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Background Briefing

February 27, 2013

Tomorrow I go from Brisbane where mud combats shoes and umbrellas combat for footpath space to go, via Sydney, to Palestine. I will be participating in a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to look at the work CPT do in Palestine. Why am I doing this? Well, let’s go back a notch, and by notch I mean, a decade.

Ten years ago I was in the Australian Defence Force, training. People have told me since “you weren’t really in the army, you were just training”. And I concede that. I’m definitely not a veteran or someone with experience of violence, but I was training to implement violence on behalf of my country. More specifically, I was training to lead others in how best to implement specific violence on behalf of my country, There’s a lot to like about army life. It’s very active, physically and most days you get up with a sense of purpose. Today I’m starting by training my body through exercise, then my mind through drill, then my brain through study and I’m doing this to serve my country. It’s a little more motivating then waking up with Today I’m going to slice devon, cook some chickens and serve potato salad to people at a supermarket. I hope I have the flu so I can’t go. You make friends and feel proud day to day. In 2003 though, I started to get the feeling that something was wrong with that pride. I was not the best officer trainee, so I don’t want to make out that I left at the end of 2003 as a star cadet or something, my uniform wasn’t the starchest and my discipline record not crispy clean, I even once forgot my squadron warrant officer’s name in what was recorded as a major grievance against my record. So, average performance as a cadet aside, I noticed something wrong in my peers around me, that I started to notice in myself.

You see, when you train day in and day out for war, I think for people who have never seen conflict you get a bit itchy for it. You don’t write letters to the Prime Minister asking her to declare war on Indonesia, but if the opportunity came up, I think most service personnel would want to put into practice that which they have learnt over years and years. So when the war drums started to beat for an invasion of Iraq, I found my peers excited at the prospect. FINALLY we were going to get a war.

It was about this time I started asking my peers and my trainers (who directed me to army chaplains) some strange and weird questions. Questions like “What about the people who are living in Iraq?” “Is it alright to kill people if the evidence for war is sketchy at best?” And the answer was the same from many sources. That’s not your job. It’s not the job of defence force personnel to decide what was wrong or right about war, what was ethical use of force. It was simply the job of the defence force to do what the state compelled us to do. Over the last few years I’ve gained a lot of empathy for drones that kill people as commanded by the US and a few client states. Drones just point and kill without any choice. Few people outside the defence forces realise that this is what personnel in the army are trained to do as well. Just do, don’t ask why, just do.

Well, after expunging a second full year of free uni from the state (hey, I was developing morals in the area of warfare, not sainthood) I left to complete university and become a teacher.

Skip forward seven or eight inconsequential years. I am sitting with my friend Renee on an oval at a large high school athletics carnival. I was doing the announcing, mainly because of my over bearing voice, but also because it’s a job you get to do sitting and chatting to people mostly. Renee was not long to leave and pursue her own vocation away from the classroom. I was also intending to leave full time teaching, but not sure what to do with my life Renee asks one of those “it was life changing, but only because I was too big an idiot to realise before” moments. She said “What do you want to do with your life, like, deep down, all bull shit aside, what do you want to do?” And I thought for a minute and said “I want to work towards a world where people don’t die in war, where there is less violence and more peace.” Renee was a bit stunned “Wow, I thought you’d say urban geography or law- world peace… yeah good luck with that.”

So, skip forward another two years. I was at a peace protest at Swan Island talking to Carole and some girl called Jessica. Previously I had asked Donna Mulhearn about her experiences in Iraq and Palestine and she softly encouraged me to go if I felt so called. So when Carole and… Jessica (I think her name was) had both been I pumped them for information. I decided there that I would like to go and put all I read about conflict and peacemaking in history, the news and the story of Jesus into a practical context. I wanted to be able to answer questions like “Would I still be a pacifist if I lived in war zone?” “Is non-violence a viable solution or is it the whim of idealistic rich westerners?”

A few months later Carole rings me up “Greg, CPT desperately need one more person to go to Palestine in March or the delegation may not go ahead, can you go in March?” I answered that “I would love to, but I have no money and I was going to go to university to do my Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies”.

Carole rang back the next day “We’re discussing financing you, if we pay, can you defer uni?” After some admitted soul searching, I jumped at the chance to go to Palestine. Not only that, the University has been incredibly supportive of me doing the practical side of what I will be studying.

So tomorrow I am off… I am nervous, excited, but mainly I feel this deep peace, like everything is right as it is in my life. Or I could just be hungry.

Peace and Light, see you soon.

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7 Comments
  1. there is nothing like the peace of knowing you are heading in the right direction

  2. great writing Greg – look forward to reading more. Safe journey

  3. martha breninger permalink

    I hope to one day go to Palestine 🙂 I loved reading this Greg. when your eyes finally open, your journey begins. I’m very proud to know people like you and Jess.

  4. What happened next? 🙂

  5. Gill permalink

    Really enjoyed your writing Greg, thanks for sharing your story. Exciting to hear that you were first inspired to consider this journey whilst at the Swan Island peace protest. I’m really looking forward to reading more and hearing your reflections on those challenging questions: “Would I still be a pacifist if I lived in war zone?” “Is non-violence a viable solution or is it the whim of idealistic rich westerners?”

  6. kerry young permalink

    Wow Greg! It is refreshing to see some-one willing ot act on their deepest thoughts. May God bless you and your mission.

  7. Jonathan permalink

    Thanks for your insight and honsety Greg on a really complex situation – and the courage to put your money where your mouth is! I wish you all the best for the trip.

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