Peter Skrzynecki’s Immigrant Chronicle and The Kite Runner (2007)

‘People experience a sense of belonging in varied and complex ways’

While human instinct, however primitive dictates that finding a sense of belonging is essential for survival, it is through the complexity of relationships that ensure this universal need is achieved. In his Immigrant Chronicle, Peter Skrzynecki employs various language devices to present different aspects of belonging. These ideas are associated with first generation migrants and their struggles to find acceptance in a foreign country. In Feliks Skrzynecki a lack of commonality between the poet and his father inhibits their relationship and ultimately affects their sense of belonging to each other. In Migrant Hostel immigrants create relationships by exploiting common experiences to gain a transitory sense of belonging. Similarly, Marc Forster’s film, The Kite Runner presents the connection between relationships and shared experiences through following the conflict of migrants in forging an identity in an exotic country.

A lack of cultural commonality limits Feliks and his son’s relationship:

Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki explores the poet’s filial relationship with Feliks, where a lack of cultural similarity inhibits their sense of belonging to each other. Skrzynecki uses visual imagery of Feliks’ ‘hands darkened from cement’ to shape his father as a hardworking and stoic figure. Although the poet admires his father, this imagery later becomes connected with Feliks’ cultural heritage and the ‘five years of forced labour’ in German concentration camps. This personality being constructed is the basis of the cultural disconnection with his son. Peter has not shared the same experiences as his father in Poland and therefore has not built the same personality. This is further shown through the poet’s description of his father’s ‘Polish friends who always shake hands too violently’. Peter’s unfamiliarity with the behavior of these adults enforces the cultural disconnection between himself and his father’s heritage. As ‘they reminisced’, the use of third person illustrates the exclusion Peter had with his father in conversation. He is excluded because he cannot relate to the men due to their lack of cultural similarity. This affects their relationship and impedes their ability to belong to each other.

Feliks and Peter’s lack of childhood commonality pressures their relationship and consequently reduces their sense of belonging to each other:

Peter’s youth at the time his family immigrated ensured he would be influenced by Australian culture. Being just four years of age Peter was too young to be instilled with Polish practices and therefore could not relate to Feliks’ memories of ‘farms where paddocks flowered’. While he acknowledges he ‘unknowingly inherited’ his father’s Polish language, the negative connotations of ‘unknowingly’ implies it intruded on his established Australian ways. The dominance of Australian culture on Peter is evident when he ‘forgets his first Polish word’. This creates the obvious detachment between Feliks’ polish heritage and the Australian culture that Peter is choosing to embrace. Without cultural commonality between Feliks and Peter’s upbringings, the two struggle to relate to each other. This negatively affects their sense of belonging.

Feliks and Peter have different educations and therefore limited shared experiences:

Skrzynecki’s education in Australia, which differs to the values of Feliks furthers their lack of shared experiences. This consequently inhibits their sense of belonging to each other. It ironically evidenced through Peter’s education where he studies ‘tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War’. His stubbornness to focus on Latin, regarded as a dead language, rather than the enriching lessons of his father reveals the resentment he has for his father’s culture. Skrzynecki’s use of simile to portray his father as a ‘dumb prophet’ and the symbol of Peter ‘pegging his tents further south of Hadrian’s Wall’ reinforces the barrier between their two cultures. This imagery enforces Feliks’ acknowledgment that he has little influence on Peter’s culture. Because of the lack of shared ideas and values between the two, Peter cannot connect with his father and consequently drifts further from his Polish heritage as he attempts to seek an Australian identity. Having been educated in Australia, Peter grows up challenging the values and lessons that his father attempts to instill in him. Without a commonality of ideas and values, Peter and Feliks’ relationship struggles to enrich their sense of belonging to each other.

Feliks’ shared migratory experiences with his Polish friends ensures he has a sense of relationship with them:

Although Feliks and his son struggle to belong in each other’s worlds, Feliks’ shared migratory experiences with his friends ensures he belongs to them. It is obvious Feliks does not belong in the same world as Peter, that is, belonging to Australian society. Because Peter speaks English he acts as an interpreter for his father. The exclusion of Feliks from the community is shown through the ‘department clerk’ asking in ‘dancing bear grunts’ whether Feliks ‘ever attempted to learn English’. This question illustrates the discrimination and racism directed at Feliks and immigrants in general. This arises because the Australian community has no sympathy for immigrants as they have no shared experience of being forced to flee their homeland. Because of this discrimination Feliks must search elsewhere to satisfy the fundamental human need to belong. This fulfillment arises through the company shared with ‘his Polish friends’. By embracing shared experiences with other immigrants and reliving memories of their past they are able to create a substitute world in which they belong. Peter observes this when he notices Feliks ‘happy as he has never been’. By embracing shared migratory experiences, Feliks strengthens the relationship with his Polish friends. In doing so, they enrich their sense of belonging to each other.

Although transitory, the immigrants in Migrant Hostel build upon shared experiences to build a sense of relationship between each other:

Immigrants in Skrzynecki’s Migrant Hostel exploit shared experiences in order to build relationships. Although transitory, they achieve a sense of belonging to each other. On arrival in a foreign country, immigrants find comfort through association with others of similar nationality. Skrzynecki implies that it is a natural thing to seek ‘each other out instinctively’. He reinforces this fundamental human need to belong through the use of simile when comparing the immigrants to ‘homing pigeons’. This describes the instinctual desire to be with those speaking the same language and identifying with similar culture. By congregating in these nationality groups, mutual support can be offered, providing comfort amidst the uncertainty of their individual situations. The motif of birds is further explored when the immigrants are compared to ‘birds of passage’. This implies the constancy of their ever changing condition. They achieve a sense of belonging to each other by embracing similar migratory experiences, however accept its transient nature due to this uncertainty. By exploiting shared experiences and embracing common culture, immigrants form relationships which consequently enrich their sense of belonging.

The Immigrants are rejected by society due to lack of understanding of cultural differences:

Shared experiences in Skrzynecki’s Migrant Hostel are further explored through the rejection immigrants confront from society. Without this acceptance by society, immigrants struggle to gain a sense of belonging within the community. The poet’s use of ‘we’ unifies the immigrants regardless of their origin. Through sharing despair, confusion, isolation and frustration the immigrants gain an understanding of ‘us’ against ‘them’. Australian society has not experienced the same events of fleeing their homeland and consequently have no sympathy towards immigrants. The ‘barrier at the main gate’ symbolises the barrier immigrants face when searching for an identity in Australia. The exclusion of immigrants from society is furthered through the imagery of the ‘finger’ which ‘points in reprimand and shame’. This negative personification of bureaucracy shows the exclusion immigrants face by those of authority. Because of the lack of sympathy shown towards these immigrants, they gain an understanding of ‘us’ against ‘them’. This consequently inhibits their sense of belonging.

In the Kite Runner, Baba and his son Amir struggle to maintain a close relationship since they have very little common interests:

Forster’s The Kite Runner explores a relationship between a father and his son where common interests alter their sense of belonging to each other. The protagonist’s father, Baba, was seemingly brought up with strong morals and values, differing to those of his son, Amir. While Amir enjoys reading and writing stories, Baba fears that his son will struggle to ‘stand up for what’s right’. Amir admires his father, whom he views as a role model. His admiration is evident when he shares stories of his father ‘once wrestling a bear’. However, without common interests and experiences the two cannot relate. A mid shot shows Amir sitting writing stories as he considers ‘he hates me’, referring to his father. The film then cuts to another mid shot, with the camera placement now behind Amir. As he looks out the window into a miserable, rainy setting, a point of view sense is created, allowing the viewer to experience Amir’s sense of dislocation to his father. Although Amir and Baba’s relationship is largely negative due to the lack of commonality, the kite fighting tournament acts as a symbol of how their relationship could flourish with shared experiences. Baba won the kite fighting tournament as a child – a feat Amir achieves. During the tournament Baba watches in excitement as a wide shot captures his delight. When the two meet afterwards Baba hugs his son for the first time in the film, exclaiming ‘good job’. This is the first intimacy shown between the two and arises through the fact that they have something in common and further, they can relate to each other. The filial relationship explored in the Kite Runner is largely influenced by shared experiences. This consequently alters their sense of belonging to each other.

Baba and Amir draw upon a shared migratory experience from Afghanistan to America to build an enduring relationship:

After migrating to America, Baba and Amir’s relationship strengthens due to the shared experience of fleeing Afghanistan. Through sharing despair, isolation and confusion an enriched sense of belonging is achieved. Because Amir is older when he and his father immigrate, he is already instilled with his father’s cultural practices. This is evident through Amir’s traditional wedding which takes place. He respects the values he has been brought up with which results in no cultural barrier inhibiting their sense of belonging. Baba’s change in attitude towards his son is shown after Amir graduates from college. Baba exclaims ‘my son, the college graduate’. He continues to say ‘tonight, I’m very happy’ while close up camera shots of Baba shows his proud emotion. Amir’s degree is in writing fiction, which while in Afghanistan Baba was strongly opposed to. Now, in America and because their shared migratory experience has strengthened their relationship, Baba supports his son’s carreer path. This results in Baba and Amir achieving a greater sense of belonging to each other.

Skrzynecki’s poetry and Forster’s film explore many of the same themes concerning their belonging experiences:

Both Skrzynecki and Forster present ideas of belonging through following migrant struggles to find acceptance in a foreign country. The two poems and the film explore how shared experiences affect relationships and consequently a sense of belonging. Both similarities and differences are evident between the three texts. Feliks Skrzynecki and The Kite Runner explore specific filial relationships while Migrant Hostel presents a more general condition that immigrants face. Feliks and Baba are similar characters while Peter and Amir contrast subtlety. The age at which they immigrate impact greatly on the outcome of their relationship and consequently their sense of belonging. Peter immigrates at a younger age and is therefore greatly influenced by the foreign culture. Amir differs as he was older and already following traditional Afghani customs. Because of this he relates better to his father than Peter. This reflects their differing senses of belonging. Migrant Hostel and The Kite Runner reflect how exploiting shared migratory experiences enhances relationships. By congregating in nationality groups and associating with others exposed to similar hardships, mutual support can be offered. Baba and his son embrace their similar migratory experiences which enhances their sense of belonging. Similarly, this occurs with the Skrzyneckis. Many comparisons can be drawn between the three texts with each exploring the hardships immigrants face in foreign countries.

