This is an important article and a clear demonstration of the value of taking a fresh look at a subject which many readers may regard as history. But, as we know, if we do not learn the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat them.

I have recently had two similar experiences of this kind which had the same effect on me. The first was a wonderful documentary, recently shown on the ABC, entitled : “The most dangerous man in America: Daniel Ellsberg” and the other: “The secret war in Laos”. They were a revelation to me – both shocking and very moving. They share the same qualities of conviction, honesty and compassion as does this essay. In the same way, I found myself feeling somewhat ashamed that I was not aware of the real history of these events and their import before now.

Everything Max Atkinson says in his forensic re-examination of our involvement in the Iraq war is of direct and immediate relevance, not only to our current engagement in Afghanistan but also to the way we typically fail to think about the need for moral and legal justifications for any of our military interventions overseas. I particularly appreciated his very different focus on the suffering of the victims of our decisions, as distinct from our politicians’ and the media’s justifications based on ‘national interest’ and political expediency. I found myself unable to read most of the parliamentary debates on the war in Afghanistan. By contrast, I couldn’t put this article down.

Anyone familiar with Max’s previous work will recognise this as vintage Atkinson. It is a rare sensibility that combines such a sharp analytic intelligence with such a sure moral compass. I have discovered that each paragraph should be read with care because it contains a whole essay in itself and the article as a whole, together with the footnotes, justifies several re-readings.

I would like to congratulate and thank not only the author but also the editor for this. In a publishing milieu that favours short ‘provocative’ ‘entertainment’ pieces, it is refreshing to find an editor who recognizes quality when he sees it and is willing to break the normal conventions governing length and footnotes.

I am very grateful to both of them.

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