I remember watching TV the morning of 9/11 and being shocked at what unfolded. I’m not sure if it was on the TV or the radio at the same time, that someone announced that if Australia was called to join in a response to this atrocity, that we would send troops and their would be conscription if necessary.
I sat with tears streaming down my face. My son was of an age that he could be conscripted, or close to it and built like a warrior. I wept with rage and silently vowed that they would not have my son. I had loved him and raised him and they would not have him. They would not have him to throw his life, his potential, his blossoming self – to throw like fodder into the gaping mouth of some anonymous war machine. I shuddered and wept and raged.
Suddenly, a door opened in me and I was connected to all women, all mothers, all time – all those who have had a son – or daughter, a husband, a brother, a friend – sent to war and casually slaughtered in the name of something senseless and momentary; anyone who had lost someone, or had them injured, traumatized, changed by the ravages of war. The waste of lives had always been visible and palpable to me, but this intimate feeling of loss and devastation was new; this knowing someone and loving them deeply and having them sacrificed on a foreign altar, when they were just beginning in life.
Then an announcement came that the earlier announcement about conscription and participation by Australia was irresponsible and premature and there were apologies.
I sighed heavily, but in those minutes I had been changed.
At 19, I had worked as a clerk, for the Australian Defence Force, at Victoria Barracks, for 12 months. The senior men I worked alongside, who had ‘seen action’ told stories about their experiences and talked about the senselessness of war and the need to keep the peace. This made sense to me.
Standing in the shoes of all those who have lost someone to war, on that morning of 9/11 was more than an experience of story that made sense, it was the experience of a story that was personal. This is where empathy is born, when we remember – “There, but for the grace of the gods, go I.”
Today, as images of the slain, the injured and the displaced fill the stories that we share around the globe, I cannot remain detached.
Peace is not a thing, an object, a fact. It is a dynamic web of relationships we must create together every day.
Image: The Ghost of Loss by Niki na Meadhra