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March 08th 2010 print

Merv Bendle

Obsession with genocide

It is difficult to imagine a more horrendous accusation that could be made against a country than that its history is rooted in genocide and that every generation - past, present, and future - are forever and irredeemably complicit in this primal atrocity.

Robert Manne has done it again. His recent response (published in February’s issue of The Monthly and The Australian (6-7/2/2010) to Keith Windschuttle’s forensic examination of the extreme claims surrounding the ‘Stolen Generations’ perpetuates the myth that Australia is a genocidal nation, characterized by violent racism, genocidal acts, and genocidal thinking, and that our national history is a disgraceful story of carefully calculated racist crimes carried out on a monstrous scale and concealed by various governments only to be revealed by allegedly fearless intellectuals such as himself. 

In some 656 pages, Windschuttle’s analysis of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Vol.3: The Stolen generations 1881-2008, has destroyed the ideological foundations of this sorry chapter in the far-left’s mendacious attack on Australia’s history and its national identity. Step by step Windschuttle goes through the essential elements of the case, demonstrating the gross errors that have been made and the baseless and hysterical slanders that have been promulgated by intellectuals, politicians, and activists desperate to portray Australia to the world as a genocidal regime comparable to Nazi Germany, as I discussed in various articles (“The History wars & the HolocaustQuadrant, October, 2009, and “Indicting Liberal Democracy for Genocide”, Quadrant, March 2008). 

It is difficult to imagine a more horrendous accusation that could be made against a country than that its history is rooted in genocide and that every generation – past, present, and future – are forever and irredeemably complicit in this primal atrocity. The scale of such an accusation can be measured by the profound seriousness that surrounded the vote last week in the US house committee on foreign affairs concerning the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians under Turkish rule in 1915. The vote went ahead despite last-minute pleas by the Obama administration and the Turkish government, and was broadcast live by Turkish television and radio news stations, so seriously is the issue taken in Turkey. Certainly the feeling amongst the Turks with whom I discussed the issue in a visit in 2007 was one of intense concern, a palpable anxiety that their nation was to be burdened with a primal stigma from which it might never escape. The committee’s vote to “characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1.5 Armenians as genocide” has delivered a body blow to Turkey’s attempts to evolve into a fully modernized nation that can find a respected place in the European Union and will have ramifications that will last for decades, quite possibly pushing the country into the clutches of anti-Western and fundamentalist Islamism. 

Such a process places the obsessive ravings of Manne in a real-world context: while these major world powers engage in the most intense historical research and evaluation possible, playing for the highest possible stakes in deciding whether a nation should be found guilty of the most heinous of crimes, Manne and his supporters want to declare Australia guilty of ‘genocide’ purely on the basis of their own whims and flagrantly incompetent and mendacious pseudo-scholarship, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, as it were, and regarding people who express scepticism about their extremist claims as morally bankrupt ‘holocaust deniers’ who don’t even deserve a hearing. 

This attitude means, for example, that present-day Australians whose ancestors first came to these shores in the nineteenth century – perhaps as free settlers or perhaps as convict labour – have nothing about which they can feel pride. Despite the fact that they battled for generations to make a life for themselves and their descendents in a flourishing liberal democracy they have hanging over them the dreadful accusation that whatever they may have achieved is forever stained with the original sin of genocide. 

And what of the more recent arrivals, from scores of various countries, all committed to making a new life for themselves and their descendents? What are they to make of it all – of this dreadful narrative of genocide promulgated by the intelligentsia, the media, and throughout the education system? What are they to make of the relentlessly bleak stories of genocide, violence, and dispossession that they encounter at every level in our schools, books, films, television, and the media generally? After all, nearly 1 of every 4 living Australians was born overseas and nearly half of all Australians have parents who were born overseas, arriving in the post-war period. Are they to feel implicated also in this genocidal past? Are they and their descendents also to bear the primal stain of genocide for eternity? Or are they to be considered a special case, graciously exonerated by Manne, who pointedly refers in his article to the “injustice and racism meted out to the indigenous people the British settlers dispossessed”. 

Where does this distinction take us? Why is it only the British and their descendents who are to be burdened with this guilt that Manne so desperately wants to impose? What about the non-British groups of settlers (e.g., the Irish, Italians, Germans, and Scandinavians) who first began to arrive in Australia in the nineteenth century – are they to be exonerated of the genocidal crimes that Manne insists blighted the land for decades just because they were not British, even though they and their descendents were just as much colonial or Australian citizens as those of British descent at the time Manne alleges these monstrous genocidal acts occurred? 

Is it possible that Manne really does believe that genocide was a uniquely British crime? After all, this is a claim made by other far-left proponents of the genocide thesis like the Marxist historian Ben Kiernan, who excuses the Nazis for the Holocaust by claiming they were simply playing catch-up to the true inventors of genocide – England, Australia and America and other dastardly ‘settler societies’ that grew like monstrous weeds from their foul British roots. 

And what of the other, non-British, Europeans, and the Asians, the Africans, the Pacific Islanders, and the New Zealanders who have come to our shores to make a new life? Are they to be granted exemptions from the original sin of genocide? Is there a special cut-off point for them, even though it has been claimed that the alleged genocidal acts that so obsess Manne continued up until only a decade or so ago (and may even be returning as contemporary welfare agencies struggle to deal with shocking acts of violence and sexual abuse of children)? 

And how does Manne expect these constant accusations of ‘genocide’ to help us build Australia into a great inclusive and integrated society within which our scores of different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures can participate fully, sharing with us all the contributions they have to offer? Ultimately, the very viability of this great project relies on a mutual acceptance of a set of institutions, traditions, values, and common law whose history reaches back centuries – indeed millennia – into the history of Great Britain and Western Civilization, drawing on many great struggles to win, maintain, and develop the range of freedoms that we all enjoy and want sincerely to share with the millions of people who have chosen to make Australia their home. 

How is this great project to succeed if our schools continue to ignore, deny, and denigrate this history, teaching instead that our nation is built on the most appalling crimes alleged by Manne and his associates? What is achieved by ensuring that our new citizens, and their children, and their children – from virtually every continent of the globe – are confronted with a stark choice as they face this bleak depiction of their new home? Will they accept the narrative of primal genocide promulgated by the far-left, which is totally committed to the denigration and eventual destruction of the institutions and culture of this country? Will they turn their backs upon Australia’s history entirely and live instead in a cultural and historical enclave psychologically untainted by the alleged crimes of their adopted country but also unenriched by its traditions and heritage? Or will they turn to violent denunciations and even hostile acts against Australia and its people and institutions, ideologically justified by a view of Australia as an irredeemable racist country that must be denigrated and perhaps even destroyed. 

This then is what is at stake in the History Wars – the very future of our country – and this has become even more critical as the new national schools’ curricula make it possible to impose a single ideological viewpoint across the entire nation. Manne and his ilk won’t hesitate to use their stranglehold on the study and teaching of history to carry out an ideological assault on the very foundations of Australian society, tearing apart its traditions, institutions, values, and culture, leaving only a void, where there isn’t hatred and shame. Windschuttle, on the other hand, refuses to be cowed by this aggression and seeks to approach the issues non-ideologically, relying on objective research to illuminate the issues. It is to our nation’s great detriment that the ideologues so easily dominate debate and are allowed, indeed encouraged by a compliant media, to propagate this Great Lie of Australia’s original sin.