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John Pilger: Julia Gillard leads the march for Anzac in the 51st state

As Washington releases another wave of terror on a faraway land, the Australian prime minister is reviving the spirit of Gallipoli and preparing her country to play its old role of deputy sheriff to Uncle Sam.

The street where I grew up in Sydney was a war street. There were long silences, then the smashing of glass and screams. Pete and I played Aussies-and-Japs.

Pete's father was an object of awe. He weighed barely seven stone and shook with malaria and was frequently demented. He would sit in a cane chair, drunk, scything the air with the sword of a Japanese soldier he said he had killed. There was a woman who flitted from room to room, always red-eyed and fearful, it seemed. She was like many mothers in the street. Wally, another mate, lived in a house that was always dark because the blackout blinds had not been taken down. His father had been "killed by the Japs". Once, when Wally's mother came home, she found he had got a gun, put it in his mouth and blown his head off. It was a war street.

The insidious, merciless, lifelong damage of war taught many of us to recognise the difference between the empty symbolism of war and the actual meaning. "Does it matter?" the poet Siegfried Sassoon mocked at the end of an earlier slaughter, in 1918, as he grieved his younger brother's death at Gallipoli. I grew up with that name, Gallipoli. The assault on the Turkish Dardanelles was one of the essential crimes of imperial war, causing the death and wounding of 392,000 on all sides. The Australian and New Zealanders' losses were among the highest, proportionally; and 25 April 1915 was declared not just a day of remembrance but the "birth of the Australian nation". This was based on the belief of Edwardian militarists that true men were made in war, an absurdity that is about to be celebrated yet again.

Eager to talk war

Anzac Day has been appropriated by those who manipulate the cult of state violence – militarism – in order to satisfy a psychopathic deference to foreign power and pursue its aims. And the "legend" has no room for the only war fought on Australian soil: that of the Aboriginal people against the European invaders. In a land of cenotaphs, not one stands for them.

The modern war-lovers have known no street of screams and despair. Their abuse of our memory of the fallen, and why they fell, is common among all servitors of rapacious power, but Australia is a special case. No country is more secure in its strategic remoteness and resources, yet no western elite are more eager to talk war and seek imperial "protection".

Australia's military budget is A$32bn (£21bn) a year, one of the highest in the world. Less than two months' worth of this war-bingeing would pay for the reconstruction of Queensland after the catastrophic floods, yet not a cent is forthcoming. In July, the same fragile flood plains will be invaded by a joint US-Australian military force, firing laser-guided missiles, dropping bombs and blasting the environment and marine life. This is rarely reported. Rupert Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the capital city press and his world-view is widely shared in the media.

In a 2009 US cable released by WikiLeaks, the then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is now foreign affairs minister, implores the Americans to "deploy force" against China if Beijing does not do as it is told. Another Labor leader, Kim Beazley, secretly offered Australian troops for an attack on China over Taiwan in 2006. In the 1960s, Prime Minister Robert Menzies lied that he had received a request from the Washington-created regime in Saigon for Australian troops.

Oblivious, Australians waved farewell to a largely conscripted army, almost 3,000 of whom were killed or wounded. The first Australian troops were run by the CIA in "black teams" – assassination squads. When the government in Canberra made a rare complaint to Wash­ington that the British knew more about America's war aims in Vietnam than they, the US national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, replied: "We have to inform the British to keep them on side. You in Australia are with us come what may." As an Australian soldier
once said to me: "We are to the Yanks what the Gurkhas are to the British. We're mercenaries
in all but name."

They call me the sheriff

WikiLeaks recently disclosed the American role in Julia Gillard's Canberra "coup" against Prime Minister Rudd in 2010. Gillard, lauded in US cables as a "rising star", and her Labor Party plotters have turned out to be assets of the American embassy in Canberra. Once installed, she committed Australia to Washington's war in Afghanistan for the next ten years – twice as long as Britain.

Gillard likes to appear flanked by flags, but with her robotic delivery and stare, it is an unsettling tableau. On 6 April, she intoned, "We live in a free country – and in a largely free world – only because the Australian people answered the call when the time of decision came." She was referring to the despatch of Australian troops to avenge the death of a minor imperial figure, General Charles Gordon, during a popular uprising in Sudan in 1885. She omitted to say that a dozen horses of the Sydney tramway company also "answered the call" but expired during the long voyage.

