Tim Blair


New Criterion



Sunday, August 08, 2004
THAT OLD DUFFER, ex-General Peter Gration, has set running another circular letter attacking Government policy and, in the Moorean spirit of these times, focusing on a contempt for John Howard who has LIED us into war in Iraq.

You may recall that on his last excursion from blimp-heaven Gration joined the ranks of the lunar right Citizens Electoral Council, and those mullahs and Islamic spokesmen who never get around to saying a critical word about Islamicist violence and anti-Semitism.

The dear old chap seemed not to notice the wounds to his credbility from associating with such political bovver boys, and claimed that in the passion of battle he had not even looked at their uniforms.

So, has he chosen his 42 comrades more carefully this time?

Remarkably, one of them is even more ancient than the General. For your old Uncle to find someone noticeably doddery he has to be very ancient indeed.

In the case of John Burton, prominent among the signatories published to date, we have a man of 89 years, surely long enough to learn wisdom. Perhaps not, in Burton's case.

A son of the Wesleyan faith, Burton was a bright young man who was fast-tracked to the top of our Department of External Affairs through Bert Evatt's patronage, when EA was even younger and less experienced than Burton himself.

Alas, Burton's leftism did not recommend itself as warmly to Sir Robert Menzies (not least because, as reader Rob points out in his comment on this post, Burton's Department had proved so hospitable to at least two men known by the security service at the time to be spies for Stalin) and by 1951 the young Burton was pastured out as High Commissioner to Ceylon, a position he held for all of two months before returning to Australia to stand for Parliament against Billy McMahon.

History records that McMahon won. If history did not record it then no-one could possibly believe it, apart from members of the Australian Historical Association who believe as a matter of principle anything that serves their ideology.

If Billy McMahon had beaten you in any contest not involving ear size then you too would do as Burton did and hide out on a remote farm.

Burton was rescued from his rural retreat by successive academic appointments. Of Burton's academic work you can judge for yourself from the list to be found here.

Allow me to say that Burton spent his life pursuing a version of pacifism elaborated by the doctrines of non-alignment fashionable in those de-colonising days, especially among tyrants eager to play both super-powers off against each other while cuddling up to Mao Tse Tung.

Another element of Burton's life's work was conflict-resolution, and who could disagree with that, except when misapplied, like the currently-popular doctrines of international law, to the naughty, ungoverned world of nations, and when it is treated as a substitute for enlightened, and armed, self-interest.

Pacifism, especially of that programmatic kind, always finds an audience in the academy. In Burton's time its political expression in the democracies were the calls for disarmament. Unfortunately, the published works of John Burton on the efficacy of disengagement from the Cold War were little read in the Kremlin, and failed to compete with Mao's Little Red Book of permanent revolution in China.

Outcomes of this kind rarely dent the confidence of your true ideologue. Nor did the unpredicted collapse of the Soviet system. The policy nostrums remained the same.

You can understand why the venerable Burton, now retired from his farm, is such an attractive figure for Phillip Adams who visited him, like an undertaker with his tape-measure, but a few months ago.

I am delighted to see that Burton, despite the Gastropod's liberal application of choking slime, can still put his pen to Gration's petition. I can't say it will convince me of the petition's argument, however.

The next name to appear among the Howard-hating group-thinkers is Stuart Harris, a rather more conventional academic than Burton, but another Labor appointee spring-boarded to the top of Foreign Affairs by Bob Hawke. If the man had not trained as an economist I'd be more inclined to listen to his views, but would still treat him as a partisan. And when I find him supporting Latham's intemperate abuse of President Bush, and referring to the Iraq allies by the inflammatory term favoured by the Islamic totalitarians, "crusaders", I judge that yet more evidence of the inability of academics to think intelligently about politics.

One of Harris's successors in the top chair at Foreign Affairs, Richard Woolcott, who as Ambassador to Indonesia and since was one of the architects of Australia's failed East Timor policy, was foolish enough to join Harris in supporting Latham's insults, and similarly joins Harris in this current foolishness.

Apparently there are 39 more of these people with distinguished public records whose identities will all be revealed in tomorrow's press.

I suspect that behind them lie another 39 stories like those of Burton and Harris, of people whose policy credibility and intellectual discipline do not even match that of a day-labouring pollie like John Howard.

I also suspect that over their signatures we'll find the same old doctrines, half-truths and lies that the Iraq episode and the war on Islamic totalitarianism have produced countless times before.

Auntie's news commentators think it will cause John Howard serious embarrassment. I doubt it.

They say old age is reached when the size of a man's prostate exceeds the size of his brain. In the case of these gentlemen the offending organ is the one responsible for vanity.