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<nettime> The Axis of English by Stephen Bennetts
bifo on Fri, 22 Oct 2004 05:26:57 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Axis of English by Stephen Bennetts


I post this paper by Stephen Bennetts because I find it is describing very 
well the current Italian situation, in its political and anthropoligical 
implications. But also I like the humorous critique of the cultural and 
psychological British condescension towards Mediterranean people.

Bennetts reports that Churchill wittily said that it was 'better to have 
the Italians as enemies than as allies.'. I think that there is something 
true and deeply meaningful in this racist sentence of that depressed fat 
wormonger.
The fascist penchant of the Italian character has to be understood as a 
pathetic effort of counteracting the special mediterranean dolce vita 
culture. There is a double bind in the mediterranean relationship to 
history, and especially to the military side of history.
Italian cowardice is my only personal national identification, the only 
Italian identity I like to share.

franco berardi bifo



Stephen Bennetts is currently working in the department of anthropology at 
the University of Western Australia


The Axis of English: the Iraq war seen from Italy.
The gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked 
characteristic... It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered 
and the policemen carry no revolvers... and with this goes something which 
is always written off by European observers as 'decadence' or hypocrisy, 
the English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and 
it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. 
Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it.
'England your England'.
George Orwell

Making these observations during a Nazi bombing raid on London in 1941, 
George Orwell noted that 'as I write, highly civilised human beings are 
flying overhead, trying to kill me.' In 1937, he had narrowly escaped death 
fighting as a Republican soldier against Franco's Fascists, and then 
subsequently at the hands of Soviet agents bent on purging non-communist 
elements on the Republican side. Marooned in one of the last bastions of 
democratic Europe, and surrounded by a sea of competing totalitarianisms 
whose brutality he had experienced personally, it is perhaps not surprising 
that Orwell celebrated the virtues of British civilisation in this manner. 
In 2002 and 2003, as Britain, Australia and the United States prepared 
troops for the invasion of Iraq, I observed in Italy an overwhelming tide 
of opposition to war which led me to conclusions about the nature of 
Anglo-Saxon culture which were diametrically opposed to Orwell's. Returning 
to Australia after 12 months in Italy, I was also hit by a sense that 
something in the national atmosphere had changed dramatically for the worse.

Certain features of one's home country stand out sharply when you return 
home after a long period away. Living in Italy between 1988 and 1990, I 
found a depressing air of conformity and moral and cultural stagnation in 
which the cultural vitality I had glimpsed in Italian cinema of the sixties 
and seventies seemed only a distant memory. As I prepared to return to 
Australia in early 1990, the gross consumerism and political corruption of 
the eighties was about to explode in the great Tangentopoli corruption 
scandal. What struck me most forcefully about Australia on my return was 
that it seemed well governed, enjoyed the British virtues of a functioning 
civil service and the rule of law, and seemed relatively untarnished apart 
from Queensland by systemic political corruption. Italy had seemed like an 
almost feudal society in which there were 'no rights, only privileges', 
whilst in Australia, there seemed to be a genuine commitment to 
constructing a society based on principles of egalitarian social justice.


Returning to live in Italy in 2002 and 2003, the country seemed to have 
regained a cultural and spiritual vigour which I had found so lacking in 
the late eighties. The old corrupt Christian Democrat political order had 
been consigned by Tangentopoli to the dustbin of history, opening up space 
between 1995 and 2001 for the first centre left government in post war 
Italian history. New countercultures had emerged and there was an openness 
to the outside world I had not noticed in the eighties. The country's new 
right wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, elected in 2001, did seem 
however to provide an element of continuity with the past. During the 
eighties, it had been the Machiavellian Giulio Andreotti (seven times prime 
minister and recently acquitted of his third and final charge of Mafia 
collaboration) who had epitomised the ancient Italian art of political and 
diplomatic opportunism. Andreotti even managed to shock such a cold eyed 
observer as Margaret Thatcher. Comprehensively outmanoeuvred by Andreotti's 
negotiating team during discussions over EU monetary union in the early 
nineties, Thatcher commented in a thumbnail sketch of Andreotti in her 
memoirs that he 'seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a 
conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.'

