely to get his or her message across in one hit.

Marcelle Mogg

Quarterly Essay, ‘Made in England: Australia’s British Inheritance’, David Malouf. Black Inc, 2003. isbn 1 86395 395 7, rrp $12.95

I have long suspected that David Malouf values what he perceives as his cool, rational English inheritance from his mother more than the warmer, Mediterranean infusion from his father.  This essay—with his prose as detached and deliberate as ever—appears to confirm my hypothesis but he seems to have been enticed into byways which are as idiosyncratic as they are unconvincing.
I do not challenge his essential argument that language defines culture. Indeed, the force of history (as well as language) is extraordinarily enduring and Malouf presents well his belief that American society is, in its tissue and public rhetoric, the product of the Elizabethan England of the era of its foundation (can American solipsism be so readily accounted for?), whereas Australia is the post-Enlightenment child of Englishmen who had become phlegmatic of temperament and utterance—hence our understated character and cast of speech.

His view seems to be that the rest of us have pliably accepted this fine, if austere, patrimony. Accordingly he ignores the profound Irish counter-influence, going so far as to call Patrick O’Farrell as a witness to the genteel adaptation by the wild Hibernians when they entered a finer society.

 This is odd in an essay that draws so extensively—and engagingly—on history but sometimes Malouf’s conclusions are eccentric, even amblyopic. If it is a shock to read his opinion that Australian history has been ‘unviolent’ (how could anyone assert that nowadays?), then it is simply bizarre for him to argue that 1941 was the watershed after which we were all ‘fully alive at last to our consciousness’, deeply connected to the soil.

Few would concede that we have fully reached that state 60 years later but Malouf’s assertion is of a piece with the pervasively panglossian tone of his perplexing essay.

John Carmody

And further…

Essays read most sharply when you can instantly see who is the arguing partner. In this respect, the previous Quarterly Essay by Germaine Greer contrasts starkly with David Malouf’s serene celebration of the patterns of relationships and institutions that come with an English foundation. Perhaps at the heart of Malouf’s Australian story is a defence of the Enlightenment against its critics. For me, the essay did its job—it led me to take up again Manning Clark’s more dramatic meditation on the spiritual and cultural conflicts involved in the distinctively Australian appropriation of the Enlightenment.

Andrew Hamilton



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