Category Archives: war

A ‘serious policy discussion’ for ABC TV’s Q&A



Last week’s visit by  Prime Minister Tony Abbott to a US warship off Sydney where he told visiting American sailors their navy was a “comforting presence” in Australia should provoke a public conversation.

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Daddy, what did you do in the war?



Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Taken from Chiaroscuro, Melbourne award-winning poet Sandy Jeff’s new book in which she explores the tension of a world that is a place full of dark and light and where humour and sadness intermingle in a show that must go on.




jeffsc-cover-thumbThe Sergeant

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War

Well, darling, I saw the young men come into bootcamp

and being their sergeant

it was my duty to turn boys into men

into fighting men, you know

so me and some mates initiated them by

shoving a broom handle up their arse

forced slops down their throat

made them drink their own semen chucked them into a shower

and scrubbed them with a wire brush

rubbed their dick and balls and arse with boot polish

sodomised a young bloke

this is the way it is, you know, it’s a boys club

gotta let them know who’s in charge

hell it happened to me and I’m ok

yeah, I’m serving my country and doing me best to turn out real fighting men

you should be proud of me.


The Recruit

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Well, darling, first I went to bootcamp

I was taught how to kill

then I was bastardised by me superiors

they shoved a broom handle up my arse

forced slops down me throat

and made me drink semen

they chucked me into the shower and scrubbed me with a wire brush

then rubbed me dick and balls and arse with boot polish

and the sergeant sodomised me

so to get me mind off it

I gave the sheila recruits a hard time

I even secretly filmed meself banging one of them

yep, I was there to serve me country

so I went to war

and killed a lot of men

some women and children too

and ya gotta let the shitheads know who’s boss

so I raped a few of their women

it’s what happens in war

but when me mates got killed

jeeze, that was the hardest

I’m telling ya, I was shit-scared all the time

and being away from me family was hard

jeeze I was lonely

but I’m home now and I feel lousy

I think about topping meself all the time

lots of me mates have done it

jeeze I miss them

I feel so rotten

I’m telling ya tomorrow’s tragedy

from yesterday’s war

yeah, war’s a bloody bugger…a real bugger.



Men in the great war did many things that we don’t want to talk about, we’d rather see the diggers as heroes, as brave Anzacs. But there’s another untold story and that’s the story of venereal disease in the Australian Army.

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 7.41.08 PM  The Secrets of the Anzacs: The Untold Story of Venereal Disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919 written by Raden Dunbar reveals secrets and astonishing statistics such as the fact that during World War 1, about 60,000 soldiers in the Australian army were treated by army doctors in Egypt, Europe and Australia for venereal diseases – almost the same number of diggers who were killed during the war. Janet McCalman, author of Sex and Suffering described Dunbar’s story as  ‘a timely and necessary contribution to the centenary of Anzac.’ 

Most of these men had been infected with venereal disease in the brothels of Egypt. In the 1880s 40,000 British soldiers landed in Egypt and stayed and were the customers of the numerous bars, brothels and sex shows. In 1914, AIF forces from Australia that were headed for England via the Suez Canal were ordered to disembark and to set up their camps close to Cairo with the result that thousands of cashed-up Australians were living very close to the infamous brothels of Cairo and very far from their families at home.

Dunbar writes that the boys had money and freedom and regularly frequented the ‘Wozza’, an irresistible and fabulous place that was really a collection of squalid run-down apartment buildings known for venereal diseases: gonorrhoea, syphilis and chancroid. Condoms were not in common use in 1915 and the healing power of antibiotics was yet to be discovered. Abstinence from sex was the only sure way of avoiding the disease with prophylactic treatments such as antiseptic ointments to be applied to the genitals proving unpopular and rubber condoms extremely uncomfortable. In 1915 gonorrhoea, syphilis and chancroid were treated with drugs made from mercury, arsenic and silver and other toxic materials.

Claire Wright, author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka writes:

 The Secrets of the Anzacs is a full-frontal assault on our senses and our historical sensibilities. Deeply researched and always fascinating, Dunbar helps restore the Anzac legend to something more tangible, more complex, and, oddly, more heroic.’

In this interesting book, Raden Dunbar, retired schoolteacher, principal and university lecturer and author rarely mentions the prostituted women and only briefly acknowledges the wives, girl friends and mothers of the men. His concern and interest is for the infected soldiers of whom one in ten were married. But what of the prostituted women? Why were they forced to prostitute themselves? What do we know about the sex industry in WW1? Were the women in the brothels treated for their venereal disease? What about the wives and girlfriends? Were they infected also?

