Putting An End to War: Open Letter from Silver Wattle, Anzac Day 2010


Anzac Day Weekend Workshop

Silver Wattle Quaker Retreat and Study Centre

23-26 April 2010

Open Letter from the Gathering

Dear friends and peace-workers,

On ANZAC Day weekend 23-26 April 2010, at the Australian Quaker Centre at Silver Wattle, Bungendore near Canberra, 17 Christians and 2 Buddhists gathered from the east coast of Australia to respond to the growing militarisation of both Anzac Day and Australian society and to consider ways of putting an end to war.

In the grace of Silver Wattle and the grandeur of its outlook over Weereewa (Lake George) and in the joy, good humour, dedication and inspiration of companionship, participants felt ‘the hand of God’ moving them. Participants were, in the main, people with deep experience of peace and social justice organising over the past 40 years.  Even though we were few and the challenges ahead enormous, our meditation seemed to be some kind of turning point in the tides of war and peace in this land – and beyond.

Sessions were led by participants and the group, with much sharing, focussed on:

–        The teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, and the prophetic and priestly      requirements of our times;

–        Contemporary Christian Nonviolent Action in Australia;

–        Personal war witness and truth-telling (Baghdad, Bougainville, Gaza, Palestine);

–        Christian Peacemaker Teams internationally, and scope for CPT in our region;

–        The ideological roots of Anzac Day, its spiritual dimensions and contemporary practice;

–        War Tax Refusal.

At each point, participants reflected on and shared personal experiences, along with hopes, fears, and desires about war, peace and Anzac Day.  Recurring themes were the direction and next steps for faith-based peace-making in Australia, and how we might engage with Anzac Day in this pursuit.  It is apparent that all of us are deeply touched by the stories and events of war and its impacts on family and society on all sides and in all places.

There were points of consensus:

  • The centrality of the principle to love one another, and the call to be willing to die rather than kill;
  • Gratitude to Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds for their timely book on the contemporary politics of Anzac Day in Australia, What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian history, UNSW Press, April 2010, Paperback, 192 pp;
  • Concern about both the growing militarisation of Anzac Day, along with the exclusion of other perspectives on Australia’s national formation and role in the world;
  • The hunger of Australians for authentic and meaningful values and experiences, which is the need behind the growth of participation in Anzac Day ceremonies;
  • The political use of Anzac Day to militarise Australian culture and validate engagement in foreign wars, thereby narrowing the public discussion of history and virtue and failing to acknowledge the full multicultural range of grief and losses;
  • The control of the RSL over Anzac ceremonies and their content;
  • The failure of churches to provide Christian witness and perspective in Anzac Day commemorations;
  • The racism explicit in the historical Anzac engagement and implicit in today’s remembrance of sacrifice in foreign wars only, with no mention of the frontier war against Aboriginals or the loss and suffering in war by Australian citizens of non-Anglo ethnicity;
  • The need to bring forth the stories of the Anzacs themselves and those who have fought in wars since, and to focus on the lessons they have identified for us from their experiences;
  • The need for ceremony to grieve for all those who died or whose lives were broken by war, including all sides and civilian victims, and to recognise the impact of their loss on families and community, especially women and children who bear the brunt with devastating consequences;
  • The need to broaden Anzac Day into remembrance of the ongoing blight of war and to reclaim it as a people’s peacemaking day;
  • The need to transform the energies of Anzac Day into effective peace-making.

We rejoiced in singing the song:

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream[1]

Last night I had the strangest dream

I’d ever dreamed before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room

And the room was filled with women and men

And the paper they were signing said

They’d never fight again

And when the paper was all signed

And a million copies made

They all joined hands and bowed their heads

And grateful pray’rs were prayed

And the people in the streets below

Were dancing ’round and ’round

While swords and guns and uniforms

Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream

I’d never dreamed before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war.

Added verse for active resistance: [2]

So here am I and here are you

We’re standing where we are

To do the things that we can do

To put an end to war.