Belonging is fundamental to human survival. The instinctual desire to belong is enriched through relationships and the shared experiences that occur as a result. Having commonalities ensures people can relate to one another and in doing so, enhances their senses of belonging. Skrzynecki’s poems Feliks Skrzynecki and Migrant Hostel and Forsters’s film The Kite Runner explore the connection between shared experiences and their effect on relationships. These relationships then alter a person’s sense of belonging, whether enhancing it or inhibiting it.

Khaled Hosseini’s Other Books:

The Kite Runner Novel by Khaled Hosseini:
“An astounding and humbling story of corruption, guilt and redemption. Epic in scope and intimate in its emotions, this terrific novel opens a window into a devastated country and takes us deep into the hearts and minds of those pierced by violence.”
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

And the Mountain Echoed

“A powerful book…no frills, no nonsense, just hard, spare prose…an intimate account of family and friendship, betrayal and salvation that requires no atlas or translation to engage and enlighten us.” -The Washington Post Book World

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This novel is an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love… A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.” – Barnes and Noble



Peter Skrzynecki’s ‘Feliks Skrzynecki’ – Thematic Analysis

Perceptions of belonging / not belonging vary: Both Feliks and Peter have different perceptions of belonging in Australia. Feliks considers he doesn’t need to belong to Australian culture and instead connects with his Polish friends and seeks solace in his garden. Peter on the other hand rejects his Polish heritage and chooses to embrace Australian culture.

Perceptions shaped due to context: Feliks finds a sense of belonging with his Polish friends who share contextual experiences of migration and Polish culture. Peter cannot belong due to the context in which he was raised. He was educated in Australia and thus has no link to Polish culture.

Connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the wider world: Feliks finds a strong sense of belonging through his connections with his Polish friends (people), the garden (place) and his cultural heritage.

Belonging is related to relationships: Peter’s relationship with his father is limited due to their lack of shared experiences and cultural division. Feliks, however, finds a sense of belonging with his relationship to his garden and to his Polish friends.

Acceptance: Peter chooses not to accept his Polish culture, instead accepting Australian culture. Feliks does the opposite. He cannot accept Australian culture and continues to embrace his Polish heritage. Feliks grows to accept his son’s choices, acknowledging he will regret his decisions in maturity.

Identity: Peter and Feliks have differing cultural identities which limits their belonging to each other. Peter chooses to embrace an Australian identity, while Feliks rejects such.

Understanding: Peter attempts to come to an understanding of his father and their relationship. Within the poem, Feliks comes to an understanding of his son’s cultural identity. Peter himself comes to the understanding of regret for his rejection of his father and their shared heritage.

Individuals can enrich or challenge belonging: Feliks chooses to embrace his sense of belonging to his garden, his Polish friends and his Polish heritage, however, rejects the desire to belong to Australian culture. Peter challenges his Polish heritage by attempting to enrich his Australian culture.

Attitudes are modified over time: Peter’s attitude changes as he grows to regret how he rejected his Polish heritage. Feliks grows to accept his son’s choices to embrace his Polish heritage, acknowledging he will regret his decisions in maturity.

There may be choices not to belong: Feliks chooses not to belong to Australian culture while Peter chooses not to belong to his Polish culture.

Thematic Analysis

Feliks Skrzynecki details Peter’s reflections on the father he deeply loves and admires. It describes their relationship and how their immigration experience has changed it. The poem explores the conflict that arises as a result of Peter becoming embedded in Australian culture, choosing to oppose his Polish heritage. The information the responder receives of Feliks comes through Peter’s memories. Peter recognises in his maturity that his father understood the gap that had developed between them and knew that he would one day treasure his heritage after his initial dislocation.


The poem opens with Peter instantly providing positive connotations of his father, writing “My gentle father”. The use of the personal pronoun establishes their filial relationship where Peter continues to describe his father’s connection with his garden. The garden acts as Feliks’ place of solace and refuge in a foreign country. Peter considers his father “Loved his garden like and only child”. Here the use of simile and emotive language presents the strong connection Feliks hold with the place of the garden. Furthermore, Peter’s hyperbolic language describing how “He swept its paths//Ten times around the world” shows his comfort while in its surrounds. This also provides an image of Feliks’ migration journey around the world. Peter also comments here on his father’s desire to exclude himself from the foreign Australian culture for he “Spent years walking its perimeter//From sunrise to sleep”. Peter employs the use of alliteration and hyperbole to explore his desire to be in the garden. The connotations associated with Peter’s discussion of the “perimeter” imply Feliks’ position being on the outside of society. However, Feliks is not deterred with his exclusion from Australian society as his garden fills this void.

Peter continues to provide hardworking attributes of his father. He employs powerful visual imagery and simile to portray his “Hands darkened// Like the sods he broke”. This ensures he is a hardworking and stoic figure who is rewarded through physical activity. The images of the hands of a powerful manual worker reveal the safety and security achieved by physical labour. Peter describes his father’s action in a way which implies he wishes to emulate his father but the unfamiliarity of his actions prevents a connection between the two. This is shown through his use of hyperbolic imagery as he questions “Why his arms didn’t fall off”. There is an obvious dislocation between the two which is explored further in the following stanza.

Peter continues to describe his father’s relationship with “His Polish friends”. Here, positive connotations show that Feliks feels comfortable with these men; however, Peter’s unfamiliarity with them still exists. This is shown through the hyperbolic imagery once more as they “Always shook hands too violently”. This unusual behaviour enforces a cultural disconnection between Peter and his father. Feliks feels comfortable as “they reminisced//About farms where paddocks flowered”. The positive connotations associated with their Polish life before the war shows a sense of them belonging together through the pleasant memories of their past. Peter’s use of third person here enforces his exclusion from the conversation. Because Peter has not experienced life in Poland and does not have such memories he cannot culturally connect with his father or his father’s polish friends. Feliks belongs to his Polish friends because of shared memories and experiences; however, to Peter this is an unknown world which prevents a sense of belonging between them.

Peter describes that a fundamental reason that he and his father cannot connect is because he chooses to embrace Australian culture while his father is limited to his Polish culture only. He describes his father’s attempts to instil Polish heritage within him where it was “inherited unknowingly”. Peter’s inversion of the sentence effectively emphasises the negative connotations associated with “unknowingly”. At this stage in his childhood Peter wished not to belong to his father’s culture, rather he wished to belong to Australian culture while his father was unwillingly to adapt to Australian ways. He is discriminated against for this. This is presented as the “department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: ‘Did your father ever attempt to learn English?’” Here, Peter employs demeaning visual imagery of the department clerk to criticise society of its discriminating ways. This also helps to understand why Peter wished to belong to Australian culture – so he wouldn’t be racially vilified.

The tone changes towards the final stanzas of the poem as Feliks begins to regret the division between his father and himself. He presents his father as content and “happy as I have never been”. The use of first person creates an emotional sense of regret. His father is happy sitting in the garden he spent so many years moulding. Peter, however, recognises he cannot share this contentment because of the division he created as a child. Although there was a cultural division created due to the lack of shared memories and experiences, Peter completely rejected his father and instead embraced Australian culture.

The final stanza enforces this regret. As a child, Peter focused on “tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War”. This literary allusion to a Latin text shows that Peter was content on studying Latin, regarded as a dead language than the enriching lessons of his father. Although Feliks attempted to instil his son with Polish culture when “I forgot my first Polish word//He repeated it so I never forgot”, Peter in his maturity acknowledges that Feliks could do nothing about the cultural divide. Instead, he watched “like a dumb prophet” as peter pegged his tents “further south of Hadrian’s Wall” Peter’s use of simile and symbolism illustrates the cultural barriers that emerged. Furthermore, he acknowledges that his father always knew that his son would one day regret choosing not to belong to his culture.

Essay Questions:

2011: Explore how perceptions of belonging and not belonging can be influenced by connections to places. In your response, refer to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your choosing.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence which can be influenced through a person’s connections they hold with places. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the way migrants find a sense of belonging to places in a foreign country.

– Feliks belongs to his garden… it is where he finds solace and comfort and a place where his physical work provides safety and security.

“Loved his garden like an only child”, “swept its paths ten times around the world”, “spent years walking its perimeter from sunrise to sleep”, “hands darkened from the sods he broke”

– Feliks belongs to Poland through memories and the shared experiences he has with his polish friends… This is a positive sense of belonging he does not have for Australia. Peter does not belong to Poland and therefore, because of this connection and non-connection to place the two experience a division in their filial relationship.

“His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

– Feliks is discriminated against by Australian society and therefore, Feliks does not belong to Australia. The prejudice of bureaucracy ensures he chooses not to belong to Australia.

“Department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: ‘Did your father ever attempt to learn English?’”

2010: ‘An individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging.’ Discuss this view with detailed reference to your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your choosing.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence which can be enriched or limited through an individual’s relationships with others. This is masterfully explored in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the ways shared experiences and interactions can enrich or limit a sense of belonging.

– Feliks and Peter’s lack of cultural similarity ensures they do not belong to each other… this arises because of the lack of shared experiences… Feliks belongs to his polish heritage and culture which Peter rejects… thus they cannot interact culturally.

“Department clerk asked in dancing bear grunts: Has your father ever attempted to learn English?’” Australian culture discriminates against Feliks… Peter is a part of Australian society and thus this represents also his opposition to Feliks culture. “a language I inherited unknowingly”

– Feliks’ interaction with his Polish friends ensures he feels a sense of belonging with them… They have shared experiences through memories of Poland and the migration journey. Peter, however, does not share these same experiences and thus cannot belong to them.

“His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “they reminisced about paddocks where paddocks flowered”

2009: ‘Understanding nourishes belonging. A lack of understanding prevents it.’ Demonstrate how your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing represents this interpretation of belonging.

