Archive for March, 2009

In Bristol in Solidarity with the EDO 6

March 20, 2009

During the recent bombing of Gaza, 6 anti-war activists decommissioned weapon systems at EDO Brighton/England.  Two of the activists – Elijah James Smith and Robert Alford – are being denied bail and continue to be held in prisons in England. Background on the campaign around EDO,  the action by the 6, updates and prison addresses for solidarity mail can be found at….

I’ll be in Bristol in this weekend at a solidarity vigil outside a Bristol prison where one of the EDO 6 – Elijah James Smith -is being held on remand….

and Sunday 7:30pm screening the “Route Irish” documentary.

…if you know anyone interested in the vicinity feel free to let them know

Solidarity banner drop for EDO prisoners


Mixing it with the Catholic Chaplain for British Military Land Forces

March 18, 2009

In December ’08, I was asked to sort of debate Mgr J S Alker Assistant British Military Chaplain General Land Forces and Principal RC Chaplain at the V1 Form Theology conference at St Mary’s School, Ascot, England.

Well it wasn’t much of a debate I went first and couldn’t rebut. It was more like an exchange of views on the Pacifict V Just War position in the Catholic church (see the movie “The Mission” for an interesting take on this debate!)

I met with the Monsignor in the hall after our presentations and we had a good exchange of views. He was dressed in military chaplain uniform with epitlaps and I was in my dreads and my worn, cigar burn hole Pitstop ploughshares t-shirt. I remarked to him that we looked straight out of central casting! He agreed.

There were approx 120 high school students, very bright from the quality of questions (could be a few future prosecutors and judges in there, if so hopefully they’ll rember me kindly!), and at least one young guy who is being put through VI form by the British military. The Russians and the British are the only Euro countries that recruit and 16! I had a lot of good exchanges with these kids at coffee breaks, lunch etc.

At the outset of my presentation I pointed that all of them had been born after my last haircut in 1988. I got that haircut in Boggo Rd. Jail in Brisbane where I was imprisoned for blockading the crew of the nuclear warship U.S.S. Hoel that had called in to Brisbane on its way back from supporting Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf. This was around the time Bin Laden and friends were being supported and armed by the American CIA and Pakistani Inteligence. Good friends of the US/UK, now the new enemies.

I pointed out that there has been 3 responses to the issues of war and violence in church history….

1. Pacifism for the first 3 centuries, pracitsed and taught by Jesus living under the Roman colonisers and the Herodian collaborators -embraced by the Catholic Worker movement and other remnants of radical disciplehip.

2. The Just War theory thought up by Augustine after the 3rd. century Constantine shift when the church was legalised, patronised by the emperor and was fasttracked to become basic to Roman citizenship. This “Constantine Shift” turned christian ethics on its head. The ethical question of how do you run the Roman (British, Portugese, Spanish, any empire ) in a Christian way? should never have been our problem…like how do you run a firing squad in a christian way? is not our problem either.
Both recent popes have mused that given the nature of modern warfare technology the a just war may now be an impossibilty (eg. your not supposed to kill civilians for starters!)

3 Crusades – “kill em all and let God sort them out”. Theologically discredited in the Catholic tradition but is very much the theology of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment which is basic to the present wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

I pointed out that where we were gathered at Ascot was once the fringe of the Roman empire with all the brutality and oppression that went with that. Later it had become the centre of the British empire that stretched all the way to my hometown of Brisbane 12,000 miles away liquidating the local tribe there.

As theologian Ched Myers points out where we are situated in empire effects how we do our theology and radical christian praxis. From the oppressed 3rd. World will come a “Theology of Liberation” from the entitled First World will come a “Theology of Repentance and Resistance”.

As the Chaplain pointed out, the 40th. British solider killed in the Iraq/Afghan wars this year was arriving back today. One of the first in 03 was from Ballyfermot/Dublin and the recent 300th. was from County Mayo. The reality is that we don’t know don’t care about British, Iraqi, American Afghani deaths…we live in Western societies disengaged form the wars being waged in our names. This is no coincidence – they have learnt the lessons from Vietnam – how to market and manage wars on the home front. All they want is our silence and sedation and we serve it up in spades not a peep from the church, the campus, youth culture and little beyond the usual opportunism from the left and professional NGO sector. This generation is victim of sophisticated socialisation techniques that we didn’t have to deal with in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

I had woken up that morning in the Catholic Worker hospitality house in Hackney with men who had fled from wars and military oppression in the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Algeria, Iran. On the bus to Waterloo Station we passed many monuments to wars and warriors that had built the British empire. As I travelled on the train from Watreloo there were constant security messages about suspicious packages etc. Commuters seemed as disengaged to these alerts as they are to the war in general.

It is our choice to remain awake or asleep to the times we’re in. The state requests us to remain asleep to troop movements through Shannon Airport, the cries from Iraq and Aghnaistan and military familes. Those who continue to resist shake and awake us to our own repsonsibilities of solidarity and resistance Check out and

On the way up on the train I read some feedback from folks I had emailed with requests to help prepare a talk. I’d like to share a couple of them….
Tom Cornel Catholic Worker, Vietnam War draft card burner now pastor reflects on the dillema of Catholic Chaplains in the U.S. enemy. I gave Mgr Alker a copy of this article

Gary MacLennan had written in his email…….