  Whereas the Spaniards had made a remarkably swift transition to 
parliamentary democracy after nearly forty years living under a Fascist 
dictatorship, in Italy, democracy still seemed in 2002 to be on very shaky 
foundations indeed. When he came to power in 2001, Berlusconi already owned 
most of the commercial TV stations in Italy and the advertising companies 
which fed them, in addition to sizeable publishing and print media 
holdings. In office, he wasted no time in stacking the board of the RAI (an 
Italian version of the ABC or BBC), ensuring effective control of almost 
all state and commercial TV outlets in the country. Several of Italy's most 
talented political journalists and satirists were soon purged from RAI 
programmes on the grounds that they had criticised the Prime Minister. None 
of them has so far been reinstated. It was as if Australian media magnate 
Kerry Packer had been elected Prime Minister of Australia without divesting 
himself of his media interests, and had then proceeded to gain control of 
the ABC and SBS[1] boards while the Australian Parliament, Head of State 
and High Court remained powerless to do anything about it. For anyone who 
has spent time in Berlusconi's Italy, recent Government attacks on the ABC 
and the BBC for alleged 'anti-American bias' and not toeing the war line 
have a chillingly familiar quality, and seem part of a generalised global 
political campaign against public broadcasting. On a more positive note, 
Australians may be proud of the fact that the SBS network is superior to 
any television service currently operating in Italy.

On coming to office, Berlusconi faced several serious criminal charges, 
including one case in which he was accused of bribing several Roman judges 
in order to fix a multi-million dollar judicial decision in favour of his 
Mediaset empire in the early nineties. The Berlusconi government now began 
to simply change any laws which might expose their leader to prosecution. 
Berlusconi's defence lawyers were installed on the same parliamentary 
commissions which were responsible for vetting the legal amendments 
necessary to keep him out of jail. A government law passed in July 2003 to 
grant him full immunity from criminal prosecution while in office was 
subsequently overturned as unconstitutional in January 2003 by the Italian 
High Court. It all seemed a world away even from the mendacity and deceit 
of Howard's Australia.



Italy: Millions Flood Rome

When Bush began his drive towards war on Iraq, one got the feeling that for 
Berlusconi, it was the perfect distraction from these embarrassing legal 
concerns. His response combined the great ad man's instinct for trying to 
sell everyone what they wanted, with the Italian tradition of diplomatic 
opportunism and of trying to secretly negotiate the best possible deal with 
all interested parties without any clear commitment to any principle 
whatsoever. However, Berlusconi's attempt to ingratiate himself with the 
Bush Administration was completely out of step with Italian popular 
sentiment. In mid-February 2003, I filed the following rather 
melodramatically-worded report in the Australian Green Left Weekly:

At least 2 million people (organisers estimate 3 million) from all over 
Italy converged on Rome on February 15 for probably the largest peace rally 
held anywhere in the world on that day. An entire section of the historic 
centre of Rome, between the Colosseum and piazza San Giovanni, was packed 
for hours in a slow moving carnival of dancing and music, surrounded by a 
sea of coloured banners. The piazza San Giovanni, with its extraordinary 
backdrop of the Basilica of San Giovanni and the Lateran Palace, seat of 
the popes for centuries, has been the traditional venue for major Communist 
Party rallies in the post-war period.

The slogan Stop the War, No Ifs or Butsbrought together participants 
representing the breadth of Italian society and from more than 400 
different organisations. Catholic youth, nuns and priests marched in the 
early spring sunshine alongside young people with dreadlocks, nose rings 
and Palestinian scarves.

Many marchers had left home late the night before on nearly 3000 special 
buses and 30 extra trains to travel to the Italian capital.

The stage was hung with one of the twentieth century's most vivid images of 
war, Pablo Picasso's Guernica. Among speakers from all over the world who 
addressed the rally were Kurds, Iraqi dissidents, Palestinians, a 
representative of the American Council of Churches and an Israeli 
conscientious objector who had spent three 7months in an Israeli military 
prison for refusing to serve on the West Bank.

Italy's right-wing government, led by Silvio Berlusconi, has openly sided 
with Washington and Britain in their plans to attack Iraq. Without 
consulting the Italian parliament, the government on February 13 agreed to 
US requests for the use of Italian rail, road and airport facilities for 
its war on Iraq.

The massive demonstration confirmed opinion polls showing that Italians 
overwhelmingly reject Berlusconi's pro-US, pro-war line.