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence where its nourishment can be obtained through gaining an understanding of those around you. On the other hand, without understanding a sense of belonging can be lost. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where aspects of both understanding and not understanding are explored, showing the effects of such on achieving a sense of belonging.

– In writing the poem Peter attempts to come to an understanding of his filial relationship with Feliks. He describes how the lack of similarity between them ensures a lack of understanding. As a consequence Peter and his father cannot belong to each other.

“Why his arms didn’t fall off”, “His Polish friends always shook hands too violently”, “talking they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

– In his maturity, Peter comes to understand his relationship with his father. He understands that he regrets not embracing their similar cultures. Feliks gained an understanding that he couldn’t force his heritage upon his son but acknowledged that his son would one day regret his decisions.

“Happy as I have never been”, “like a dumb prophet watched me pegging my tents further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”

2009: What do you think are the most powerful influences that impact on an individual’s sense of belonging?

The need to belong is an innate and fundamental process of human existence where the shared experiences between individuals provide a powerful influence on their sense of belonging. This is masterfully presented in Peter Skrzynecki’s Feliks Skrzynecki where his poem is constructed to explore the filial relationship between the poet and his father where their lack of shared experiences inhibits their sense of belonging.

– The lack of cultural similarity due to the lack of shared experiences ensure Peter and Feliks cannot belong in each other’s worlds. Peter admires his father for his hardworking and stoic personality. He wishes to emulate this; however, their cultural dislocation prevents this and consequently their sense of belonging to each other. Peter embraces Australian culture while Feliks rejects such, instead remaining content on his Polish heritage.

“My gentle father”, “hands darkened like the sods he broke”, “stumbling over tenses in Caesar’s Gallic War”

– Feliks’ shared migratory experience and memories of Poland with his Polish friends ensures he finds a sense of belonging to them. Peter, however, does not share the same experiences with these men and therefore he cannot connect with them.

“His Polish friends always shook hand too violently”, “they reminisced about farms where paddocks flowered”

A serious threat to humanity – the rise of Antibiotic Resistance and the ‘superbug’

The evolution of bacteria is outpacing our ability to research new antibioticsThe single greatest threat to the world’s health care over the coming decade is the rise of the ‘super-bug’:

These are resistant bacteria which are able to withstand antimicrobial medicines including antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals and antimalarials

“Some bacteria are now so resistant that they are virtually untreatable with any of the currently available drugs. If we do not take action to address this threat, humankind will be on the brink of a post antibiotic era, where untreatable and fatal infections become increasingly common” – Simon Prasad and Phillippa Smith, Australian Office of the Chief Scientist.

The Antibiotic era begins: Most people would be at least remotely aware of Alexander Flemming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 as an antibacterial agent. Although the antimicrobial effects of mold had been known for some time, Flemming’s discovery eventually led to penicillin’s mass production as an antibiotic medicine by the 1940s.

As the name suggests, antibiotics work to kill or destroy bacteria which invades our body. If bacteria infect our body and begin to reproduce, their cumulative effects on our body manifest as symptoms, making us ‘sick’. Although our immune system works overtime to fight off the infection it actually adds to many of the symptoms such as inflammation and makes us feel even sicker. Antibiotics are necessary to kill bacteria and help an immune system in overdrive. Different antibiotic drugs act on certain bacteria in different ways. Certain drugs may inhibit bacteria from converting glucose to energy or may prevent bacteria from building its cell walls. When antibiotics are at work the bacteria will die instead of reproducing. The problem with antibiotic resistant bacteria is that when our body is infected there is no means by which we can rid ourselves of the infection and their reproduction continues uninterrupted to a fatal point.

The over prescription and use of antibiotics has promoted the evolution of resistant bacteria

How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

Bacterial evolution, which has always occurred, is the means by which bacteria may develop resistance to antibiotic drugs. While this is not new, nor is it surprising since all organisms evolve over time, the concern is the pace at which evolutionary changes are occurring. Bacteria may become resistant by receiving genes from already resistant bacteria or may achieve resistance through spontaneous mutations of DNA sequences during reproduction. If this mutation provides a favorable outcome for survival then it is passed on through reproduction to its offspring. The genetic changes that may occur include bacteria forming the ability to:

  • produce chemicals that destroy antibiotics
  • to build protein machinery to pump antibiotics out of the cell
  • make the cell impenetrable by antibiotics
  • modify its appearance so that it is unrecognisable to antibiotics

Staphylococcus Aureus, commonly known as Golden Staph is constantly giving rise to newer forms of the disease which are antibiotic resistant

The misuse of antibiotics prevalent in today’s society is largely responsible for the rising resistance:

Many practitioners prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as the common cold which provides no physiological benefit except promote the evolution of bacteria. Viruses are non-living particles of genetic material and cannot be killed by antibiotics. Immunizations are essential to protect against many viruses including influenza. With up to date immunizations our immune system can generally fight off viral infections.

Quite alarmingly, a study conducted in 2003 found that 99% of antibiotic prescriptions at a specific hospital’s emergency room where not necessary. While this on some level may be excused due to the nature and necessity for quick medicine in emergency rooms, the over prescription of antibiotics by general practitioners is creating an environment where bacterial evolution is resulting in antibiotic resistance.

The alarming decrease in research for new antibiotics is a critical issue in the rise of antibiotic resistance:

The lucrative nature of drugs other than antibiotics has caused a shift in commitments to other research areas. Some cancer drugs can be sold at as much as $20,000 a course while antibiotics are sold at no more than $20 a course. The commercialisation of healthcare has a seen a dramatic shift in commitments where many companies have completely abandoned their research into antibiotics.

Many antimicrobial products including hand sanitizers, bathroom and household cleaners, soaps, mouthwash, toothpaste and garbage bags also contribute significantly to the rise of an antibacterial resistant era. Most of these bacteria that these products kill are generally good bacteria essentially to building stronger immune systems and maintaining good intestinal function. The tag that these products carry as being antimicrobial is nothing more than an expert advertising ploy to alarm mothers of the health of their children. These products are no more effective at preventing infection within the home than good personal and household hygiene with ordinary soap, warm water and plain detergents.

According to the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Margaret Chan, “a post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”


Revolutionary Medicine – A History of the Vaccine

More than any other medical breakthrough the vaccine has saved more lives in the history of humankindImmunisation is a process whereby biological formulations provide protection against various diseases. A vaccine is created using agents which resemble pathological microorganisms and in fact are often the same disease causing organism which has been treated and weakened in some way. In the simplest terms a vaccine essentially causes our immune system to become accustomed to fighting a particular disease-causing microorganism so if that microorganism is encountered again our immune system is able to fight it before it reproduces and causes symptoms.

English physician Edward Jenner in 1798 would become famous for his breakthrough discovery of an immunization method for smallpox.

The history of immunization, however, begins as early as 1000BCE in India with evidence of inoculations being performed. Inoculation was the process by which a small amount of a live disease was given to a patient in the hope that their immune system could function effectively to build its own immunity against it. This was extremely dangerous since it carried the risk of the patient fully contracting the disease which often had fatal result.

Smallpox is estimated to have killed 300-500million people between the 16th and 20th century16th through to the 20th Century:

From the 16th century through to the early 20th century smallpox killed an estimated 300-500million people. The disease had a 30-35% fatality rate and killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans every year towards the end of the 18th century. Its proper name variola major (and variola minor for the less virulent strain) come from the Latin varius for ‘spotted’ or varus for ‘pimple’ and manifested in large raised fluid-filled bumps and extreme fever. The worst and nearly always fatal cases resulted in severe bleeding of the skin and gastrointestinal tract and toxaemia (bacterial infection of the blood).

In 1798 Jenner made a discovery which would not only lead to the eradication of smallpox worldwide but also opened a new field of immunological medicine which would form the basis of modern medicine – preventative immunization. Jenner’s work has saved more lives in humankind’s history than the work of any other person.

Born in Berkeley in 1749 amongst a family of nine children, Jenner received a strong basic education. He was inoculated at the age of eight for smallpox which had a profound effect on his lifelong general health. At the age of 14 he became an apprentice to a surgeon and was working as a surgeon with the founding father of modern medicine, John Hunter, at St. George’s Hospital by the age of 21.

Jenner successfully completes his first vaccination:

Jenner retreated to the countryside by 1773 and practiced medicine from his residence at Berkeley. The idea that cowpox (a nonfatal disease caused by touching the udders of cows) could be able to create immunity against smallpox had been raised as early as 1765 but it took Jenner’s pursuit of this idea to determine its efficacy. Jenner made the observation that since milkmaids seemed immune from smallpox that the pus from the blisters caused by cowpox must have protected them from contracting smallpox.

Flemming changed the face of modern medicine with his discovery of the preventative vaccine in 1798

By 1796 Jenner began his first trial testing his hypothesis by performing an inoculation on an eight year old boy, James Phipps. He scraped pus from the blisters of milkmaids with cowpox and injected it into both arms of Phipps causing a mild fever but no fully blown infection. At a later time he then injected Phipps with small amounts of smallpox material but no disease was contracted. Phipps was subjected to more injections of smallpox but never showed signs of the disease. Jenner’s method of immunization was adopted by governments worldwide, becoming known as vaccination from the Latin vecca for ‘cow’, and eventually led to the eradication of smallpox which was declared by the World Health Organization in 1979.

Eight year old James Phipps was Flemming's first patient whom he tested his vaccine and was thereafter immune from smallpoxMore than any other medical discovery in history, the vaccination process founded by Edward Jenner has had more effect on the health of the human race. Today, with the aid of modern technology, Jenner’s breakthrough and methodology of forming a vaccine has been applied to a vast array of disease. Many deadly diseases have been eradicated through the simple vaccination process thanks to Jenner’s insight and pursuit of an idea which others rejected as mere fiction. Because of his contribution to medicine we now live in a world where less people are killed by diseases that are preventable.


To the Brink of Nuclear War – The Cuban Missile Crisis

“It was a perfectly beautiful night, as fall nights are in Washington. I walked out of the President’s Oval Office, and as I walked out, I thought I might never live to see another Saturday night.”

