In 1935, the Congress of American Writers was held in New York City, followed by another two years later. They called on “the hundreds of poets, novelists, dramatists, critics, short story writers and journalists” to discuss the “rapid crumbling of capitalism” and the beckoning of another war. They were electric events which, according to one account, were attended by 3,500 members of the public with more than a thousand turned away.
Arthur Miller, Myra Page, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett warned that fascism was rising, often disguised, and the responsibility lay with writers and journalists to speak out. Telegrams of support from Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, C Day Lewis, Upton Sinclair and Albert Einstein were read out.
The journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn spoke up for the homeless and unemployed, and “all of us under the shadow of violent great power.”
Martha, who became a close friend, told me later over her customary glass of Famous Grouse and soda:
“The responsibility I felt as a journalist was immense. I had witnessed the injustices and suffering delivered by the Depression, and I knew, we all knew, what was coming if silences were not broken.”
Her words echo across the silences today: they are silences filled with a consensus of propaganda that contaminates almost everything we read, see and hear. Let me give you one example:
On March 7, the two oldest newspapers in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, published several pages on “the looming threat” of China. They coloured the Pacific Ocean red. Chinese eyes were martial, on the march and menacing. The Yellow Peril was about to fall down as if by the weight of gravity.
No logical reason was given for an attack on Australia by China. A “panel of experts” presented no credible evidence: one of them is a former director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a front for the Defence Department in Canberra, the Pentagon in Washington, the governments of Britain, Japan and Taiwan and the West’s war industry.
“Beijing could strike within three years,” they warned. “We are not ready.” Billions of dollars are to be spent on American nuclear submarines, but that, it seems, is not enough.”‘Australia’s holiday from history is over”: whatever that might mean.
There is no threat to Australia, none. The faraway “lucky” country has no enemies, least of all China, its largest trading partner. Yet China-bashing that draws on Australia’s long history of racism towards Asia has become something of a sport for the self-ordained “experts.” What do Chinese-Australians make of this? Many are confused and fearful.
The authors of this grotesque piece of dog-whistling and obsequiousness to American power are Peter Hartcher and Matthew Knott, “national security reporters” I think they are called. I remember Hartcher from his Israeli government-paid jaunts. The other one, Knott, is a mouthpiece for the suits in Canberra. Neither has ever seen a war zone and its extremes of human degradation and suffering.
“How did it come to this?” Martha Gellhorn would say if she were here. “Where on earth are the voices saying no? Where is the comradeship?”