by Hal Colebatch
Acashic Intellectual Capital, 2011
Paperback: 245 pages
Reviewed by Jeffry Babb
Hal G.P. Colebatch has the rare talent of being able to carry a storyline while developing complex ideas that enhance, rather than obscure, the narrative.
Counterstrike’s protagonist Harry is a part-time lecturer at a university situated near an unnamed river in Western Australia. Harry is also a part-time lawyer. He is more of a poet than an academic. He shares his flat with his cat Seebee and an extensive library. He is also a war gamer and sees reflected in the games his own presentiments.
The primary theme in Counterstrike is the retrenchment of American power, which mirrors the Roman retreat from Britain in the fifth century AD. The Britons, who had claimed for centuries that they suffered under the Roman yoke, quailed in terror once they realised the implications for their security when their defence was unsupported by the imperial power: Saxon pirates, Scottish raiders and Welsh bandits wreaked havoc after the Romans left. The Britons had fallen prey to the power of wishful thinking.
The storyline revolves around a plot to cause a rift between the United Kingdom and the United States. The story is set some time in the future, not long hence from now. Terrorists cause havoc. The aim of the plot is to give the Anglosphere a big push towards its disintegration by causing a split between its two most formidable powers, the United States and Britain. The plotters wish to reinforce U.S. President O’Connell’s subtle and irreversible abandonment of American involvement with the world. It is hard not to see a resonance in the current U.S. primary process. Isolationism (call it what you will) seems to be a common theme adopted by all serious candidates.
As Colebatch makes clear, the culture wars are revisiting a favourite Fascist ploy – the Big Lie, based on conspiracy theories. Some are ludicrous, such as that the U.S. faked the moon landings. Others are more plausible, to the extent that even some intelligent people can be taken in.
As those involved in the political process know, conspiracies abound, but they are almost always revealed, such as in the case of the deaths of the Balibo Five. It is impossible to convince believers in absurd conspiracy theories – such as the alleged “murder” of Princess Diana – that their belief has no foundation, because there is no foundation to their beliefs and therefore in their minds it cannot be disproved because “they” did it.
As Colebatch writes: “Conspiracy theories are driven as far as I can understand, by a psychological compulsion to believe a great event must have greater causes than are apparent.”
If those who wish to promote these conspiracy theories can find no evidence for their beliefs, the evidence can always be manufactured.
The conspiracy theory is both an element of culture change and often its progenitor. In a small city, it is possible to mobilise against outside influences, but “you can’t unite or mobilise against culture change”, says Colebatch. The best way to resist the onslaught of postmodernity is by holding fast to the good: great poetry, warm friendships, true love, nobility, tradition and honour.
The aim of terror is to change our culture, so we are beaten before the real fight begins. But Harry sees small signs of resistance to culture change: young English tourists wearing the Cross of St George; an “immram”, an adventurous nautical tour of the islands; the ancient naval traditions of the “Grey Funnel Line”. Of course, in a small city, there are lines of authority, both visible and invisible. As Harry notes, there are “devastating and permanent punishments that would be dealt out to anyone ‘unsound’”.
While it would be incorrect to describe Counterstrike as a roman a clef, observant readers will notice pen portraits of many prominent West Australians, their halos slightly tarnished. Counterstrike is not really a thriller, nor is it really science fiction, as it does not assume any technological advances. Best to call it exploratory fiction or perhaps a parallel universe – what might happen, but hasn’t yet. Colebatch handles this genre well. Counterstrike has several romances, including that between a captain and her ship.
Colebatch scatters quotes from his beloved poets throughout the book, including Norman Lindsay, Rudyard Kipling and T.S. Eliot.
This book is fun to read. It has a serious message but the reader is not beaten over the head with a limp, didactic cabbage. The message is ultimately hopeful; that we can fight back, that the culture war is not yet lost. In fact, postmodernism has been taking some painful punches recently.
Cultural literacy, as Colebatch shows, is the best intellectual weapon we have in the fight against barbarism. As for postmodernism, its reign as the opiate of the intellectuals is waning. Counterstrike will help put it in its grave.