You Can’t Polish A Turd

A Mark Seymour rant that he posted on his Internet site about Iraq war claims by Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: 16 September 2006.

Original URL:


Article Text

You can’t polish a turd!

On the recent fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Australia’s prime minister John Howard said that Iraq was “a better place for its people than before the war.” (Melbourne Age September 12)

Now, in the world of song-writing, there’s an expression we sometimes use to describe a piece of work that started well but through some unforeseen twist of musical fate, lost its way and simply wont be bent or massaged into something good. We say, at the eleventh hour, when everybody’s tired and pissed off: “You can’t polish a turd.”

Everybody breathes a sigh of relief. The truth has been spoken. Someone has finally admitted that there’s this huge elephant in the room called a shit song and now we can all stop pissing in each others’ pockets, move on, go for a beer, or start again with a fresh idea.

With this is mind, I read Howard’s words and “turd polishing” instantly sprang to mind.

I know there’ll will be some who’ll read this and be surprised by it. My music isn’t overtly political and I am acutely aware of the sensitivities associated with global terrorism especially after the bombings in Bali and the effect they’ve had on so many Australians.

Despite what I am about to say I remain a proud Australian. But I’ve been wondering for some time now how John Howard has managed to avoid providing any rational explanation for our involvement in Iraq and not suffered political damage as a result. Or is it simply the case that most of us have grown weary of the carnage, and he knows it?

Australian land forces were quickly deployed there. In fact, it was revealed shortly after the invasion, that Australian signals were in there before anybody. Despite their best efforts, no one found any “WMDs” and no tangible link was ever made between Al Qaeda and Saddam.

Unfortunately there’s not much point in debating these questions now. They’ve been done to death. Everybody knows that. But it still amazes me how John Howard can glibly claim that “Iraq is (now) a better place for it’s people than before the war” in the face of all we are seeing every night in our living rooms. After all, he’s seeing it too. Surely he doesn’t think we are that stupid?

Or maybe John Howard has access to information about life in Iraq that we simply don’t. He is the prime minister after all so you’d have to think so. It surprises me though, how a political operator as smooth as himself, could possibly think that a comment like this could go by without at least raising a few eyebrows. Well, in fact it did. Mine.

Am I’m missing the point? Maybe what Howard is trying to tell us, in the nicest possible way, is that there’s some kind of macabre logic to all this bloodshed. Maybe he knows of areas in Iraq where the people are relaxed and comfortable like us, where they wander up and down picturesque boulevards looking through polished glass windows at all the “Stuff” they can buy with their hard-earned dinars, without fear of being blown to pieces? And if such places exist, maybe the lives of these particular Iraqis are more important than the lives of all the dead ones. Maybe they’re the Iraqis we should rooting for. So where the bloody hell are they?

Who knows? I’m simply grasping at straws. I’m trying really hard to make sense of a patently stupid comment made by a highly intelligent and gifted politician. Are we to conclude that John Howard believes a new Iraq really is on the way, that eventually we will witness a shiny new democratic consumer-driven economy emerging from the flames, with shopping malls and clean public transport on a par with Malvern or Bondi Junction? I mean, who believes that’s going to happen any time soon? You?

Hey, I know the Iraq war is old news. Other stuff has taken over. Interest rates are rising. Oil’s getting really expensive. So move on boy. The ARIA Awards are on the way and INXS is touring again. Yahoo. You’ve just got to get used to the slaughter.

Of course, with all due respect to those of you who may still believe it was a good idea to take Saddam out, I’m not arguing one way or the other about that. I’d just like the prime minister to stop treating us like idiots. After all, what we’re seeing is real. They’re tearing each other to pieces over there and we’ve got a responsibility to help clean up the bloody mess we helped to create in the first place….

Australian values indeed.