City councils that have raised the rainbow peace flag have been threatened 
with prosecution. This has prompted a wave of civil disobedienceby mayors 
all over Italy and a defiant rush to get hold of peace banners.

At the February 15 rally, hundreds of local councillors from as far away as 
Friuli on the Austrian border arrived in Rome to march in uniform behind 
their cities' banner.

Catholic opposition to war is very strong, and the Catholic Church is an 
important component in the Italian peace movement. The pope has condemned 
the drive to war more openly than almost any other world head of state and 
the Vatican has played a significant role in European diplomatic efforts to 
prevent war.

Apart from its large Catholic population, there is also a counterbalancing 
anti-clerical tendency in Italy for whom the current Pope is something of a 
conservative bogeyman. Yet the Pope's outspoken opposition to war 
galvanised Catholic and non-Catholic opinion alike. In 1915, Pope Benedict 
XV had denounced the First World War as 'this useless slaughter'. In his 
almost daily denunciations of the case for war, Pope John Paul II now 
seemed to fall only a little short of issuing an excommunication against 
Bush. Although Italians had become accustomed to images of an increasingly 
enfeebled Pope debilitated by Parkinson's disease, he now seemed to go into 
training like a champion boxer preparing for a big match. He was reported 
to have begun a special course of treatment which involved drinking a 
vitamin-rich concoction of papaya every morning, and seemed to emerge 
extraordinarily reenergised, ready to go head to head with George Bush. 
'History will judge him', commented the Pope bitterly as the US President 
finally let slip the dogs of war. Few other world leaders had had the 
courage to condemn US militarism so openly.

In Easter 2003, I attended the celebrated Good Friday procession on the 
island of Ischia, during which a shrouded seventeenth century wooden image 
of Christ is carried in silence through the streets by hooded members of 
the local religious confraternity, attended by a heart-rending Baroque 
image of Christ's grieving mother, the Madonna of Sorrows. We later 
adjourned to a nearby pizzeria to watch the RAI telecast of the Pope 
leading the Good Friday service in the Colosseum in Rome, which was ablaze 
with candles. From this killing field in which perhaps half a million 
Christians and pagans had once been torn apart by wild beasts, crucified, 
killed in gladiatorial combat or burnt alive for the amusement of the Roman 
populace, the Pope gave forth a great cry of anguish at this planet 
transformed into a cemetery, this earth full of tombs. In a kind of access 
of poetic Christian existentialism, he later claimed that God had 'turned 
his face away from human beings in disgust'. Through his outspoken 
statements, the Pope created a remarkable consensus which united Italians 
of all political and religious denominations in opposition to the war.

Many Italians seemed prepared to go a lot further in their opposition to 
the war than I could imagine was happening back home in Australia:


Growing campaign of civil disobedience against US military convoys in 
Northern Italy
February 2003

Italian peace activists have been blockading US military convoys along 
Northern Italian rail routes since last Friday, as the centre right 
Berlusconi government faces a rising tide of opposition to Italian support 
for a US attack on Iraq.

Under the NATO treaty, Italy hosts a network of 12 US military bases, 
including Camp Derby near Pisa, the largest American weapons dump outside 
the US. On 14 February, the Government acceded without parliamentary debate 
to US requests for military access to Italian rail, road, port and airport 
facilities for the redeployment of war materiel to Turkey via Camp Derby 
and the port of Livorno.

Over the last few days, the Stop That Train; Disobey Global Warcampaign has 
attempted to block 27 special trains laden with US troops, tanks, rocket 
launchers, jeeps and bulldozers which are en route to Livorno. Members of 
the railwayworker's union have been providing activists with detailed 
information on rail movements, and in a rerun of a 1969 scenario during the 
Vietnam war, dock workers are refusing to load military cargo in Livorno. 
Following union bans, civilian train drivers have been replaced by Italian 
military engineers. Many of the trains have been delayed for hours and 
forced to re-route along minor branch lines, although some have finally 
reached Camp Derby following intervention from Italian riot police to clear 
the rails. The Government appears however to be playing its cards 
carefully, aware that the issue could easily become a flashpoint in a 
country where the majority, including the Pope, are opposed to the war on 
Iraq and where even some members of the ruling coalition have openly 
questioned Berlusconis support for the war on Iraq.



