A Eulogy for John Howard.
Four hundred and sixty thousand Iraqis and nearly four and a half thousand Americans are dead and John Howard is alive. They died as part of George Bush's ham-fisted misadventure into Iraq, a conflict that continues to echo though the middle east. They died ostensibly because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but that was a lie, and even at the time, we knew it was very possibly untrue. John Howard committed himself to making this war happen, and it did, and now those people are dead and John Howard is alive and old, and probably relaxed on a sofa somewhere. John Howard does not regret the Iraq misadventure, in fact, he is incapable of seeing it in the very terms terrorists have described it – a cause celeb for violent anti-Imperialist terror. John Howard has suggested that if we had simply stayed in Iraq, we would have stopped ISIS before it started. In his mind, perhaps, the glorious Australian military runs door to door, like an episode of 24, punching out baddies, and Iraqis fawn over them for giving them their liberty. In every other reality, the reward of the Iraq war is unclear, but the cost was blood.
Reza Barati is dead and John Howard is alive. Barati was beaten with a pole spiked with nails, then while on the ground, had a rock dropped onto his head. He was under Australia's care. He was asking us for help. He was killed while under our protection, while waiting for his asylum to be processed. His name joins others, as the cost of keeping refugees from reaching the mainland is paid in more blood. John Howard is not the only one guilty of developing Australian refugee policy into the machine of cruelty it represents today, but he was instrumental in it. He intuitively sensed that the simmering racism in the darkest parts of the Australian psyche was his friend, so when he told everyone that refugees were monsters who threw their own children into the ocean, it was met with cheers.
It may be easy to forget now, but the movement to rebrand Australian refugee policy as a 'cruel to be kind' measure of saving lives is a recent invention; John Howard preferred the dominating cry, that we would determine who came here, and how they came. It was a policy of Australia's right and power to deny our land to those who sought our help. You could say it worked – under these policies less people die on the way to Australia. Now, they die elsewhere, an ocean that claims greater numbers of Asylum seekers every year. But they don't die in our ocean. Only we may determine who dies, and which ocean they die in.
John Howard is alive, and this is therefore probably one of very few eulogies that you will see for him in these times. However, when John Howard dies, the sentiments here – that he was a liar whose deceit was paid in blood, that he appealed to the ugliest, most racist and cruel undertones of Australia – will become unpalatable. Without fail, he will be routinely praised, for the gun thing, for the way the stability of his regime contrasted against the haphazard uncertainty of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison circus, for his convictions.
And John Howard has convictions – that homosexuals should remain second class citizens whose relationships are never granted the legitimacy of heterosexuals. That workers rights should be routinely disassembled and that not even science could prove that the climate was changing. John Howard is alive but he will be dead long before the headlines scream of disasters too obviously connected to the human changing of climate to any more be denied. But under John Howard, some wealthy people stayed wealthy a bit longer by putting off action on climate change. We could see then what cannot be unseen now, that a debt was being accrued that would again be paid, this time by future generations, in that same currency of blood. They sold the future for the convenience of exporting coal a little longer. They knew, or they could have known the cost of this policy, had they the courage not to lie to themselves.
John Howard is alive, but when he is dead, the sentiments of this eulogy will never be seen again. His praises will ring. His cruelty will become determination, his racism a common touch, his assault on workers a dedication to 'economic responsibility.' John Howard is alive, but when he is dead, let him die. Let his savagery, his ugliness, his military fetishism, his xenophobia wash away into the oceans and dilute until nothing can be seen. There is nothing in him worth celebrating or keeping. When John Howard is dead, let him die.