Genocide in the Outback?

Genocide in the Outback?

Murray Scot Tanner, in Current his to^ iScpt. 2001), 4225 Main Sl.. Philadelphia, Pa. 19127,Ever since the 1989protests in Tiananmcii Square, China's rulers have worked hard to suppressdissent. iincl with the possible exception ofthe Falun Gong, these efforts have largely suc- ceeded. But Tanner, a professor of Chinese and East Asian politics at Western Michigan University, sees "signs of erosion" in China's internal security strategy. Beijing's control over Chinese society is slipping,...

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Other Nations

Losing Its Grip

"Cracks in the Wall: China’s Eroding Coercive State" by Murray Scot Tanner, in Current History (Sept. 2001), 4225 Main St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19127.

Ever since the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, China’s rulers have worked hard to suppress dissent, and with the possible exception of the Falun Gong, these efforts have largely succeeded. But Tanner, a professor of Chinese and East Asian politics at Western Michigan University, sees "signs of erosion" in China’s internal security strategy. Beijing’s control over Chinese society is slipping, "perhaps irreversibly."

"In contrast to the widespread Western image of a highly centralized KGB-style ‘police state,’ " Tanner says, China’s security system "is far more decentralized and dependent on active social support than most Westerners suppose." Decentralization leaves the system open to trouble: Security officers are "overwhelmingly recruited locally and have strong social and economic links to their local societies." They are often torn between allegiances to family and friends on the one hand, and loyalty to the state on the other.

The security system, Tanner argues, also suffers from an overreliance on the volunteer work of nonprofessional citizen security activists. China’s surprisingly low ratio of professional police to citizens (1.4 million public security officers police 1.3 billion citizens) and the enormous size of the country make the involvement of neighborhood, village, and workplace citizen security committees "absolutely indispensable." But the dedication of these volunteer security activists is likely to be undermined by the massive social and economic changes China is undergoing. Newfound social mobility, massive layoffs, a rise in social inequality, heavy tax burdens, and rising crime rates all make it more difficult to secure the loyalty of volunteer activists.

These same forces are also causing a "dramatic increase in unrest." One analyst counted 100,000 "large-scale protests involving hundreds of people" between 1997 and 2000. Even the Communist Party has admitted that protests are growing in number, size, and effectiveness. Protesters are also resorting to more violent methods: Attacks on party and government buildings and kidnappings of law enforcement officials and citizen security activists are on the rise.

The response by China’s security forces has been "inept," says Tanner. The police and army "have not received sufficient training or equipment to contain crowds with minimal violence," and have been known to fire on unarmed crowds. Their blunders have reportedly turned peaceful demonstrations into riots and often have "heightened, rather than defused, social tensions." The system, moreover, is corrupt: Decentralization has encouraged local officials "to treat police as their private enforcement brigades."

Key aspects of the nation’s security system have been effective, however: "Twelve years after Tiananmen, China still has no nationwide or even regional independent political parties, labor unions, or intellectual, student, or peasant organizations that could train and raise a credible non-party ‘counterelite.’" Yet as the system that holds these democratic forces in check crumbles, Tanner notes, China’s critics must beware: Without some kind of effective law enforcement, the prospects for a transition to a stable democratic government are dimmed.

Genocide in the Outback?

"The Fabrication of Aboriginal History" by Keith Windschuttle, in The New Criterion (Sept. 2001), 850 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019.

When Kathy Freeman, an Australian monies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, it Aboriginal sprinter, was chosen to carry the was widely viewed as a sign that Australians Olympic torch during the opening cere-were finally coming to terms with a sordid

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The Periodical Observer

colonial past. That past includes a genocidal campaign against Australia’s Aboriginals, many critics say. In an article widely published during the Olympics, Yale University historian Ben Kiernan wrote of "ethnic cleansing" and "hundreds of massacres," tallying as many as 20,000 Aborigines killed during the British colonization of Australia between 1788 and 1901.

Windschuttle, an Australian historian and author of The Killing of History (1997), questions these charges. He argues that "much of the evidence of the claims about massacres, terrorism, and genocide turns out to be highly suspect." While there was armed conflict on the frontier, he believes that the decimation of the Aboriginal population was caused mostly by smallpox, influenza, and other diseases.

Detail from Terre de Diemen, Habitations, an early 19th-century depiction of Australian Aboriginal life.

Kiernan and many other scholars base their estimates of Aboriginal deaths on historian Henry Reynolds’s The Other Side of the Frontier (1981). But Windschuttle found that Reynolds relied heavily on one of his own works, a 1978 monograph titled Race Relations in North Queensland, which "is not about Aboriginal deaths at all. It is a tally of the number of whites killed by Aborigines. Nowhere does it mention 10,000 Aboriginal dead."

Windschuttle also took a hard look at one of the most notorious incidents, the alleged 1804 massacre of some 50 Aboriginal men, women, and children at Hobart in Tasmania. The earliest account, written by the British officers at Hobart, reports that a group of 200 Aborigines had surrounded a settler couple, threatening them with spears. Soldiers from a nearby camp came to their defense, killing three Aborigines. It was not until the government convened an inquiry 26 years later that a former convict testified that "he thought ‘40 to 50’ blacks had been killed [at Hobart], even though he acknowledged he had not been at the scene at the time." Yet this figure now appears in many history texts as fact.

In Australia, Windschuttle has been compared to Holocaust denier David Irving. His critics argue that white settlers on the Australian frontier "could kill blacks with impunity," says Windschuttle. They say that settlers and the police "either turned a blind eye or were complicit in

massacres themselves. Hence widespread killings would have occurred without leaving any trace in the historical evidence." Historian Bain Attwood of Australia’s Monash University wrote that "very little historical interpretation is verifiable in any strict sense" and that historians arrive at the truth on the basis of a "scholarly consensus." But Windschuttle counters that if concrete evidence does not exist, "then the consensus can owe nothing to scholarship."

Australian prime minister

John Howard has "faced enormous public pressure to issue a formal apology over the issue and thus open the way to large-scale claims for compensation." Some advocates call for establishment of an Aboriginal state, where native peoples could revive their traditional culture. They blame the woes of today’s outback Aboriginal communities—"chronic alcoholism, petrol sniffing, heroin addiction, domestic violence, unemployment, and appalling health and education standards"—on the destruction of the Aborigines’ culture. But the great majority of the estimated 386,000 Aboriginals in Australia today, writes Windschuttle, "show little inclination to fulfill [this] romantic agenda."

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