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Transition Margaret River Update 81, January 2019 HAPPY NEW YEAR

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Remembrance Day 2018

On Saturday 10.11.2018, Transition Margaret River and the Margaret River Organic Garden marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice of World War 1 with a story-telling in the Organic Garden.

We had several requests for a copy of the talk by Dr Peter Underwood. Here it is, together with one of the responses from Britta Sorensen.

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As the guns die away, hear the sound of birds

A Speech for a Margaret River commemoration of the end of WW1, 10-11-18.            Dr Peter Underwood

[The background. Our little group, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), has forged a productive alliance with a loose coalition of community activists from Margaret River involved with human rights, sustainability, Buddhism, and the environment, and led by local resident Karen Majer. We held an event to commemorate the end of WW1 in Margaret River’s Organic Garden, a lovely community space of birds, trees, vegetables and Australian natives. Dr Peter Shannon spoke first about his father, a soldier on the Western Front, and with poignancy described what his father was doing on the day the war ended, and how for the rest of his life, he could not entirely escape from the wartime experiences he had witnessed as a young man. I followed his address with the following short speech. I have left in my prompts for crowd engagement]

Dear friends,

We are here to remember that the war that was once described as the war to end all wars  – a phrase that has, significantly, never been used again  – ended a hundred years ago tomorrow.

I would like to begin with a little exercise. I will ask you to reflect on two questions. I will then draw your responses from you, and add my own explorations to them.

But first – a request! From the beginning today, I appeal to your right brain, to your poetic and to your musical brain… You see, I am about to ask you to tune your ears to sounds  – to those that are all around us in this sweet place…

[pause for listening]

These sounds include both our own human voices – from those peace-loving comrades standing beside you – and to those arising from this, nature’s garden: my hope is that our human cries, the ones we make, will join and entwine with those we can draw from bush and tree, and from the myriad little critters who are at home in them…

And it is my hope – or better my belief – that if we do so listen, you will soon find that these emanations, human and animal and vegetable, will with gentle magic turn into song, and that that song will make story. More than ever we now need story – a new, a joyous story is required to re-make and re-build meaning… This meaning, the one that you are about to create, will help us to come to terms with those terrible events of a hundred years ago… But more!  It will begin to move us forward … peacefully…

Here are the two questions. I will give them to you, then I will ask you for a minutes reflection with the person next to you.

Two thousand years ago, Plato made a remarkable statement: ‘A bad politician,’ he said, ‘confuses measurement with proportionality.’

What might that old, wise, Greek bloke be getting at? Please start to find a pithy phrase – even a word  – that responds to that question.

[pause for reflection: they buzz]

Now the second question is a bit more like a quiz. I ask you: what do the following four recent happenings have in common? Again, find a tiny phrase that connects, or underlies them.

  1. The propagation of climate denial, and the carrying of a piece of coal into the Oz Parliament
  2. The incarceration of children in Nauru
  3. The continued destruction of native forests
  4. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent justification for killing a million people and making 3 million refugees. [Pause: Calls for answers: Words like ‘money’, ‘fear’, ‘stupidity’ are thrown out]

As I see it, with one word, we can actually link both Plato’s statement and those four events: disconnection.

Plato reminds us that the bad politician isolates and quantifies – a good politician, he says, is always looking for patterns, and living with or even making the relationship of one thing to another. A measurement is not just of itself: it is proportionate to something.

In short the good politician seeks reciprocity and balance and harmony – they connect.

And I am reminded here of Robert McNamara in his film The Fog of War where he says that war is itself a gross example of dis-proportionality…In its violence, war is an extreme – disproportionate – response to a perceived insult or injury.

And if we now turn to the four instances I gave you, it seems to me that what underlies them resonates with Plato’s idea.

Perhaps we can see – climate denial, forest destruction, the invasion of Iraq, and the incarceration of children in Nauru – as arising from a kind of inherent dis-proportionality, a dis-connection, a severing of relationship.

But! Wait! I have asked you at the beginning of this talk, to tune your ears and your minds to our voices, and to the sounds around us.

[pause for listening]

What I believe these voices are saying is this: the most fundamental of all connections is our connection to nature – and that the most fundamental disconnection is to claim that nature is other, and we humans are here to control and dominate it. I put it to you that at the heart of our most fundamental global problems lies a kind of disconnect  – and from that arises a violence to the environment… and a violence to each other.

