14 December 2007

the Nanjing Atrocity and the War on Terror

I just read a brilliant article on the Nanjing atrocity. Japan persuaded itself that China was not a unified nation-state and therefore Chinese soldiers and civilians did not enjoy the protection of international law. By the time they extended the war on China to include nations they did recognise they had a an army accustomed to carrying out atrocities that could not be retrained or restrained.

The parallels are uncanny. Not only did japan use the same legal fiction: 'Our enemy is not a nation-state so international law does not apply', they also used the same cover-up: 'Our troops were out of control and there only isolated incidents' when in fact the imperial army repeatedly ordered the commission of war crimes. Japanese conduct at Nanjing was so appalling that the Nazi German consulate in Nanjing denounced it to Berlin as a war crime.

Such considerations shed light on three major underlying causes of the Nanking Atrocity. First, contempt for China as a modern nation led to a deficient concern for applying international law toward it. Just as serious fighting in northern China began, an undersecretary in the Army Ministry sent a notice dated 5 August 1937 to the China Garrison Army’s Chief of Staff: “It is inappropriate to act strictly in accordance with various stipulations in ‘Treaties and Practices Governing Land Warfare and Other Laws of War’.” Similar notices went out to other units as well. The message can only be construed as: “there is no need to obey international law.” Second, this overweening attitude diluted concern for protecting Chinese civilians, as well as foreign diplomats and residents, from the horrors of war. The CCAA was formed haphazardly on 7 November 1937. Since it was not supposed to move far west of Shanghai, it had no supply-and-support units to provision troops, who could only rely on plunder to sustain themselves en route to Nanking. This increased their frequency of contacts with, and opportunities for violence toward, civilians. The SEA and the Tenth Army had no liaison staff or units trained in diplomacy; so those armies’ relations with Japanese diplomatic officials in China were bad, to say the least. Troops viewed diplomats as a thorn in their side; diplomats who tried to stop army brutalities exposed themselves to danger. A third and related underlying cause of the Atrocity lay in the CCAA’s disregard for upholding troop discipline and morality. It had no specialized military police (MP) units, and the few individual MPs who were on hand could not possibly maintain order. As one attached to the Tenth Army bewailed, “With less than 100 of us to control 200,000 men in several divisions, what could we do?”


There may be a WWII precedent for the Bush administration's approach to the conduct of war, but it is certainly not Churchill.

23 November 2007

the jellies that ate Bondi

Well, not quite or at least not yet. Before Southerly Buster stopped blowing for a while, I posted about the exciting saga of the giant jellyfish, a product of ocean acidification, invading Japanese waters Well, according to Shifting Baselines, a swarm of jellyfish, dense pack of about 26 square kilometres and 11 metres deep, yesterday attacked a salmon farm in Northern Ireland and ate US$2 million worth of salmon.

Ocean acidification, driven by global warming and chemical pollution, including agricultural runoffs is having serious effects much closer to home than Northern Ireland. So hum the theme from Jaws next time you surf. But think jellies, not jaws.

22 November 2007

slouching towards Bethlehem

This morning's AM described the Coalition's best case scenario:

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well Tony, that the most likely outcome is a Labor victory. But - and it is a fairly significant "but" - that a Coalition win is not out of the question, and it certainly hasn't given up.

Now, that's based on them sandbagging all of their marginal seats and making it difficult for Labor to take some or all of the 16 that it needs and having to go higher up the tree, if you like, for the low-hanging fruit that's available.

And the way that that would work would be Labor … sorry, the Liberal Party holding the line in Victoria. Now, they need five per cent to take Deakin there, and the seats above it.

And it appears that Labor has stalled in Victoria at around about 4.5 per cent of the vote. So, if that happens and they can just lose three seats in South Australia, two in Tasmania, maybe pick up one in Western Australia, hold the line in the Northern Territory, then the Labor Party is forced to find all of the seats it needs, pretty much, to win government in New South Wales and Queensland.

So, it would be a difficult task, but as I said, that's the masking tape and bailing wire Coalition victory. It could come apart at the seams.





I applied these assumptions to the ABC's election calculator. The first figure shows the Coalition assumptions with no change in NSW or Queensland. I think the outcome is hopelessly optimistic because, out side Western Australia, the polls continue to show a decisive Labor lead. If I were drawing a true picture of what I think will happen outside New South Wales and Queensland I would give Labor 1 or 2 more seats, with the possibility of a major swing in South Australia throwing the calculation completely.

The Coalition battle plan has Labor searching for 13 seats in New South Wales and Queensland. I assigned 8 seats to NSW and 5 to Qld and then adjusted the election sliders to find what swings would bee needed in those states to produce a Labor victory f 76 seats. That gave me my second figure.

I find it hard to see how Labot can win less than 76 seats. Within the 2 states I think Labor will do well in aspirational seats on the edge of Sydney where both Work Choices and interest rates are biting hard. I'm told Labor feels very good about North Queensland where there are 2 marginal seats to be had, and Brisbane where Kevin Rudd is the favourite son. I'm also told Labor is very encouraged by polling in Bennelong and North Sydney. In 1983 many seats went Labor in the bush because it's hard for rural voters to support government candidates when their towns are collapsing in the face of prolonged drought and where I suspect climate change is suddenly a very live issue indeed. Last year I travelled around rural NSW for a week and it was hard to get anyone to talk about anything but the drought and climate change in pubs from Jindabyne to Dubbo.

