Saturday was a pretty rough day for me emotionally. Rockhampton was the scene for the “Talisman Sabre open day”, the opening event of 3 weeks of US and Australian military training at Shoalwater Bay.
It was hard not because I was refused entry at the gate because of my association with peace activists, or because of the abuse I copped from passers by while protesting the war games out the front (no I’m not on the dole actually, yes I am proud to be unaustralian thankyou), they were both anticipated as possibilities beforehand.
No, the reason I felt so shattered, the reason for that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, was the spectacle of war being promoted as a fun family activity, with camouflage facepaint and kids sitting in the drivers seat of a tank.
We are so disconnected from the reality of war – of your family dying in combat, of innocent civilians dying because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, of the constant fear that re-emerges every time you hear the familiar sound of helicopters overhead. I don’t like to be the one that has to say it, but those guns the kids are climbing on are for killing people and nothing else.
War is a horrible, horrible thing. We may have been de-sensitised to it by endless war movies and video games, but it is all too real for millions of people around the world, for whom it invades every second of every day. They never chose for it to be like this, but for them there is no remote control to change the channel. They don’t go to a family fun day, look at guns and then go home eating ice cream.
Our distance from the reality of war is reflected not only in the fact that we let our kids pretend to fire the same guns that have orphaned, if not killed, others their age; but also that we can be so unconcerned by Australia’s ongoing involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and so callous in regards to the refugees that flee war by coming to our shores.
I find it interesting that myself and the others who stood with me protesting war will often be branded as “extremists”, because it is completely normal to be complicit in our tax dollars financing the deaths of soldiers and civilians on the other side of the world. When you throw in Australia’s status as the world’s highest per capita carbon polluter, and that in the wake of Fukushima we continue to export uranium; and the reality is that everyday life for the average Australian is a lifestyle of death and destruction on a mass scale.
I don’t say this to try to condemn anybody, merely to point out how well we have been distracted from the true consequences of our actions by the meaningless clutter in our lives – forget reality, here’s the latest celebrity gossip; a new product to buy; another news program full of politicians trying their best to avoid saying anything of substance.
Who profits from this facade that masks reality and protects the status quo? Is it us? I don’t know. While we are removed from the problems of others, we are also often reduced to spectators in our own life, cocooned in the dull safety of monotony while our lives pass us by, less memorable than the images we are fed on tv.
On Saturday, numerous enraged citizens repeated to me and my comrades the instruction/insult “get a job”. Despite the dubious nature of this taunt (why should having a job affect my ability to speak about any issue I like? It’s Saturday anyway, how do you know I don’t work full time?), the insinuation in it is pretty worrying, because the assumption is that if you have a job, you will no longer have the time, the energy or the passion to stand up for something you truly believe in. Or maybe that if you join our society’s race for money and status, you should no longer care about anyone other than yourself.
I really don’t want to sound judgmental or self-righteous while writing this. But we live in a society where we are divided by barriers of race, class, nationality, anything that will keep us divided. We are told that what matters is us, and we need to protect ourselves from everybody else. But a selfish world mostly just helps those who have already profited from selfishness. Are we really better off by isolating ourselves from the lives of others? It may be an old cliche, but I honestly believe that no one can be free while others are oppressed.
I kind of digressed there, but I want to end by saying that these wars have been disgraceful exercises in imperialism that Australia has shamelessly been a part of. 10 years is a long time to be part of a military invasion. Can you imagine how people in Afghanistan feel about this war? Is peace really such an impossible thing to ask for?