Howard's Heroes


For a movement that venerates Western civilisation and its Judeo-Christian heritage, Australia’s neo-liberal Right seems to have forgotten one of Christ’s most important injunctions. ‘You hypocrite!’ he proclaimed in his Sermon on the Mount. ‘First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.’

The ballroom of Sydney’s Westin Hotel was thick with hypocrisy last week when John Howard and his posse of lickspittles crawling to those with power is a popular pastime of the Right, hence their hatred of unions gathered to celebrate the 50th birthday of the once CIA-funded magazine, Quadrant.



Howard referred to the ‘philo-communism’ of some on the Australian Left, who had sympathised with, if not supported outright, the regimes of Lenin, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Fair cop, but over the years there has been some reassessment, even contrition, from Leftists.

For example, the man Howard delights in maligning, the late historian Manning Clark, may have once romanticised Lenin, but as his biographer Stephen Holt points out, he was also a member of the anti-communist Australian Association for Cultural Freedom and, in the 1980s, supported the Polish Solidarity movement.

Like Quadrant, Solidarity enjoyed the support of the Central Intelligence Agency which makes an interesting segue into the issue that Howard and his acolytes conveniently neglect.

Solidarity was one of the more benign organisations the United States and its allies in the West supported during the Cold War. But it was hardly typical of the proxy forces that were backed by the anti-communist Right, which was willing to befriend any tyrant that served their strategic interests.

Howard heralded two particular leaders as instrumental heroes in the struggle former US President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Let’s start with Thatcher.

She remains unrepentant in her support of apartheid South Africa. She opposed sanctions against the White minority government and declared Nelson Mandela a terrorist who would never lead his country. She never supported a South Africa with one-person, one-vote, one-value, which is the essence of democracy. Only six weeks ago, one of Thatcher’s successors as Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, repudiated her support for apartheid but Howard still lauds her as a role model.

Thatcher’s other great pin-up boy was the homicidal Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, responsible for the deaths of 3,000 and the torture of 35,000, including the near incineration of university activist Carmen Gloria Quintana. In 1999, when a British court ordered Pinochet be detained for human rights abuses, Thatcher rushed to his bedside, and then to the stage of the Conservative Party conference to eulogise the man who in 1973 seized power from the democratically elected Allende Government.

Pinochet was also Reagan’s main man in Latin America. Even after the CIA established Pinochet’s connection to the most significant act of pre-9/11 terrorism on American soil the 1976 car-bombing of former Allende diplomat Orlando Letelier and US citizen Ronni Moffit Reagan embraced Chile’s terrorist regime. Pinochet was, you see, a bulwark against communism, no matter how grotesque his behaviour, which included knowing about and allowing a former Nazi officer, Paul Schaefer, to sexually abuse children in his ‘Colonia Dignidad’ in the Chilean countryside. That the current Chilean Government has validated at least 28,000 cases of torture, and agreed to compensate the victims, does not seem to have tempered the Right’s love of Pinochet.

But Pinochet was not Reagan’s only man in the Americas. In his first term, Reagan also supported General Jorge Rafael Videla, an architect of Argentina’s dirty war, and later General Leopoldo Galtieri. In addition to the standard operating procedure of ‘disappearing’ their political opponents and applying electrodes to their genitals, their regime also coddled escaped Nazi war criminals and, in a particular specialty, harvested babies from imprisoned mothers, whom they later murdered.

In violation of laws passed by the congress, Reagan’s administration sold arms to the Ayatollah of Iran then funnelled the proceeds to Adolfo Calero and his band of thugs, which was attempting to overthrow the elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which, in the popular revolution of 1979, had toppled the Somoza dictatorship. The University of Pittsburgh’s Centre for Latin American Studies estimates Calero’s ‘Contras’ killed 62,000 people, while the CIA’s own inspector-general linked them to drug trafficking. Reagan called them ‘the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.’

Thanks to Bill Leak

Perhaps Howard and the Quadrant crowd forgot that Reagan also supported the Guatemalan dictator, General Efrain Rios Montt, whose US-trained military murdered up to 200,000 indigenous peasants. To Reagan, Rios Montt was ‘a man of great personal integrity.’

As he sat there applauding Howard’s paean to the former US President, I wondered if Sydney’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, knew that Reagan had supported Major Roberto D’Aubuisson in El Salvador, whose death squads assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero, raped and murdered four American Maryknoll nuns and slaughtered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter?

Reagan also had his anti-communist clients in Africa: Mobutu Sese Seko of then Zaire, who had ousted the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba in the 1960s and went on to steal $5 billion from his people and wage war on neighbouring countries; and Sani Abacha of Nigeria, who hung the novelist and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and slaughtered Ogoni tribespeople. Reagan’s principal African proxy (after the apartheid regime itself) was Mobutu’s brother-in-law, Jonas Savimbi, whose UNITA terrorists killed, according to the United Nations, 300,000 children, and at least 500,000 in total, in a battle for control of Angola.

What might the Quadrant crowd have made of Reagan and Thatcher’s support for Suharto in Indonesia, whose regime murdered between 500,000 and 1 million dissidents in the 1960s, and up to 200,000 East Timorese? Did they reflect on the Reagan Administration’s support in the United Nations for the Khmer Rouge as the ‘legitimate representative’ of Cambodia, despite the party’s record as the Nazis of Asia, exterminating, starving and torturing 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979?

Does the Quadrant crowd recall Reagan sending then Vice President George Bush Senior to the Philippines to toast the kleptomaniac first couple, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, for ‘fostering democracy’?

Have Howard and the Quadrant crowd forgotten that it was Reagan’s administration, in partnership with the anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), that sired the movement that became Al Qaeda? And have they forgotten it was Reagan who in December 1983 sent his personal envoy one Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein and grease the way for weapons sales, and who supported Saddam as a strategic ally against Iran during the worst years of his regime?

Yea, ‘First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your bro
ther’s eye.’

Every time the Quadrant crowd attacks the Left for its undeniable moral blindspots during the Cold War, every time they throw a Lenin, Mao and Saddam at us, be ready to hurl a Pinochet, a Rios Montt, a D’Aubuisson, a Savimbi, a Suharto and even a Saddam back at them.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.