The drama is being played out mainly in Tuscany, an historic stronghold of 
the Italian Communist Party and also of the Italian Resistance movement 
during the Second World War. In the current spate of railway sabotagethere 
is perhaps an echo of the tactics used along these same railway lines by 
Italian Partisans during the German occupation. The blockade is being 
co-ordinated via SMS messages, alternative websites and radio stations such 
as Radio Sherwoodwhich are providing up to the minute information on the 
latest military train movements. On the Indymedia website, a technician 
explains how to stop a train by activating red train signals. A wide range 
of groups are involved in the blockade, including the Italian Green and 
Communist Refoundation parties, trade union groups, the uncompromising 
anarchist 'Disobedient ones, and Catholic peace groups which include 
several Catholic priests.

  According to a survey published on Tuesday by the Rome daily 'La 
Repubblica', 34 % of Italians support the current campaign against the 
military convoys. The blockades seem to be becoming more radical in nature, 
as the leader of one peace group called on activists to stop the war 
machineby putting sand in the petrol tanks of US military vehicles. A small 
group of activists have begun a more generalised campaign of disruption to 
train traffic by activating emergency brakes in civilian trains, and train 
stations all over Italy will be occupied on Wednesday in a national day of 
protest against what the activists call the trains of death.

  Even though every one of the 'trains of death' eventually reached its 
destination, in Italy, direct action was not, it seemed, a dirty word. Back 
home it seemed to be considered 'un-Australian'. Green Senator Bob Brown's 
interjection during George Bush's speech to Australian Parliament was 
greeted with a paroxysm of popular outrage, for Brown had let the national 
side down at one of those very rare moments when the rest of the world was 
actually aware of our existence. At a time when we should have been basking 
in the reflected glory of our illustrious guest, CNN had beamed the whole 
embarrassing incident around the world. Australian talkback radio hosts and 
the sagacious crocodile trainer Steve Irwin[2] fantasised openly on air 
about kneeing the obnoxious Greens senator in the balls, while even 
political moderates seemed to see the incident as an appalling lapse from 
the otherwise impeccable standards of Australian parliamentary tradition.

In Spain, another "non-belligerent" Bush ally, opposition to the war was 
running at 91 per cent at the outbreak of war. Prime Minister Jose Maria 
Aznar, a slightly more polished but equally colourless Spanish version of 
John Howard, tried unsuccessfully to push the same line on the war as 
Berlusconi. In Spain, Good King Juan Carlos enjoyed the kind of popular 
prestige which the feckless Windsor family could only dream of, due largely 
to his courageous role in the transition from the Francoist dictatorship to 
democracy. Like Berlusconi and Howard, Aznar was keen to gain a moment of 
glory at the minimum of national expense by sending a frigate to join 
coalition troops in the Persian Gulf. Since Juan Carlos was formally head 
of the Armed Forces, Aznar would need his assent. When he declined to give 
this, a furious row ensued, after which the King disappeared discreetly 
from view for nearly two weeks. This lead to wild popular speculation that 
Aznar had ordered the Spanish Secret Service to kidnap the head of state. 
Meanwhile, Barcelona peaceniks were elated to rate a mention in a speech by 
Bush in which he stated that 'not even the demonstrators in the streets of 
Barcelona' could do anything to sway him from his course. Meanwhile, my 
four year old daughter was banging pots and pans for peace every night in 
Barcelona with her mother and militant socialist grandmother from the 
backblocks of Andalucia. This was the classic popular Hispanic tradition of 
the 'caceroleada' popularised by the mothers and grandmothers of 'the 
disappeared' under the Argentinian military dictatorship. Every night from 
the beginning of the war right up to its conclusion, the caceroleada rang 
out in Barcelona between 10 and 10.15 pm.

  Coverage of Australia's participation in the war on Iraq was mercifully 
scant in Italy, a far cry from the Tampa crisis the year before, when 
Australia was front page news in Germany, Italy and Spain for a week, and 
when I was tempted to pretend I was a New Zealander. Amidst the throng of 
cash-strapped, easily suborned Third World countries and former Eastern 
European dictatorships with whom we joined the 'coalition of the willing', 
Howard's stagey military antics were barely detected at all in Europe 
outside Britain.

