I am a pacifist, so why did I visit a war memorial?
That I can’t answer but something drew me in.
On August 6 this year it will be 70 years since the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days after that day, on August 9, 1945, a bomb landed on Nagasaki, leading to the Japanese surrender on August 15. For Australia this marked the end of the Second World War.
(The official signing of the surrender took place on September 2, 1945).
It was a war that cost Australians an estimated 74 billion dollars - and many, many lives.
As this 70th anniversary approaches it is perhaps timely to remember Australia’s – and especially Australia’s Northern Territory’s - part in the conflict.
We may think of World War 2 in terms of British and German involvement. We may also think of Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima. Not many people instantly think of the Northern Territory when the subject of the war is broached, and yet there are at least 800 war sites (air strips, ammunition depots and soldier tent sites) in the N.T.
Troops numbering approximately 250,000 were stationed in the Northern Territory at some stage during the war years. Many lives were lost; many young men were permanently scarred.
A few years ago, I visited the War Memorial at Adelaide River in the Northern Territory. I’m not usually one to visit war memorials, but this one ‘called to me’ when I was holidaying up north. Once walking through the graves, I was not prepared for the wave of grief that swept over me. I found it hard not to fall on my knees and sob as I read the words on the plaques.
The inscription on one memorial headstone told of a young soldier called John who was 21 when he died. He was just a boy. But there were graves of others with ages listed as 18 and 19. There was even a grave for a seaman of just 16 years.
What a truly awful war. But, then, has any war ever been less than awful?
On the little plaque, under John’s name and army details, are the simple words, “In loving memory of my darling son John.”
How did his mother cope? Why is his father not mentioned? Did he have sisters and brothers? What about grandparents? A sweetheart?
How they would have missed him and grieved.
How did John die?
I later searched the Internet for details and found the word “accidental” as the cause of his death. Whatever happened to make his death “accidental”? He died in the May of 1942, right in the middle of hundreds of Japanese bombing raids on Darwin.
Conservative estimates of the numbers killed during that time put the servicemen tally at 432 and the number of civilian “casualties” at 63. That’s almost 500 people. Five hundred!
Was John one of the many caught up in the panic and un-preparedness of the Australian military? Did he overturn an army vehicle in his haste to reach a position of defence? A place of refuge? Did part of one of the many bombed buildings collapse upon him?
It is now suggested that many more were killed in Darwin than those reported. John was just one, but he was still someone’s son.
If John had lived, he would be over 90 years old now. Would he have lived that long - maybe a great-grandfather?.
But he had no chance for anything like that.
His life was severed at the tender age of 21. To use the word “waste” is too much of a cliché as well as an understatement.
It made me ask more questions about what happened in Darwin in 1942. The information I gathered shocked me even more. I discovered that the government of the day fudged the figures so that people wouldn’t “be alarmed”. “Don’t worry”, they said, after the first two raids by the Japanese, “only 17 people were killed”. In fact 243 lives were lost in those initial raids. And between 300 and 400 wounded.
The air attack on Darwin continued for nearly two years and the city was bombed 64 times. Was the government still saying “don’t worry”?
And why are we still making wars?
John died in a war that reached Australia 70 years ago. And still people kill others by the hundreds in “just” wars all over the world.
Will we never learn?
John and the other (at least) 494 people who were killed in the attacks on Darwin, paid the unthinkable and ultimate price all those years ago.
Was it worth it?
I have always been outspoken against war. But John’s small bronze plaque affected me almost more than any other anti-war message.
Will we ever 'give peace a chance'?
It’s time to be serious. We in Australia have a huge problem that needs fixing.
Our current band of “leaders” (i.e., our politicians) seemingly have no scruples about dishing out cruelty to other human beings.
Sure, I appreciate that many countries over the world are battling dilemmas concerning asylum seekers but Australia seems to be one of the worst as far as offering any refuge for these poor souls.
We (well, not me personally) have gathered all those seeking asylum and called them “illegals” - which they certainly are not – and herded them into hell holes of immigration detention centres – jails really - where they are mistreated and otherwise ignored.
Some of these centres are not much more that a cluster of large tents. AND, they are not even in Australia. They are in what are called “offshore detention facilities”.
The people are not being ‘processed’; their stories are not being heard and some of these people have been in detention centres for YEARS. Some of them are CHILDREN.
It is inhumane and against all decency.
It is costing millions of dollars to keep these people locked up.
Surely it would cost far less to employ staff to ‘process’ them and allow them into our community.
In Australia we often hear complaints about there not being enough skilled workers to fill current job vacancies. Perhaps, just maybe, there are people currently locked up in detention centres who could be the mechanic, the engineer, the nurse, the willing worker of any persuasion who would contribute to our society and to our economy.
Maybe? Surely? But no one is checking that avenue.
It is preferred to offer the scare tactics of warnings of terrorism and the dangers of ‘the other’.
