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


Feast of the Holy Innocents Peace Procession – Melbourne reportback

About fifteen of us gathered outside Victoria Barracks on a perfect sunny day in late December.  It was a day many people were hunting for the post-Christmas Day bargains, and many others were immersed in the dramas of the Boxing Day test.  It was also the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day the church commemorates the children killed by Herod in an attempt to get to Jesus and maintain his grip on power.  A day we remember all modern day regimes which see thousands of lives as acceptable “collateral damage” in their quests for power, control, resources and military might.

Beginning with an acknowledgment of the history of this feast day, and of how far away such wars seemed to us, we read the story from Matthew together.  We then spent some time naming modern day situations where innocents continue to be killed by power-hungry elites.

East Timor.  Afghanistan.  Sudan.  West Papua.  Phillippines.  Iraq.  Australia’s refugee policy.  Each with thousands of innocent victims of power politics and military domination.  Each considered acceptable collateral damage.  We rang a bell for each of them.

Finally, we remembered the plight of the Palestinian people, recognising that even as we sat together, thousands of people were gathering on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, preparing to nonviolently break the blockade, bringing food, aid and medical supplies to the people of Gaza.  This was particularly poignant given the Matthew passage, which speaks of “a voice heard in Ramah” (the modern day West Bank), “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”  The contrast of fear exhibited by Herod and modern day Israel, and the resulting victims of their fear, with the angels appearing to Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, each time greeting them with the phrase, “Do not be afraid!”  These stories continue to play themselves out before our eyes, on the evening news.

With that, we rose together and began to make our way north to the centre of the city, led by our four metre banner reading “End the Afghanistan War”.  In peak shopping season, the city was packed.  Reaction was mixed – from mouthed “thankyous”, clapping and nods, to rolled eyes, to outright hostility.  Mostly it just registered on people’s faces as an interruption to business as usual (literally).

Turning through Bourke Street Mall we made our way west to Defence Plaza, a fairly nondescript city building housing the Defence Department in Melbourne.  Here we paused to reflect on the experience, on connections we had made, and on where to from here.

We finished with prayer, and dispersed from there.

My own reflections are on how we do this action/reflection stuff deeply and honestly and yet involve our children.  War and its effects on innocents are confronting issues.  We brought our kids (3 under 6), and did our best to explain to them the significance of the day.  I think it’s important that we continue to do that.  But we shied away from anything graphic or affecting, talking only in general terms.  This is something we will continue to wrestle with as parents and as activists.

I also think that continuing to act in concert with the liturgical year will greatly enhance our understanding of the gospel and our faith and discipleship, and our ability to sustain action over the long haul.  Wrestling with these stories as part of an action brings them home, sharpens their contours, and deepens our engagement.

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

8 years too long – end the war in Afghanistan! Melbourne reportback

07102009(001)On Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th October, the two days that represented the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan (it was the 7th in Afghanistan and the early hours of the 8th here in Australia), a group of concerned people gathered at Flinders St Station in Melbourne to remember, mourn and be inspired towards further action against the war.  We held a striking banner which read ‘End the Afghanistan War’ and maintained a presence for 10 hours each day, from 8am until 6pm.  At least 25 people joined us throughout the two days, including a war veteran from Stand Fast and the head of the Victorian Council of Churches Theo Mackay.

We began by reading out loud the names of some of those who had been killed in the course of this conflict, Afghani civilians, as well as US and Australian soldiers.  We handed out flyers with 8 reasons to end the war, as well as promotional material for the antiwar rally on Saturday (12pm City Square).  There was a petition people were encouraged to sign to end the war.  We also wrote the names of those on both sides who had been killed in the letters on the banner.

Perhaps the most significant part for me was the sense of vigilling (watching/ vigilance) at a place where around 10-15,000 Melbournians pass every day (a prime piece of real estate for advertising!).  Both people’s reactions or lack of reactions to our banner message were a good indication of the Australian public’s general disengagement with the war.  Many of those we talked with, whether they were supportive of us or not, had a very shallow understanding of what was happening over there or why we might be involved.  I had only one conversation in the whole 20 hours we were there with someone who confidently had a grasp on what was happening.  I don’t say these things pessimistically or despairingly, but in order to give a realistic appraisal of where we are at the moment, so we can better define the tasks ahead of us.07102009(007)

Some significant conversations:

·    An Afghani guy who had his throat slashed from ear to ear by the Taliban.  He had been here for two days and couldn’t talk due to his injuries, but the Air Force officer he was with who had helped him escape the country was adamant that the war be escalated to kill all of the Taliban.
·    A woman who despaired of social justice but when I mentioned I was a Baptist Minister asked the usual question (“do you know Tim Costello?”) and when I said I did, her response was “Well, thank God that the Baptists are doing something for the world instead of just preaching and getting fat!”
·    A long and constructive conversation with a foreign policy student where we managed to work out we agreed on everything except the efficacy of violence in creating stability.  It was the most helpful conversation I had because he understood the complexities and we got through a number of layers of assumptions to our real differences quickly, effectively and respectfully.

On Thursda08102009(019)y afternoon we walked the 1km down the road to Victoria Barracks, historically the most significant symbol of militarism in Melbourne as it was the site of much of Australian military strategy in WW2 (it also happened to be my grandfather’s workplace for 35 years, as a career soldier).  Three friends (Jacob Grech, Liz Turner and James Brennan) whitewashed the bluestone wall at the entrance to symbolise the whitewashing of the AfPak war.  They wrote “White wash,” “troops out” and “8 years is too long” several times across the bluestone wall before police arrived 20 minutes later.  Looking bemused, they determined the whitewash would come off and let them go without charge or arrest after taking their names (I think the police even told Vic Barracks to wash it off!).  The rest of us stood with the banner for the few media who gathered to record the whitewashing action.  All three did a great job of speaking to the media about why they were doing it.

