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It takes all of us- My reflection (so far) on Talisman Sabre 2015

July 27, 2015

In 2001, Australia gave its political and military support to a US based attack on Afghanistan.

At the time, I was in the army and I supported it.

It was sold to people like me as necessary, to disarm Osama Bin Laden and his group who had been responsible for the September Eleven attacks. Since that date, Australia has constantly been at war. We put the bodies and minds of our soldiers on the line on the basis that they are “keeping us safe”.

In supposedly keeping us safe, our political and military leaders have caused the deaths of many people, including our own troops and, I would say, made the world a far more dangerous place than ever before.

Its hard to get accurate numbers on just how many people’s lives we’ve ruined.

I don’t mean terrorists, or Iraqi soldiers necessarily, I mean the average person who, until my country made war with them, were just shopping clerks, teachers, doctors, cleaners, husbands, daughters, cousins and friends.

People who used to go two blocks away for good coffee with a mate.

People who dreamed of travelling the world; or seeing their children get married and make their way in life.

You know, people- being people. Boring, mundane, messy, beautiful people.

Numbers are a bad way to tell a story.

Throughout the peace convergence, in the media, I tried to get across just how many people had died in US led wars since 2001- these numbers dwarf those in Australia or the USA or Europe who were harmed in terrorist attacks since 9/11.

But this isn’t really right.

If I lost someone in my family to a 9/11 attack, I might be baying for revenge too.

But I haven’t lost anyone in these wars. I live in a country that tells itself it’s under attack, when we have attacked and killed many people who never looked like posing a threat to us.

How many people died is almost insignificant compared to the despair my country has inflicted on any one innocent family. As I write this, I wonder if whole families who were wiped out by bombs paid for by my tax dollars, might be better off than those who were wounded or, families left with one or many missing members.

None of my personal attempts to play a numbers game in the media can ever compare with the needless ongoing suffering of someone permanently injured in war. Whether that person is a soldier from Australia or someone who was unlucky enough to be born in Iraq at this time- physical, mental, social and emotional trauma does not choose sides.

For me the 2015 peace convergence was a deeply personal struggle to try and make sense of why my country has done all of this.

And as someone who has benefitted from the wealth and contributed tax dollars- to take responsibility for those actions.

Organising peace activists is hard. I’d much rather be teaching a class, playing a game with any number of the kids I’m lucky enough to have in my life, having a beer with my Dad whilst he teaches me something about how to work with my hands, walking through the bush or a million other things than organising anti-war activism and spending a night in the watch house.

But I’ve tried living my life in ignorance of the suffering of others and all I can say is, I’m not built for it. Lots of people died because of political decisions made in my lifetime.

In a representative democracy, that makes me partially responsible.

Talisman Sabre and the US Alliance is sold on the premise of protecting Australia. But I’ve only seen it used to attack and kill many other people.

Exercises on Shoalwater Bay, land of the Darumbal People, are preparations for further invasions.

My friend Nick Deane has spent fifteen years writing to politicians and submitting research papers on this issue. He has never received a response.

This year he decided to take non-violent direct action against preparations for further invasions of other people’s countries. Along with Shane Anderson he trespassed on Shoalwater Bay to try and disrupt the exercises.

Helen Bayes, Dawn Joyce and Jo Valentine have decades of varying experience in peace building.

Angry at our country’s ongoing preparations for another war, they decided instead to hold a tea party at the gates of Shoalwater Bay. They invited soldiers to practice their communication and negotiation skills- a much better way to work through conflict than killing each other.

Margaret Pestorious and her friend Paul Christie spent days walking through the wilderness to talk with soldiers and let them know that we are not against soldiers. But if you’re willing to sign up to put your life on the line, as Australian citizens, we have a responsibility to the soldiers as well, to make sure it is in the defence of Australia- and not some shadowy political or economic cause that hurts them as well.
Two of the bravest people I know, Dave Spriggs and Sam Quinlan went on in separate groups.

In October, several months earlier- both had been severely assaulted by Special Forces troops on Swan Island.

Those people who think that anti-war activists bludge or should “get a job” should meet and hang out with these 2 and see the hard work and dedication these blokes put in to what they believe. Both entered and physically did their best to non-violently slow down war preparations.

Teigan, Jim, Simon, Simon and Andy also went on in different groups.

This does not even begin to mention the many, many people whose support we would not be able to do the work without. Robin Taubenfeld, Beccy Horridge- to name just two. They kept us organised, feeling safe, fed and warm at times of stress, fatigue and exhaustion.

All of us have varying ideologies and reasons for going.

But all of us have a simple idea.

War is wrong.

Not only is it wrong for the people of the countries we have invaded and killed. It’s bad for our soldiers and if we simply look at the evidence of the world since 2001- our wars have made the world a less safe place to live in.

Our country continues to wage war- we call politicians, we write letters to the editors and we do protests. But when you see preparations for a war happening, you have to try and stop it.

Another key supporter, Gaye Demanuele said to me over a drink towards the end of the convergence “peace takes all of us”.

I had heard it before, but the peace convergence has given me new cause to consider its profoundness.

The best part of the peace convergence is not the actions or the court or the media. It’s solving things together. It’s getting more than 50 people into a space with a wide variety of interests and religions and working our stuff through together.

It takes listening, giving, standing up for yourself or someone else at the right time, being kind, knowing when to stop stressing and have a cuppa- learning to work and live together where everyone feels like they have equal stake whether they give a day or several months.

Its hard work.

The most treasured thing I take away from my White Australian culture is to not shy away from a bit of hard work. And I will keep at it. Whilst my government follows corporate and economic interests over those of Australian soldiers and civilians of other countries, I will work as hard, sustainably and lovingly as I can to build a better alternative. But it’s not up to one person to direct it or lead it.

Peace takes all of us.



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