If the swings in SA, NSW and Qld go far above the numbers in figure 2 then we are looking at an earthquake, not a landslide.

23 October 2007

National security finally hits the election

The AbC's reporting that Howard and Cheney did a deal over Hicks. When this was first raised, months ago, ABC Insiders pooh-poohed the whole idea by saying there was no way for Cheney to communicate the the military commission hearing Hick's case. Later that week we learnt that the sentencing agreement was reached with the chief military prosecutor of the commission, an old Cheney staffer, not the military judges themselves.

Now we have a report from someone present at a meeting between Howard and Cheney. The Age has the anonymousquotes:

"One of our staffers was present when Vice-President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks's plea bargain deal," the unnamed officer told a contributor for Harper's magazine.

"He did it, apparently, as part of a deal cut with Howard.

"I kept thinking: this is the sort of thing that used to go on behind the Iron Curtain, not in America.

"And then it struck me how much this entire process had disintegrated into a political charade.

"It's demoralising for all of us."


Amazing how well-informed the nameless military source is about Australia. Howard long ago turned national security into a political charade, one that may be about to come home to roost. Howard's bee good at fooling people. It's hard to think of a worse time for one of his charades to come unstuck.

25 August 2007

aspirational justice

The Man of Steel's prime ministerial sermons are gutting increasingly silly and more and more all they do is excuse a group of Australians and banish them beyond the pale. Australians in remote indigenous communities do not get asked about intrusive government measures that will not reduce the incidence of child abuse and are contrary to what the authors of Little children are scared recommended. Australians worried about nuclear power do get asked. Australians worried about local council amalgamations do get asked.

The expanding reach of the Man of Steels passion for talking about anything and everything but his own record has now touched on criminal justice. Australians who protest are clearly not part of the nation either.

More than that, they're guilty of offences they have not yet committed.

22 August 2007

Haneef transcript

The Haneef transcript is in the public domain, where it should always have been. Now we all know that Western civilisation as we know it faces a threat more dire than the invasion of the Mongol hordes under Batu Khan in 1241. So dire a threat that we need an ever-vigilant Federal police to keep us safe in our beds.

That's why I'm a little alarmed to read at least one of our vigilant defenders has a small gap in his technical awareness.

HANEEF: No sometimes I use Skype.

AFP: How does that work?

HANEEF: That's just an Internet calling.

AFP: Okay, I'm unfamiliar with that, that's all. What do you need for that?


I'll read on, as soon as I've carried out my civic duty of telling the AFP about the highly secretive and dangerous Internet technology known as Skype. The highly-trained AFP interrogator also appears not to know what a Yahoo chat is, what years Indians attend school, what a medical intern is, or even the basic geography of Bangalore or the state of Karnataka. In the alternative, the AFP interrogator may know all these things but decided they're so secret they had to be kept from Haneef and his lawyer at any cost.

If this is the best the AFP can do, we should all invest in rubber bed sheets. And while we're at it, we might like to recall the French state was so busy framing Dreyfus they allowed the real spy, Esterhazy to escape.

23 February 2007

How many Libs does it take to change a lightbulb?

In the dismissal election of 1975 the Libs ran on the slogan 'Turn on the lights!', a slogan they stole from the British Labour party which had used it during the UK general election of 1974. Typical Libs! First they want us to turn the things on, now they want us to turn them off!

Send a third stage guild navigator to meet with the prime minister



Here is a recent file picture of Prime Minister Howard meeting with Vice-President Cheney.

In other news from Arrakis, the discoverer of the extra-solar planets HD 209458 b and HD 189733 b reports that that they appear to have even less water than the Murray-Darling basin. The scientist comments:

...some of those silicate clouds they found may have been belched up by Shai Hulud


We're yet to learn what tribute the prime minister will be required to pay the vice-president.

trafficking in permits

Sydney is an undisclosed location since Cheney flew in last night. The usual suspects in the Howard government are naturally milking the Cheney trip for all its worth. I suspect they're going to find Cheney a fairly dry teat.

Earlier in the week, the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth 2 were both in Sydney at the same time. The result was gridlock around the harbour and an abject apology from Premier Maurice Iemma and various other state officials for not foreseeing the gridlock. I suspect that's got a lot to do with the weird decision-making on the issue of granting a permit for the demonstration against Cheney last night.

The police refused the permit. The demonstrators threatened to march down George St anyway. The police eventually allowed the demo to walk down the side of the street as long as they did not block traffic. 10 people were arrested in between refusing the permit and effectively granting the permit.

Demonstrating is part of the right to free speech.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.


That right should really not be suspended because the government blew the planning for the arrival of two ships and the premier went into panic mode. Sadly, I think we'll see the panic mode get recycled a few more times before the state election on 28 March.