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara encapsulates the tension an entire world endured during the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This event forms a key moment within the Cold War as it reveals how close two superpowers came to nuclear catastrophe. Its origins lie within the opposing ideologies between the United States and communism and the escalating arms race, while its impacts provided a major turning point in the Cold War, leading to a period of relaxed tensions known as detente.

While the arms race was not the immediate cause of the Cuban missile crisis it’s influence was critical in establishing the conditions for the crisis to occur. Without the arms race the crisis could not have happened, and in the aftermath of events the nature of the arms race was changed for the years to come. Only the United States had succeeded during WWII in developing nuclear weapons. Due to this reason historian Alperovitz suggests that the Americans only dropped the atomic bomb in Japan to send a message to Stalin. This message was to demonstrate their position of power.

Short and Long term causes:

From this the arms race developed with the USSR determined to equal the nuclear monopoly held by the United States, and in 1949 the USSR developed their first atomic bomb. The nuclear weapons race continued as innovative developments meant a psychological advantage. For the years preceding the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the USSR went head to head in developing newer and more destructive weapons. While the United States was the first to develop the hydrogen bomb, the USSR were the first to successfully test their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, and, by 1962, these missiles became the focal point of the Cuban Missile Crisis, thus the arms race forms a long term cause.

The United States’ reaction to Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba forms the immediate cause of the missile crisis. As early as 1823 America considered the Caribbean its own backyard. Under the Monroe Doctrine this sphere of influence was a source of trade and wealth, and in Cuba, just a short distance from the United States’ coast, American businessmen controlled the majority of Cuba’s sugar and oil industry. With living conditions poor, America saw the necessity in supporting the autocratic regime of Fulgencio Batista who seized power in 1933.

Fidel Castro leads Cuba:

Attempts were made to keep Batista in power and subsequently ensure Cuba remained anti-Communist and a source of wealth for the United States. This failed when Fidel Castro led a revolution in 1959. Although not Communist, rather more Cuban nationalist, Castro’s agenda both angered and frightened the United States. The revolutionary nationalised $1 Billion in American investment. As a consequence President Eisenhower imposed a strict trade embargo on Cuba. The Soviet Union filled this trade void which pushed Cuba into the hands of the socialist camp.

Kennedy backs down from retaliation:

Angering the United States was their loss of Cuba as a sphere of influence and source of wealth. What frightened the United States; however, was a revolutionary left-leaning government so near to its coast. This intensified the mutual fear and suspicion Americans had of communists. In an attempt to remove Castro from the Caribbean island, Cuban exiles were trained by the CIA to lead a resistance movement and restore US dominance in the region. In April 61, Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, authorised the invasion, however withdrew American military support to avoid Soviet retaliation in Berlin.

Members of Castro's militia group

Bay of Pigs disaster:

The President wanted the world to be convinced it was purely Cuban rejection of a tyrannical leader and thus rejection of communism by the people of the Caribbean. The invasion ended in disaster for the Kennedy administration. Castro’s Soviet made tanks stopping the 1,500 exiles no more than a quarter mile inland. The failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs had disastrous consequences for the United States. The fiasco pushed Castro further to the left where soon after he declared Cuba a communist nation.

Fearing further American threats of invasion Castro turned to Khrushchev for military support and as a consequence the missile crisis eventuated. At this stage Khrushchev was surely threatened by the United States’ military presence. Over a million US troops were stationed in more than 200 foreign bases. Furthermore, garrisoned along soviet borders was a further three and a half million allied troops and nuclear warheads positioned in Italy, the United Kingdom and Turkey – to which Khrushchev acknowledged “are aimed at us and scare us.” Khrushchev’s bold idea to react to Castro’s pleas of support involved placing Ballistic Missiles on the Caribbean Island.

Khrushchev’s intentions:

The Soviet Premier, in his memoirs, outlines his actions in placing missiles in Cuba. He writes “In addition to protecting Cuba, our missiles would have equalised what the west likes to call the Balance of Power. They had surrounded our country with missile bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons, now they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you.” Cold War historian John Gaddis, however, argues that Khrushchev’s decision to place missiles in Cuba was irrational and characteristic of him not thinking things through. Gaddis questions Khrushchev’s motives as solely deterrence commenting “He could hardly have expected the Americans not to respond, since he had sent the missiles secretly while lying to Kennedy about his intentions to do so.”

Soviet ships sail to Cuba:

Khrushchev had also dispatched short range missiles to Cuba, only useful against an American invasion, so what was he thinking? Surely he didn’t want to engage in nuclear war, after all, Soviet weapons were outnumbered up to seventeen to one. Gaddis offers this irrationalism to an emotional connection to Cuba, while comparing him to a “petulant child playing with a loaded gun.” Nevertheless, just the thought of one or two missile being launched against the United States would, when the missiles were revealed to him, scare Kennedy.

In July 1962 sixty five ships sailed for Cuba with ten carrying military equipment. Although it was Khrushchev’s hope to establish the missiles before the Americans found out, a U-2 Spy Plane photographed their construction on the 14th of October. The CIA informed Kennedy that they would be operational within two weeks. His swift action in convening Excomm or the Executive Committee of the National Security Council was due to a number of reasons. In just a short amount of time the missiles would be operational and have enough range to reach every major city on the American mainland with just one exception, Seattle in the Northwest. The flight time of these missiles meant up to 80 million Americans could be killed within just 17 minutes.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles had the potential to travel huge distance and provide strike capability from the other side of the world

The intermediate range missiles or the SS-4s possessed firepower 80 times the size of the blast that destroyed Hiroshima. Although the consensus among Excomm was that the missiles must be removed from Cuba, there was disagreement by the means such would be achieved. This group of senior officials are now broadly considered to have been in one of two groups, the Hawks, who were mainly the Joint Chiefs and military representatives who wanted a full scale invasion of the island and the doves who wanted a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Kennedy ordered every sitting of EX COMM to be taped.


The first meeting of Excomm was a critical moment in the course of events as it established how the United States would approach the situation. Discussed first was the idea to place surveillance on Cuba and employ a blockade to stop offensive weapons reaching the island. The most popular course of action among Excomm focused on military parameters, starting with an air strike to eliminate the missiles, followed by a full scale invasion. Gaddis offers the idea that this was the only war plan Eisenhower’s administration had left behind. In action it required the use of well over 3,000 nuclear weapons simultaneously. Kennedy, in instructing his advisors to expand their options may well have averted nuclear war.

Kennedy Addresses the Nation:

The president’s public announcement was certainly a critical moment within the crisis because if Khrushchev misinterpreted the United States’ actions and overreacted, nuclear war may have resulted. Before the announcement the Soviets were unaware that the United States knew of the missiles in Cuba and as Excomm continued to meet, Kennedy could not be convinced that an air strike would destroy 100% of missiles before the Soviets could retaliate. The President booked air time on all American TV stations for Monday the 22nd of October. Even at this stage Kennedy was unsure of what course of action he would take.

He instructed two different speeches to be written, one declaring air strikes and another declaring a naval blockade. The President decided to enact the blockade, rather calling it a quarantine to avoid an act of war. This was a significant moment within the crisis as it provided a way out for Khrushchev unlike a military assault would, but also put the US in a position to increase pressure if the Soviets threatened. In his address to the nation Kennedy declared “the purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere”, continuing to confirm a “strict quarantine of all military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated.”

Kennedy Addresses the Nation


Fearing the Soviets might overreact, Kennedy raised his military’s alert to DEFCON 3 and had several hundred Intercontinental missiles prepared for firing. Publicly, Khrushchev responded aggressively declaring it “a violation of international law”, referring to the Americans as pirates on the sea. However, also fearing that the Americans may overreact, he ordered five ships carrying missiles to turn back to the Soviet Union. This formed a significant moment in the crisis as it publicised the events, increased tensions and consequently forced citizens into a state of panic.

The following day tensions again increased as the Soviet Foreign minister continued to deny the existence of offensive weapons in Cuba for the United States was yet to release the photographic evidence. Excomm met at 10.00am on the 24th, the same time the quarantine took effect. With orders given to use necessary force to stop ships crossing the quarantine line, it appeared that some of the Soviet ships had stopped dead in the water. Tensions still, however, intensified as missiles were still being constructed in Cuba. Later that night, in response to Khrushchev’s telegram to the President in which he refused to back down declaring to “use necessary measures to protect [their] rights”, Kennedy initiated DEFCON 2. This was America’s highest military alert in history. Nuclear war seemed inevitable unless one of the leaders was prepared to back down.

US ambassador to UN confronts Soviet Ambassador:

Still attempting to avoid war Kennedy had the US ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson confront Soviet Ambassador Zorin on the 25th of October in an exchange that has gone down in history books. Here, Stevenson presented the photographic evidence that proved the Soviet Union had been placing offensive weapons in Cuba and had indeed been lying to the world about doing so. America gained the upper hand in the crisis as world opinion shifted in favour of the United States.

In a significant development resolution seemed closer by the 26th with a letter sent by Khrushchev offering a compromise. In this he offered to remove offensive weapons in Cuba if the United States declared never to invade. This letter is considered to have been written by Khrushchev himself, emphasizing his desire for peace. Hopes were dashed the next day with the arrival of a second, more demanding letter. Becoming known as Black Saturday, the 27th was perhaps the most critical of all days and is considered the closest humankind came to nuclear war. Khrushchev, most likely influenced by Soviet hardliners, made a further condition – the United States must remove missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of missiles in Cuba.

A deal is struck:

Kennedy was stuck, as removing the missiles from Turkey would fragment NATO relations and thus cause political suicide so near an election. The hawks amongst Excomm again pushed for military action; however, Kennedy argued that starting a nuclear war instead of accepting a trade over Turkey was “an insupportable position”. The President’s brother, Robert Kennedy, who was chair of Excomm proposed the idea to respond positively to the first of Khrushchev’s letters and ignore the arrival of the second more demanding letter.

