26 April 2005
From listening to the many speeches and comments about the day, it seems to be primarily about remembrance of those who died in war and an acknowledgement of their courage, sacrifice and service. Of course it is a worthy thing to remember the dead and to celebrate generosity, comradeship and service, but I wonder if sufficient attention is paid to other aspects of the reality that is war.
It is now generally acknowledged that World War I was a futile waste of life. A tragedy in which millions of young men lost their lives and millions of others were scarred for life. In the words inscribed by a family on their son's headstone in an Australian War Cemetery in France I once visited : 'For What?' The effect of that war on family life for generations in Australia can never be fully known and it also laid the foundations for World War II with its even greater destruction and loss of life.
It is arguable whether human kind has really learnt the lessons of the 20th century. Can we really say we are serious in our efforts to eliminate the causes of war when we allow injustice and inequality to flourish, and when we insist on ‘demonising’ groups of people instead of building bridges of understanding, when we continue to promote the sale of weapons around the world and when we too readily resort to force rather than negotiation to resolve disputes?
As one commentator asked recently, why do we erect monuments to those who fought and killed in the name of our country but ignore those who refused to take up arms and were even imprisoned for doing so? Perhaps it is time to also acknowledge their courage, sacrifice and service in appealing to the conscience of the nation?
For information and reflections about a range of issues related to peace visit the Pax Christi website.
For an interesting example of an approach to peacemaking from the viewpoint of another religious tradition – especially in regard to the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, visit the Tikkun website.
The advertisements are timed to coincide with the annual Anzac Day commemoration on April 25th when the nation remembers those who lost their lives in war. They are also timed to coincide with the resumption of the next round of maritime boundary negotiations scheduled to take place in Dili from April 26th-28th.
The Timor Sea Justice Campaign is also planning a series of protest gatherings around the country at that time to highlight Australia's refusal to consider a permanent maritime boundary drawn in accordance with current principles of international law.
Instead the Australian Government is reportedly offering a one off payment in exchange for East Timor postponing requests for a permanent maritime boundary for up to 99 years. Such an arrangement would allow all of the petroleum resources to be depleted long before the contested areas are formally acknowledged by Australia to be part of East Timor's exclusive economic zone.
Information about the background to the dispute, details of the planned forthcoming protests and suggestions for further action are available at the website above.
We live in a world where people in developed countries such as ours enjoy the highest material standard of living of any people in all of human history, when we have the means to end extreme poverty, hunger and disease and where world leaders have actually agreed on a plan to systematically address these issues through the Millenium Development Goals
And yet that commitment seems to be faltering and many experts are warning that the MDG targets will not be reached.
This year 2005 looms as a vital one in the fight against global poverty. Visit Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the website of the Christian Brothers Leadership Team for information about the world-wide campaign to end poverty through the addressing the issues of Trade, Debt, Aid and Transparency and Accountability in Government.
Imagine if all members of the Edmund Rice Network and Edmund Rice Schools around the globe wore the white armband on July 1, Sep 10 and Dec 10?
Peter Benenson was outraged by a report he read in his morning paper in 1961 about the imprisonment of two students in Lisbon, Portugal who had drunk a toast to liberty. From his resolve to raise his voice against this injustice the movement now known as Amnesty International was born.
"Peter Benenson’s life was a courageous testament to his visionary commitment to fight injustice around the world," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
"He brought light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps around the world. This was a man whose conscience shone in a cruel and terrifying world, who believed in the power of ordinary people to bring about extraordinary change and, by creating Amnesty International, he gave each of us the opportunity to make a difference."
Further information about Peter Benenson and his legacy can be found at the Amnesty International website.
8 April 2005
Bishop Saunders drew attention to the "hundreds of pronouncements including fourteen Encyclical Letters on pressing global issues concerning human life and dignity, faith, social concerns and the needs of the poor, and peace in lands afflicted with war, poverty and cultural tensions".
He also quoted from one of the most recent statements made by John Paul II which was issued last month to mark the 40th anniversary the Pastoral Constitution of the 'Church in the Modern World' one of the landmark documents from the Second Vatican Council.
"The sad persistence of armed conflicts and recurrent manifestations of violence in so many parts of the world are proof, in the negative, of the inseparable relation between justice and peace…. In this connection, I would like to reaffirm once again that peace is the work of justice: it derives in fact from the order on which the Divine Founder himself wished human society to be built"
The study reveals that most of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth are being degraded or used unsustainably and that the effect of this degradation will accelerate in the next 50 years seriously affecting human well-being.
Whilst concerns about sustainability have been expressed for many years, and some initiatives have been taken by governments to address the problems, as yet there has been no co-ordinated global response on the scale needed to avert disaster. Ecological issues are still not seen as a priority by governments pre-occupied with short term goals and maintaining their grip on power.
Few governments are prepared to make unpopular decisions for the long term common good – they do however respond to public opinion.
What will be able to say to the next generation when we are asked what we did to insure they inherited a planet where all can enjoy the fullness of life?
The most recent edition of Just News available for download at the Edmund Rice Centre website contains material for reflection, information and action on ecological issues. The website also provides information about the Edmund Rice Earth Charter Project
The week April 10th-17th has been designated as a 'Global Week of Action for Trade Justice'. The recent edition of Ozspirit provides excellent information and resources to raise awareness around issues of trade justice.
Oxfam also recognizes that Trade has the potential to lift millions of people in developing countries out of poverty, but unfair trade rules are making millions of people even poorer. It is leading a campaign for the World Trade Organisation, United States of America and the European Union to change global trade rules so that they benefit the poor.
Information about the campaign, an online petition and the white-armband days planned to coincide with key meetings of world economic decision makers on 1st July, 10th Sep and 10th Dec can be found at the above website.
Whilst modern day Australia is far removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, it is sobering to remember that the evil of the holocaust did not appear overnight but began with the vilification and denial of rights of a minority group within a country by a government that had been democratically elected. Much of the population, including many Jews who were to become victims, were convinced that that Germany was a civilized country and Nazism a passing aberration, and hence failed to act. When the full horror of what had been unleashed was realized, it was too late.
In recent years respected voices have expressed concern at Australia’s participation in the invasion of Iraq - a war condemned by the Pope and declared illegal by international lawyers; at our government’s consent, or turning of a blind eye, to interrogation by torture; at the jailing of refugees and their children; at the suspension of the normal rule of law in the name of anti-terrorism; at the lies about the possible use of uranium, Weapons of Mass Destruction, children overboard etc. Of concern too is the attempt to stifle free speech by the use implied threats to remove government funding from agencies critical of government policy and the attacks on the character of anyone who has dared to act as a “whistleblower”.
The article also identified a number of characteristics that were common features of totalitarian regimes. Some of these were:-
an emphasis on nationalism, national security and law and order;
identifying enemies/scapegoats; the disregard of Human Rights;
control of the media; the protection of the power of corporations while suppressing the power of organized labour and cronyism and corruption.
It is said 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance'. Perhaps that message is particularly relevant in Australia today.