AS I WRITE,  the Bali bombers, to the best of my knowledge, are still alive; and the United States of America has just hailed a popular new leader. It is a good moment in history for the leaders of Western bloc allies Australia and America to make two progressive gestures (one tiny and of regional significance, one a gesture that would contribute mightily to global goodwill and understanding).

FIRST, the Bali bombers. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is known to be opposed to capital punishment. Australia has no right to interfere in the affairs of Indonesia, and certainly no right to tell it how its government should deal with men who have been convicted of obscene acts of indiscriminate terrorism in which hundreds were killed and maimed.

But Rudd could officially inform the Indonesian Government that, if the Bali bombers (and the Australian drug runners under sentence of death in Indonesia) had been found guilty in Australian courts, their punishment would not have been death.

Unlike his predecessor, Rudd did not hesitate to say sorry to Australia’s “stolen generations”. He said it forthrightly, not as a perpetrator of those crimes, but as a man genuinely sorry that the stolen-generation crimes were committed by governments long before his time.

Rudd’s “sorry” speech last February was a fine start to the process of domestic reconciliation. His next gesture to Australia’s indigenous owners should be to say sorry for the genocidal impact of European invaders since Britain’s decision to occupy their homelands more than two centuries ago.

To maintain the impetus of Australia’s newfound morality, Rudd should advise Indonesia, publicly, of his government’s position on capital punishment. If such a gesture helped preserve the lives of the Bali bombers, it would be a welcome small step along the road to morality, a road that has been all-too-deserted for all-too-long.

SECOND, American barbarism. All of my life, the US has been terrifying, traumatising, persecuting, prosecuting, terrorising, torturing, penalising, provoking someone, some tribe, some culture, some faith, some nation, some movement, somewhere.  Its leaders have always tried to justify these actions as being in defence of “the American way”.

A-bombing Japan; more than a decade of mass murder in Indochina; support, financial and military, for corrupt, cruel and dictatorial leaders worldwide (especially in Central and South America) . . . the list goes on.

Suffice it to say that, in my lifetime alone — and without numbering non-military atrocities committed by the CIA and via infiltration by Washington and Pentagon spies of organisations such as the American Peace Corps and Christian missions — there have been more than 80 documented incidents of uninvited American meddling in the affairs of other nations.

These incidents have bred huge amounts of anti-American animosity in foreign communities, faith systems, even national governments, towards not so much the American people as towards Washington and the Pentagon.

Today, Barack Obama, probably more popular than he ever will be again, has a fine opportunity to, simultaneously, announce to the world that the US’s barbaric approach to international affairs is at an end; and that the planet’s most powerful nation is genuinely determined to strive to win back the respect and affection that people worldwide felt for it on September 11, 2001, the day that Osama bin Laden wounded America — and provoked a humiliated, possibly deranged George W. Bush into knee-jerk, scatter-gun, murderously monstrous retaliation.

Kevin Rudd’s opportunity to heal the wounds of history pale alongside the opportunity Barack Obama has of winning back for his country the respect that the Bush years squandered.

Obama could, for a start, begin talking to the leaders of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as a human among equals; as a leader who acknowledges that they, too, have the right to assert that they, just as much as the president of the US, represent the interests of their nations. This gesture alone would be a start to getting sorted the catastrophic mess humanity is making of planet Earth.

The stains of shame that the administrations of John Howard (Iraq lies, “children overboard”, young people behind razor wire for the entirety of their childhoods, human rights violations towards refugees, no “sorry” . . .) and George W. Bush (Iraq lies, indiscriminate murder in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Abu Graib . . .) have inflicted on their nations’ reputations cannot be erased.

Rudd and Obama know that. What they can do is bring messages of hope to the world that the years of Western barbarism are over. Only in this way can the forces of hate that feed off anti-Western sentiment be disarmed. — BOB HAWKINS

ENDIT

Bob Hawkins
Today, Barack Obama, probably more popular than he ever will be again, has a fine opportunity to, simultaneously, announce to the world that the US’s barbaric approach to international affairs is at an end; and that the planet’s most powerful nation is genuinely determined to strive to win back the respect and affection that people worldwide felt for it on September 11, 2001, the day that Osama bin Laden wounded America — and provoked a humiliated, possibly deranged George W. Bush into knee-jerk, scatter-gun, murderously monstrous retaliation. Kevin Rudd’s opportunity to heal the wounds of history pale alongside the opportunity Barack Obama has of winning back for his country the respect that the Bush years squandered.