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Building the future in a time of revolution; Part 1: Our approach to the world in historical context

June 18, 2020

“A revolution is not a dinner party”: Chairman Mao.

We are in the middle of a number of revolutions, which we must try to understand and which require independent national strategy and vigour. They will be rough and unavoidable. Can we make it? Not with present political leadership and community attitudes.

With family and friends in the United States and having in the past worked on the alliance in Defence and the Washington embassy.  I am deeply troubled by events in that country. I am no old anti-American.

The present crisis is very real. What I write here ought to be blindingly obvious, but our government provides no lead.

All this is personal because it affects us all. It cannot be left to the wonks or to politicians’ vague reassurances.

There is the ‘need to know rule’ but of more importance the obligation to say “I don’t know, we have to figure this out together, let me provide as much information as possible… and I’m not going to decorate my appearances with a general or a doctor for at least a month.”

The United States continued for long to enjoy disproportionate preeminence in the post-WW2 political, military and financial systems of which it was major architect. That fabric on which US status continued to float has been punctured by the present American Administration.

Over time, United States military adventures have produced more and more negatives and few positives and have encouraged a variety of countries and increasing numbers of non-state operatives to go violent, especially since Bush II. NATO and Australia must share blame with the US.

Gross inequality has become the norm in a world where the internet and social media show everyone everywhere everything, a matter more significant and more unsettling than the projection of war into US TV from Vietnam.

There is an historical revolutionary precedent for our current information revolution in the spread of printing presses in Europe five hundred years ago, undermining the established religious and political order, boosting nationalisms and leading to the creation of nation states from the 1600s. We should not underestimate the force of the present information revolution, and its interaction with plague and inequality.

Nobody knew where things were going back then, nor do they now.

Indignation flows from anxiety. Nasty actors will destabilise more countries. Statesmen everywhere will offer solutions either imaginative or repressive, based on established practice, which will be bowled over by their own people; as France discovers repeatedly and Peter Dutton doesn’t understand.

The US now denigrates and disassembles alliances, ends arms control agreements and enthusiastically reinvigorates arms race, spending more on defence, while increasingly deeply indebted not least to China… while abusing China.

American relations with China, South Korea and Japan are descended into squabbles. The Koreans and even Japan will lean further towards China, for security, for income and social stability. Trump shot down the multilateral trade agreement which would bind the rest of East and Southeast Asia and Australasia to the US.

The United Nations is disparaged and US dues well behind in payment. Jurisdiction of the International Court has always been rejected by the US, it’s not all Trump’s edict. The US has withdrawn from UNESCO and now says it will withdraw from WHO — turning off the taps during a fire. It is a general rejection of multilateralism of all kinds for its insult to American exceptionalism. Embargoes or sanctions are tossed here and there, military attacks launched or threatened without compunction and with dishonest justification. Hard countries are let lose, Israel and Saudi Arabia are recipients of American money and weapons and increasingly aggressive. Iran, among the most ancient of civilisations, is given no chance to emerge from a repressive situation. Argue about details but you can’t avoid the trend.

All these things are now happening mid-pandemic, with crash of oil price, reorientation of work and business practices, with global depression, with famine expanding in hard and sick places. And in the background, the foreground and the future—climate change, environmental disruption, and the ‘sixth extinction’.

At the beginning of June, Trump ran for his basement bunker seeing an enemy at his gate. That enemy being citizens angered by lack of leadership, by provocation to violence and by encouragement of white supremacy from the White House. Infuriated by criticism he began advancing in more aggressive and fascistic manner. For a calm and lucid alternative to the media blast about the US I like the email that historian of the US Heather Richardson writes every night setting out what happened in the US that day. Heather began this during the processes for impeachment of President Trump last year. Find Heather’s daily notes here.

Lies and truth are seriously scrambled in this critical moment. I am reminded that one of the problems bringing about the sinking of the Titanic was that the radio operators worked for Marconi not Cunard and were too busy with passengers’ messages (social media) to listen to the weather messages.

The American alliances, including the alliance with Australia, run out of meaning and valuable purpose. Germany has chair of the European Council for the second half of this year and Chancellor Merkel and EU Foreign Affairs chief Borrell have made clear that this is the beginning of the Asian Century and this year the key negotiations will be with China, and Russia. Not the USA.

For Australia, our alliance with the US has allowed us to sleepwalk through illegal wars for two decades. The alliance and its acolytes in Australia enable the Australian defence establishment to subvert civilian command of national strategy… or is it civilian government that has lazily lost its grip? The parliament and electorate at large run on repeated clichés and increasingly chauvinistic sideswipes at contrary thought. This must not prevail.

The lesson of the last summer for Australia, for all of us, should have been that security depends not on absurdly expensive submarines and warplanes and shaping our defence force to fit the US Indo-Pacific Command, but in other directions, ensuring we are a country worth having and protecting.

Dennis Argall has been a long-time contributor to the New Bush Telegraph. We are very happy to have Dennis back after a decade away. This two-part article was originally published on 1 June for a national blog on policy issues. Particular circumstances change but the big issues remain.

Dennis Argall’s degrees were in anthropology and defence studies. his public sector work in foreign, defence and domestic departments and for the Australian parliament. His overseas postings included Beijing as ambassador and Washington. He established and secured organic certification for a small orchard near the Tuross River, in the 1990s, sold in 2013...the house he built and the orchard devastated by fire 31 December 2019. Dennis has a Permaculture Designer Certificate and his North Nowra house has largely vanished within the garden. Dennis regrets the extent of his personal experience with disability but it has sharpened his desire that the future be a better country.

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    2 comments on “Building the future in a time of revolution; Part 1: Our approach to the world in historical context”

    1. Dennis Argall's article hits some serious issues though it is not all as bleak as many may assume from all that Dennis has written. There is an awakening though it needs to be hugely increased in size and speed. Our corrupt political leaders of all stripes have lulled the population into an Amnesia little short of a coma. In the guise of saving us from a Pandemic that is not, our country is being driven into ruin with no sceintific or medical justification. There is a bigger game at play. Its wake up time NOW.

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