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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

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.