My account of this period hardly does justice to the thousands of 
Australians who rallied against the war while I was away. During a 
spectacular mass break out from Woomeras refugee detention centre  in the 
central  desert in 2002, Australian activists and refugees had attracted 
wide international publicity by pulling down security fences with their 
bare hands, thus. It was gratifying to see Italian TV news footage of the 
red letters No Waron the Sydney Opera House, and to get a brief glimpse of 
a papier mache Howard in the form of a dog licking George Bushs arse in the 
Sydney peace rally. Then there was my friend Sue in the nude womens peace 
rally in Byron Bay, indiscernible in the page three photo in La Repubblica. 
As I told her later, anything with naked women in it was sure to get a run 
in Italy.



As war broke, the biggest trade union in Italy called a one hour national 
strike. By now, it was almost impossible to find a vantage point in any 
major Italian city from which the ubiquitous rainbow peace banners were not 
visible.



Email circular to Australian friends, April 2003

Berlusconis attempt to ingratiate himself with the Americans by taking a 
more active role in the Iraq war has been stopped dead in its tracks by a 
massive wave of opposition by ordinary Italians. At the outbreak of war, 89 
per cent of Italians were opposed to the war, and on Saturday there were 
peace demonstrations in 36 provinces throughout the country. The opposition 
partiesoutspoken and articulate opposition to the war have made the idea of 
any closer collaboration in the war a non-starter. Like the great ad man he 
is, Berlusconi has realised that his brief for selling war to the Italians 
is a dud, and so has been reduced to mouthing pious and highly ambiguous 
platitudes about what a great thing peace is. Meanwhile, several thousand 
American paratroops have been deployed to Northern Iraq from bases In 
Northern Italy, in apparent contravention of Italys official status as a 
non-belligerent ally, the Italian Constitution and the declared position of 
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the President of the Republic. It is not immediately 
clear whether this was the result of a secret deal between Berlusconi and 
Bush, or whether the Americans just decided to do whatever they felt like.

Greenpeace has scored a propaganda coup in Rome by managing to unfurl a 
huge banner in front of the Altar of the Homeland, a grotesquely florid 
military monument to the Unification of Italy known locally as The Wedding 
Cake. In a spoof of a Berlusconi slogan during the last Italian election 
campaign, the banner depicted him in a military helmet announcing: a 
concrete commitment: war.



Slogans at a peace rally in Naples:

'Rambo, stay at home'.
'If Bush wanted oranges, he'd bomb Palermo.



Coming home

Thus Capricornia, freest and happiest land on earth, was dragged into a war 
between kings and queens and plutocrats and slaves and homicidal half-wits, 
which was being waged in a land in another Hemisphere, thirteen thousand 
miles away.

Australian novelist Xaxier Herbert
Capricornia, 1937

  A depressing spectacle awaited me on my return to Perth in mid-2003. Much 
had changed. What struck me most was the degree to which the political 
agenda in Australia had been seized by Bush, Howard, and their cronies, and 
the inaudibility of dissenting voices. A comprehensive process of dumbing 
down seemed to have occurred, and the Howard consensus seemed to have the 
nation in a vice-like grip, small wonder given the lack of pluralism 
evident in the Australian media. In Spain, dissenters were able to read the 
centre-left daily El Pais, in Italy there had been the centrist Corriere 
della Sera or the centre left Roman daily La Repubblica. In Britain there 
was a choice between the left wing Manchester Guardian or the centre-left 
Independent, while in France, there was Le Monde. In Australia, if you 
lived outside Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra, there was The Australian. 
Living in Perth and Alice Springs (in
Central Australia), I had found the paper a conservative but informative 
alternative to the pitiful local rags The West Australian or the Centralian 
Advocate. Returning in mid-2003, I was shocked by the paper's new 
aggressive advocacy of the Bush and Howard line on Iraq and a host of other 
issues, presented in an increasingly crass and tabloid style. Janet 
Albrechtsen seemed to jostle with Keith Windshuttle, Dick Cheney or 
Condoleeza Rice for attention in the opinion pages every other day, while 
the Harvard-educated US apologist Greg Sheridan indicated the sensible line 
on global politics. In fact, a common-sense position seemed to have been 
established on just about everything; a 'politically correct' leftist 
intelligentsia was sending the country to the dogs, falsifying its history, 
upsetting the blacks, being easy on 'illegal immigrants' and not pulling 
its weight in the 'war on terror', or the 'so-called war on terror;' as SBS 
news presenter Mary Kostakidis obstinately continued to call it. I learned 
soon that my Government was attempting to negotiate a free trade zone with 
the United States, had reserved the right to intervene militarily anywhere 
overseas to protect Australian interests, and that we were now enthusiastic 
about becoming part of the American anti-missile shield. After the greater 
public scepticism in Italy towards the US, it was a shock to see how little 
questioning there was of such proposals in Australia. The Australian view 
of the world seemed to be increasingly indiscernible from that of the 
American one, and John Howard seemed to do everything in his power for the 
distinction to be erased permanently.