I would have hoped that researcher and author Claire Wright winner of the 2014 Stella Prize would have commented on the obvious omission in Raden Dunbar’s untold story of venereal disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919- the women’s story.  In The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Wright researches the history of Victoria’s gold rushes and the Eureka Stockade – addressing the recording of this episode which has largely ignored the presence and influence of women on the gold fields.

Little is known about what happened to the women who worked in the wartime brothels, especially after the war ended. If it is known that 60,000 Australian soldiers got either gonorrhea or syphilis while serving, then a great many of these women also suffered these diseases.

Their story remains untold.


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A Centenary worth celebrating



While the Centenary of Anzac received blanket media coverage, the three-day conference marking the centenary of the historic 1915 Congress of Women passed largely unnoticed.

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Anzac Day, Propaganda, and the Making of Endless Wars


Screen shot 2015-04-15 at 5.42.51 PMAnzac Day will soon be upon us and publicity surrounding the centenary has reached fever pitch. But what is really going on?

Last wednesday, I attended a forum Anzac Day: Past, Present and Future   held at the Camberwell Civic Centre where Professors Joe Camilleri and Marilyn Lake were joined by Ted Baillieu, Serdar Baycan, Neil Smith and Claire Chisholm in an ABC-style Q&A discussion on the history and future of Anzac Day. Continue reading

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Why stop at poppies!

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It was common at the start of the 20th century to speak of ‘ Australian Ideals’. What are our values and ideals today? Perhaps those who so generously supported the 5000 Poppy campaign could use their goodwill to help Australia progress rather than feed its militaristic tendencies. And rather than answer the call to knit or crochet a poppy perhaps these resources could be spent on the many social problems of our time. Why stop at poppies! Continue reading

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Haifa Fragments

In Haifa Fragments 

khulud khamis unpacks the multiple layers of culture, religion, sexuality, politics, feminism and nationalism in the hope of gathering the fragmented pieces of the past and reclaiming the lost contiguity of being Palestinian. – Samah Sabawi, Palestinian playwright and commentator

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Maisoon is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, raised as a Christian and in a relationship with a Muslim. Her boyfriend Ziyad wants the tradition-defying Maisoon to commit to their relationship. ‘…For Allah’s sake, Mais, what’s your problem? I want to marry you! I want us to be a real family.’

But the young jewellery designer is determined to find her own path with both Ziyad and her father constantly frustrated with her.  Her father, Majid dreams that his only daughter will become a doctor. To Layla his wife, he sighs: “Everything is wrong. Her quitting medical school…and…and…” ” She’s going out with a Muslim!”

Majid has his reasons and these and his carefully hidden past eventually become known to his wilful daughter. In the eyes of Maisoon, her father was the responsible bank clerk who worked overtime most days and always hoped he’d be promoted but wasn’t. He was the meek obedient citizen who knew that he didn’t belong:’Because his name was Majid’. He was of the generation ‘who never dared to raise their heads’- ‘those who grew up under military rule’. Majid wanted a better life for his daughter and disapproved of her working for the Yahudiyya (Jewish) boutique owner…’she could have done better’.

As Maisoon uncovers forgotten papers she is moved by what she learns of her father’s political past. The young Majid had been in love with a Muslim woman and taken part in the armed resistance, resulting in jailtime. He was also a poet.

Forgive me.

So today they finally got you. 

Last time we smoked nargila together you laughed. You said, 

They’ll never get you.

But they did.

You said, ” Who’s interested in a fighter whose weapon is the pencil?”

But they were.


‘Baba, the bank clerk? A poet? Could it be?’ This man, her father who was so angry about her own political activities. The same man who implored her to give up her peace activism: ‘It’s gone, our land is gone, and we are citizens of this state. You can’t bring back the past. It’s dead’.

khulud khamis, unpacks multiple layers in this intriguing novel. The layers are many and concern themselves with those of culture, religion, sexuality, politics, feminism and nationalism. Maisoon lives in a complex world: she is a feminist and peace activist who rails and acts against the gross injustices metered out to those who live in the occupied territories. And as a feminist she wants to live her own life, not the one that her father wants her to lead. She resists a permanent relationship with Ziyad as she explores her sexuality with Shahd. And as she comes to grips with her father’s secret life – a life formed of struggle involving culture, religion and nationalism, ‘the lost contiguity of being Palestinian’ is reclaimed.

