Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide (Part 3): The war over past and present

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We don't hear about the Armenian genocide that occurred at the same time as Gallipoli because it lies outside the "official" version of the past and present of our elites, along with the media that serve them, writes Dr Evan Jones.

The ongoing war over the past and the present

ALL OF US are constrained to live within the constraints of the "official" version of the past and present of our own elites. So, which genocides / ethnic cleansings are part of our cultural inheritance depends on where one grows up and lives.

Our understanding is dictated less by the "facts" than by the politics — the politics of others.

On "our" side, the Jewish Holocaust (the word has been monopolised) is de rigueur. So also are the mega-deaths under Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, because they’re all reflections of the Evil Empire. Rwanda is admissible because it’s just primitive tribal warfare at work.

But if there’s any background contribution from the Western powers to these horrors – Rwanda, Cambodia – that dimension will be excised. For example, IA contributor John Pilger’s investigations into such links and his persistent exposures of Western crimes against humanity have to be dismissed as the ravings of an unhinged ratbag.

Out of the picture is the Armenian genocide, because Turkey is now (imperfectly, but we’ll overlook that) on our team. Definitely out of picture is the American genocide of its indigenous population. Ditto, comparable considerations of white settlement Down Under.

But then, breaking ranks, came scholarly reconsiderations of white settlement in Australia by Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan. An unacceptable move. Thus arose the reaction, labeling the sinners’ work the "black armband" version of Australian history. (A partisan but extensive account of what came to be labeled, rightly, "the History Wars" and its significance can be found here.)

Of necessity, the History Wars must move to the compulsory history segment of the school syllabus. Reynolds/Ryan equivalents seem to have insinuated themselves into hallowed ground and their pernicious influence must be excised. Thus that visionary Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, ordered a curriculum review with the prescribed direction of a "back to basics" essence, appointing long-time warrior for establishment virtues (the Judeo-Christian wellspring of everything we are supposed to hold dear), Kevin Donnelly, to the task. 

That the Jewish Holocaust doesn’t fit this good news story is an incongruity ignored. But add the countless millions enslaved and massacred by Western colonialist/imperialist powers. Mark Curtis, in his 2004 book Unpeople, estimates that, since World War II, Britain had "significant responsibility" for 10 million deaths and "direct responsibility" for 4 to 6 million deaths. And that’s only since 1945. The conventional record of "our" side can’t accommodate such (alleged!) information.

The mainstream media as loyal servant to power

The mainstream media (including public media), by definition, are the sentinels (the "running lapdogs"?) of the conventional wisdom.

It has been breathtaking (even for a cynic) to confront the recent mainstream media (MSM) treatment of "flashpoints" — the Ukraine, and the phenomenon of Islamic State, for example. Fairfax (save for the valiant Ruth Pollard) is deeply immersed in it. Thus, literally all the chaos and the bloodshed (well almost, Libya remains a problem of causal imputation) is to be blamed on Russia and/or Iran.

In response to this contemptible complicity, small groups have set up MSM watchdogs to hold their national media to account. Thus FAIR (US, 1986), Acrimed (France, 1996) and Media Lens (UK, 2001).

The founders of Media Lens were initially motivated by revulsion at the MSM’s ignoring of the carnage the West’s sanctions on and bombings of Iraq was imposing on the Iraqi population. Media Lens was then well placed to document the comprehensive complicity of the British MSM (the BBC in the forefront) in the manoeuvring and lies that prefaced the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the ongoing defence of that illegal act thereafter.

In his 2012 book, Why Are We the Good Guys?, Media Lens co-founder David Cromwell has summarised the treatment of the Iraq invasion by key UK mastheads and their unapologetic response to criticism. Cromwell cites the editorial of The Observer, 19 January 2003:

'Legitimacy is fundamental to the values of western powers. Wherever possible, we make law, not war, and where war is unavoidable, we observe the law in its conduct.'

Here is the quintessential duplicity of "our" side’s propaganda machine in a few words. The Observer was unrepentant in the face of reader outrage.

The MSM’s treatment of the pariah state of Israel is a consistent record of its enforcing the correct line. Cromwell, as above, notes that in every flare-up in Israel/Palestine, the UK media faithfully reproduces the Israeli narrative as its own.

A small window into this partisan orientation from our very own Fairfax is instructive of the pattern. Respected columnist Julia Baird’s article of 30 January 2015 on the presumed recent massive escalation of anti-Semitic incidents is instructive. From this we read, in a diversion from the article’s thrust:

One consistent trend is a spike in attacks on Jewish communal buildings – and people – when conflict breaks out in the Middle East. The recent disputes in Gaza have underlined this. This suggests we have a particular responsibility to be careful when it comes to discussion of Israeli-Palestine conflicts.

It is absurd to accuse anyone who criticises the policies or actions of Israel of anti-Semitism. It is wrong to shut down debate or belittle those who are genuinely concerned about victims of violence. But caution not to consciously or unconsciously revive prejudice while doing so is crucial.

Weasel words par excellence: ‘when conflict breaks out in the Middle East’; ‘recent disputes in Gaza’; ‘caution not to consciously or unconsciously revive prejudice’.

To avoid being shown the "anti-Semitic" card, best stay away completely from the subject of ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing and daily barbarism against the subjects of its ongoing Occupation. Baird was opinion page editor of the Sydney Morning Herald during 2000-05 and the same hall of mirrors was displayed on that important page during those years — and before, and after.

