The Week Links: in which our blogger has cause to celebrate!

Much cause, in fact. When I was in town the other day, I discovered that there is an Indian grocery store coming to one of the shopping centres. I cannot wait to investigate. Yum, Indian food! Spices and chapati and curry mixes and interesting sweets! I’ll be sure to let you know what I think when it opens.

The other thing which is exciting is that I’ve put up a website for my editing business, which I’m starting up. I’m expecting mostly local people to contact me, but of course, if you (or others you know) are interested, feel free to get in touch! That link up there on the right hand side—that’s me. I’ve ordered business cards. How ridiculously mature of me.

I also have another exciting announcement, but that deserves a post of its own. WATCH THIS SPACE.

Now, on with the links! You get an extra one this week because I missed last week. See how I’m looking out for you?

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Held to Account.

I recently went out with my dad to chop wood for our fire. We borrowed a ute from a friend and drove out to the farm of another friend, and loaded up the back of the ute with logs. While taking a break and eating our lunch, our conversation meandered through a number of topics, from Facebook to university to current affairs. One of the stories we discussed was the trial of Oskar Groening, the so-called ‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, who was recently sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the concentration camp.

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Stormy Sunday.

Given that we’re expecting some wild weather this (Saturday) afternoon and evening, I’m quickly scheduling this post in case we lose power. So far, we’ve just had lots of drizzle and it’s a wonderfully cool day, but perhaps that’s the calm before the storm. I’ve decided to put the car in the shed later, just in case.

Right, then. I’m off to decide what we’ll eat tonight. Enjoy the links and enjoy your Sunday!

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The Serendipitous Saunter.

Good Sunday to you all! It’s been a busy week here on the south coast and looks to get even busier in the lead-up to Christmas. End-of-year parties, the Christmas pageant, daycare graduation (I kid you not)… I keep emailing myself reminders because I’m sure I’ll forget something or another.

So, I’m very ready for an early night tonight and looking forward to First and Second Offspring being back at school tomorrow, and then I can cull their toys. But I need to get through the day first, so I’ll go and do that, and leave you with some links to read.

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Spaziergang am Sonntag.

I get to cheat and use German for the title this week because it’s the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember this happening, but unfortunately I was thirteen and didn’t really have the wherewithal to fully comprehend the significance of it. Ah, youth.

In any case, I should go and see what my suspiciously quiet Offspring are doing, so without further delay, here are this week’s links:

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What Were You Expecting?

People often wonder how it was that, despite the fact that Hitler was very clear about his feelings of anti-Semitism in particular and xenophobia in general, he managed to quite legally (if very sneakily using rather questionable loopholes and mass intimidation) become dictator of Germany in the 1930s. We wonder, when we look back, how it was that people were convinced to let him even hold office, when only a few years earlier, he’d tried to overthrow the government.

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So Why Didn’t They Do Something?

I spoke with my dad on the phone the other day. He was studying for an exam (he’s doing an Arts degree at uni), and was telling me about some of the texts they’d covered in the unit, specifically about Primo Levi’s ‘The Grey Zone’.

‘I wanted to ask you about German attitudes to the concentration camps,’ he said. ‘When you were there, it was almost ten years after Levi had published that book. What were the attitudes of the German people you spoke with, about the war and the camps?’

‘They were very well educated about it,’ I said. ‘The children learnt about it in school–they covered it several times, in fact–and there wasn’t one person I spoke with, who didn’t think it was a terrible occurrence. There was very much an attitude of ‘never again.’ They absolutely wanted to mark this as a dark part of their history.’

‘A lot of the students in the course thought that the Germans must have known what was going on–that they must have known,’ Dad said. ‘And why didn’t they do something about it?’

‘Well, some of them probably had an idea,’ I said. ‘But you know, most of them didn’t. And the official line was that the Jews were being ‘repatriated’, and it was wartime. You didn’t ask too many questions. As a teenager, I always thought that I’d be one of those people to hide people in my attic. You know? I thought, oh, I would have been brave, and gone against the regime, but really, I probably wouldn’t have. I would have kept my head down, looked after my family, tried to stay alive.’

Most of the German people really didn’t know the atrocities of the Holocaust, and when they discovered them, were horrified and appalled that this could happen, least of all that it could happen in their own backyards. And although many did during the war what I imagine I would have done, others formed resistance groups, and even conspired to assassinate Hitler. These were people who, despite knowing the risks to themselves and their families and friends, tried to stop the tide of fascism.

It’s very easy to look back at the past and criticise people for their inaction, but it strikes me how we fail to consider not only the historical context of that past, but also how little perspective we have of the present.

Consider wartime Europe in the 1940s. Propaganda was everywhere; each side felt justified in its aggression. Anti-Semitism was a prevalent sentiment long before it was used to justify the ghettos, and the idea of the German race as physically and mentally superior was used to justify the removal to camps of homosexuals and people with disabilities. Does this excuse a whole population? Of course not. However, it certainly illustrates just how well the Nazi propaganda machine played on the fears and prejudices of the German people, just as the propaganda machines in every other country did the same for their populations.

