War and Peace in a time of Climate Change
a report on the resistance to the 2009 Talisman Sabre war gamesRockhampton, Yeppoon, Byfield and Shoalwater Bay Training Area,3 - 26 July 2009
The US military has some 40 bases and installations in Australia, 700 bases in 156 countries around the world and it regularly conducts regional joint training exercises with the armies of its hosts and allies.
These serve not only to teach those armies how to cooperate with the US military ("interoperability" is the buzz word) and prepare for US wars, they also test and demonstrate the capability of US weapons systems and so create demand for more US armaments spending by the hosts.
The US - Oz war games known as Talisman Sabre are the biggest such training exercise in the South Pacific and they take place every two years at Shoalwater Bay, a place renowned for its pristine coastal rainforests, dunes and wetlands at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, as big in area as Belgium.
The area has been used for military training since WW2 but things took a dramatic turn for the worst when Prime Minister Howard, the most enthusiastic US puppet Australians had ever had up to his time, effectively ceded the Shoalwater Bay and its coastal waters to the US as a 'test facility' on a 50 year lease.
Kicked out of Okinawa by the Japanese and with no room to expand the bases in Guam and Hawaii, Shoalwater Bay has become the biggest and best training area available to the US military in the Pacific in terms of coordinated sea, air and land operations. Practicing invasion is what it's about.
The US military dearly want it and a growing number of Australians want them gone. No more wars, they say. No more preparation for US wars. Let Shoalwater Bay be returned to the Darambul people and managed as a World Heritage National Park. Detach from tyranny, end the US alliance.
Operation Talisman Sabre 2009 took place 6 - 26 July; it involved some 15,000 US and 8,000 Australian service personnel and cost the US taxpayers $150 mill and Australian tax payers at least $50 million. These sums do not include salaries; just the extra cost involved in transport, fuel consumed, wear and tear on equipment and munitions expended.
In response the Australian peace movement, such as it is, rallied to resist in Byfield, Yeppoon and Rockhampton. All these places are south of Shoalwater Bay and, very approximately, Byfield is to Yeppoon is to Rockie as The Channon is to Byron is to Lismore.
So what to say about the state of war and peace in the hindsight of Talisman Sabre 2009 and the Peace Convergence that it focussed?
First: the military are many and peace activists are few on the ground.
This was the fourth Talisman Sabre and the number peace activists who travelled to protest was growing geometrically (6, 60 and 600) until this time around when only about 50 rallied from Melbourne, Sydney, Northern NSW, Brisbane and Cairns. Likewise the number of local participants was down.
Some of this slippage was due to an implosion of the previous organising group but most of it reflects the public mood of the times - peace has slipped off the agenda.
Back in 2007 resistance to Talisman Sabre benefited from the popular mobilisation to bring down PM John Howard. But that done, too many have become complacent and, lulled into passivity by the Obalmy politics of hope, they have fallen in asleep in front of their Tvs.
If you thought Howard the pits, wake up! When it comes to warring in subservience to the US Empire, Rudd has proven to be just another US puppet in a suit, but more so. He has committed more troops to the un-winable war in Afghanistan (total now 1,550) and he has increased recurrent military spending from $55 million per day under Howard to $71 million per day.
Furthermore Rudd has endorsed a recent Defence White Paper which, even though it could not name an enemy, recommends we buy a whole raft of new war toys from the US, a package that which will cost Australian taxpayers $100 billion over the next few years.
The prevailing focus of activism on climate change is another cause for the waning of peace activism and it is understandably a top of the mind concern. But to address climate change without addressing peace is to commit to futility.
So long as US corporations like BHP-Billiton lay claim to our coal and uranium reserves, so long as the US has military bases on our land and control of our national security infrastructure, so long as Australian troops are engaged in the global resource wars of the US and so long as our taxes are being hijacked by US armament makers, efforts to rein in carbon emissions and establish a national response to climate change by and for Australians will come to nought.
We peace activist may have been few on the ground but we were a colourful and vocal public presence in Rockhampton and Yeppoon none the less. We had come from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Nimbin, Brisbane and Cairns and Peacebus.com was there arraying flags, banners and lanterns.
Talisman Sabre is a 21 day exercise and Peace Convergence was basically a weekend program feel-good peace activism. It was preceded by 3 day celebration of peace and change organised at Byflield by young people from there. It was called Committed 2 Change.
In Rockhampton we rallied in halls and conducted peace vigils at the gates of Lavarack Barracks, the army base which supplies Talisman Sabre; we hokie-pokied at the police blockade on the entrance road to the training facility; we paraded through Yeppoon and had a delightful peace concert, music courtesy of local lads, on the beach front of beautiful Keppel Bay on a balmy sunny day.
Chaplain Frank Vavasour climbs the fence at Lavarack barracks, Sunday 12 July 2009 and June Norman hokie pokies over the line at the police blockade on the road to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area.
There were a couple of arrests during these events and the story of our Convergence made local newspapers and regional Tv; but it didn't go much further south, north or west.
The sidelining of peace in these times was described as a media conspiracy by Professor Jake Lynch of the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University and Peace Convergence participant. Polls, he told us, show 70% of Australians are opposed to more defence spending but these voices go unheard and Rudd spends on.
