Stay isolated, stay indoors and wear a mask when you go outside. But stay informed by reading this exclusive menu of important current affairs: Why Buck House documents on Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Dismissal in 1975 remain under lock and key; US President Trump weaponises COVID-19 and militarises America; Gun sales soar in America; NSW Government “restructures” its executive power; Letter of the Month; Headline of the Week; Tale of Two Tawny Frogmouths plus photographs.
The Dismissal papers remain locked up
Celebrations broke out the other day when Melbourne historian Jenny Hocking won a significant court battle to obtain the English royal family’s papers, documents, phone calls and letters which preceded the dismissal of Labor Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975.
The High Court has deemed that the correspondence constitutes commonwealth records and not private letters between the Queen and her representatives as previously claimed. The crucial sentence in the Oz Guardian report which broke the news however read: “But the letters are embargoed from public release by the Queen until at least 2027 and potentially indefinitely.”
While I am in awe of Jenny’s persistence, I believe that the final victory is a long way off. A statement on 2 June from the National Archives claimed the declassification process would take 90 business days and consideration would be given to “exemptions” – which may include damage to international relations, breaches of confidence or confidential communications between governments.
In her 2012 book, GOUGH WHITLAM – His Time , Ms Hocking reveals that Governor-General John Kerr made strenuous attempts to gain access to the exchange of letters and other documents which passed between him and QE2 and her eldest son, Prince Charles. She wrote: “The Palace was unwavering: the correspondence would remain secret. Kerr also approached the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, Sir Geoffrey Yeend, seeking his support for the for the release of his letters to and from the Palace, only to be rebuffed again – neither the Palace nor the Prime Minister’s Department would ever agree.”
The royals have a record of keeping the lid on many contentious documents. For example, papers relating to the English royal family’s fraternisation with Adolf Hitler and his circle before WW2 in the 1940s remain locked away. As far as Mrs Betty Windsor, aka QE2, is concerned they won’t come up for review until mid-century, if at all.
In 2015 newspapers and TV networks published photos of the Queen giving the Nazi salute while playing in palace grounds in 1933. Royal apologists like journalist/author Sir Max Hastings said: “In those days there had as yet been no Second World War and no holocaust. It is overwhelmingly likely that the royals uplifting the arms at Balmoral were playing what seemed a harmless game.”
QE2’s cousin, Margaret Cousins, agreed: “It was long before there were any intimations that this new government in Germany proved to be as nasty as they did prove to be.”
Other Fleet Street newspapers, only a block away, were taking a different view. The Daily Mail printed a column in 1934 by its owner, Lord Rothermere, headlined: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” in which he wrote that Hitler was “saving” Germany from “alien elements … Israelites of international attachments”.
If Australia became a republic, the Australian Head of State could order the Australian National Archives to post the lot online and make them available to historians, academics, journalists, students and the general public. Now there’s a post-pandemic objective worth fighting for!
The militarisation of America
Just over 160 years ago the fledging United States fought a bloody civil war. It began in 1861 and dragged on until 1865 with the loss of thousands of lives, the destruction of cities, towns and villages and the creation of bitter and unresolved enmities on both sides.
The history book narrative in the South is vastly different from the story taught in classrooms and universities in the North. Travelling through the South flagposts outside businesses, public buildings and homes fly the Confederate Flag. In the North they fly the Stars and Stripes.
The South was supported with guns and money by the City of London, the Bank of England and the Foreign Office. The issues dividing the country were complex but, basically, they boiled down to one thing – slavery. The South wanted to keep black slaves from Africa because they were cheap labour for the cotton industry (i.e. the position of the Democratic Party) while the North supported freedom for black Americans (i.e. the position of the Republican Party and its President Abraham Lincoln). In the 20th century the parties changed sides: Democrats went North chasing African American voters and Republicans went South chasing white working-class voters and retirees.
After civil war broke out in 1861 conscription soon followed on both sides. The country was militarised and armies fought battles of great savagery.
Could history repeat itself today? Is America ready to fight another civil war? The country is divided into two warring camps, but the issues (beyond loathing or liking Donald Trump) are blurred. While many new and articulate voices have been raised in the Black Lives Matter protests, there are no obvious national leaders of talent on either side and no plan for a future America.
US military is waiting in the wings
When asked last year what was the greatest threat to the US, a very senior army general said it wasn’t China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba or Venezuela. He said it was the growth of far-right groups within America itself.
He went to say these groups expressed white supremacist, anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-Moslem views, they were armed, mostly war veterans and ex-police, and they had access to sophisticated arms, money and training.
This week President Trump authorised professional army units across the US to go on standby in case they were needed to restore order.
Constitutionally, he has the right to make such an order relating to Washington DC, the federal capital, the seat of federal government and the location of the presidential residence, the White House. By placing the military on alert nationally, he had already acted illegally.
Fighting protesters on the streets are three uniformed units of the state: the national guard, State police and City police. There is little or no coordination between them; they have different missions; and their personnel are quite different.