While this was the public compromise, Robert Kennedy met with the Soviet Foreign Minister to propose a secret deal where the United States would secretly dismantle their missiles in Turkey within months of the crisis. It was stressed it must not be made public in order to sustain their political position. The following day, Sunday 28th of October, Khrushchev agreed to the terms. The crisis was over.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had many short and long term consequences:

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a defining moment within in the Cold War as its consequences shaped the remaining years of the conflict. It influenced a period known as detent, a more permanent relaxation of tensions. In the wake of the crisis both superpowers claimed a victory. For the soviets, Khrushchev stressed they had achieved an agreement that the United States wouldn’t invade Cuba and thus it was a win for his diplomacy. However, in actual fact, the crisis began the criticism of his political judgment that led to his downfall in 1964. Kennedy, on the other hand, gained a massive popularity boost where his political party won their biggest majority in twenty years.

In the immediate aftermath of events, both the USA and the USSR realised the need for better communication. This was emphasized by the time delays in sending and receiving messages that resulted in misunderstandings. A ‘hotline’ telephone link was established between the Kremlin and the Whitehouse which proved effective for future crises.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:

Possibly the biggest impact caused by the missile crisis was the realization of mutually assured destruction which served as the greatest deterrent of war for the years to come. The assumption behind it, Gaddis explains that if no one could be sure of surviving a nuclear war, there would not be one. He continues to present the idea that the weapons each side developed during the Cold War posed a greater threat to both sides than the United States and the Soviet Union did to one another. The missile crisis forced the realsisation that the time had come, if not for international control of nuclear weapons, at least for agreement on how to manage them. This resulted in the Limited Test Ban Treaty which abolished nuclear tests in the atmosphere. Following this, in 1968 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prevented the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries.

The thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis were filled with fear and tension, where an entire world sat on the brink of falling into nuclear abyss. While long standing differences in ideologies and the arms race caused the crisis between the superpowers, just a mere thirteen days impacted the nature of the Cold War for the years to come. The Cuban Missile Crisis therefore forms a significant turning point within the Cold War which transformed the future of man.

National Secretary Advisor McGeorge Bundy writes of the crisis “having come so close to the edge, we must make it out business not to pass this way again.”



John F. Kennedy Cuban Missile Crisis Address to the Nation:

Delivered 22 October 1962

Good evening, my fellow citizens:

This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere

…Only last Thursday, as evidence of this rapid offensive build-up was already in my hand, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko told me in my office that he was instructed to make it clear once again, as he said his government had already done, that Soviet assistance to Cuba, and I quote, “pursued solely the purpose of contributing to the defence capabilities of Cuba,” that, and I quote him, “training by Soviet specialists of Cuban nationals in handling defensive armaments was by no means offensive, and if it were otherwise,” Mr. Gromyko went on, “the Soviet Government would never become involved in rendering such assistance”…

To halt this offensive build-up a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948…

…I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction by returning to his government’s own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis, and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions…

…Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.

Thank you and good night.

Greatest Achievements of Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl, while being regarded as the most famous female film director of all time, also had careers in dancing, acting and photography:

During the Nazi era, Leni Riefenstahl was a common household name in Germany. She has, however, been a source of incredible controversy. Many regard Reifenstahl a Nazi propagandist, responsible for the projection of Hitler during his reign. Others see Riefenstahl as a female pioneer, responsible for incredible cinematic innovation. Riefenstahl’s three greatest achievements, The Blue Light, Triumph of the Will and Olympia, are examples of her controversial success.After six years of acting in Dr. Arnold Fanck’s berg or mountain films, Leni acknowledged the improbability of being cast in Hollywood films such as the identities of Marlene Dietrich had. Deciding “I want to make pictures myself” Riefenstahl cast herself in a film she would title The Blue Light. Riefenstahl had learnt a great deal about technique and directing films by observing Fanck during projects such as The Holy Mountain in 1926. While some claim Riefenstahl took the storyline from the 1930 novel Rock Crystal, Riefenstahl herself claimed “everything that happened came to from her head.” While Riefenstahl proved to be an extraordinary director of her films, she lacked the ability to write a structured script. Bela Balazs assumed this role, however was never paid for his work after the film was released and making profits. The Blue Light was seen by Hitler who considered Leni’s dance the “most beautiful thing”. Riefenstahl’s creation of this film ensured she was brought to the attention of Hitler, ultimately serving as a highly significant event.

The Blue Light was Leni’s first film and showed cinematic innovation:

Technically, Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light showed great cinematic innovation. She used new green and red filters on her insistence that they would create a “magical effect.” Furthermore, she was able to manipulate techniques in order to create night time climbing scenes. They were filmed during the day, however, her manipulation of technique made the sky seem like night. In editing, Riefenstahl claimed Fanck had made the film “kaput”. Other versions of the story credit Fanck as “saving the film.” Regardless, Riefenstahl admitted in her memoirs that she was disappointed with it, commenting “the film didn’t look as I had envisaged it.” The Blue Light received mixed reviews from German critics. Those of the right wing seemed to write more favorably about her film, while Jewish critics labeled it “inwardly sick.” Riefenstahl’s direction of The Blue Light forms a significant achievement in her professional life. It started her directing career where she showed great cinematic innovation. Furthermore, Riefenstahl’s first directing projected brought her to the attention of Adolf Hitler, a man who soon after would change her life completely.

Leni’s Triumph of the Will, considered by many as the greatest propaganda film ever made, forms an incredibly significant event within her professional career:

Before the 1934 Nuremburg Rally Germany’s political landscape had changed considerably. With sole leadership within his hands after Hindenburg’s death and Rohm’s execution, Hitler’s consolidation of power was at a crucial stage. By allowing her “artistic and technical responsibility”, Riefenstahl would create a film to promote the image of the Fuhrer. In effect, Triumph of the Will became a ‘vehicle to apotheosize Hitler as absolute leader. “ (Bach, 2007, p. 128) This project was highly significant as Hitler allowed Leni unlimited resources, unrestricted access and most of all, independence from the Propaganda Ministry. It was a rare that someone had such power in Germany, especially for a female who wasn’t a member of the Nazi Party. Triumph of the Will highlighted this as Riefenstahl was allowed access to Hitler whenever she wanted something and had authority beyond Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry.

Riefenstahl, in an attempt to distance herself from the Nazis during post war trials recalled that she was forced to make the film and had just days to prepare:

However, a letter discovered in Ufa files dated in April, five months before the rally signed her onto the project. In having this time, Riefenstahl was able to intricately plan the program ensuring she would satisfy Hitler’s desires. Riefenstahl, after the rally spent up to twenty hours a day editing the film. After filming four hundred thousand feet of footage, Riefenstahl was required to cut it into juts two hours.

Many of Leni’s signature innovations were achieved in collaboration with Albert Speers:

In collaboration with Albert Speers, Hitler’s favourite architect, Riefenstahl showed great innovation and technique. Her innovation included a lift being built into flagpoles to give high angle panoramic shots of the rally. Rail tracks were installed on Riefenstahl’s insistence that the camera must always be moving. Circular tracks were built below the speaking platform so the camera could pan around Hitler as he spoke. These never before tried techniques provided Leni’s audience with new lively images that would win awards in Venice and Paris. Triumph of the Will was a significant achievement for Riefenstahl, whether viewed as propaganda or simply art. It showcased a revolution in film while promoting the Fuhrer Cult.

Olympia, Riefenstahl’s film on the 1936 Berlin Olympics is regarded by many as the greatest sports documentary ever made:

Continuing from Triumph of the Will, Leni made further innovation in cinema, ensuring Olympia was a significant achievement within her professional career. Leni, after being signed on to film the Olympic Games by Dr. Carl Diem of the Olympic Committee, had to secure financing. Leni attempted to gain support independently, proposing her film to Ufa and Tobis production companies. When both declined to finance her film she negotiated with Goebbels who agreed to the 1.5 million reichsmarks she demanded. While this was more than three times the budget on blockbuster films at the time, Goebbels acknowledged the potential this film had in promoting the ‘New Germany’. Such a ‘sensational’ budget for a woman in Nazi Germany held significance alone.

While Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will secured Hitler’s power within Germany, the international community remained cautious of Hitler:

Countries with high Jewish populations such as America, who also had the greatest representation at the Olympics, opposed Hitler’s regime. Hitler acknowledged the propaganda potential of Leni‘s film where it could be sold that Hitler meant it when he said “Germany needs peace and desires peace!” Therefore, Olympia becomes a significant event and achievement in Riefenstahl’s career as once more she contributed to Hitler’s image through her creation of propaganda.

Similarly to Triumph of the Will, while Olympia can be considered as propaganda, Riefenstahl continued to revolutionize the film industry:

In this way her film also forms a significant achievement in her career. Leni employed the use of the world’s fastest cameras to film events in slow motion. She used cameras with the longest possible telephoto lenses to capture intimate shots of athletes. She attempted to film from high angles, placing cameras in planes and balloons. Although unsuccessful, such thought showed incredible innovation. Riefenstahl continued her use of low angle shots by placing cameras in trenches dug under athletes. In collaboration with Hans Ertl, Riefenstahl captured the first underwater diving shots. Many of Riefenstahl’s techniques continue today to be used by modern film makers. Her innovation in sport documentary and technical advancement ensures Olympia was a significant achievement within her professional career.

While it’s controversially debated whether Riefenstahl actively sought to create Nazi propaganda or simply art, there’s little doubt she made a substantial contribution to history. Her three greatest achievements, The Blue Light, Triumph of the Will and Olympia hold a level of significance not only to her professional career but to history and society in general.

Leni Riefenstahl – was she an opportunist or swept along by events?