“One of my very favourite speeches and certainly one I would use if I were speaking, is the Roman historian Tacitus’ version of the speech by the leader of the Caledopians just before they went into battle at Mons Gropius against Agricola. Tacitus almost certainly made this up but it is a timeless characterization of war and imperialism. He called the Romans

“Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder and now they ransack the sea. The wealth of an enemy excites their cupidity, his poverty their lust of power. East and West have failed to glut their maw. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. Robbery, butchery, rapine, with false names they call Empire; and they make a wilderness and call it peace. “

Lex Wotten – aboriginal political prisoner

March 18, 2009
Last year,  Aboriginal Elder and Palm Island Councillor was sentenced in Townsville (Queensland, Australia) to 6 years imprisonment.
Lex Wotten was found guilty by an all white jury in Brisbane the previous week.  Lex had been charged with events that followed a pathologist white wash of the 2004 police killing in custody of a local man on Palm Island.  The Queensland government responded to local indignation with the deployment of militarised police, the arrest of several Palm Island reidents and jailing of them in mainland Townsville.
After much protest, the police officer involved in the killing in custody was charged with manslaughter and was acquitted by an all white jury in a Brisbane trial. The police officer was promoted to rank of Inspector in the hi profile/hi tourist enclave Gold Coast receiving $100,000 compensation for his troubles.
Lex Wotten also received an all white jury in Brisbane and was found guilty recently and sentenced last Friday to 6 years imprisonment.
1) Ciaron O’Reilly Article on the Lex Wotton case

2) A short history of Palm Island 1914 -1999 from the website of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action
The history of the Queensland Aboriginal reserve system from its foundation in 1898 was characterised by a largely incompetant and dishonest administration which acted with a blatant disregard to basic human rights.
Of the many Aboriginal reserves set up across Queensland, Palm Island in particular gained a reputation as a “punishment place”, a reputation which still lingers today.
Before white invasion in North Queensland, Palm Island belonged to the Manbarra people. Descendants of the Manbarra were still living on the tropical island, 65 km NE. of Townsville, when in 1914 the Queensland Government gazetted the Island as a reserve.
No further action was taken by the Government until 1918 when a cyclone flattened the Hull River Aboriginal Reserve near Tully. The Queensland Protector, J.W. Bleakley, then decided that Palm Island would become the replacement site. He regarded the location as an ideal place to confine Aboriginal and Islander people who were regarded by white society as “problem cases” and “uncontrollables.”
Over the next two decades around 1630 people from 40 different Aboriginal groups across Queensland were removed by the Department and deposited on the Island.
Removal to Palm Island was the heaviest punishment a Department officer could legally administer. In charge of the new reserve settlement was an ex-army captain, Robert Curry, a man with no previous administrative experience.
From the start the settlement was underfinanced, with the residents of the island surviving on meagre rations and living in complete poverty. Leprosy and venereal disease spread through the settlement and the doctors appointed to the island were less than competent in their approach to medicine.
No inspections of Palm Island were made by the Department until the Governor of Queensland, Donald Thatcher visited in 1923 and was critical of the squalid living conditions he observed.
This quickly led to a visit by the Protector, Bleakley but no real improvement in conditions occurred. Administrator Robert Curry continued to feud with the other white staff on the Island. Gradually he succumbed to the combined effects of alcoholism and mental illness and in February 1930 he went on a destructive rampage, killing his own children and torching several buildings before he was shot by one of his own Aboriginal staffers.
As was the case on all Queensland reserves, the residents of Palm Island were subject to strict supervision. Conditions were jail-like. No one could leave the Island without the superintendant’s permission and he had the power to censor all outgoing mail.
Speaking Aboriginal languages was forbidden. Employment opportunities were limited and the wages earned by Aboriginal workers were ‘managed’ and misappropriated by the Department. Despite this high level of enforced control, poor health conditions continued to prevail. In 1957 a series of incidents involving the staff treatment of Aboriginal women and a decision by the Department to cut wages, led to a strike by the residents.
The Department responded by expelling 25 identified ringleaders of the resistance, and their families, from the island. A second strike occurred in 1974 when the Department sacked the local Community Council and threatened to turn control of the Island over to the Townsville City Council.
The Department finally relinquished control of the Island in 1985 when title for the Island was passed to the Community Council in the form of a DOGIT. (Deed of Grant in Trust.)
While this gave the residents a greater say in the administration of the island, the transfer of title led to the removal of much of the Government infrastructure. Soon after the decision was made, barges arrived and houses, shops, the timber mill and farming equipment were disassembled and shipped back to the mainland.
Like many remote communities, Palm Island today continues to grapple with social problems including high unemployment, alcohol abuse and crime, a direct legacy of 80 years of mismanagement by the Queensland Government.
3) Eyewitness of the trial longtime Brisbane activist Ian Curr
The Bush Telegraph site is set up and used a lot by Brisbane activists who came through the late 70’s when civil liberties were sispended for several years and perscution of activists was esclated.  Besides a lot of the unresolved conflicts played out it is a good source of info on the present scene in Queensland, Austraia, where last week Aboriginal Elder Lex Wotten has just been sentenced to six years following the police killing of an aboriginal resident on Palm Island 2004