The group resolved to take forward the following issues:

*  To initiate a “White Poppy” program for ANZAC Day 2011 and to extend ANZAC Day forward with an evening vigil ceremony which commemorates all victims of war and envisions an end to war;

*  To identify opportunities and initiatives within the peace movement to assist with the healing of war veterans;

*  A recurring “Shoalwater Wilderness Pilgrimage”, containing and reflecting Christian Civil Disobedience to be developed and publicised for Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011, and subsequently;

*  Consideration by the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Australasia Regional Group of a proposal to form a Christian Peacemaker Team to visit West Papua;

*  To seek opportunities for cooperative peace-making initiatives between Australian and New Zealand activists.

Agreed by all present:

Helen Bayes

Alex Bell

Carol Bell

Gill Burrows

Graeme Dunstan

Waratah Gillespie

Helen Gould

Roslyn Harper

Dale Hess

Clair Hochstetler

Mark Hurst

Mary Hurst

Doug Hynd

Jillian Hynd

Marie Jack

Bryan Law

Barbara Meyer

Simon Moyle

Margaret Pestorius

For further information, contact Helen:

Email:  aqc@quakers.org.au

Phone 02 6238 0588 or Mobile 0422 138 991

Web: www.aqc.quakers.org.au

[1] Words and music by Ed McCurdy

TRO-©1950,1951 & 1955 Almanac Music, Inc. New York, N.Y. Copyrights renewed. Used by permission.

[2] Added verse written for this event by Helen Bayes


Stanley Hauerwas on the church and social justice

“What makes the church ‘radical’…is not that the church leans to the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not.  In the churches view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right, both tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus.  Big words like Peace and Justice, slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ means, they will know what Peace and Justice means, are words awaiting content.  It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible…Most of our social activism is formed on the presumption that God is superfluous to the formation of a world of peace with justice.” — Stanley Hauerwas

Daniel Berrigan on peacemakers

“We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total – but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. So a whole will and a whole heart and a whole national life bent toward war prevail over the velleities of peace. In every war since the founding of the republic we have taken for granted that war shall exact the most rigorous cost, and that the cost shall be paid with a cheerful heart. We take it for granted that in wartime families will be separated for long periods, that men will be imprisoned, wounded, driven insane, killed on foreign shores. In favor of such wars, we declare a moratorium on every normal human hope – for marriage, for community, for friendship, for moral conduct toward strangers and the innocent. We are instructed that deprivation and discipline, private grief and public obedience are going to be our lot. And we obey. And we bear with it – because bear we must – because war is war, and war good or bad, we are stuck with it and its cost.

But what of the price of peace? I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm in the direction of their loved ones, in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans – that five-year plan of studies, that ten-year plan of professional status, that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. “Of course, let us have the peace,” we cry, “but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor the disruption of ties.” And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs – at all costs – our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard of that good men should suffer injustice or families be sundered or good repute be lost – because of this we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war – at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”

Daniel Berrigan, No Bars to Manhood

Time for a surge…in the peace movement

Today marks eight years of the war in Afghanistan.  As Rudd and Obama consider yet another troop surge, for most Australians this milestone represents just another statistic, another number to skip over in the morning papers.  For others of us it represents a national disgrace, and high time for a surge in active opposition to the war.

Even as we all collectively reeled in shock from the events of September 11th 2001, there was a sense that this act of horrendous violence would see more acts of horrendous violence perpetuated in response.  What none of us could have realised, despite George W. Bush’s declaration of this as a “war without end”, is that we would still be mired in Afghanistan eight years later, with no end in sight.

Let’s face it; the war has not gone well.  The Taliban is continually regaining control of parts of the country. The US-backed parliament is mired in corruption.  Life expectancy in Afghanistan sits at just 44 years and more than half of children under five are malnourished. According to UNICEF only 22 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. Civilian deaths are an everyday occurrence; according to the latest UN reports, around 400 civilians died in Afghanistan from January to August of this year due to US/NATO air strikes. There have been 1425 Coalition deaths.  Even General McChrystal acknowledges we are losing this war.