Leni Riefenstahl, the most famous female film director of all time continues many decades later to rouse controversy concerning her contribution to the Nazi era

From the earliest accounts of Riefenstahl’s career it is clear that she was prepared to use others to benefit herself. She had become acquainted with a young Jewish banker, Harry Sokal in 1923, who manipulated exchange rates. Riefenstahl acknowledged his wealth and while she had no desire to satisfy his ongoing matrimonial pursuit continued their relationship. Riefenstahl used Sokal to finance her dance debut where he paid for the hall, the advertising, and the musicians. In an attempt to gain positive reviews Sokal also paid critics to be in the audience. For Riefenstahl it may not have been a difficult decision to exploit Sokal and other men as opportunities for women were limited. Riefenstahl acknowledged that she needed to allow Sokal to finance her or risk not achieving success. Therefore, she took advantage of Sokal when it suited her best. He had established her dance career and then, without notice she resolved to banish him forever. This however, was not the last time Riefenstahl sought to exploit Sokal and his money. On the other hand, Riefenstahl considers she had the feeling of being bought. This may be true, however, while she allowed Sokal to finance her movements she was clearly being opportunistic.

Riefenstahl exploited many people to establish her career in German berg or mountain films.

Leni sought out Arnold Fanck to establish her career:

With her clear intentions to succeed within the creative arts industry, Riefenstahl, after seeing the film Mountain of Destiny, sought out film director Arnold Fanck in an attempt to establish a career as an actress. Riefenstahl again turned to the man who established her dance career. Financed by Sokal, she traveled to the Dolomite Mountains in order to find Dr. Fanck. It was there that Riefenstahl met the film’s actor, Luis Trenker, claiming “I’m going to be in your next picture”. Someone being swept along by events doesn’t, as Riefenstahl had prophesied and plan future actions. On news of Fanck’s whereabouts Leni departed the next day in search of him in Berlin. Even though she was not in a relationship with Sokal, she continued to exploit his money in order to find Fanck and would again turn to Sokal at times convenient to furthering her career. Historian Audrey Salkeld (1996) offers a different account of events. She doesn’t mention Riefenstahl traveling to the Dolomite Mountains using Sokal’s finance; rather it was a sightseeing tour that turned out to be her “destiny”. She suggests that this was Riefenstahl being swept along; opposing the more credible argument that Riefenstahl exploited Sokal in order to find Dr. Fanck.

Screenshot of 1924 "Mountain of Destiny" featuring Lewis Trenker who Leni would use for her own personal gainRiefenstahl’s willing independence to seek out Fanck and exploit those around her supports her opportunism:

However, this early relationship with Fanck also credits her claims of being swept along by events. Riefenstahl was not reluctant to exploit tennis pro Gunther Rahn who was “hopelessly in love” with her. She used him to advantage in arranging the meeting with Fanck that would catapult her into the film industry. Fanck instantly admired Riefenstahl’s beauty and just three days later, according to Riefenstahl he visited her in hospital with a script titled ‘The Holy Mountain, written for the dancer, Leni Riefenstahl’. Riefenstahl once again called upon Sokal to finance the film. This contained the same sort of calculation that characterized the start of Leni’s dance career and would be repeated at every major turning point in her life. In Riefenstahl’s defense, however, Salkeld (1996) suggests the extent of Fanck’s fascination with her was not within her control. He considered himself her “Pygmalion” or sculptor, who hoped to make her the “most famous woman in Germany”. Without Fanck’s dedication to Riefenstahl she would never have been successful in her acting career and would not have learnt how to direct films, thus never being projected to Hitler’s attention. In this way Riefenstahl was swept along by events.

Differing historical perspectives of Riefenstahl, concerning her first project as director on The Blue Light, present her in conflicting ways:

Riefenstahl exploited scriptwriter Bela Balacs, Fanck as editor and again Sokal in order to finance. Sokal was naively forthcoming once more, even after Riefenstahl had taken advantage of him and his money several times in the past. Before she acquired his support, in a calculated move to ensure all creative control was with her, Riefenstahl created Leni-Riefenstahl-Studio-Film GmbH. By making the film through this newly established company Riefenstahl was ensured all copyrights and credit. Then, while admitting she could not pay him Riefenstahl sought the work from film theorist Bela Balacs to write the script. Balacs was not immune to feminine charm or beauty which Riefenstahl never hesitated to use to achieve her goals. When Balacs threatened to sue her over debts, Riefenstahl referred the case to the vehemently anti-Semitic Julius Streicher. Her letter to the district administrator transferred “power of attorney in the matter of the claims of the Jew Bela Balacs.” (Bach, 2007, p. 79) This shows that Riefenstahl was opportunistic by playing on the fact that Balacs was Jewish. It ensured she would never have to pay him. In editing, Riefenstahl turned to Dr. Fanck in order to “save the film”. He argued that she had made a mess of the editing herself and that “of about six hundred splices, none were done right.” (Bach, 2007, p. 75) Salkeld (1996) offers a different perspective of events, presenting Riefenstahl in a different light. When writing of Balacs’ employment she comments “so enthusiastic he was that he offered to help develop the screenplay – for no immediate fee, nor prospect for one.” (Salkeld, 1996, p. 67) Salkeld also suggests that Fanck had voluntarily edited her film without her consent, “mutilating it”. Salkeld’s argument establishes that the voluntary actions of those around her were not within her control, however, it is more likely that Riefenstahl exploited whomever she could for her own personal gain.

Leni Riefenstahl with Dr. Arnold Fanck

After receiving poor reviews from Jewish critics on The Blue Light, Riefenstahl’s movement towards the anti-Semitic Nazi Party can be seen as highly opportunist:

The ‘democratic’ Berliner Tageblatt labelled the film “inwardly sick” to which Riefenstahl considered “they have no right to criticize our work”. (Bach, 2007, p. 77) Although Riefenstahl disputed allegations of anti-Semitic vindictiveness, during a radio interview in November 1932 she is reported to have commented “as long as the Jews are film critics, I’ll never have a success. But watch out, when Hitler takes the rudder, everything will change.” (Bach, 2007, p. 77) Riefenstahl argued until the day of her death that she was purely apolitical and never supported Hitler and the Nazis. However, she was seen a short time after receiving poor Jewish critiques reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Heinz von Jaworsky, an assistant cameraman on The Blue Light recalled Riefenstahl’s comment on a train while reading the virulently anti-Semitic book – “I’ll work for them.” (Bach, 2007, p. 81) Such remarks “may have struck a chord with Leni when she stewed over unfavorable reviews” Conveniently for Riefenstahl, if Hitler were to come to power she would no longer have problems with Jewish critics. Her support for such a movement is a clear example of her opportunism even if she remained apolitical to the Nazi agenda.

Riefenstahl’s willing attendance at a Hitler rally supports her opportunism, discrediting claims that she was swept along by events:

At the rally she found Hitler intriguing, describing the experience “like being struck by lightning”. (Bach, 2007, p. 89) Salkeld suggests that “without following much of his argument, she was fascinated by the man himself.” (Salkeld, 1996, p. 81) While Riefenstahl claimed she “rejected his racial ideas” she in fact wrote to Hitler just days before an important press event on her film S.O.S Iceberg. Aware that she might well be risking her career, Riefenstahl then agreed to meet with Hitler on May 22 at Wilhelmshaven, three days before she was due in Greenland. This eagerness to meet with Hitler supports the idea that she saw within the Nazis an opportunity, whether it was based on anti-Semitic ideals or purely artistic. Riefenstahl remembered that during the meeting Hitler announced “once we come to power you must make my films.” (Bach, 2007, p. 91) Although Riefenstahl claimed she denied the request on the basis of his racial prejudices, it’s extreme to suggest that Riefenstahl would “put in jeopardy a film role she had fought – and seduced – to get” if she would walk away without a benefit to her. (Bach, 2007, p. 91) Salkeld, on the other hand suggests it less extraordinary “when you consider the pattern she established early in her life. Whenever anyone made an impression on her, she had to meet him.” Salkeld doesn’t dispute, however, that Riefenstahl was being an opportunist as this stage, commenting “she had the ability to create opportunities for herself, to fashion her own destiny”. (Salkeld, 1996, p. 82) However, Salkeld offers professional and artistic motives rather than anti-Semitic motives implied by Bach. In addition, the legend of the ‘orator-as-hypnotist’ serves as an example of Riefenstahl being swept along by events. As William Shirer observed “it did not matter so much what he said but how he said it.” (Salkeld, 1996, p. 90) This suggests that Riefenstahl was caught up in the euphoria of the Nazi movement, however, exploited the momentum to establish her position within the Nazi realm for the time when Hitler would take power.

Although Riefenstahl relentlessly advocated her dislocation from the Nazis, her establishment within its inner circle contradicted such claims:

Riefenstahl had been Hitler’s personal guest at political meetings and attended the Sportpalast in Berlin on November 2. She was also a personal guest of Joseph Goebbels where she met many of the Nazis most important members. Therefore it is hard to validate her claims that she was purely apolitical. Furthermore, Goebbels’ personal diaries show Riefenstahl’s collaboration as early as June 11 on “a Hitler film” where “she was over the moon about the idea”. (Bach, 2007, p. 108) In addition to the fact that the 1933 Nuremburg Rally was not to be held until late August her enthusiasm would indicate she was not forced to create the film. Riefenstahl took advantage of the opportunity to establish herself within the inner circle of the Nazi Party where, from there she would continue to show her opportunism, creating a film that would become known as Victory of Faith.

Promotional material for Victory of Faith which was a precursor film to her most famous film, Triumph of the Will

Riefenstahl’s self-interested motives continue to be exposed during her direction of the award winning Triumph of the Will:

From Riefenstahl’s first meeting with Hitler in 1932 she claimed she could not make his films because she needed “a very personal relationship with the subject matter. Otherwise she couldn’t be creative”. (Bach, 2007, p. 91) When Triumph of the Will was released the film won gold medals in Venice and Paris. Riefenstahl’s masterful direction of Triumph of the Will would suggest that she did have that “personal relationship with the subject”. Historian Susan Sontag (1975) supports this, arguing that “Riefenstahl was glorying Nazism not only from direction of her superiors but from her own personal fondness for the party and their ideals.” This explains why Riefenstahl acted so opportunistically to accept the project months in advance in April of 1934. Walter Traut, production manager on Triumph of the Will furthermore supports this idea in stating “Leni Riefenstahl was not ordered… She asked to do this picture.” (Bach, 2007, p. 131) Furthermore, on agreeing to “artistic and technical responsibility for the film Riefenstahl insisted that production credit go to her Leni-Riefenstahl-Studio-Film GmbH, thus establishing copyrights in her name and ensuring she received a percentage of the profits. Riefenstahl would try to collect profits “until the day she died”, (Bach, 2007, p. 125) highlighting her selfish calculation of events even after promoting a vehemently anti-Semitic regime.

