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‘REIMAGINING PEACE: THE ART OF PROTEST’
As the Centenary and commemorations for the First World War approaches, we have become increasingly concerned that:
‘What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it’ [i]
and agree strongly with the British historian Simon Jenkins who recently commented:
‘The most sensible commemoration of any war is not to repeat it.’[ii]
In Australia approximately $350 millions of dollars [iii] have been allocated by the Federal Government to (mainly) upgrade and build new war memorials and to stage a spectrum of ANZAC focused events. Generally, these activities will express an oddly ambiguous mixture of glorification and nostalgic grief mostly about Australian (male) soldiers – who have come to be regarded, often simultaneously, as ‘heroes’ and ‘victims’ in this most terrible of conflagrations.[iv] As well as the more traditional services and ceremonies, the choreography of activities will involve multiple events, (artistic, cultural, musical, museological, theatrical, literary) and include for example: travelling exhibitions, light shows and projections, performance art, historical re-enactments, recreated ‘mess halls’, large art installations and a diversity of community engagements.
In the UK, which is planning to spend significantly less than Australia for the First World War Centenary, there has been some government allocation of funding to highlight various histories of protestors, pacifists, conscientious objectors (COs) and peace activists. In Australia this has not been the case and we wonder why this is so. [v]
Without diminishing in any way the genuine courage shown by many in the horrendous conditions of this and all war(s), we think it disturbing that many elements of these orchestrated commemorations will continue (more or less consciously), to promote what has been described as a kind of ‘patriotic mysticism’. This ethos, rather than confronting some of the more challenging questions about and consequences of war and violent conflict for humanity, ‘simplifies complex emotions and suffocates them in a layer of nostalgia’[vi] Further, these strongly orchestrated elements of a romanticised form of nationalism and patriotism are central ingredients in the acculturation or ‘grooming’ of the younger generations whose participation in ANZAC events has been greatly encouraged for the Centenary. It is also notable that we are yet to discover any major educational programmes as pervasive as the (DVA) ANZAC curricula utilised in most Australian schools, which specifically highlight ‘peace’ and non-violence education or philosophies so as to counterbalance the detailed examination of the ‘HOWS’ of ‘war’ with the bigger ‘WHY’ questions.[vii]
There is a long tradition in many countries of dressing small boys up in military garments – as miniature soldiers – ‘toying with war’ – which as illustrated in this image from 1907 would ultimately manifest in WW1 for many as the ‘real thing’.
It is similarly disturbing to us that themes of battlefield courage and ‘heroics’ (infused as they are with well-intended sympathies for the suffering, grief and loss of distant and now often ‘well-researched’ family members), feed easily into those contemporary versions of an ostensibly patriotic/nationalist/masculinist and still essentially ‘monocultural’ form of ‘Australian identity’. While ‘add and stir’ efforts have been made to appropriate those once excluded or marginalised from this anachronistic version of ‘Australian-ness’ (women, so-called ‘non-combatants’ and Indigenous peoples), this familiar identikit remains largely intact and still primarily associated with brave men in uniform – brothers in arms – Diggers ‘soldiering on’ in spite of everything. It is not difficult to see how such theatrical notions, buttressed and revamped in much contemporary war-related, sometimes hyper-violent digital media (film and games), continues to intrigue new generations – inviting them to regard militarism as not only ‘normal’ but even aspirational.
Fortunately, there are some powerful voices prepared to remind us of the realities and consequences of war and violent conflict – as the recently deceased Governor of Tasmania Peter Underwood suggested in a recent ANZAC day speech:
‘The characteristic act of men at war is not dying but killing. For politicians, military strategists and many historians, war may be about the conquest of territory or the struggle to recover a sense of national honour but for the man on active service warfare is concerned with the killing of other people’. [viii]
‘It was an issue Tasmania’s eloquent Governor was deeply passionate about, urging Australians to strive to understand the causes, meaning and outcomes of past wars rather than simply recounting the facts of battle. In this … Anzac Day speech, Governor Underwood said such questions should be addressed in schools.
“We need our youth to do more than simply recount or report the wars and conflicts in which our country has been involved and describe the heroism of our servicemen and women in those wars and conflicts,” he said. “To make the sacrifices that were made in those wars meaningful we should be ascertaining the causes and outcomes of the fighting.”