We would do well to ask, to which kind of information did the average person have access? Did most people have the opportunity to read or listen to independent media? What kinds of details about the war were available to people on street? This was the 1940s. There was no television. There was radio, and there were newspapers. The media was tightly controlled. Those who really wanted to ask questions as to what was going on, may have been able to access information other than that which was state-sanctioned, but it was dangerous and difficult to do so.

In the years since, our world has become much, much smaller. We live in a global age, where that which happens on the other side of the world is instantly reported in news and social media. Sadly, the Holocaust was not the last tragedy or genocide in our recent history. Since then we’ve had any number of examples of human cruelty. Consider just a few which have happened in my lifetime–conflicts which have occurred in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are recent enough for me to remember nightly reports on the news. That’s the mainstream news, not just small independent groups. We saw it whenever we turned on the television. Everyone knew.

We knew.

So why didn’t we do something?

Why didn’t we call our politicians immediately and tell them that action needed to be taken to prevent this? Why didn’t we insist that peacekeepers weren’t doing enough?

The treatment of asylum seekers by my own government appals me. The fact that the average life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is ten years lower than for Australians of European descent is inexcusable. Mining companies are using questionable techniques to extract gas from beneath the ground, and polluting earth and water, and getting away with it. I read and see and hear disturbing news, everyday, and how often do I act on it? What do I do?

Sometimes I write a blog post. Sometimes I retweet an article. Sometimes I write to a politician. Most of the time, I sigh, shake my head, and then focus back on what I need to make for tea, or how I’m going to fit the purchase of new shoes and school supplies into the weekly budget, or whether the baby’s recent illness is of enough concern to take him to the doctor, or whether we are going to all have clean underwear tomorrow. Those are the immediate, relevant, important things, for me right now. We do what we can for those around us, and then, when we have energy left over, we do extra for others. We focus first on ourselves and our families and our friends, then on those outside our circle. It sounds harsh and uncaring, but that is survival. And in times of war or conflict, surviving is all the more difficult. Knowing this also makes us truly realise the bravery of those who have made the decision to stand against an imposing and threatening regime.

We might well look back at all the times when people have stood by and done nothing, and lament inaction or ignorance. But we certainly are not in a position to judge them for it, unless we are willing to stand up and push for change in our own imperfect world.

A friend reminded me that this past Monday was both the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is so important to mark these anniversaries, as a reminder that we need to think outside our own circles, and be brave. When we see wrongdoing, we need to speak out, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it makes us unpopular, even when it’s dangerous. Only then, will we be able to look back at the past, and admit that we really did all we could, and that we affected change. We can say proudly, that we did something.

To the Victor Belong the Spoils. And the Flag.

‘Do you think the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate?’ the Handsome Sidekick asked me as I was slouched on the couch, reading.

I thought about that for a moment.

‘Well… it was the flag of the South, during the Civil War, right? So I guess there is that aspect, with the slavery. I can see how people would be upset about it being flown.  But… flags, you know? I mean, who decides which flag should be flown?’

Who decides?

It turns out, as we did a bit of reading about the Confederate flag and the evolution of the present American flag, that there were a lot more flags and banners around, at the time, than we realised. It raised the question of which flags are considered acceptable, and what a powerful symbol they are.

I can’t imagine anyone flying a flag emblazoned with a swastika without wanting to express his or her sympathies for extreme right wing politics, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism. If I see the flag of the rising sun, previously the flag of Japan, I think of Japanese soldiers in World War II, and the extremes they went to, in battle, in treatment of prisoners. People don’t generally fly these flags anymore, and if they do, they’re looking to elicit shock or outcry. These flags are tainted with the worst of humanity. The war in which they were displayed did not end in the favour of those flying these flags. They are symbols of defeat, as well as of cruelty, bloodshed, ruthlessness.

But my flag was on the winning side in that war. And while I certainly don’t condone the atrocities committed by either of the nations in question, I also wonder about the blood on my banner.


(Australian Flag)

I’m used to this flag. I don’t pay much attention to it when I’m home, but when I’m overseas, it’s a beacon of familiarity; it catches my eye and I feel a connection to my homeland, a sense of knowing I belong somewhere, that there are my people, many of whom talk like me (and if they don’t, they can usually still understand me), who are living there by choice, and where the road rules and the currency and the television shows are like old friends. Not necessarily good friends, but the kind where I know where I stand, even if we don’t always agree with one another.

People have fought and died under my flag. They have travelled to world wars and foreign conflicts, wearing my flag proudly. They have held it up as a symbol of mateship, fairness, courage under fire. But my flag is a symbol of my country and its history, and that includes the dark, shadowy moments as well as the shining ones. Moments such as the deliberate massacres of the Indigenous population, for reasons I simply can’t fathom, which to my 21st century standards seem horrific and unintelligible. Or foreign policy decisions to increase the number of ‘white’ immigrants and keep out the number of immigrants of different skin colours. Or the decision to go to war based on flimsy evidence, the ramifications of which are still felt overseas and at home, and which seemed to me even at the time, more about defending someone else’s flag than our own.