Riefenstahl exploited both Hitler and Goebbels in order to receive the huge budgets she demanded:

This is effectively presented through her film of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Olympia where she negotiated with Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry to secure 1.5 million reichsmarks. Such a budget was three times the size of any blockbuster film at the time. Furthermore, her bad book keeping and unnecessary expenditure ensured she used the full 1.5 million reichsmarks before production of the film had concluded. In a calculated attempt to secure more money, Riefenstahl exploited her ability to go directly to the Fuhrer himself. She “wept unrestrainedly” to persuade Hitler to give her an additional half a million reichsmarks. Riefenstahl said, while speaking of her successes on Olympia, “if I had of been a man I wouldn’t have gotten it” (Bach, 2007, p. 156). This shows her calculated attempts to secure more funding by exploiting others around her, including the Fuhrer himself.

Riefenstahl's Olympia focused on the cult of the body - an idea Hitler emphasized frequently. This adds to the claim that Leni and Hitler shared similar ideas.

Without such massive budgets, Riefenstahl would never have been so artistically successful and innovative:

Her exploitation of huge budgets shows her opportunism to project her career forward. Riefenstahl’s Olympia showed incredible cinematic advancement and innovation, where her use of the newest technology ensured its regard as the greatest sport documentary ever made. Her never before seen innovations included the use of the world’s fastest cameras, longest telephoto lenses, as well as innovation in camera placement. Trenches were dug into the ground to capture low angle images of athletes, while planes and balloons were used to film aerial shots. In collaboration with Hans Ertl, Riefenstahl captured the first underwater images during the diving event. Although it was Ertl who built the apparatus to capture these images, Riefenstahl claimed it was entirely her own work. This further exemplifies the idea of her using others to her advantage. Riefenstahl exploited her massive budgets to which she owes her successes whether they are considered propaganda or purely art.

Different historian perspectives present Leni Riefenstahl in many ways. While many regard Riefenstahl a Nazi propagandist, responsible for the projection of Hitler during his reign, others see Riefenstahl as a female pioneer, responsible for incredible cinematic innovation. Within her life there are many occasions where Riefenstahl showed opportunism in order to advance herself, while at other times such advancements were not within her control.


Bach, S. (2007). Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. Knopf.

Bonnell, A. (2001). Leni Riefenstahl: Sources and Debates. In Teaching History.

Mason, K. (2007). Republic to Reich. Sydney: Nelson.

Salkeld, A. (1996). A Portrait of Leni Riefenstahl. London: Pimlico.

Sontag, S. (1975). Fascinating Facism. New York.

Webb, K. (2008). Leni Riefenstahl 1902-2003. Get Smart Education.

Sleep – Why is it so important?

As sleep deepens neurons synchronize their impulses and produce high amplitude theta and delta wavesOver a 90 year life span an average person will have spent 36% of their life asleep. That’s 32 years asleep!

What this tells us is that sleep is in someway incredibly important. So what exactly is sleep and why is it so important?

A electroencephalogram or EEG measures brain activity by reproducing the intensity and frequency of impulses on a graph. Usually brain waves or electrical impulses on the EEG are a complex array of low amplitude waves. At sleep, however, during certain stages neurons tend to synchronise their electrical impulses and produce similar high amplitude waves.

Brain waves:

Alpha Waves (8-13 Hz) are regular and rhythmic. These mostly indicate the brain is idling or in a calm state.

Beta Waves (14-30 Hz) have higher frequencies but similar amplitude to alpha waves, indicating a state of enhanced mental activity – possibly while concentrating.

Theta Waves (4-7 Hz) are not usually seen in adults. Theta waves are associated with a state between consciousness and unconsciousness or states of hypnosis.

Delta Waves (less than 4 Hz) are high amplitude, low frequency waves which are seen during deep sleep (in awake adults indicates brain damage)

Sleep is defined as a state of partial unconsciousness from which a person may be aroused by appropriate stimulation. During sleep, cortical function (the big hemispheres of the brain) is reduced but the brains stem (between the big hemispheres and the spinal cord) remains active in order to control respiration, blood pressure and heart rate. Environmental monitoring seems to be active also which is why sleep walkers are able to navigate around obstacles in their sleep.

There are two main types of sleep which alternate during sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As we sleep we fluctuate several times through both stages of sleep and their sub stages.

The sleep stage progressions:


REM: skeletal muscles are inhibited except ocular and diaphragm muscles.

NREM1: relaxation begins – alpha waves present

NREM2: Irregular spikes appear on EEG – arousal is more difficult

NREM3: theta and delta waves appear – vital signs decrease

NREM4: delta waves dominate – deep sleep stage – arousal more difficult – bed wetting, night terrors and sleep walking may occur.

The sleep cycle over the course of the night has many stages where the body completes different tasks in order to restore itself.

After about 90 minutes of sleep we reach NREM4 before the EEG indicates we backtrack quickly through the stages back to REM sleep mode.

This brain wave change is coupled with an increase in respiration and blood pressure. Skeletal muscles, except ocular muscles are inhibited to prevent us acting out our dreams. Some suggest the eye fluttering that occurs during this stage are eye movements of us following the visual imagery of our dreams.

Slow wave sleep (NREM3 and 4) and REM sleep are important for different reasons. Deep Sleep can enhance long term memory while also being considered to be restorative and is a time when neural activity is at its lowest levels. If a person is deprived of sleep, more time each night is spent in deep slow wave sleep at the expense of REM sleep. A lack of REM sleep is linked to depression and mood swings. Cell division and growth occurs at the greatest rate during slow wave sleep along with protein synthesis.

REM Sleep:

REM sleep is considered to allow the brain to analyse the day’s events, store necessary things to short term memory, forget unimportant things and allow the brain to work through emotional problems. If you’ve ever noticed that people, places and events that you have recently thought of or have experienced will often appear in your dreams (regardless of how silly they might seem), rather than scenarios that you’ve never encountered yourself.

A recent study revealed that the brain removes toxins during sleep in a flushing out system where the cells shrink to allow adequate room to remove such toxins such as beta-amyloid protein – a substance that is found in high amounts Alzheimer’s patients.

While there are many theories for the exact reason why we sleep it is most likely that it is a combination of theories which have developed through evolutionary changes over thousands of years.

How much sleep is necessary?

A person’s sleep requirements decline from 16 hours a day during infancy to 7.5 to 8.5 hours a day in early adulthood and continues to decline in old age.

If your having trouble getting started when your alarm sounds reconsider the time you set it for.

Since we generally alternate every 90 minutes through our sleep cycle if you were to be awoken by your alarm during NREM3 you would find it hard to get up since you were in the middle of a deep sleep cycle when your body isn’t ready to wake up. it may be useful to set your alarm so that you wake up at a time which is a multiple of 90 when you reach REM sleep as your mind and body is better prepared for waking. For example, if you go to sleep at 10pm set your alarm for 5.30am (a total of 7.5 hrs = 5 complete sleep cycles) instead of 6.00am or 6.30 am. Even though you’ve slept 30 minutes to an hour less you may find that it is easier to wake up feeling refreshed.

A Great Reformer – Pope John XXIII

Social reform has accelerated throughout the past decades and the Catholic Church has seemingly been left behind. The greatest threats to the endurance of the Catholic Church were not addressed throughout Pope Benedict’s papal residency and have hurt the church’s reputation across many affairs. With the appointment of Pope Francis the Church must find a way to reform much of their social agenda in order to make themselves relevant to today’s society. There was a similarly conservative agenda before Pope John XXIII was elected Pope in 1958. He was elected a caretaker pope, however, this did not stop him from implementing the greatest reforms in the church’s history through his calling of the Second Vatican Council. Today, Pope Francis must enact even greater social reforms and revive the church’s position amongst society in a world dominated by science and technology.

John XXIII implemented the largest reforms in the church's history in an attempt update it to the 20th C.What was happening at the time of his John XXIII’s election as pope?

The Catholic Church was entrenched in conservative theological beliefs where priests were ordered to vow against modernism, that is, reject technology that questioned the church’s teachings and threatened the church’s unquestioned power and authority. This was a result of increased knowledge about life and the universe where Christians were beginning to question the church and thus threatened the uniformity of the Vatican. Much of the Church’s central administration consisted of aging, Italian ultra-conservatives who, distanced from the modern world, had a vast influence and strong control on the church, and on the Pope. They were generally satisfied with the church the way it was and looked upon efforts to change it with deep hostility.

Furthermore, at the height of the Cold War, nuclear war threatened peace in the world. John XXIII was strongly opposed to Communism which is evident through his papal residency.

John XXIII was named man of the year 1962 in the midst of bitter conflict between the USA and Soviet Union where his influence was far wielding in averting armed conflict.

What were his contributions to the development and expression of Christianity?

John was committed to adapting the church’s stance and ideologies concerning revolutionary changes in science, economics, morals and politics that had encompassed much of the twentieth century. In doing this John’s overarching objectives as pope was to achieve aggiornamento or updating of the church to make it appropriate for the modern day. This was the main idea which is associated with Vatican II (1962-1965). He attempted to move the Catholic Church away from century old teachings and work together with science and politics. John sought to bring the church into closer touch with the modern world where there was a need for science and society to be intertwined with Catholicism. Although this challenged conservatives within the church, John believed that by embracing scientific advancements, Catholics could better understand and marvel in the Creator’s greatness.

Although only a caretaker pope, John XXIII made an undeniably important contribution to the church's modern relevance.Vatican II:

Through Vatican II, John XXIII is credited with many of the reforms that made Catholicism more accessible and attractive to believers in the modern time. In achieving aggiornamento the church would become the ‘people’s church’ – more Catholic and less Roman. “Everyone said they wanted peace and harmony, unfortunately conflicts grew…What should the Church do?… Shouldn’t she stand out as a beacon of light?”