At this year’s service, Governor Underwood went further by saying “Australia needs to drop the sentimental myths that Anzac Day has attracted”. “We must actively strive for peace on a daily basis and I think that we could best begin that process, and thus properly honour and remember those who were killed or wounded while their country engaged them in the business of killing, by declaring this centennial year of the start of the War to end all Wars, the Year of Peace,” Governor Underwood said on April 25.’ [The Mercury, July 8th 2014]
It is also encouraging that discussion and debate about the place and meaning of ‘ANZAC’ in Australian history and ‘identity’ has been increasingly contested in multiple ways by a spectrum of concerned historians, academics and other commentators – see for example the unique and highly informative ‘Honest History’ website – http://honesthistory.net.au/ and the UK’s equally engaging website ‘No Glory in War 1914-1918’– http://noglory.org/ [Visit our ‘Resources’ page for more information and links to other websites.]
This small website is then dedicated to a consideration of how we might ‘Re-Imagine Peace’ and to ideas, opinions, commentary and creative ways in which we can reflect on not only the real consequences of wars in all times and places but query the use violence everywhere and anywhere as a ‘default’ mode when resolving conflicts and dealing with aggression.
As our contribution to the marking of one of the most terrible wars in human history we held two events which raised the issue of wars and violent conflict in all times and places and considered how we might re-imagine a world of ‘Peace’:
‘Reimagining Peace: the Art of Protest’ was a FREE exhibition
(held at the POP UP Gallery WA Museum – in Albany 7th-14th November)
where local Albany (Western Australian) artists commented on aspects related to the consequences of war and ways of envisaging ‘peace’. Major themes explored in the exhibition and interpreted included:
Children and war, Peace activists and protestors,’Toying with war’, the Language of war, the Impact of War on the Environment and all living things, and Envisioning ‘Peace’.
The Launch was also a
FREE multimedia event and was held in the:
(Co-Op Building WA Museum – Albany 2nd November)
where local poets read original work and pieces by other authors surrounded by a display of contemporary and vintage anti-war and peace posters with some short films exploring similar themes also shown.
‘Peace is Possible’
Ruth Keszia Whiteside and Della Foxglove
‘Reimagining Peace’ is a privately funded website and is not connected with any Australian Commonwealth, State or Local Government department or other commercial or non-commercial organisation.
Image of ‘bandaged dove’ by permission Philip Stanton, Stanton Studios.
[i]Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte), 1832. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel
[ii] Simon Jenkins, ‘First World War Centenary has become pornography of violence used as propaganda for today’s wars’, http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/273-the-first-world-war-centenary-has-become-a-nightly-pornography-of-violence#.VAlGfvmSyVf
[iii] Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2011–12: budget related paper no. 1.5B: Defence Portfolio (Department of Veterans’ Affairs), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011, p. 72, in http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview201213/Anzac#_ftn6. [viewed 24th Sept 2014] Some of this funding was intended to be sourced from corporations but it is unclear how much will be ‘delivered’ within the four-year commemorative period. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-17/anzac-centenary-fund-short-by-millions/5397874
[iv] For a discussion about contemporary attitudes to and perceptions of ANZACS and war trauma see:
Christina Twomey, ‘Trauma and the reinvigoration of Anzac: an argument’, History Australia, 10:3, (2013), http://journals.publishing.monash.edu/ojs/index.php/ha/article/view/988/1520
[v] James Brown in his book: ANZAC’s Long Shadow (Black Inc. Redback 2014), claims Australia will spend three times as much as the UK on commemorations – see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-17/anzac-centenary-fund-short-by-millions/5397874. The ANZAC Centenary Local Community Grants programme – one of the major sources of funding for the commemorations – is administered through Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the only criteria which explicitly appears to invite critical discussion about the philosophical ‘WHYS’ of ever engaging in war(s) is embedded in the term ‘social impacts’ – as part of a sub-section relating to ‘school projects’ http://www.anzaccentenary.gov.au/grants/index.htm
[vi] David Stephens, ‘ANZAC Day Anzackery’, Independent Australia, 25th April, 2014, http://www.independentaustralia.net/article-display/anzac-day-anzackery,6416
[vii] we recognise however, some teachers will maximise any and every opportunity to raise the more challenging issues and questions associated with ‘war’, nationalism and considerations of violence and ‘peace’ regardless of these limitations.
[viii] Joanna Bourke Professor of History in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birbeck College, An Intimate History of Killing: Face to Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare, Granta Books London, cited in: ANZAC Day Speech by the Honourable Peter Underwood, AC, Governor of Tasmania, The Cenotaph Hobart April 25th 2014. ttp://www.govhouse.tas.gov.au/sites/default/files/speeches/anzac_day.pdf
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