Organisers also encouraged direct action by independent affinity groups and these began on the last day of Peace Convergence and the first day of live firing at Talisman Sabre.
A group of four activists, Margaret Pestorius (44), Jarrod McKenna (28) Jessica Morrison (33) and Rev. Simon Moyle (32), put their lives on the line by entering the training area and concealing themselves there.
They called themselves the Bonhoeffer 4; Bonhoeffer being the Lutheran pastor who resisted and was executed by the Nazis. In an essay in The Monthly before his election, Rudd had claimed Bonhoeffer as his spiritual hero.
See Utube video on them entering the training area. They were discovered after two days while crossing a road, arrested, charged with trespass, and released without bail.
Their action was followed by two other groups trespassing for peace: the Jaegerstaetter 3: Culley Palmer (21), Jim Dowling (53), Bryan Law (55); and the Grana 4: Yulangi Bardon (21), Emily Nielsen (19), Mark Palmer (21), Jake Bolton (27).
Jaegerstaetter 3: Culley Palmer, Jim Dowling, Bryan Law (top) and Grana 4: Yulangi Bardon, Emily Nielsen, Mark Palmer, Jake Bolton, taken in Martin Luther King House of Non-violence before their actions, Saturday 14 July 2009
These stayed varying lengths of time, surrendering themselves one at a time to remind the military of their presence. The girls, Emily and Yulangi, managed to evade capture for 11 days surviving on a diet of nuts and muesli bars before surrendering on the last day of Talisman Sabre.
Photos of Emily, Yulangi and Mark sent by mobile phone from within the Training Area, Mt Piri-Piri in view as an affirmation of their trespass, the signage improvised from paper bark, charcoal and ochre, 17 July 2009
All praise and gratitude for the courage and determination of these trespassers; their actions gave Peace Convergence it's bite. The military could ignore displays at gates and placards and flags in the streets, but not the challenge of trespass.
Nimbin residents will recognise Mark and Culley Palmer as father and son locals, Mark, the captain of the Stoney Shute Fire Brigade. They have stories to tell. Honour them.
The military tried to ignore the trespassers of course and claim that their presence had no impact on the exercise. But Byfield residents who live close to the training area and can hear the detonations, reckon the live fire part of the Talisman Sabre 2009 had been curtailed to just 4 days.
In a letter to the local paper they congratulated the military on their respect for civilian safety and commented that it was a pity they were not as equally respectful of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Watching the media it was apparent to me that the Rudd government was acting cautiously and being very low key about the glories of Talisman Sabre and the 'interoperability" of the Australian Defence(?) Forces.
Defence Minister Faulkner for example flew into Townsville to shake hands with the US military brass but did not make himself public, the story of the trespassers a running sore on his war propaganda.
Few we were but powerful; concentrated moral force, and it seemed to me, pregnant with possibilities for future growth.
Peace movements come and go like tides. This Talisman Sabre the out tide made visible the shifting sands and the bed rocks. Who's who and who cares in the peace movement of these times. Being fewer we could see each other more clearly and value the quality.
I spent my days camped beside Martin Luther King House of Non Violence, a non descript holiday house in Bangalee, a beach suburb 4 km north of Yeppoon, 60 km south of the Training Area, rented by Cairns based Catholic couple, Bryan Law and Margaret Pestorius, to serve as a base for faith based activism.
All the Training Area invaders passed through there and most of the media in support of them emanated from there. The invasion actions were planned and prepared on a "need to know" basis and this old man was happy not to know much and yet be included in that honourable company, a witness to those who bear witness.
On the deck upstairs was a big table about which we ate the evening meal together and at which Byran conducted planning meetings; inside on the dining room wall hung a large, large-scale map if the Shoalwater Bay Training Area; in a room downstairs was an improvised altar comprising some coloured fabric, some round stones from the beach and a couple of candles. About it regular prayer and share sessions took place.
Me a Buddhist yogi taking the Three Refuges and saluting the sun on the front lawn, i was pleased to be included in one of those sessions before i departed.
With so many strong willed and strong principled people interactiing, some clashing was inevitable. But from what i witnessed, conflict was skilfully and speedily resolved and a gritty and challenging Christian integrity prevailed.
Such uplifting company! I was reminded of the Buddha's teaching the Kalyana Mitrata, beautiful friendship, is the whole of the holy path.
Beautiful friendship is the bed rock of peace and peace making. It attracts others and extends itself, building movement friendship by friendship. Many have gone before and in my heart i knew that many were coming after us, following in our footsteps, inspired and inspiring.
The Afghan war in unwinnable and war generally unsustainable. Where others search for a peace movement and despair, I listen to hearts and hear a tide turning.
May obstructing Talisman Sabre, and all other preparations for war, become a national pass time.
15 May 2009
The first event on the Peace Convergence program was a public meeting in the James Lawrence Pavilion of the Rockhampton Showgrounds, Friday 10 July 2009. It was attended by about 60 people most of them people who come to Yeppoon for the Peace Convergence.
MORE WORDS and PHOTOS coming.