Bush has shown remarkable courage in sticking to his guns in the war. However, his actions are not matched by his words. He’s too polite, too worried, to well-counseled, too restrained for whatever reason to call things as they are. John Howard, Australia’s Prime Minister, is not so constrained, as you can see in his speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of Quadrant, a conservative magazine that was a loud voice during the Cold War and that continues to be outspoken in the struggle against Islamic jihad:
It’s important on an occasion like this we remember not just the big ideological struggles but also the individuals who took up the cause of cultural freedom and the defence of liberal democracy against its enemies.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, it became all too easy to pretend that the outcome of the Cold War was an inevitable result of large-scale, impersonal forces that ultimately left totalitarianism exhausted and democratic capitalism triumphant. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was a struggle fought by individuals on behalf of the individual spirit.
And Quadrant holds an honoured place in Australian history for the stance it took for democratic freedom and a pluralist society and in opposition to collectivist ideologies that so many saw as the inevitable wave of the future.
It’s worth recalling just a few of the philo-communism that was once quite common in Australia in the 1950’s and 60’s. For example, Manning Clark’s book Meeting Soviet Man where he likened the ideals of Vladimir Lenin to those of Jesus Christ. John Burton, the former head of the External Affairs Department, arguing that Mao’s China provided a model for the ‘transformation’ of Australia. All those who did not simply oppose Australia’s commitment in Vietnam, but who actively supported the other side and fed the delusion that Ho Chi Minh was some sort of Jeffersonian Democrat intent on spreading liberty in Asia.
To quote George Orwell: ‘One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool’. There is a view that the pro-communist left in Australia in decades past was no more than a bunch of naïve idealists, rather than what they were – ideological barrackers for regimes of oppression opposed to Australia and its interests.
In taking on the Communist left and their fellow-travellers, people like Richard Krygier, James McAuley, Peter Coleman, Bob Santamaria, Heinz Arndt and Frank Knopfelmacher were not only right in practice, they were right in principle and part of a noble and moral cause.
The influence of the pro-communist left in Australian cultural circles did wane over time, after Hungary and Kruschev’s secret speech in 1956 and further still after the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. In the 1960’s and 70’s, it largely gave way to a New Left counter culture, where once again Quadrant served as a beacon of free and sceptical thought against fashionable leftist views on social, foreign policy and economic issues.
In the eyes of the New Left, the Cold War became a struggle defined by ‘moral equivalence’, where the Soviet bloc and the American-led West were equally to blame, each possessing their own dominating ideologies. It became the height of intellectual sophistication to believe that people in the West were no less oppressed than people under the yoke of communist dictatorship.
In time, the world would luckily see the emergence of three remarkable individuals whose moral clarity punctured such nonsense. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.
Reagan, the man who gave America back her confidence and optimism in the wake of a decade of setbacks and who began to talk openly and candidly about an ‘evil empire’ – the sort of talk that sends diplomats the world over into panicked meltdown.
Thatcher, the Iron Lady who as well as anyone grasped and articulated the essential connection of personal, political and economic freedom.
Pope John Paul II – a man of enormous courage and dignity whose words of faith and hope inspired millions behind the Iron Curtain to dream again of a Europe whole and free.
All of us here tonight owe a particular debt of gratitude to these three towering figures of the late 20th Century.
Having spoken earlier about Quadrant’s role in the defining global struggle of the second half of the 20th Century, let me say just a few words about the global struggle we now face at the start of the 21st Century.
Today, free and open societies face a new tyranny, the tyranny of Islamist terrorism. One with at least a family resemblance to the great struggles against forces of totalitarianism in the past. A Czech writer once wrote with great prescience that: ‘You can’t build utopia without terror, and before long terror is all that’s left’.
And just as past struggles called for clear and unambiguous statements of belief and purpose, so we must again make very clear what is at stake. Let me say what I have said many times before. This is not a struggle against Islam. It is a struggle against a perverted interpretation of Islam. As we see on a daily basis, it is the terrorists and suicide bombers who eagerly set out to spread terror and to kill innocent Muslim civilians. Countries with their sons and daughters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today would like nothing more than to see them complete their job and return home.
To those who want to portray the West as anti-Muslim, I would say that it was not the Arab League who went to war in the 1990’s on behalf of Muslim minorities in the Balkans. It was the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and their NATO allies. Let me also remind people who now talk as if Iraq was some kink of pro-Islamic tranquillity before 2003 that the person who’s probably killed more Muslims in history than anyone else is Saddam Hussein.
There are, as Owen Harries, an honoured guest tonight properly reminds us, people who legitimately opposed the original action to oust Saddam Hussein, but it remains, to borrow a phrase, an inconvenient truth that if some countries such as the United States, if countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia simply abandon the people of Iraq this would be an enormous victory for the forces of terror and extremism around the world.
The fact is that we are part of a global campaign for the very ideals that some people wistfully dreamed were unchallengeable after the Cold War. No less than in that long, twilight struggle, this too will be a generational struggle for ideals of democratic freedom and liberty under the law.