It is true that Western governments engage in very little direct censorship of information. Save, of course, for all damning government documentation (think Daniel Ellsberg), and, increasingly, all government-private sector contractual relationships in the ever-expanding domain of privatisations and "public-private partnerships" ("commercial-in-confidence"). A not inconsiderable weight of material pertaining to "the public interest" of which the public is deprived.

But as to opinion, no — no direct censorship. The U.S. is the exemplar. The MSM is appalling beyond measure — now including the public channels that have been strategically colonised by the Right: television (PBS) and radio (NPR). But literature that aggressively criticises everything has long been generated and in quantity.

The problem is one has to be aware that it’s out there. And to know it’s out there one has to know what one is looking for. And, prior to that, one has to know that something is unclear and deserves clarification. Those who subsist happily on a diet of the New York Times at one end or Murdoch’s Fox News at the other – and Hollywood in their leisure moments – will not be looking.

In a previous period, not long past, one had to have access to a good library for such literature. It didn’t exist on Main Street, or would be under brown paper cover (McCarthyite hangovers). These days, such literature is readily accessible from the web. And dissenting websites are omnipresent. But, again, one has to be aware that it’s out there. And to know that it’s out there one has to know what one is looking for and to want it in the first place.

The Western propaganda machine is thus more "free and easy" than the totalitarian one. Dissenting opinion is tolerated — as long as it isn’t generally accessed and, thus, doesn’t make any difference.

However, in spite of the consistent "correct line" efforts of the MSM, untoward information keeps slipping through the cracks into the MSM itself. Dissonance. How is the average punter to accommodate it, having been schooled into the certainties of the conventional wisdom?

The MSM does report, on occasion, that a UK/U.S. alliance overthrew the legitimate and progressive leader of Iran, Mossadegh, in 1953.

What? The MSM does let slip through, on occasion, that the U.S. had a significant role in the bloody ascendancy of the brutal dictator, Pinochet, over the legitimate and progressive leader of Chile, Allende, in 1973. Add several other brutal Latin American and Central American regimes. Again, what?  

North Korea is our enemy, but Saudi Arabia is one of our best friends. During "the Arab Spring", the repression of dissent in Bahrain is considered appropriate but the repression of dissent in Syria is evil. How can this be? What are the guidelines for acceptable opinion and who determines them?

Dissonance on the Israel front, naturally, is perennial. The Nakba remains pretty much under wraps in the MSM. But Gaza is a perennial source of sensationalism. Here is Operation Cast Lead, post Christmas 2008. Operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012. Operation Protective Edge, mid-2014. In particular, the wilful murder of children on the beach on 16 July 2014.

Ah, but the onslaught of dissonance with respect to Israel is met with the onslaught of counter-dissonance from the hasbara brigade. It’s all about combating terrorism, Hamas rockets, Ramallah’s failure to negotiate, etc. White and black remain intact.

As for the invasion of Iraq, of Libya and the ongoing dismantlement of Syria — they are simply humanitarian interventions directed towards ridding the world of tyrants. It’s the supplementary propaganda layer that patches up the gaps in the primary propaganda program.

And Saudi Arabia? The gaps remain.

For the sake of emotional equilibrium, such dissonant information as has not been neutralised has to be marginalised as incomprehensible.

For some, the scale of dissonance grows such that a break with our conventional wisdom is inevitable. An alternative worldview is on offer. One learns to know what to look for and where to look for it. No longer dependent on privileged libraries or obscure secondhand bookshops, the web has dramatically enhanced access to "dissonant" information and alternative perspectives.

Alas, one won’t gain the roots of that liberation from taking a university degree, even in politics – especially in politics. One has to un-educate oneself of one’s formal education. Ah, but the benefits…

No matter what Turkey and its Western government accomplices insist, there is the prospect to learn about and acknowledge the Armenian genocide. And to develop a better understanding of World War I. And to develop a better understanding of Gallipoli itself.

The prerequisites are a comprehensive cynicism and doubt regarding MSM reportage, especially on world affairs. And a nous for treating dissonance as the kernel for developing a satisfactory understanding of how the world works.

Woolworths joins in battle

Woolies has belatedly mounted its own Gallipoli campaign but has been taken out of action with severe reputational injuries. The advertising war is hell. South African-owned SABMiller has already got its logo into the front line of fire with the well-entrenched RSL’s "raise a glass [of VB] campaign".

The Sydney Morning Herald’s 17 April editorial pontificates:

'The tone and level of respect for the tradition becomes crucial in any commercial activity seeking to use Anzac.'

The SMH editorial gets it half right, highlighting that the RSL owns the Gallipoli brand for a longtime and has sullied it. But Woolies reasonably reads the wind. Gallipoli has become a circus and Woolies naturally wanted to board the troop ship of manufactured memory. If people already hand over their hard-earned to that wretched company, why the hell not?

The editorial fails to pursue its own exposure of the tawdriness involved. Which 'tradition' are we talking about? Once we get that straight, we can decide rationally whether it is worthy of the ‘tone and level of respect’.

Playwright Alan Seymour wrote The One Day of the Year in 1958. Seymour early asked the question — which tradition are we talking about? For his pains, he had to move overseas to give the question some breathing space.

Seymour died in March. Perhaps it was judicious timing. This astute and courageous fellow will no longer be troubled with the felt necessity to write a sequel.

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