Many Australians (I hang my head in shame) have turned into the most terrible racists and are rebelling against any plans of government to settle asylum seekers in our country.
They are too selfish to even try the imaginative task of ‘putting your feet in the others’ shoes’.
They cannot see that these people are fleeing for their lives and the lives of their children.
Our opposition leader (Bill Shorten), in the latest ALP conference has backed the current plan of our PM (the heartless Tony Abbott) and stated that he will continue the ‘stop the boats’ strategy and continue to ‘turn back the boats’.
He claims it will ‘save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost at sea.’
Is that true?
If they ‘turn back the boats’, does that mean that no one drowns at sea?
How do we know?
How do we know what happens to the poor people on any boat that is ‘turned back’?
Then Bill Shorten announces this:
Doubling the refugee intake to 27,000 a year by 2025* would be one of the other key elements of his (Bill Shorten’s) policy.
* by 2025!
What I need to know is, if Australia accepts more refugees, do the numbers come from the thousands now in detention? Or are we to accept refugees who fly into our airports? There is a big difference!
Last week, a boat of refugees, reported to be from Vietnam, was reportedly sighted off the Western Australian coast.
Once reported, the media was silenced and the government would not permit another word to be said or written about them. These matters are not to be discussed or reported in any way. There is a blanket of secrecy now over the fate of these refugees.
Where are they?
What is happening to them?
What has happened to Australia as a democracy?
I am ashamed of my country.
Yesterday afternoon, as I walked the little dog beside our local park, a small boy pushing his bike home from school looked at me and said, “Good afternoon”. I was so surprised at his politeness that I barely had time to say a quick “Hello”, before he then said, “I like your dog” with his face lit up with a big friendly smile.
He was about eight years old I suppose. Just an ordinary little fellow making his way along the footpath, pushing his bike - not riding, as the hill is steep.
Why was I so surprised? I really don’t know.
I have dealt with kids of all sizes throughout my life as a school teacher. Most children in my care have been pleasant happy little souls. Many I have really loved.
Several, I suspect (at the time) might have almost loved me.
And yet, here I am, in retirement, not thinking much of small children any more. I have forgotten what charming creatures they can be. (They can also be little monsters and even unlikeable – but there’s always a reason for that).
Of course, if you only take notice of complaints and television reports of how “today’s children” are all spoilt brats; how they focus only on computer screens and such and are uninterested in life in general, it gives the impression that kids are not nice to know. Too much emphasis is aired on ‘rude’ children, ‘out of control’ children and those who are generally badly behaved.
I think that’s often an attitude towards ALL people, towards all communities and all nations. It’s the general negative approach to ‘the other’ that seems the norm.
Today as I walked along the pathway, I saw a child on a skateboard coming my way. I stepped to one side of the path to allow him an unhindered ride. As he passed, I was greeted with a smile as he called out “Thank you”.
So another happy, active and polite kid.
Thinking on other recent afternoon walks, I recall similar situations; twice where a child has said, “Good afternoon”, and several where young skate boarders or kids on scooters have thanked me for making their pathway clear.
Most children I come across do not fit what seems to be the common perception of “today’s children”. Perhaps it’s a figment of adult imagination. Or exaggeration of some situations.
Perhaps that’s the same when it comes to the adult population and communities in general.
Maybe if we adults acted more as these young polite kids do, there would be fewer ‘road rage’ incidents, and, ultimately fewer conflicts leading to fewer wars.
One could only hope!
Anyway, I send a silent ‘congratulations’ message to the kids in our area.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so silent.
Maybe I will be a ‘nice old lady’, instead of a ‘grumpy old lady” and send an email to the principal of our local school praising the children for their civility – and smiles!
One step at a time.
I took part in a small survey the other day where participants were asked ‘what super power would you like to have?’ The choices included such ‘powers’ as Xray vision, super strength, the ability to fly and many more. When the results popped through it was very interesting to see that by far the most popular choice of ‘super powers’ was the ability to heal.
Phew! What a relief! A confirmation of what I have always thought – that people are basically good; that most people are not the selfish gits we are led to believe inhabit our space.
Some years ago I asked my grade three students to think hard of something they really wanted - or would like. I cleaned off a large part of a chalk board and invited them to come forward and write their wishes for all to see. There was some excitement as they began quite quickly, many writing things such as ‘a new bike’, ‘a car of my own’, ‘lots of new clothes’, ‘a new bigger house’ and, of course, all the latest fad toys.
But gradually their ideas began to change and they wrote wishes for their families. They wished for a grandparent to be well. They wished for good things for a friend.
As the board was filling up with wishes, the children became more quiet and thoughtful. Then their words included such things as ‘no fighting’, ‘no wars’ and finally, the one they all agreed upon as the best was
‘peace in the world’.
These children were all aged around eight years of age.
Does that surprise you?
Does that give you hope for the future?
I hope so.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.