So it’s not surprising that despite its branding as “the good war” (compared to Iraq), support amongst Australians is dwindling.  Yet political disengagement is at an all time high, even – or perhaps especially – amongst those who want the war ended.  When governments continue to wage wars despite massive public opposition, as happened with the recent Iraq war, there are two options for the opposition: go harder or go home.  Unfortunately most people did the latter instead of the former.

What is needed is an active, disciplined, determined effort by ordinary Australians to end the war.  As long-time antiwar activist Ciaron O’Reilly often says if just 1% of those who marched against the Iraq war in 2003 had gone into nonviolent civil disobedience and the other 99% had supported them, we would have formed a dynamic and formidable opposition to it.  Instead, we washed our hands of the whole mess and went back to watching reality tv.

“If this task of building a peaceful world is the most important task of our time, it is also the most difficult,” wrote Trappist monk Thomas Merton. “It will, in fact, require far more discipline, more sacrifice, more planning, more thought, more co-operation and more heroism than war ever demanded.”

Of course, the hawks would dismiss such talk with the simplistic rhetoric, “if you’re against the war, you’re against the troops” or “opposing the war is unpatriotic”.  Yet as war veterans groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Courage to Resist, and Australia’s own Stand Fast are demonstrating, supporting the troops and being patriotic usually means ending the war.

I’m not suggesting simply abandoning Afghanistan to a mess of our own making.  We must commit ourselves to rebuilding the country, but with civilian reconstruction teams, not our military.

We cannot afford to leave this up to our politicians, who believe that changing course means admitting failure, nor can we abdicate responsibility to them for what happens in Afghanistan.  Our silence gives consent, and that consent must be actively withdrawn.  So today, on the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, I’m calling for a surge to end this war – but a surge in the peace movement, not in troop numbers.  Ordinary people, military and civilian, must act now.

Get out on the streets.  Make a noise.  Organise or sign a petition. Write to your MP.  Hold stalls, vigils, marches. Take nonviolent civil disobedience.

It takes courage to wage wars.  Sometimes it takes more courage to be part of ending them.

Message from John Dear

john dearOne of my good friends in the peace movement Fr. John Dear SJ was kind enough to make this appeal for everyone to consider what they can do to resist the Talisman Sabre exercises…pass it on to anyone who may be interested.

Dear friends,

Blessings of peace to you!

Now more than ever, we all have to stand up, walk the Way of Nonviolence and pursue the vision of a new world without war, poverty, nuclear weapons or global warming. My friends and I in the USA are doing what we can to resist the culture of war and its weapons, and I thank you for doing all you can for peace and disarmament.

I urge you to join the campaign to resist Operation Talisman Sabre, to say No to the presence of the US war machine operating in your country in July, and to say Yes to God’s reign of peace and nonviolence. I hope people of faith and conscience will speak out, pray, vigil, march, and act for an end to war preparations, and start instead the alternative of peace preparations by training and exercising in Gospel nonviolence.

Thank you for witnessing to the God of peace and nonviolently resisting the presence of U.S. soldiers and weapons. The only way we will ever welcome that new world of peace is if we stand up publicly, say No to every act of war and Yes to every movement of nonviolence. Thank you for all you do for peace.

May the God of peace bless you!

John Dear

An opportunity to work for peace

How seriously do we take Jesus’ call to be peacemakers?

Here is an opportunity to stand in the way of warmaking and say ‘yes’ with your life to the God of peace.

Operation Talisman Sabre is a series of joint military exercises taking place July 6-25 2009, involving almost 30,000 Australian and US troops across 8 areas in Australia engaged in live fire and invasion training. The highest concentration of troops is in Shoalwater Bay Training Area, a pristine wilderness area on the central Queensland coast. People from around Australia are coming together to say ‘no’ to this practicing for war, and yes to practicing for peace.

Here’s how you can get involved at whatever level you feel comfortable (or challenged!):

* Come to planning meetings in your own state
No matter where you are, we can probably hook you up (especially in Melbourne or Brisbane) with the details of regular meetings. This is one way to see what’s already happening and whether there’s a role you’d like to take.