Sometimes they can be seen embracing protesters, taking a knee, assisting the media and providing first aid to injured demonstrators. In calling for calm, some of those in uniform are crying. At other times, their brutality is so ferocious it’s unwatchable, despite being heavily censored by the networks.
Is America so angry with itself that a second civil war is in the offing? The place is so desperately confused and unhinged anything could happen.
US gun sales are booming
As America descended into street warfare, rising unemployment and horrendous pandemic fatalities, gun sales in May rose by more than any time since the FBI began collecting records 20 years ago.
In March more than two million guns were purchased. They are the legal over-the-counter sales; the number of “street” sales are not recorded.
What do Americans do in the midst of this epochal crisis? Buy a gun.
The FBI is “supposed” to do background checks on everyone purchasing a gun. On 21 March, 210,000 checks were “done” through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It was the largest one-day record ever.
In May, the total number of FBI background checks was 3,091,455 while March’s total was 3,740,688. These number are humanly impossible to achieve in a single day. If the FBI uses a computer it will check Federal crime records and pass all those except serial killers!
BBC correspondent Max Matza wrote: “Illinois led the record gun sales, followed by Texas, Kentucky, Florida and California. Gun shops across the country report that they are unable to re-stock shelves quickly enough to cope with the rush.
“The latest figure also tops the previous high of 3.3 million, which was set in December 2015 after the Obama administration raised the possibility of restricting assault rifles in the wake of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.”
New York, Massachusetts and New Mexico have closed gun shops but allowed them to continue sales online. Washington State has ordered gun shops to close, but several continue to operate.
Sales and profits soar for American Rebel
On 5 June 2020 American Rebel, one of America’s biggest gun retailers, posted a celebratory message saying: “Earlier this week President Donald Trump announced he would deploy the US military to stop the ‘riots and lawlessness’, further stimulating demand for individuals to seek guns.
“One survey of firearm sales has found sales up 78% over the year until the last week of May and one online ammo dealer reports sales up over 600% in the past year. American Rebel is pleased to report the increase in gun and ammo sales. ‘We’ve shipped safes to our dealers as fast as we can make them,’ said American Rebel CEO Andy Ross.” (In the US, legal gun owners are required in most States to keep their guns in home safes, but not in 11 States).
The American Rebel Holdings Inc. statement continued: “The increase in gun sales and gun safe sales has been good for publicly-traded companies in the industry, such as Smith & Wesson which hits its 52-week high of US$16.28 on Tuesday [2 June 2020], a level not topped since September 2017. Ammunition maker Vista Outdoors hit its 52-week high of US$11.96 on Monday [1 June 2020].
“American Rebel utilises the Harley-Davidson model of life-style brand for higher priced items (motorcycles and safes).” NB: This is the link between guns and bikies.
Straight afterward, the online message site reported: “Euphoria returns to Wall Street, Nasdaq hits record high.”
Question: Could any American gun or ammunition manufacturer donate, say AU$30 million, to Australian political parties or election candidates in return for supporting the abolition of John Howard’s anti-gun legislation and introducing American-style “right-to-bear-arms” laws?
Answer: They are billion-dollar companies so AU$30 million is chicken feed to these guys.
NSW is being restructured
Germany has a word for it: gleichshaltung. In English it means “coordination” but when the Nazis introduced it after Adolf Hitler came to power, the world trembled.
Gleichshaltung played a central in the Nazification of Germany. Hitler’s Nazis succeeded in establishing a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of German society, including health, education, sport, entertainment, police, prisons and the civil service.
Whether they know it or not, the NSW Liberal-National Government is adopting many of the methods used by the Nazis to create a public service that served the Third Reich. That is the regrettable direction of the Berejiklian Government’s plan to place handpicked men and women in top jobs, give them huge salaries and buy their unswerving loyalty, starting NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
While prattling on about the State’s great liberal democracy, the Coalition is actually creating something quite different.
Government publicists and flunkeys are calling it “coordination”, but I prefer gleichshaltung.
Letter of the Month
“Sir. The letters page in the April issue contained a potentially libellous accusation ‘men can’t do it at 75’. I don’t wish to seem boastful, but I am 84 and still can.”
- Rod Prodmore, Uppingham, Rutland, UK, writing to The Oldie, May 2020
Headline of the Week
“Man Breaks Leg On Path”
- Bridport Port News, Dorset, UK
A Tale of Two Tawny Frogmouths
A pair of Tawny Frogmouths make their winter home under the eaves of our Tweed Valley home in far northern New South Wales, Australia.
“Froggies” are nocturnal but they are NOT owls. They are related to the kookaburra and kingfisher families. They mate for life – but just like some other species, they have their moments.
A few days ago, only one of our “Froggies” came home. On closer inspection we found its mate around the corner, looking distinctly huffy.
The next day they were back together. It seemed like a metaphor for our life in “social isolation”: some days we become irritable with each other’s company and go our separate ways. Then we get together again and all’s well.
In their waking moments the “Froggies” keep watch over us. It is so comforting and reassuring. Photographs by Judith White