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The Sydney Institute Quarterly : Book Reviews by Ross Fitzgerald

9 May 2014 172 views No Comment

P/B, 2012, RRP $35
ISBN: 9781743320068

This fine biography of prominent Australian-born sexologist and ardent campaigner for birth control, Dr Norman Haire, contains a wealth of information.

Born Norman Zions in Sydney in 1892 as the eleventh, and last, child of modestly prosperous Jewish parents, he attended Fort Street Model School where he was a star debater who aspired to being an actor.

Forced by his father to study medicine, Haire who remained a closet homosexual until his premature death in 1952, then followed his other great passion , saving the world from sexual misery and from unwanted and unnecessary pregnancies. In this he was influenced by Henry Havelock Ellis, the “Darwin of Sex who was to become Haire’s most important medical and intellectual mentor.

After arriving in London in 1919, the relatively unknown Australian Jewish outsider adopted his new name Norman Haire. He did this because, during the war, many people in Britain, in which there was both strong anti-Jewish and anti- German feelings, thought that Zions was a German name.

Haire soon established himself both as a Harley Street doctor and as a leading light in the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR). With the aid of the socialist feminist Dora Russell, the feisty second wife of eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, Haire organised the highly successful Third International WLSR Congress held in London in 1929 and which was attended by leading intellectuals from around the world.

During this time, Haire was a strong supporter of the Eugenics Society and the Malthusian League, both of which influenced his ardent commitment to birth control.

Six foot three (190.5 centimeters) tall and rather stocky, by 1930 Haire , a well known gourmand , had a flourishing gynecological practice, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce and a palatial country mansion whose house parties were attended by the cultural, intellectual and medical elite from England and overseas.

After renting several premises in Harley Street in London’s fashionable West End, Haire bought a 999-year lease on a six-story home-office at 127 Harley Street. His
bedroom in this palatial property boasted a huge Chinese bed. When Haire sent photographs of it as a greeting or invitation to his friends, he reminded them that the ornate bed was “big enough for three! As well as Haire’s chauffeur, 127 Harley Street boasted a butler, several maids and a Viennese cook, plus secretaries and a nursing sister to look after his many patients.

Diana Wyndham reminds us that it was by “satisfying people , mainly men – who yearned for longevity that made Haire rich. Although the procedure was little more than a vasectomy (women had their ovaries irradiated), hopeful patients paid high fees to revitalize their sex lives or to defer senility , at least until the medical claims of “rejuvenation were refuted.

Along with English Field-Marshal Sir Herbert Plumer, in 1934 William Butler Yeats, the Nobel prize-winning Irish poet, became Haire’s highest profile rejuvenation patient. Indeed in his book ‘Sex Talks’, published in 1946, Haire alluded to a “famous poet having written “his best poetry after the operation, “though he had for many years before that, written nothing at all. Haire claimed had also seen a world famous statesman who was ‘one of the leading figures in the war’ (ie Baron Plumer) restored from senescence to renewed sexual and intellectual activity.

In 1940 for a few years Haire returned to Australia , where he was hounded by wowsers, religious zealots and Australia’s security services. The ABC Board was censured in federal parliament for choosing him as a guest speaker in a population debate, and his long-running, no-nonsense, weekly advice column in the popular magazine ‘Woman’ was especially opposed by the Catholic Church.

Wyndham points out that, as well as being one of our leading rationalists, free thinkers, and sex reformers, in the 1940s Haire was a prominent member of a gastronomic club which dined at high-class Sydney restaurants.

Amusingly, she recounts that when he was served an Irish stew, Haire pointed out that it wasn’t “a real Irish stew , because it contained carrots! Intriguingly, throughout his life, Haire somewhat oddly combined ardent teetotalism with gastronomic excess.

As ship’s surgeon on the ‘SS Port Macquarie’, Haire left Sydney on 24 August 1946 to live again in London. He never returned to Australia. Although his final years were plagued by illness, especially from the unfortunate effects of diabetes, he bravely persevered in his life’s work of helping promote sexual health in its widest sense.

This fine biography of one of the western world’s most tenacious reformers in the field of birth control and sexual reform is replete with arcane, yet useful, information. For example, Wyndham reminds us that George Bernard Shaw had the unique distinction of winning both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. In 1925 the English polymath won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to literature and an Oscar in 1938 for his work on the film ‘Pygmalion’.

H/B, 2013, RRP $44.95 ISBN 9780980677874

It is useful to be reminded that, as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, signed on 21 August 1939, Hitler and Stalin were allies. This meant that, at that time, Australian Communists loyal to Moscow were obliged to support the German war machine.