The militarisation of the collective Australian psyche which had taken 
place over the past twelve months was evident in the degree to which the 
macho language of US military operations had seeped subliminally into 
Australian public discourse. 'Weapons grade movement' boasted an 
advertisement for a performance by the Sydney Dance Company, citing a 
Sydney theatre critic. Interviewed for the anniversary of his term as Prime 
Minister, Howard jokingly likened the danger of a surprise leadership 
challenge to 'an Exocet missile coming unexpectedly over the horizon'. In 
the newspapers, there was a disproportionate attention to military matters 
which had been absent before I left. During the Timor emergency, there had 
been a heroic quality about Peter Cosgrove going off with his boys to save 
the Timorese from the machetes of the Indonesian militia. Now the deeply 
unreflective bunkum of the Gallipoli mythology was dusted off anew as cover 
for yet another dubious foreign-led expedition. As Arthur Callwell had 
observed on the eve of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, 'when 
the trumpet sounds and the drums begin to roll, the voice of reason is 
scarce heard in all the land'.



Europe, war and the Axis of English

I had discovered early on that in Europe, attitudes to war were often 
different from those in Britain and Australia, where we were emotionally 
distanced from war by our lack of direct experience of it. Visiting the 
Dutch town of Arnhem in 1980, I was embarrassed to discover that like many 
Europeans, my Dutch hosts did not share my adolescent Anglo-Saxon 
enthusiasm for military history. They were appalled by my request to visit 
the nearby World War Two battlefield in which the Allies had gone 'A Bridge 
Too Far' in the disastrous Operation Market Garden. My penchant for things 
military betrayed me yet again as a teacher at a summer English language 
school in Bournemouth in 1989, when I horrified a Swedish colleague by 
organising a student outing to see an English Civil War battle re-enacted 
between Roundheads and Cavaliers. Nearby, a British Army sergeant 
orchestrated a spectacular recruiting stunt in which tightly-disciplined 
Army athletes leaped acrobatically over the top of an olive green armoured 
car. The scene brought home to me a sense that British military tradition 
seemed to play a central role in the national imagination.

Italians had themselves been far from peace loving in the genocidal Fascist 
attack on Ethiopia in 1935, in which poison gas was deployed against 
Abyssinian tribesmen. In the event of war, the Italian war party had 
generally taken a while to build up enough of a head of steam to counteract 
domestic pacifist sentiment. This is one reason why Italy entered the First 
World War belatedly in 1915, while Mussolini waited until Hitler had 
gobbled up Poland and most of France before opportunistically entering the 
Second World War in 1940. At this point, Churchill remarked wittily that it 
was 'better to have the Italians as enemies than as allies.' I grew up with 
my father's story of how British troops overrunning an Italian position in 
North Africa had been astonished to discover that each Italian soldier was 
equipped with his own individual coffee pot. In Australia, we had inherited 
the British notion that national identity and prestige is indivisibly 
linked to military prowess. Just as Fawlty Towers seemed to suggest the 
bigoted and self-satisfied English notion that anyone from the 
Mediterranean was a complete idiot, so Italy's legendary military 
incompetence was seen as a demonstration of its second rate status as a 
nation. In the bellicose populist press which seems increasingly to 
dominate post-September 11 Australia, opposition to war by 'cheese eating 
surrender monkeys' such as the French seemed to be treated with a similar 
degree of disdain. Yet during the build up to war, many in Europe, 
Australia and elsewhere turned to France and Germany rather than the 
leaders of the English speaking world for inspiration and leadership. 
Ultimately, the unholy alliance of Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi was 
successful in splitting the European anti-war front. In English-speaking 
countries, such events were corrected and normalised for the perspective of 
the anglophone block in which we live comprising the US, Canada, Britain, 
Australia and New Zealand.. Getting outside the 'axis of English' for a 
while opened up a new position from which to view the world. Reading the 
excellent Spanish daily El Pais revealed a whole new Spanish-speaking area 
of the globe which contained the same number of language speakers as my own 
linguistic patch. El Pais provided for instance detailed coverage on Cuba, 
the installation of the new left wing government in Brazil, and many 
otherwise unreported Latin American events. From such a position, Tony 
Blair's bizarre choice to go along with the Bush madness also began to 
become intelligible, like economic rationalism before it, as an English 
speaking disease:



Email circular to Australian friends

April 2003

 From the perspective of Italy, most of the English-speaking world 
(Australia, Britain and the US) seems to be marching in lockstep towards 
perdition. Only the more enlightened Canadians and New Zealanders seem to 
have had the sense to avoid this folly. What strikes me most here is the 
more pacific nature of the Italian people compared to the English-speaking 
world, where the logic of militarism seems to have greater purchase. Here 
in Italy, there is a deeper memory and more direct experience of war than 
in Britain, Australia or the US, and it is axiomatic for the average person 
in the street that the whole enterprise in Iraq is complete madness. In 
fact, two Roman barmen have volunteered this view to me in the last week. I 
have so far encountered only two people who support the war, one a Jewish 
friend in Rome who has become obsessively pro-Israeli since September 11, 
and another man in a crowd who seemed to have some kind of psychiatric problem.

One Australian friend, a long-term resident of Britain, sent me the 
following peeved response which speaks volumes about British condescension 
toward the troublesome foreigners who live on the other side of the English 
Channel:

Given the history of the past century, people in Britain tend to find it 
amusing when continental Europeans try to claim the high ground in matters 
of political morality. To whom should we look for guidance? To Germany? To 
France? To Italy?!! The world has been generously amnesiac with regard to 
the latter's role(s) in WWII, but we shouldn't forget that it was the 
English-speaking peoples who liberated France and Italy, bringing to an end 
(at enormous costs to themselves) a war that they did not begin.

Apart from the anachronistic Churchillian rhetoric which was warmed over 
and served up in Britain as part of the case for war, there is perhaps here 
also a suggestion of Edmund Burke, the conservative English critic of the 
French Revolution who epitomises the traditional English disdain for the 
un-British enthusiasms of European politics. My friend also neglects the 
role of the Italian Resistance movement, one of the most powerful of its 
kind during the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although for political 
reasons the Allies largely denied direct aid to the Resistance, Italian 
Resistance fighters from 1943-5 freed themselves from Nazi occupation in 
Naples and large swathes of northern Italy before Allied forces arrived, 
even setting up short-lived partisan republics. In Italy, the liberation 
from Nazism and Fascism is marked by a national holiday commemorating these 
Resistance fighters and their Allied comrades in arms. It falls oddly 
enough on 25 April, the same day as our own deeply equivocal commemoration 
of the alleged birth of Australian nationhood on the beaches of Gallipoli.

Australian columnist Phillip Adams has written that 'the only people on 
earth who believed, or pretended to believe that George W Bush, Tony Blair 
and John Howard were telling the truth were to be found among the gullible 
and culpable in the US, the UK and Australia.' Having witnessed this recent 
distressing period of world history from outside the English-speaking 
world, I find it difficult to share Orwell's upbeat view of the essentially 
pacific nature of Anglo-Saxon culture. As descendants of a nation which by 
1914 had conquered a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its 
population, it is not surprising that a vein of militarism lies close to 
the surface in countries like Australia, Britain and the US. Whether 
disguised or naked, the logic of military intervention as a tool for 
advancing foreign policy objectives is a part of the historical traditions 
of the Anglophone world. It was to this tradition which its unscrupulous 
leaders appealed in successfully persuading the US, UK and Australia to 
join the isolated and overwhelmingly English-speaking 'Coalition of the 
Willing'.


[1] Australian multicultural broadcasting service.

[2] A well known Australian media identity celebrated for his description 
of John Howard as 'the world's greatest Prime Minister.'


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