The outcry over the award of a knighthood to the Duke of Edinburgh by Prime Minister Tony Abbott is puzzling. If knighthoods are today irrelevant symbols of a bygone age, why should it matter? It will not affect the country’s security or economy. Personally, I think the Duke should not have accepted it, among other reasons because knighthoods, once celebrating the ideal of the chivalrous warrior, have been devalued by their awards to various dissolute show-business personalities, sports stars and other morally dubious celebrities.
There are a couple of points to be made here: the Duke recalls, or it seems has tried to recall, something like the old ideal of a knight – he fought bravely at sea against Nazism in World War II, when his relatives went into concentration camps, and in peace has helped hundreds of young people through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards . He has in many ways set an example of that beleaguered institution, Manliness.
However, his laudable enthusiasm for wildlife conservation seems to be showing signs of having tipped over into flirtings with anti-human deep-green ideology. In 1988 he repeated an earlier statement: “In the event that I am reincarnated I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation.” Maybe it was a clumsy attempt at humour, but comments like this from someone in his position, seem simply inexcusable, even though it is certainly not something that the green Left have held against him, and it is certainly not the reason the award has been attacked.
Of course, if all the stupid things we have ever said were held against us, who, to quote Hamlet, would escape a whipping? It is on his whole life that a man should be judged.
There is, however, a more important point to be made about the present outcry: one of the most senior grades of the Order of Australia, Companion, was awarded to Professor Manning Clark by the Whitlam Government in 1975. There was absolutely no complaint from the leftist intelligentsia about this, though Clark had a long and consistent record of objectionable behavior.
In 1958, a few months after the Soviet Union crushed the Nationalist uprising in Hungary, Clark visited the workers’ paradise and published a sycophantic volume, Meeting Soviet Man, in which he claimed that Lenin, one of the century’s great mass-murderers in a richly competitive field, was “Christ-like in his compassion.” The grateful Soviets gave him a Lenin Jubilee Medal, with various B-Grade apparachiki, at a secret meeting some years later. When I was editing Debrett’s Handbook of Australia he sent me a copious biography, evidently hoping for inclusion in this allegedly snobbish, Anglophile volume, but somehow omitted to mention this particular decoration.
Clark described his benefactor, Gough Whitlam, of all people, as “a Saviour who would lead us from darkness into light.” Vietnamese boat-refugees, when they were still at sea and their acceptance was a life-or-death question, were “reactionary” people about to be swept from the Earth. Their communist conquerors, according to Clark, had been inspired by Henry Lawson. When exposed to criticism on the wider stage, his books became international laughingstocks.
His acolyte, Humphrey McQueen, who claimed Clark’s polemics had liberated Australian history from “the tyranny of fact” (they contained many basic errors) also retailed a delightful story of Clark’s desire to be invited to Government House to watch the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowan’s, alleged sensitivity to the word “Jewboy.” (If McQueen was trying to burnish the great man’s stature, he missed an excellent opportunity to shut up.)
Indeed, reading Clark’s multi-volume History, which becomes more shrill and raucous as time goes on, one can detect a consistent, but admittedly veiled, nuanced and ambiguous, note of anti-Semitism (He supported Israel in its first days, when the Communist bloc. was also doing so). The fanatical anti-Semite Frank Anstey, whose pamphlet, The Kingdom of Shylock, with its pictures of vultures, skull-pyramids etc., might have been commissioned by Himmler himself, is described as a courageous opponent and exposer of the money-power.
There are repeated sneers at the Australian-Jewish General Sir John Monash (the first Jew to command any army in centuries), who purportedly “purred” at the praise of Gentiles, with an approving quotation from T.S. Eliot: “The rats are underneath the piles”. The next line, in case we don’t get it, is: “The Jew is underneath the lot”. At least Eliot, after the rise of Hitlerism, repented.
Manning Clark does not seem to have done so. Although identifying with the Left, that part of his autobiography, The Quest for Grace, set in England at the outbreak of World War II, reveals a hatred of England so obsessive and overwhelming that Hitler emerges as a kind of ally against the hated “Austro-Brits,” aware, unlike the English, of “the high solemnity of the occasion” (i.e. the high solemnity of bombing Warsaw and beginning the massacre of Jews by herding them into barns and burning them alive). Clark spoke of his shock at being in Germany and witnessing Kristallnacht. It was a lie. He wasn’t there at the time.
The cause of the war, he suggested, was not Hitler invading Poland, but a power-grab by Britain and Menzies-led Australia! By supporting Britain in the first part of World War II, Menzies “prostituted his great talent in the service of a corrupt and doomed society.” Not that Clark could be accused of this. When the German Army reached the English Channel he scuttled back to Australia, not even sticking to his post as a school-teacher, which would have freed a man or woman for the forces, further sneering at the Royal Navy which guarded him, and at the British for thinking they owned Gibraltar (which they did, actually, and a good job too!). Clark, incidentally, wrote fawningly of Menzies (“tragic grandeur”) until Menzies was safely dead: defamation of the dead was one of his specialties.
His History is a tedious parade of his own inner darknesses and neuroses, with a base, sometimes renegade, hatred of Australia. It is typical of his vision – so distorted as to be barely sane — that he claimed the West Australian goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie “had already become violent societies”. His evidence for this was the story of a fist-fight after which a man was – taken to a doctor! In fact, the WA goldfields, for all their rip-roaring, hard-drinking population, were so non-violent that the first jail was a tent, possibly something unique among 19th Century gold-rushes.
Well before his AC he claimed: “Maybe a victorious Russia would light a cleansing fire in Australia.” (Having kept as far as possible away from the action during the war, not even attempting to do civilian war work, he liked the idea of a cleansing fire and returned to it frequently).
While he seemed to have disliked and despised Australian soldiers (“these puffed-up, pigeon-chested men dressed in khaki”), dwelling on their alleged visits to brothels in the Middle Eastt and their being allegedly served food in pans “washed in shit and piss” by the crafty Egyptians, rather than their victories against Italian fascism which were a shot in the arm for the beleaguered democracies. His descriptions of the early Japanese victories over the allies in 1942 (“chaff before the Japanese wind”) suddenly become full of verve, what could even be taken as glee.
Like many weak, cowardly men he lived in fantasies of revolutionary violence. He dined with Cabinet ministers, helped select cadets for the Australian Diplomatic Service, and when he died Parliament adjourned to hear a eulogy from the Prime Minister. Much of this (and I have barely scratched the surface here) had not, of course, come to light when Clark was honoured with the AC, but a good deal had. There was, however, no protest.
The silence, or rather the warm approval, of the Australian intelligentsia then, compared to the outcry over the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, add up to an eloquent comment on much of that intelligentsia’s double standards.
Hal G.P. Colebatch was honoured with the 2014 Prime Minister’s History Award for Australia’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II, published by Quadrant Books