Letters to the Editor

Issue 

Howard speech

The October 4 Sydney Morning Herald printed an extract of John Howard's speech to the Quadrant 50th anniversary celebration the night before. I wrote a letter about it. Unsurprisingly, the SMH has not printed it:

"Of Howard's two favourite historians, Blainey is famous for his veiled anti-Asian racism, and Windschuttle is the Australian equivalent of a Holocaust denier. On the US war in Vietnam — my memory is of the 2-3 million people of that country and its neighbours we managed to kill. Our crimes. Of the people who 'took on the communists' — I remember Heinz Arndt as one of the main supporters of the Indonesian military's murderous (and illegal) occupation of East Timor. And as for Thatcher, Reagan and Pope John Paul II — Howard's holy trinity — I'm sure we all have our own memories of those people, as do the British miners, the people of South America, among many others.

"I am glad to see John Howard so keen on 'the ideals of democratic freedom and liberty under the law'. There are precious few democratic freedoms under the laws his wretched government has passed, with the help of the 'loyal opposition'. One day soon, the truth of these dark days will descend on us... environmental destruction, the loss of all decency. Not only is a different world possible, it is absolutely necessary if we want to survive."

GLW receives and prints many excellent letters. I send this one because I think we need to respond to the stuff that the SMH printed so reverently at the top of the Comment page last week: Howard's toxic twaddle.

Stephen Langford

Paddington, NSW

Steve Irwin

I agree with John Tognolini (Write On, GLW 684) that Steve Irwin's politics were dodgy when it came to John Howard, AWAs, etc. His memorial service was also a hideous pastiche of national identity cliches. I also have reservations about his conservation through privatisation strategy — rich people buying up huge tracts of land. But at least such land is protected from loggers and housing developers, and we can always nationalise it later.

Yet, despite his inability to recognise certain conservative politicians as highly venomous, I really liked Steve Irwin and was deeply saddened by his death. Those of us who liked him did so for a variety of reasons. In an age in which "appearance" is often valued more highly than "essence", his almost complete lack of pretense struck a chord with many.

For me, it was Irwin's attitude to his family. While the partners of most successful men are kept firmly ensconced in the "private" sphere, Steve was upfront about how central his family was to his happiness and success. He didn't present himself as the self-made man, as so many other men, with far more academic knowledge about gender, so often do.

He acknowledged the role of his parents in supporting and encouraging his unique affinity with animals. His wife Terry did not play the typical supportive but unseen role. She was right beside him, in front of the cameras. And Bindi's gender was not a problem for Steve — he was priming her, not his son Bob, to be the next "crocodile hunter".

So given what I see as his (albeit unconscious) unconventional and highly commendable rejection of patriarchal private/public split norms, I found it ironic that the first attack came from Germaine Greer.

Belinda Selke

Blackheath, NSW

Protest actions

Tom Hollywood (Write On, GLW 685) raises vital issues for the left/progressive movement of what type of protests are going to successfully challenge and overcome the entrenched conservative forces in Australia and elsewhere.

Having been involved in the anti-war, anti-imperialist struggles (among others) since the late 1960s and attended countless protest marches and other demonstrations, I disagree with Tom that the time when street marches had an impact have had their day and now achieve little. They make some people take notice and think about the issues. They make us feel we are doing something at least in the face of the powerful ruling elites, that we are not being silent and there is a strong and empowering sense of solidarity.

That said, protest actions don't have be confined to street matches. During the anti-Vietnam War and anti-conscription campaigns, we held huge street demonstrations, but they were part of a broader movement that put some of that massive support into other actions — sit-ins, occupations, etc., to make the system unworkable.

Big marches were held to save the Franklin River, but the Franklin River blockade — using people in non-violent actions to blockade the sites — slowed the destruction and gained such publicity, that we won this battle.

These days with the increased security around some places, it would be harder to blockade or occupy, but there still are softer political/business places that could be targeted for boycotts, blockades, sit-ins, occupations, that would give real problems to our rulers and be successful in a wide range of ways to advancing our cause.

Steven Katsineris

Hurstbridge, Vic [Abridged]

Cuba

In an article in GLW #688, responding to Liberal Senator Gary Humphries' slanderous attack on the Cuban Revolution and its supporters in Australia, I wrote that Cuba has the same infant mortality rate as the United States. This was based on the figures available at the World Health Organisation website (<http://www.who.int>), which provides figures from 2004. However, as the New York Times reported with dismay in January 2005, according to the CIA World Fact Book, Cuba's infant mortality rate is even lower than that of the richest country in the world. The NYT reported: "Here's a wrenching fact: If the US had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year."

The current 2006 CIA World Fact Book estimates also put Cuba's infant mortality rate as lower than in the US (6.22 deaths/1000 versus 6.42/1000 — see <https://cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook>).

My article also reported, based on WHO figures, that Cuba had nearly twice the number of doctors per head of population as the US (5.91/1000 versus 2.56/1000). Not only is this true, but according to the WHO, Cuba (where health care is almost entirely free) has the highest ratio of doctors per head of population in the world. This achievement is not just remarkable for a Third World country suffering a crippling economic blockade, but also considering the fact that Cuba currently has 25,000 doctors providing free health care to the poor in 68 countries.

As the world watched with horror as the poor were left abandoned in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cuba's immediate offer to send hundreds of doctors to assist was rejected by the US government. The competing examples offered by Cuba and the US in relation to not just how each country treats its own citizens but also the people of the world brings to life Karl Marx's warning that humanity faces a choice between socialism and barbarism.

Stuart Munckton

Dulwich Hill, NSW

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