My flag is not without its dark past. It even takes from the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Under those colours, countries have been conquered with little regard for indigenous populations. Under this flag, people have been displaced, disregarded, dispensed with.

What’s the difference between the Union Jack, or the Australian flag, or the American flag, and the swastika or the rising sun or the Confederate flags? A flag is there to represent the nation or group which flies it. It represents everything: the good, the bad, the ridiculous. It is a symbol of ownership, pride, nationalism, shame.  It cannot help but carry with it a mixed bag of emotions — it represents a people over decades, and over decades, people change. They evolve, while the flag remains the same.

We attribute weight and importance to flags; without those attributes, they would simply be pieces of fabric. They can lend solace or inspire hatred. We place them in the ground, or on the moon, or under the sea to demonstrate that we were there, and we have succeeded where someone else has not. If ever there were a loaded symbol, it is the flag. In a battle, the winner hoist their flag high, and the loser’s is left in the dust. So it is with history.

Some may argue that flying a Confederate flag is to honour cultural ties to their forefathers, and to those who fought valiantly against an enemy that threatened that culture. However, it can’t be ignored that the Confederate flag has also been used as a symbol of a racism, of segregation and even vilification. Those who choose to fly this flag must ask themselves if it is possible to separate the parts of the culture they wish to celebrate, from the racist and hateful elements which existed in that same culture. One might argue that the Confederate flag’s original meaning has been hijacked by other more extreme groups, but the point remains the same: it does represent a dark moment in history, which darkness unfortunately follows it, right up to the present day. And flying it is going to cause offence and sadness, not only because it reminds many of us of a painful past, but also because it reminds us that there are many elements of that past which still exist in the present. Can it really be worth causing that pain and offence, for the sake of commemorating a highly selective version of events?

However, we often believe when we win a battle, our actions are justified, and that all criticism can be squarely focussed on the losing side. But while the victors may collect the spoils, may decide what history remembers and may decide whose flag is flown, it is important to remember that every flag is stained by conflict and intolerance and ugliness. We should not presume that our own past is without its transgressions. Rather we must accept that, whichever flag we fly, wrongs have been done and mistakes have been made, and how we accept and overcome these will determine just how proud we can be of that piece of coloured fabric at the top of the pole.

A Cabin in the Woods.

After I finished high school here in Australia, I went to Germany as an exchange student for twelve months. I stayed with three host families, and was with the middle family over the summer break. This was particularly fortunate for two reasons: first, they were such a warm and welcoming family that I felt completely at home, and second, they owned a house in northern Sweden, where they were planning to spend two weeks summer holidays. And they wanted me to join them.

Sweden was gorgeous. It’s almost twenty years since I was there, but I still remember just how beautiful it was, especially in the area where we stayed. The summer was also unusually warm, which suited my West-Australian constitution right down to the ground, especially since there were several lakes in which to go swimming. We hiked through the forest, where I saw blueberries in the wild for the first time, and delighted in the lush green which was so different to the woodlands of my homeland. Occasionally we saw other hikers, since it was a popular area, and shortly after we’d greeted a couple on the path, we came to a clearing, and I saw a small hut.

‘It’s for hikers and campers,’ my host father told me when I asked him about it. ‘For sheltering in, or sleeping overnight.’

‘What a cool idea!’ I said, with the naivete of a rather indoorsy young person who avoided camping whenever she could.

‘So you use it for as long as you need,’ said my host father, ‘and then you leave it…’

‘In the same condition you found it,’ I finished.

‘No, no,’ he smiled. ‘You leave it how you would wish to find it.’

This is such a wonderful sentiment, isn’t it? If everyone does this, then the place stays habitable, and the work for each person is less. Occasionally, there will be someone who comes by and leaves a mess, which the next person has to tidy up. Annoying for that person, sure, but that’s where the secret lies. You do the work at that point: so that you can enjoy the cabin while you’re there, and so that those who come after you won’t have to do it. And if you don’t do it, who will?

To my 18-year-old self, this was a bit of an epiphany, which, as with most epiphanies, made enough of an impact to stay with me for the next two decades. Granted, it could be argued that it means that some people will never clean up after themselves, but you know, that’s kind of how the world is. You could go hungry, waiting for that to change. Instead, you’re best off making yourself some lunch, and just getting on with the clean-up.

Lately, as I’ve been cleaning up the mess other people leave, I’ve been thinking about how this kind of philosophy can be applied to so many other facets of life. How, if we just stopped all the finger-pointing, and got on with the clean-up, there might be less mess. If we stopped lamenting how people are just not as friendly as they were, and instead started going out of our way to show a little more kindness, we might surprise ourselves with the results. If we composted and recycled more, and drove our cars less, the world would be just a little less polluted.

There is always a place to encourage individuals to take personal responsibility; there’s even a place for laws to attempt to limit some behaviours and promote others. But surely, the best way to start the ball rolling is to walk up and give it shove. Because by doing so, you can guarantee that it will get done. And it also means that when you leave this world, you can be content with the fact that at least, you’ve done your best to leave it how you would wish to find it.