Peace-building or war-making?

HSV Public Lecture by Professor Michael Hamel-Green, Australian Living Peace Museum, at Balwyn Library on 23 July 2015

In 1992 an International Network of Peace Museums was set up in The Hague to liaise with kindred museums throughout the world. There are currently more than sixty, though none in Australia. They are non-profit organisations with the goal of promoting a culture of peace by displaying peace-related material and informing the public about peace and non-violent achievements by individuals, organisations, campaigns and events. Included also are sites and institutions involved in peace education.

In 2001, Dr Valerie Yule, a psychologist and member of HSV, put the case for an Australian peace museum eloquently, saying:

 Peace museums would not be like the war museums that show the business of war. Instead we would see displays that show: beautiful cities and the desolate wastelands that have been made from them; how people have suffered and have survived (war is harder on the living than the dead); what it is like in countries that do not know war, and how their disputes are resolved and how much peace depends on justice; examination of the causes of war, and how they have been, and still could be, removed; how human energy can turn to other things than aggression; stories and histories which live to warn us; an honour-roll of real-life peacemakers; ways of imagining peace and pursuing it.

Australia commemorates war in manifold ways. For example, more than $40 million has been set aside this year to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and other First World War theatres. And almost every major park and country town has some form of war memorial or item of memorabilia, while the heroism of our soldiers in those battles has become enshrined in our national identity.

Australian contributions to peace

By contrast, while there have been many Australian contributions to peace-building, there is no site which collates or commemorates those efforts. There is no website or physical location which can be used by students, the media or the general public as a starting-point to appreciate these initiatives, such as:

  • Australia’s role in the creation of the United Nations in 1945 and the development of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948;
  • Anti-conscription movements during the First World War, and their role in the successful referenda in 1916 and 1917 to prevent conscription in Australia;
  • Australian anti-nuclear testing movements, circa 1960s to 1980s, which, in collaboration with other anti-nuclear movements, stopped French nuclear testing in the Pacific and spear-headed negotiations for the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone;
  • Australian peace movement initiatives to end Australian involvement in the Vietnam War and conscription for it;
  • Australian-led peace-keeping missions in Cambodia and Timor, which were successful in helping to end conflict and facilitate nation-building;
  • Contributions from peace organisations to inter-national campaigns, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), indigenous groups, peace research centres and faith communities. An example of the latter is the contribution from the Quakers in catalysing the Ottawa Convention to ban anti-personnel mines in the 1990s.

The Australian Living Peace Museum (ALPM)

In March this year, a formal working group was established. There is a Board with eight members (on which Michael is Chairperson) and a Curatorial Committee. They are assisted by a broader panel of curatorial experts who monitor the quality and authenticity of exhibits.

Exhibits will range from photos to documents, leaflets, songs and posters. It is envisaged that each exhibit will have a short description, as well as links to other, more detailed sources of information. Over time there will also be video clips. The material will not only cover historical events but also ongoing peace action and research.

It is likely that the exhibits on the ALPM web site will be ready for launching in October this year.

ALPM needs volunteers to help with:

  • research, summary writing, outreach, committee work, website work;
  • funding;
  • liaison, such as libraries, organisations and individuals who may have relevant resources.

Anyone interested can contact Michael at Michael.Hamel-Green@vu.edu.au or peace@borderlands.org.au

A very interesting discussion followed Michael’s lecture, encompassing salient political initiatives by the governments of Australia and New Zealand, William Cooper (an indigenous peace activist) and the cultural dynamics of peace activism.

Michael described some of the details of his past experiences as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, a fuller account of which is given in Peter King’s book, Australia’s Vietnam (1983).

Report by Jennie Stuart

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