Australia's role as "deputy sheriff" (promo­ted to "sheriff" by George W Bush) is to police great power designs now being challenged by most of the world. Leading Australian politicians and journalists report on the Middle East after having their flights covered and expenses paid by the Israeli government or its promoters. Two Green Party candidates who dared to criticise Israel's lawlessness and the silence of its local supporters are currently being set upon. A Murdoch retainer has accused them of advocating a "modern rendering of Kristallnacht". Both have since received multiple death threats. Put out more flags, boys.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 25 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special

Photo: Getty Images
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Behind the mask, Boris Johnson's mayoralty has been a disaster

If giving good conference speeches and writing well made a Mayor, Boris Johnson would be the best there's ever been. But unfortunately, there's a bit more required.

If dangling on a zip wire waving Union Jacks, or giving a stand up Conference performance was all it took to be a good Mayor of London Boris Johnson would be a in a league of his own. Sadly for Londoners, whilst arguably one of the most well-known politicians in the country, behind his ruthless publicity machine and bumbling image, Boris’ record as Mayor reveals years of policy failures, missed opportunities and reneged promises.

At the heart of the problem has been a failure to get stuck in. From the start Boris adopted a “chairman of the board” style - very much aloof and clearly focused on using the Mayoralty as a stepping stone back onto the national stage. The problem is that means assiduously avoiding controversy as opposed to actively tackling the challenges facing London.

As a result, the legacy left behind him will be stark. The housing shortage inherited in 2008 is now an  entrenched crisis with the Mayor having missed even modest house building targets each and every year since he was elected. London’s cost of living crisis has grown unchecked as wages stagnate, housing costs rocket and the cost of commuting hits global highs.

Vital investment in transport infrastructure, for example the tube upgrade and bus network extension, has been shunned in favour of publicity projects like the Garden Bridge or Thames Cable Car. Perhaps this should all come as no surprise from a Mayor who believes high property prices are “the right problem to have”. The same Mayor who considers his £250,000 a year income for newspaper columns to be little more than “chicken feed.”

After eight years of inertia, London is crying out for a workhorse, someone who will tirelessly set about tackling these problems before they become unassailable. Londoners now know that is simply not Johnson’s pedigree. Maybe that’s why a national YouGov poll in April showed that of all the UK regions, Londoners had the lowest view of Johnson’s prime ministerial abilities.

Yes, we need a mayor with character, someone who can inspire others to follow their lead and promote the capital on the world stage. In fairness, as a profile raiser, Boris excels. But too often London is left out in the cold. Take the Mayor’s official visit to Iraq in January. It’s hard to envisage how Boris Johnson posing with a Kalashnikov on the front page of The Sun will bring any real benefit to the capital.

Despite stunts like this, we’ve seen little in terms of policy delivery. The pledges made in his manifestos have in large parts fallen by the wayside, embarrassments dismissed with empty quips that “It is easy to make promises - it is hard work to keep them." Quite.

For Boris Johnson, promises made are easily broken:

  • Remember the pledge not to close a single tube ticket office? By the end of 2016 every single one will be permanently shut. 
  • How about the no strike deal he pledged to negotiate? Despite a crisis entirely of his own making, the Mayor refused point blank to meet staff representatives when, during the summer, tube strikes over the Night Tube brought London to a standstill.
  • End rough sleeping by the Olympics? It’s almost doubled since 2008.
  • No cuts to the fire brigade? Boris has closed ten stations and axe 13 fire engines.
  • The pledge to help hard-pressed Londoners? Not hugely helped by eight years of transport fare increases pushing average ticket prices up 40 per cent, with bus fares up by almost half.

And that cast iron promise not to run for Parliament? How quickly the Mayoralty went from the “greatest job in the world” that “cannot be combined with any other political capacity” to merely an opportunity to “show what he could do” and “gain some administrative experience.”

When Boris finally departs, London will have endured eight years of his leadership. Whilst much has changed, as it always will in a global city like ours, the challenges of eight years ago all remain, many having grown far worse. The legacy Boris has to bequeath to the next Mayor is dire. A deep housing crisis, a wider gap than ever between rich and poor, an £800m hole in the Met Police budget, toxic air pollution levels, the most expensive transport fares in the world and more Londoners than ever paid below a living wage.

For a household name like Boris separating out rhetoric from reality is a real challenge but take a minute to peek at the Mayor behind the mask and you may find that you do not like what you see.

Len Duvall is leader of the Labour group on the London Assembly.