Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, April 28, 2004
FROM THE EVIDENCE of her Foreign Correspondent contribution last night, Jill Colgan is either seriously under-qualified for her expensive employment, or disgracefully unprofessional.

No-one can accuse her of not declaring a point of view right at the start.

"Opinion is turning in the United States" says Colgan. "Ordinary Americans are telling their President that the human cost of the war is too high".

This is presented as a statement of fact. In fact it is wrong:

Survey results released this month [April] from the latest national Harris Poll ... found that a 51% to 38% majority of the respondents continues to believe that "Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction when the war began," almost unchanged since the last poll in February.

If you would like another take on that:

Even with the loss of more than 700 U.S. troops in Iraq, recent uprisings against the U.S.-led occupation there, a dwindling number of allies and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, a majority of Americans still believe going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do.

By 52 percent to 41 percent, Americans trust Bush more than Democratic challenger John Kerry to handle the Iraq situation, according to last week's Washington Post/ABC News Poll -- a double-digit improvement for Bush from a month before.

You may wonder why we send a correspondent across to the US to misinform us on matters that we can easily inform ourselves about.

I will say this for Colgan, she is not daunted by her uphill task of misinforming Auntie's audience. Her approach is a stunningly simple exercise in old-fashioned agitprop. Here's how it goes.

Following Colgan's first declaration of the party line we join some amputee Iraq veterans for dinner. They are being shouted a feed by Vietnam vet restaurant owners. While the camera lingers on their stumps these remarkable young men are heard commenting positively on their futures, and on their military service.

One of them, missing a leg, pins in his bones, his face reconstructed from a pulp, tells us brightly that he would be happy to go back again. All of these men were volunteers, after all, and knew what they were volunteering to do.

All of this is passed over by Colgan as if it isn't happening. She has more pressing work to do.

Colgan's tactic, in support of the lying thesis of her essay, is to enlist that old Stalinist technique, the Popular Front. This last had a good airing during the Vietnam war protests. We had not only pacifists against the war, socialists against the war (neither especially respected by the electorate) but also Unionists against the War (slightly better), mothers against the war (well, yes) and Doctors against the War, Dentists against the War (much better) and so on.

The object of the propaganda theatre of the Popular Front is to pretend that the opposition to this war in particular arises from the Doctors' doctoring, rather than from their pre-existing political commitments. Before this unjust, imperialistic etc war came along our doctor was a simple fellow devoted only to the care of patients. Now, hit in the face by the immorality of this latest incident, he feels compelled to drop his stethoscope in favour of the banner, the petition, the public stump.

Such transparent lies. But they never lose their appeal to the agitating left, because they are utterly persuasive to their troops, and they will fool some of the uncommitted.

And so we find the same popular fronting going on in the campaign against the liberation of Iraq. Jill Colgan focuses on one particular -- against the War theme: opposition from within the military, or rather their families. She hands over most of her pulpit to the leaders of Military Families Speak Out. Let's look at how this constituent of the Front came about.

In the period immediately before the liberation began two people, Charlie Richardson (not the one who holds office in the Vietnam Veterans association) and Nancy Lessin, were visible in the anti-war movement. This was hardly surprising. They were both veterans of the anti-Vietnam war protests and both are currently described as labour movement activists. That means, I suppose, that they hate free markets, corporations and capitalism in general. They are, in other words, the usual suspects.

"In the beginning, there was a very clear understanding that this war was not about defending the U.S. It was about oil."

Richardson, however, had an additional qualification that made him useful in constructing the Popular Front against the liberation of Iraq. He had a son, Joe, who was a Marine and about to be posted to Iraq.

Bear in mind that Joe, like the other US forces in Iraq, was/is a volunteer.

"We're terrified. ... The hardest thing would be for someone to tell us that our son has been killed in an unjust war," he [Richardson] said.

Not much risk of that, fortunately. Joe is an Arabic specialist. That is, he's a back-room boy.

The risk to Joe Richardson was greatly reduced when he returned to the US in May 2003, although Jill Colgan tells us that he has 'just returned'.

Charlie Richardson is gracious enough to concede that "We don't speak for Joe," although he doesn't tell us, and Colgan never asks, why that is. Is Joe a supporter of the foul US imperialists, is he afraid for his career, or does he wish his parents would just grow up? Wouldn't it be good to know!

On this basis Richardson and Lessin confect a new movement called Military Families Speak Out, and I don't need to tell you what they are saying.

They claim to have built up to a couple of thousand members in recent months, but who's counting?

Apart from their fellow suspects, MFSO incorporates a number - I assume a small number - of parents of Iraq casualties. These make excellent camera fodder. Their grief is real and demands that we listen. When that grief turns to bitterness that blames their leadership for the childrens' deaths we keep listening, but we are free to doubt their political analysis.

This is the Deegan factor, which I name after the Adelaide magistrate Brian Deegan who lost his son Josh in the Bali bombing. You would think the responsibility for Josh's death is pretty clear, but Brian Deegan prefers to blame John Howard, not because Howard offended the Islamists in East Timor, but because he fought them in Afghanistan.

The Deegan factor comes into play when grief compounds a limited understanding of the world and produces a moral arrogance that permits the parent to lash out at some target closer to home than the actual killers. Now that Brian Deegan has decided to stand for Parliament against Foreign Minister Downer we'll all be able to judge better the quality of Deegan's political judgment.

When I see the bitterness of MFSO's supposedly representative bereft mother I can't help sharing her sense of loss. But it is reasonable to doubt whether that bitter denunciation of all that he died for is the best way to remember him and what he believed in. Grief is not beyond criticism.

Even more I wonder at the callousness of people like our career agitators who pretend to share the mother's situation and use her confusion and anger for their own purposes.

Most of all I wonder how someone employed by our national broadcaster as a senior journalist can package such stunting up for us, and use it to support a a conclusion so obviously inconsistent with the facts.

If Auntie allows herself to be used as an arm of leftist propaganda how can she expect us to go on paying her for it.