We know that war and violence always begin by making other humans – Germans, Jews, Moslems – other. But I ask you to consider that such violence arises further back: from the most ridiculous of notions – that we humans are not an in-dissoluble part of nature, but it is given to us to use and abuse.

In short, as I see that we are living in the dying days of a cruel patriarchy, one that separates us from nature – and that separates ourselves from each other, and that separates us within ourselves.

It seems to me this separation began a long time ago  – by alienating God from us, making him a judge from on high, and was further driven by the divorce between body and mind, to then gain a huge push when we learned how we can arm ourselves with technology, and, for a while, get rich by exploiting the poor earth and other poorer humans.

But! Listen! These birds, this soft wind, these flowers – and our Aborigines – they are singing a different song…

This song is crying to us: Join us! There is no separation! We are one!

With this sweet harmony in our minds and hearts, we will find that we are making up a new story, one where we leave off maiming, and begin nurturing… and in this story, one where we ourselves have now entered to become small but heroic protagonists, our burgeoning care  – our human ‘surplus of imagination’ – will shift towards our planet earth, and towards each other… We will march and we will own a battle cry; but ours’ will be: the only fight worth having is the fight for peace.

For – so cry the swarm of songsters around us – we are here to rejoice and treasure and salute every little living thing…

For they are us, and we them.

 

                                                                           Peter Underwood

Peter Underwood is a doctor, academic and writer. He has worked in metropolitan and remote Australia and in many overseas countries in primary care medicine. He is a long standing office holder of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (www.mapw.org.au), the founder of ICAN, the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (www.icanw.org/au) and the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. He lives in Perth and Denmark, West Australia.

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Britta’s speech for Armistice Day

I guess I’m the sacrificial German here, so I thought I’d better get up and say something… Actually I have just become an Aussie – but that is not to deny my heritage.

Mine is a story of intergenerational pain and shame and probably typical of many Germans’ family histories. My parents were both born in 1939, the year the Second Wold War started; they were both born to geriatric parents as ‘spares’ in case the older sons would be lost to the war. – Which is pretty much what happened: in my mother’s family the father did not return and the two sons were forever emotionally and psychologically damaged; in my father’s family his dad, who had fought traumatically in WW1 and his mother who as a young girl had walked the long refugee march from Eastern Europe, lost their beloved firstborn son. As far as I know, they never spoke of all the trauma and suffering they had experienced and when grief struck again they froze emotionally.

My parents were part of what was called ‘The Lucky Generation’ – too young to carry the burden of the guilt and pain of the two wars past. They grew up being told how lucky they were and how good their life was, when in fact as very young children they had witnessed unspeakable suffering, fear, grief, guilt, shame, outrage, injustice and they had had no words or structures to make any sense of this.

Even as adults they had no firm ground under their feet, no clear grasp of morals, compassion and care. Confronted with the aftermath of the war, they had rejected their parents’ values and ways, broken the ties to their extended families and were at a complete loss when they accidentally became parents themselves. They were cynics and creatives, made art, discussed politics, partied hard and rejected responsibilities. Their lives in the decades of freedom and boom-times looked fun and people thought of them as interesting, entertaining, flamboyant and maybe egotistic or narcissistic, but underneath that surface was a never named morass of lack of self-worth (not to mention lack of self-love), forlornness, fear and hopelessness. They both had an insatiable hunger for something in life that it just seemed unable to provide. There always was an attitude of entitlement to something illusive and simultaneously there was the rejection of the possible existence of that very thing.  I believe what they were craving and could never reach was a simple trust in life, safety and the love of their parents – things that history denied them as children during a horrendous war. Both my parents died prematurely due to self-destructing habits.

Without wanting to simplify cause and effect, the facts that  – I live in Australia and not in Germany, – I have no connection to the remnants of my extended family and  – I have no children of my own, all are inextricably linked with the stories of my parents and grand parents.

During our shared time I spent a lot of energy trying to convince my parents that people are inherently good and capable of great positive effects. They applauded but never believed me, so here I am today living and spreading the same message, trying to create connection were damage was done, trying to help along life’s natural propensity to heal and evolve.

All wars have long shadows – much longer than we commonly think.

 

 

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