To me it worked really well having the balance between the long presence of the vigil and the short but edgier direct action of the whitewash.  Raising tension seems to be important, but so does having a legitimate, regular, visible presence.

Suggestions for improvement:

·    I think we could have made more effort to connect with the Afghani community.
·    Reading the names of the dead in that space didn’t work very well.  Or it worked well for us, but it made engaging with people difficult.
·    Having interactive elements worked really well – people came and signed the banner, and the petition, and even handing out flyers gave us direct engagement.  It’s a busy space but very dynamic with thousands of people seeing the message every day.
·    Having a visible, clear, antiwar presence was really important on an issue that is mostly “out of sight, out of mind.”  I think we need to do this more often in a way that we can sustain going forward.
·    Having suggestions for how people can get involved is difficult.  But enough people asked to think harder about it in future.
·    There is such a lack of tension that I think part of going forward should be about building a movement that can escalate the tension by regular, sustained direct actions.

I want to thank all of those who participated in the vigil and whitewashing action, and encourage us to make this a new beginning which will spur us forward to deeper anti-war engagement.

More photos here.

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

born in the USA

One of my Christmas presents was The Essential Bruce Springsteen three cd compilation. It stretches over his whole career to this date, more than 20 years of music.

One of the songs that struck me afresh was ‘Born in the USA’. I was introduced to this song when it first came out in the mid 80s, and I have strong memories of the album cover, the one with the picture of his butt in blue jeans with a red cap hanging out of the pocket, and the US flag as a backdrop.

born in usa

The repeated chorus of “Born in the USA” combined with that album cover and the growing American confidence in their victory in the Cold War gave this song a powerfully pro-American slant for me. It just seemed to scream jingoistic US patriotism.

So it wasn’t until the weekend that I actually listened to the words:

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up

Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

I got in a little hometown jam
And so they put a rifle in my hands
Sent me off to Vietnam
To go and kill the yellow man

Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
I go down to see the V.A. man
He said “Son don’t you understand”

Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

I had a buddy at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a little girl in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years down the road
Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go

I’m a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I’m a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

‘Born in the USA’, it turns out, is dripping with a melancholy sarcasm. Forced into the army, and sent off to fight on behalf of his country, he returns to find that his country no longer wants him, and all of the patriotic zeal with which he was reassured is for naught. What his country stands for – freedom, opportunity – is denied him despite his risking his life for its cause.

But the reference to Khe Sanh caused me to reflect on that other (less officially recognised) patriotic song, although this time Australian – Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh. It’s been called Australia’s ‘unofficial national anthem’ (and let’s face it, it’s no more or less appropriate than ‘Waltzing Matilda’, a song about a suicidal thief). But lest we think that Americans are the only ones who are sucked in by jingoistic patriotism, let’s check the words of Cold Chisel’s offering:

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh
And my soul was sold with my cigarettes to the blackmarket man
I’ve had the Vietnam cold turkey
From the ocean to the Silver City
And it’s only other vets could understand

About the long forgotten dockside guarantees
How there were no V-dayheroes in 1973
How we sailed into Sydney Harbour
Saw an old friend but couldn’t kiss her
She was lined, and I was home to the lucky land

And she was like so many more from that time on
Their lives were all so empty, till they found their chosen one
And their legs were often open
But their minds were always closed
And their hearts were held in fast suburban chains

And the legal pads were yellow, hours long, paypackets lean
And the telex writers clattered where the gunships once had been
But the car parks made me jumpy
And I never stopped the dreams
Or the growing need for speed and novacaine

So I worked across the country end to end
Tried to find a place to settle down, where my mixed up life could mend
Held a job on an oil-rig
Flying choppers when I could
But the nightlife nearly drove me round the bend

And I’ve travelled round the world from year to year
And each one found me aimless, one more year the worse for wear
And I’ve been back to South East Asia
But the answer sure ain’t there
But I’m drifting north, to check things out again

You know the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
Only seven flying hours, and I’ll be landing in Hong Kong
There ain’t nothing like the kisses
From a jaded Chinese princess
I’m gonna hit some Hong Kong mattress all night long

Well the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
Yeah the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
And it’s really got me worried
I’m goin’ nowhere and I’m in a hurry
And the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone

Again, the same story. The sentiments “Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go” and “I’m goin’ nowhere and I’m in a hurry” are almost identical. Two songs that have been co-opted as patriotic jingles, neither of which fit that mould in the slightest. In fact, both of them are scathing in their assessment of their country of origin – and both as a result of their citizens’ reactions to Vietnam War veterans. I found this to be a fascinating parallelism, not only because of the way it demonstrates that songs can be co-opted or misappropriated (deliberately or by ignorance), but also because one of our members is a son of a Vietnam Vet who has gone through a very similar experience, and it has affected not only his life, but that of his children in a very deep and profound way.

All of this sits awkwardly with the current political climate, with Born in the USA potentially traitorous under the US Patriot Act, and Khe Sanh potentially undermining the state according to the new Australian sedition laws. We would do well to let these songs sit as they were originally intended – as critical commentaries on the injustices prevalent in two of the most advanced democracies in the world. And we should encourage more critical commentary, always being wary of how such commentary can be co-opted by blind patriotism.