Haifa Fragments is published by Spinifex Press

Release Date: March 8, 2015


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Our world in transition

Petra White wrote this evocative poem, published in The Age on Saturday October 11

A History of the Siege


Dark days are here.

Nothing can stop them,

they crowd like hair around the temples,

everyone knows

and now we can say, at last, it is dark.

On Manus, they are walking along fine edges of themselves,

under a borrowed moon, a borrowed sun.

Nobody follows them, they would lead

only to an end of the world.

When was it darker than this?

Oh it was darker.

And the darkness is genuine,

our fingers have been dipped in it, it is felt

by all who would feel.

Where does it come from?

Us, in our masses, the massing cloud?

Our politicians, they who balance us

in their thready hands, and then plunge portions

of us and them into the pit?

Up there, a human form lies over the land.


I really appreciate this poem; it speaks of our world today.

Our dark times was the subject of a recent article by Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, in which he wrote: 

We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole.


Last night I attended the second of Joseph Camilleri’s  public lectures called Rethinking the Future. His topic:  Coping with Risk and Uncertainty: Volatile Markets, Anxious States and Tentative Social Movements. He described our world as one in transition where people, goods & services, capital, technology, arms, information, images, carbon emissions, and viruses move across borders at ever increasing scale, speed & intensity. Such rapid transition, he claimed creates certain risks and stresses experienced by people, communities and the planet. We’re familiar with the stresses and we also understand that these will only get worse.

But what was really disconcerting was his assessment of our governments’ abilities to handle the many crises facing us – describing this as very limited. You can give up any hope that those in power will come to their senses and govern ethically with concern for the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants. For they are accustomed to finding themselves trapped between competing pressures and maintain the tendency to overstate certain dangers and understate others. For example: The Australian government’s overreaction to refugees and on the other hand its understating of the need to act on climate change. We witness this happening of course but it is good to have it explained, and more debate and discussion on this state of affairs can only be a good thing.

So where is any change or agitation to come from? During the lecture we were reminded of the wonderful social movements that graced our lives in the 1960s and 70s: feminism, student activism, gay liberation, civil rights, peace activism, and environmentalism.  Such movements:

  • politicised technological change
  • called into question the legitimacy of the state, its decision making processes, and in particular its inability to manage risks to life, health, security and identity
  • insisted on bringing ethical considerations into bureaucratic and technical discourse
  • Expressed a new conception of space & time

These social movements are still in existence but are less visible and less active. They are unlikely to gather sufficient numbers to force change.

Joseph Camilleri concluded rather optimistically that though the future will be difficult, all is not lost; dynamic knowledge remains, our technical skills enable greater transparency and accountability, and there is increasing disenchantment with politics and business as usual.

This is a good sign although disconcerting as unrest is sure to ensue as the public sector shrinks and with it diminished access to public health, housing, and a healthy, happy environment.

Bring on the revolution!







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Constancy and tranquillity are trashed in our market-driven world

Are you sick of this market-driven world? You should be, writes George Monbiot.

These words speak to those of us who feel at odds with life.

I live across the road from a new housing development, the creation of which has disrupted my tranquil mornings, my peaceful days, and heightened my angst with ‘the self serving con of neoliberalism’ that Monbiot claims has eroded the human values the market was supposed to emancipate’. The 300 new dwellings have no gardens to speak of  and are cluttered so closely together that any semblance of privacy will be nigh impossible. Human values and common courtesy have no place in the rush to transform this once quiet green neighbourhood. Both young and mature gum trees have been sacrificed to this altar of greed where  bulldozers and excavators fire up at 7 and don’t stop until tea time. But it will be all worth it in the end, won’t it? Mass produced, shoddy dwellings for 1100 more residents – whatever it takes!

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On my nature strip I have a large tree – a constant feature and the provider of ample shade in the hot summer  months. Without consulting me, the construction company dug a deep hole  around the tree exposing its roots in order to access infrastructure. Calls to the company resulted in mere excuses that the work is delayed and the backfill of the tree is not imminent. Although the council arborist has assured me the tree will not suffer, I am not so sure and have taken photos of the tree in its splendour and again in its present state- with its roots dangerously exposed. Constancy and tranquillity are trashed in our market-driven world and as a result I am at odds with the world and not ashamed to say it.