* Awareness raising around your capital city and solidarity actions
We need people who will be in the cities and towns during the exercises to raise awareness of what is happening in Shoalwater Bay. It may mean a vigil, a petition, or just talking to family and friends, but get together with a group and make it fun.

* Participate in nonviolence trainings
There will be at least two trainings (probably more) run in Melbourne in the lead-up to the games so that people can be as fully prepared as possible. It will also give you a chance to get to know some people who might be going up, and to test the waters of what kind of actions you might take around where you live or at Shoalwater Bay itself.

* Come up to Peace Convergence in Shoalwater Bay
Plan to take some annual leave or RDOs and join the peace convergence. The festivities kick off with the C2C (Committed to Change) Festival in nearby Byfield. The main gathering weekend will be July 10th-12th, but people will be present for the whole three weeks of the exercises (July 6-25). See the Peace Convergence website for more details.

* Consider taking direct action
It is likely that there will be groups of people who will take direct action to nonviolently stop the exercises or otherwise nonviolently resist them, some of whom will take actions risking arrest and some of whom won’t risk arrest. Everyone will have the opportunity to be trained and fully prepared beforehand.

Such people also need the support of teams of people who are prepared to do all the necessary logistical work (picking up and dropping off, legals, prayer, personal support), so even if you don’t want to risk arrest yourself you can still play a role in helping those who do. It would be helpful to start forming affinity groups (there’s a good definition of affinity groups here) soon.

As my good friend Fr. John Dear says, “Nobody has to do everything for peace and justice but everybody’s gotta do something!” So I encourage you to prayerfully discern what role you might take towards a more actively nonviolent life.

Please pass this on to your own networks and keep spreading the word!

Vigil at BAe

Spent early January hanging out at the National Christian Youth Convention where they asked Jess and I to provide one of 32 practical activities for the young people to try (called ‘Submersion Day’). It was a day of social action, so other groups planted trees, helped out in people’s gardens, made slums on the steps of Parliament House, did flash mobbing for Stop the Traffik etc etc. We decided to stage a vigil outside the Melbourne offices of BAe Systems (formerly British Aerospace), the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world (after Lockheed Martin and Boeing).

We ended up with about 120 young people (!), most of whom had never so much as participated in a march or protest before. They were pretty apprehensive (that would be an understatement) but we offered a range of options for them to take up or they could do whatever they wanted so no one was forced to do something they weren’t comfortable doing.

BAe helped us out by parking elsewhere for the day so we had the entire carpark to ourselves (they barricaded themselves inside with the shutters drawn…scary Christian peace people). So we spent about 3 1/2 hours there, starting with a liturgy (attached) then encouraging people
to do their own thing…we covered the carpark with chalked messages, made banners, some went over the road to the shopping centre and leafletted people, wrote letters to the PM, chalked the bike path behind the building, held silent vigils outside the door, staged a die-in, and then finished by marching around the building seven times to the sounds of chanting and a conch shell being blown by the Pacific Islanders. Highlights included people in the office building next door putting up a sign in their window saying, “Make Love Not War”, a tourist from Queensland who was so inspired walking past that she stayed and vigilled with us for an hour, and an Islander elder who belted out the Beatitudes like I’ve never heard them before.

The joy and freedom was palpable – we were just gobsmacked by how the fear and apprehension of the day before gave way to excitement and exuberance (despite the three squad cars waiting for us outside the building). Going in I’d been concerned about tokenism and ‘protest tourism’ but I reckon all of that was blown away by the breaking down of barriers and the inspiration it provided for a really diverse and generally conservative crew. Jess used the parable of the sower to describe how it had affected people – probably some not at all, others it might take a while to sink in or bear fruit, and others who were just instantly changed and into it.

And having established relationships with BAe security, it might have good potential for a regular vigil, especially as they’re building a huge new office/factory over the road from their current one (Victoria St Abbotsford).

Who’s the clown up the tree?

Chalking the carpark

Speaks for itself

Finished the day with a big rally at Fed Square where all 1500 NCYCers (plus extras) gathered for music, etc. Here’s a couple of our crew on stage belting out one of our chants.