As Hal G P Colebatch points out, in his provocative new book ‘Australia’s Secret War’, this arrangement lasted until Hitler invaded Russia on 22 June 1941. From then on, all members of the Communist Party of Australia and all militant communists in the trade union movement were supposed to actively support the Allied cause. But this, he argued, did not apply to all communist trade unionists, especially members of the Seamen’s Union and the Waterside Workers’ Union.

Colebatch has long had a bee in his bonnet about the unions, partly because, at the end of the First World War, the Fremantle waterside workers had given his journalist father, Sir Hal Colebatch, a very hard time, including pelting him with rocks. This was during Sir Hal’s brief stint as premier of Western Australia from 17 April 1919 to 17 May 1919.

In this well-produced and copiously referenced book, Colebatch is at least half right. Until the Soviet Union entered the war in June 1941 communists were totally opposed to the war, and the waterside workers in particular were resentful about the tough way they had been treated by their bosses during the 1930s Depression.

After June 1941, some leading Western Australian communist union leaders like Paddy Troy in Fremantle, were heart and soul behind the Allied war effort, and did what they could to stop loafing and sabotage at the docks. But other communist unionists, in Townsville for example, remained utterly bloody-minded and seem to have been as bad as they are portrayed in ‘Australia’s Secret War’.

However, to me it is doubtful that these militant workers were obeying orders from Moscow. Essentially, it was the sheer inability of wharf labourers and other communist unionists to rise above their own grievances and their ingrained sense that the capitalist world was against them. Hence, many communist controlled unions often did not co-operate with the war effort. As Colebatch explains, this ranged from employing deliberate go-slow tactics (what communists and anarcho-syndicalists called “letting the old man in) to constant refusals to work at all until their demands for substantial “danger money, itself several times more than the soldiers’ five shillings a day, were met.

All in all, it was not a pretty story.

As Colebatch documents in detail, even after June 1941 it was not always the case that Australian communists wholeheartedly supported the Allied war effort. To put it mildly, throughout the whole of World War 11, there was little love lost between wharfies and Australian and American soldiers, sailors, and aircraftmen. At a number of ports around Australia, waterside workers in particular went on strike and/or sabotaged military operations – even during the most desperate periods of the war.

Colebatch also makes it clear that John Curtin’s militant Minister for Labour and National Service, the East Sydney-based firebrand Eddie Ward, did virtually nothing to curb the excesses of communists in industries on which our war effort relied. This especially applied to strikes on the waterfront as well as in our coalmines.

Subtitled “How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War 11, ‘Australia’s Secret War’ draws on a broad range of sources. These include official and unofficial documents about the war from archival materials, to scores of letters and first-person interviews between the author and Australian and American ex-servicemen.

Colebatch’s fundamental thesis is that what he calls “the secret war was a conflict that may have cost the lives of many Australian and allied servicemen and women. Indeed, in a key chapter, entitled “Killing John Curtin, he argues that striking trade unionists and militants in the NSW branch of the Labor Party, such as Ward and future federal leader Dr H. Evatt, may have eventually cost the life of the 60 year old John Curtin – our teetotal, wartime Labor prime minister who died, ill and exhausted, on 5 July 1945.

However, what certainly seems indisputable is that, as an alcoholic who had stopped drinking entirely, Prime Minister Curtin was prone to attacks of nervous anxiety , which may have exacerbated his stress.

For the record, the Hal G P Colebatch who wrote this often disturbing book is not the same person as the distinguished West Australian political scientist Dr Hal Kempley Colebatch.

H/B 2011 RRP $35
ISBN 13: 9780805242607

As award-winning Jewish historian Deborah E. Lipstadt reminds us, the kidnapping of Nazi SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in May 1960 and his subsequent trial in Jerusalem in April 1961 attracted world-wide media attention.

Indeed, Lipstadt claims that there were more reporters in Jerusalem covering ‘The State of Israel v. Adolf Eichmann’ than had attended all the trials carried out by the allied military tribunals at Nuremberg which, as we know, occurred in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Much of the work on this harrowing book was completed while she was a scholar in residence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.

As Lipstadt makes clear, from the outset most people, including those present in the courtroom and those far beyond, expected Eichmann to be found guilty. What was unknown, she explains, “was what would happen when history, memory and the law met in Jerusalem. In particular, would the Israeli court system prove adequate to fairly and transparently adjudicate such an unprecedented legal and media event?

Given that many commentators thought that Eichmann’s was a show trial, orchestrated by the Israeli prime minister at the time, and the main founder of the state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, these are critical questions.