My angst is common, for it is now recognised that we are witnessing a time in history when individuals, communities and countries are becoming increasingly stressed and vulnerable.  Writing for The Conversation Professor Joseph Camillleri  asks:  Is a vulnerable world teetering on the edge of a new Dark Age? And how do we explain the long list of financial, environmental and humanitarian emergencies, epidemics, small and larger conflicts, genocides, war crimes, terrorist attacks and military interventions? Why does the international community seem powerless to prevent any of this?

He explains that a new cold war is in the making amidst our costly military interventions in the middle east . But our unease about endless wars and the future of humanity are not shared by those whose dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism. Many seek to do very nicely out of our intervention in Iraq once again. Stock prices for Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman set all-time record highs last week as it became increasingly clear that President Obama was committed to a massive, sustained air war in Iraq and Syria. In fact, It’s nothing short of a windfall for these and other huge defense contractors, who’ve been getting itchy about federal budget pressures that threatened to slow the rate of increase in military spending.

Monbiot reminds us that : The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. I don’t envy my new neighbours who are buying into the housing development and taking out huge mortgages they can ill afford. Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 6.15.12 PMTheir massive houses are surrounded by concrete, they have no cooling gardens. There will be little time to walk in the park , most will spend the best years of their lives working at meaningless jobs that do little to foster humanity. It’s no wonder so many of us feel at odds with the world.

Monbiot offers reassurance as he writes:

So, if you don’t fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed – it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.





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Japan’s apology to the survivors of sexual slavery must remain

Screen shot 2014-07-06 at 7.56.32 PMIt was with surprise and regret that I read the news that the present Japanese government is considering revoking its apology to the thousands of women forced into prostitution during World War 11.

Tragically up to 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II in one of the world’s biggest cases of sexual trafficking. Most of the women came from Korea, with many also from Japan and the Dutch East Indies. Incredibly the sex slaves became known as ‘comfort women,’ – and the brothels  which were insultingly termed ‘comfort stations’, were spread throughout the Pacific, including then East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Screen shot 2014-07-06 at 7.25.05 PMAdvertisements such as this one (left)  were to be found on billboards of the day. Not surprisingly they failed to attract volunteers into prostitution and so young girls were kidnapped and taken to military rape camps. Most of the women were under the age of 20, with some as young 12 for whom the rape was their first sexual experience.

Can you believe it?

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Japanese government finally issued a long overdue apology to the surviving  women who’d been forced to serve as sex slaves and although the apology didn’t include compensation, it admitted that the women were “recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, and so on” and “lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere”.

Over recent years the wartime sexual trafficking of women has become a political issue with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe particularly uncomfortable with any reference to the abduction of the women into sexual slavery. Abe is an eager supporter of Japan’s alliance with the U.S. government which insists that Japan stand by the 1993 Kono Declaration issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to the women forced into military brothels.

So the Japanese government, hell-bent on un-apologising and undoing the words of the apology is doing just this but without officially withdrawing the declaration. Instead it is casting doubts on the credibility of the victims and changing the meaning of the word ‘force’ to refer to only extreme cases where women were abducted by gunpoint.

Japan is not alone in having such a despicable history of sexual violence in war. Take the case of post-war Germany when the Russian army invaded Berlin and took the local women as their sex slaves.Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 4.26.53 PM Presently I’m reading  A Woman in Berlin, the astonishing diary of a woman fighting for survival amid the horror and inhumanity of war. The anonymous author was a 34 year-old journalist who kept a diary during the two-month occupation by the Russians. The author did not want the book to be published during her lifetime. When she died in 2001 her identity was still unknown.

Faced with the inevitable event – her impending rape by Russian soldiers, the ‘Woman in Berlin’ makes up her mind to survive:

I’ll think of something when the time comes. I’ve never been so removed from myself, so alienated. All my feelings seem dead, except for the drive to live. They shall not destroy me.

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In Not a Choice, Not a Job, author Janice Raymond discusses the work of The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) in researching and documenting the role of the U.S. military in buying women and children for prostitution all over the world. Raymond explains that CATW Asia- Pacific has connections with organisations of survivors of prostitution in the Philippines which have documented the abuses of military prostitution users around the various U.S. bases.