In inviting the many bishops to deliberate, John diverted authority from the conservatives and showed that the real power was held not in Rome, but rather the bishops constituted the leadership of the church. Furthermore, through Vatican II John also established a greater role for the laity within the church where it was recognized the laity formed an essential component of the church. In transforming entrenched ideas of clericalism (rigid power structure) and allowing greater lay participation in much of the mass and other rituals, including communion, the church became much more appealing for adherents and moved from century old traditions, achieving John’s aims of aggiornamento. As well as the usual translation of aggiornamento, a ‘bringing-up-to-date’, it has been said that when asked about the purpose of the proposed Council, he replied, “to let some fresh air into the Church”.

The Mass:

The first session of Vatican II saw significant changes in the ritual of the mass. These included: the priest having the ability to give mass facing his congregation, rather than having to them his back. Furthermore, the mass was to be celebrated in the local vernacular, rather than Latin. This meant that people of all races and ethnicities could actively participate in the mass and be able to understand the word of the lord, thus understanding the teachings of the church. In establishing Vatican II, John XXIII ensured these significant changes would effectively increase the appeal of Catholicism to adherents.

Before Vatican II the mass was said facing away from the congregation. Vatican II changed this and today the mass is said facing the audience and also spoken in local vernacular.


The church’s teachings influenced through scripture were redefined at Vatican II. Pope John spoke of the need for this ‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better… the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.’ John acknowledged that the scripture teachings must also be updated (‘aggiornamento’) to appropriately appeal to the modern day, thus fitting more appropriately with science. This was a significant contribution John made, and although at first many were confused and frightened by the changes, today there is an emphasis placed back on bible as the central part of liturgical celebrations. This ensured the church’s teachings were not lost amongst modern day interpretations.

Vatican II brought bishops together from all over the world which made a statement that the church's authority was held by them and not by ultra-conservative Italian cardinals in the Vatican


Influencing not just relations between Catholicism and Protestantism, but rather all religious traditions, John’s contribution to ecumenism heavily impacted much of the later part of the twentieth century. Everywhere he went John made a point of meeting with people of other religious traditions. While in Turkey he rescued and provided for Jews displaced by Nazi authority, and more than any other Pope, welcomed more non-Catholic rulers to the Vatican. John initiated many historic visits to the Vatican, including the first Archbishop of Canterbury since the 14th century. Through Vatican II, John influenced a change in Catholic mentality that the Church alone held the truth. In removing this idea of triumphalism, Christian variants would focus on common grounds, rather than the differences which demonstrated that the walls that divide Christianity do not reach as high as heaven. In calling the Orthodox and Protestant churches “brothers and sisters”, and encouraging dialogue between Eastern and Western Orthodox churches there are many positive relationships maintained between varying denominations through the Christian faith, creating a more loving, supportive and secure atmosphere for all Christian adherents. At Vatican II, John invited members of other faiths as ‘honoured guests’, including leading figures of Islam.

Papal Encyclicals: Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra are examples of how John intended to intertwine the church with politics and society:

Pacem in Terris – Pope for Peace:

John contributed not only to peace within Christianity but to peace within the world. This was significant at the height of the Cold War with the Cuban Missile Crisis threatening the world with nuclear war. John issued ‘Pacem in Terris’ (Peace on Earth), a papal encyclical where he promoted world peace “not by recourse to arms, but rather by negotiation.” Such actions of John’s were significant as saw the beginning of the church questioning governments on social issues concerning human, political, economic and religious rights. ‘Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’

Mater et Magistra – Christianity and Social Progress:

Written in 1961 this papal encyclical translated to English (mother and teacher) refers to the role of the church to promote human dignity. In the thirty years prior the world had changed quite considerably, both politically and economically.

– Scientific advances included atomic energy, new means of communication (radio and television), faster transportation and the beginnings of the space race.

– Social systems had changed with the breakdown of class barriers

– Lack of economic balance among countries

– Breakdown of colonialism with independence

While the church’s main goal is to care for its souls and lead them to heaven, it is also concerned with the livelihood, education and wellbeing. This is shown through Jesus’ ministry where his primary mission is to guide humankind to salvation; however, he fed the hungry and cared for worldly needs.

John saw this as a call for governments to care for the social needs of their citizens. Although John outlines the need economic progress, Mater et Magistra calls for this economic development without sacrifice to the welfare of citizens. Furthermore, in his encyclical, John outlined the need for more developed and wealthier nations to aid struggling nations in the pursuit of justice and human dignity.

“Whatever the progress in technology and economic life, there can be neither justice nor peace in the world, so long as men fail to realize how great is their dignity, for they have been created by God and are his children”

“Rather, it is necessary that economic undertaking be governed by justice and charity as the principle laws of social life”

John XXIII wrote a number of influential encyclicals which had far reaching influences

Obama’s Speech to the Australian Parliament, 2011, Reaffirming the ANZUS Treaty and Committing America to the Asia Pacific

An analysis of President Obama’s speech to the Australian Parliament – 17 November 2011

Obama addresses a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament

Obama’s speech serves the purpose of reaffirming the alliance held between Australia and the United States and also acts as America’s commitment to playing a larger part within the Asia Pacific. President Obama addresses military peace within the region, economic prosperity, commitment to environmental protection, preservation of human rights and the successes of democracy whilst relating such issues to the enduring relevance of the ANZUS treaty between Australia and the United States.

The ANZUS treaty, signed in 1951 between Australia, New Zealand and the United States effectively bound the three countries militarily. Any attack on either of these countries constituted an attack on all three countries and in effective each country was obligated to help defend the security of each other. Although New Zealand and the United States have ended their treaty with each other due to differing views on a range of issues, the treaty is still solidly in effective between the United States and Australia and was evoked by the Australian Government in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The president opens, addresses the Parliament and immediately acknowledges his purpose is “to reaffirm the bonds between the United States and the Commonwealth of Australia, two of the world’s oldest democracies and two of the world’s oldest friends.” He uses the repetition and reference to time to establish an immediate sense of relationship between both countries, both ideologically and on a personal level through the positive connotations of ‘friends’. This sets the tone for the rest of his speech to reflect a friendship between both nations. Furthermore, he connotations associated with ‘oldest’ enforce an inextricable sense of togetherness that transcends time.

The signing of the ANZUS treaty by US secretary of state Forster Dulles, 1951, in San Francisco

Obama continues to provide a personal anecdote of a childhood visit to Australia to create an appeal to the audience’s ethos and create a personal connection. He achieves this through using colloquial Australian language, attempting to speak some “strine” and do some “earbashing”. Here, by creating humour, Obama effectively connects to the cultural profile of Australia and by offering this with the personal anecdote, his audience begins to accept his opinion as he bridges any cultural differences. This ensures he gains a temporary sense of membership to the Australian identity. Furthermore, he employs the use of simile to describe how “it felt like home”, thus Obama positions himself amongst the Australian people.

Obama walks past an honor guard on his arrival to Parliament House in Canberra

Obama continues to create the sense of relationship between the two countries to each other by outlining a shared history. He emphasizes “in each other’s story we see so much of ourselves.” The use of first person plurals creates a sense of unity and inclusion of all Australian and Americans.

Obama addresses a joint setting of the Australian Parliament

Because of the shared experiences and common history, both nations can relate, thus a sense of togetherness through a common history is emphasised. Obama outlines many of experiences shared by both nations. He provides allusions to common historical themes of “ancestors who crossed vast oceans – some by choice, some by chains.” The powerful imagery, enforced by alliteration ensures an emotional shift within his audience who are moved to acknowledge the many aspects of history that both nations can relate to. Obama continues to ensure this sense of relationship transcends time so that an inextricable unity and friendship exists between both countries.

Australian and American flags fly side by side

Obama affirms “from the trenches of the First World War to the mountains of Afghanistan, Aussies and Americans have stood together, we have fought together, and we have given lives together”. Obama employs colloquial reference to Aussies to appeal to ethos and establish a sense of belonging between Australian and American cultures. Furthermore, his repetition of first person plurals ensures the sense of relationship transcends time and conflict.

The United States’ President employs powerful emotive language when describing the ANZUS Treaty. The present participle in “showing that our two nations stood as one” provides a continuing and inextricable bond. Both nations have stood as one in the past and both nations will continue into the future to stand in unity. He continues to affirm this unbreakable bond where “the alliance between the United States and Australia has never been stronger.” The sense of physical strength is a motif within his speech and is effectively employed here to symbolize that in a unity between Australian and the United States, the Asia Pacific will be influences by this inextricable friendship.

Current Prime Minister Tony Abbott talks with President Barack Obama

Obama continues to outline the need for human rights and democracy within the Asia Pacific. He enforces the unity between Australia and the United States as the model for this leadership, acknowledging, “the United States and Australia have a special responsibility to lead.” At all times he addresses both countries in unity together using first person plurals where “we all rise and fall together.”

Ending his speech, Obama reaffirms “this is the story of the alliance we celebrate today.” Once again, he employs first person plurals to create that sense of unity and belonging between both countries. He makes one final emotive appeal showing sincerity saying, “God bless Australia. God bless America. And God bless the friendship between our two peoples.” Obama ends his speech with the recurring theme of friendship and unity between Australia and the United States

Obama shakes hands with Australian troops and US marines in Darwin

During Obama’s visit to Australian in 2011 a commitment was made between Australia and the United States for increased military cooperation between countries.

Obama’s strategic plan to exert more influence over the Asia Pacific region included the deployment of troops, aircraft and ships to Australia’s mainland with an American Army base to opened in Darwin, a city to Australia’s northern reaches. By 2017 2,500 US marines would be stationed their on 6 month intervals.

OBAMA: “The US has no stronger ally than Australia. We are bound by common values, the rights and the freedom that we cherish… With my visit, I am making it clear that the US is stepping up its commitment in the Asia Pacific.”

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard said “the increased US presence would reinforce stability in the Asia-Pacific.”

President Obama, Prime Minister Gillard and Governor General Quentin Bryce walk past the Wall of Remembrance

Obama addresses Australian and American soldiers and marines