In ‘The Eichmann Trial’, Lipstadt leaves the reader in little doubt that Adolf Eichmann was intimately involved in aspects of the so-called Final Solution of European Jewry. In particular, it is clear that Eichmann devised and sometimes supervised the systematic deportation of hundreds and thousands of Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenhau and other Nazi concentration camps.

Yet what is fascinating to me about the Eichmann revealed in Lipstadt’s book is what often seems to be his sheer ordinariness.

Thus, when he was hiding in Buenos Aires under the name of Ricardo Klement, Eichmann was a poorly-paid factory worker who lived with his wife in a ramshackled cottage and who, each work day, took an over-crowded bus home from his job at a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant. A few days after the Israeli secret service, Mossad, captured him in Argentina, Eichmann asked to go to the toilet. After a few minutes inside he asked, “May I start now? It was only when he was told that he could, that he started to evacuate his bowels!

To me, Eichmann’s 1961 court case in Jerusalem often exemplified his utter ordinariness. For example, at his trial Eichmann, who rarely demonstrated either anger or shame, constantly claimed that he was just “a little cog – merely following the precise orders of his superiors. Hence, throughout his trial he refused to acknowledge personal responsibility for all his terrible deeds. Indeed, from his tailor-made glass dock, he declared himself to be the victim – “a tool in the hands of stronger powers and stronger forces, and of an inexorable fate.

Instead of being a stereotypical Nazi – arrogant, proud and domineering – during his trial some court-watchers observed “a thin, balding man who looked utterly ordinary and who during interrogation had “trembled incessantly. Even though he was occasionally clever and wily, in many ways Eichmann exemplified what controversial Jewish author Hannah Arendt , who reported on the Eichmann trial for ‘The New Yorker’- so tellingly called “the banality of evil.

Intriguingly, a key section of Lipstadt’s important book is devoted to trying to carefully understand, and analyse, a number of Arendt’s claims in the latter’s highly controversial 1963 book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’.

Yet, when dealing with Eichmann’s trial, these two leading Jewish scholars seem to exemplify more similarities in their analyses than differences. Hence, in witnessing the behavior of Eichmann towards his three judges in Jerusalem, Arendt “saw an automaton who was just passing on information and who failed to understand that what he had done was wrong.

Although Lipstadt’s emphasis is somewhat different – including stressing what she regards as Eichmann’s unambiguous culpability for his terrible deeds – both these fine scholars reinforce the opinion of those of us who see, embodied in Eichmann, the banality of evil. As Lipstadt explains, Arendt used the term “banal to bolster her contention that Eichmann “did not act out of a deep ideological commitment or because he was inherently evil. Essentially, Arendt wanted to understand how many seemingly ordinary Germans and others could perform such extraordinarily evil acts.

It is difficult to disagree with Lipstadt that although much of what Arendt wrote about the Holocaust is disturbing, her contention that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of perpetrators were not diabolical monsters, but “ordinary people who did monstrous things is accurate. Moreover, in the main, Lipstadt agrees with Arendt’s essential point: “It is precisely their ordinariness , their banality , that makes their horrific actions so troubling. At the same time, it is hard to disagree with the contention that, in relation to Eichmann himself, Arendt did not fully grasp the dimensions of his awful deeds.

As was expected at the outset, Eichmann was found guilty and sentenced to death. Despite some pleas to commute his sentence to life imprisonment, on 31 May 1962 , exactly two years after his capture in Argentina , Adolf Eichmann was hanged. His body was then cremated. Eventually, his ashes were scattered in the sea. As Lipstadt explains, this was “to prevent his burial site from becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.

All in all, ‘The Eichmann Trial’ is an excellent and thought-provoking book. Yet, despite the high quality of this major work, Deborah E. Lipstadt still remains best known for an unsuccessful 1996 English libel case brought against Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books by Holocaust denier David Irving. The latter claimed that Lipstadt had libeled him in her 1993 book ‘Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory’.

Despite the acrimonious nature of her libel trial, which Lipstadt often refers to in this fine book published in 2011, she remained and still remains a strong supporter of free speech. Indeed, she was publicly opposed to Irving’s three-year prison sentence in Austria in 1989. This was for minimising the atrocities of the Third Reich, including Irving’s claim that there had been no gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Writing of Irving, Lipstadt puts it thus: “I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone’s radar screens. … Generally, I don’t think that Holocaust denial should be a crime. I am a free speech person. I am against censorship.

Amen to that!

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books.

‘The Sydney Institute Quarterly’, Book Reviews, February 2014, pp 17-20

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