Japan is not alone in its abuse of women in wartime but it’s desire to un-apologise for its role in the sexual abuse of thousands of women is regrettable. The world knows that hundreds of thousands of women were forced into sexual slavery to be systemically raped for the pleasure of the Imperial Japanese Army.

The 1993 apology needs to remain.






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Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir

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Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir is described by author and feminist Kathleen Barry as a deeply human narrative set within the growing body of feminist writings on war. 
Olivera Simić tells the story of her life which changed irrevocably after the death of the former Yugoslavian President, Josip Tito  when she was just seven years old. ‘I was proud to be a Yugoslavian girl and belonged to what I regarded as a heterogeneous multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious community,’ writes Simić. The author’s experience of growing up in a typical Yugoslavian family, is one of the areas of her remarkable life, that is covered in Surviving Peace. Even now, and decades since the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was split apart, when the human rights activist, feminist and academic is asked where she is from, she replies, Yugoslavia.

Olivera writes about the war crimes committed by the Serbs to the immense dismay of her fiercely proud and increasingly nationalistic Serbian father. Simić and her father are both ‘obsessed with the war, Srebrenica and the dead.’ Her father refuses to believe that the genocide happened, while his activist daughter continues to dig up all she can about the horrible events of July 1995 when the Serbian army killed Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica.

To understand this memoir it helps to have an understanding of Yugoslavia and the irrevocable disruption to its successful existence that came after the death of President Tito. Consisting of six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia, Yugoslavia was held together by the dictator Josip Tito, a man much regarded for his ability to unite the many ethnicities and religions that existed in the federation. After Tito’s death in 1980, ambitious politicians such as Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia stepped in to fill the power void left by Tito and one by one the republics began to assert their independence. Slovenia became the first Yugoslavian republic to have free elections and in 1991 declared its independence. When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian war began, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats and resulting in a three-way war between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. This is the ugly background to Olivera Simić’s story, Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir. 

Prior to the Bosnian war, inter-ethnic relations were stable, and held in check by the firm dictator’s rule and as the author testifies, the former socialist Yugoslavia was a happy and harmonious place in which to reside; simple and communal and offering free education and medical care. But when the war began in 1992, families became divided, good friends became enemies, and common languages were no longer spoken. And just as the former states of Yugoslavia forged their independence and new identities, Simić’s life began to change. Originally a Bosnian woman, she became a Serb woman, wearing a label that as she explains is an ‘alien, ethnic identity…a key feature of my being’ and which she claims makes it very difficult for her to write about the crimes committed by her people, the ‘Serbs’.

But, write she does, for she considers she has ‘a moral responsibility’ to write believing that she  can correct some of the harm done by the telling of the stories of war. ‘I feel compelled to write, and I treasure the refuge that writing brings me,’ writes Simić.  However ‘speaking up comes at a cost’ a point not lost on the author who finds opposition to her writing not only from her father but also from her brother. In 1992 when he was only 20 years old, Simić’s brother was drafted by the Serb army, an experience, according to Simić that changed him for ever. Rather than deserting the army like many of his friends for he feared that his family would come to harm, he remained in the army, fought on the front line, and saw many of his friends killed. While he is angry at his sister for her writing, he is silent about his war experiences, and fiercely hides his war trauma.

As I read Surviving Peace, I am also aware that although the wars in the Balkans are over for the time being, our world still faces many unsolved armed conflicts and it’s the populations of these warring countries who will, like the Bosnians, the Croats and the Serbs, be made to suffer, and who will have to find a way to survive peace. For this author, finding a place in peacetime is a challenge. In discussing her feelings about the end of the Bosnian war, Simić writes: ‘Instead of bringing me peace, the end of the war has produced an inner war that I  struggle with every day’. For as well as this account being one of survival in wartime, Surviving Peace is a memoir in which the author acknowledges the many difficulties that come with being a post-conflict survivor. Simić documents her personal struggle as she tries to come to terms with the many traumas she endured and which  followed her  as surely as she traversed her way across four continents. At one point in her story, Simić admits to being a patient in a psychiatric ward after she had reached a state of ‘stupor’ descending ‘in a state of inertia and lethargy’.

Olivera  Simić has had a remarkable life so far and documents her many life events and traumas in Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir, beginning when she was the seven-year old girl and experiencing the end of her simple, harmonious life. Simić is now an author, a feminist, a human rights activist and an academic. She lives in Australia and works at the Griffith Law School.

Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir is published by Spinifex Press  and is due for release in August 2014





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