Jesuit peace activist John Dear has been in Australia for the past month, speaking to peace activists in this country, sharing ideas and spreading the gospel of non-violent prostest. He has written 25 books, has two Masters degrees in theology, has been arrested 75 times, and faces another court case when he returns to the United States in April. James Massola spoke with him late last week.
James Massola: After being here for a month, what do you think of Australia?
John Dear: Well I love Australia, and I love Australians, and the only thing I don't like is your co-operation with the United States. I think Australians are becoming very comfortable and complacent by and large, like North America, and that's a great, great danger. It looks to me like Australia is like we were 20 or 30 years ago and the United States has changed so radically in that time. At every level. And we are losing
all our civil liberties. Cheney says this is the new century of the American empire. I see that the Australian Government is aligning itself with the US Government, with the war in Iraq and nuclear weapons, and wanting to be part of the whole big global empire.
JM: So you think Americans started to just tend to their own backyards 20 years ago?
JD: Yes, in the early 1980s under Reagan we really changed and became very comfortable with ourselves. Now we are waking up and seeing the direction that the country is going in. The best thing I have experienced, besides the thousands of people I have met, are the real committed Christians and peace activists who are standing up and doing things…for example the Pine Gap Four, who are going on trial on May 29th for walking onto Pine Gap.
To expose the radar installations, which actually pick the targets for every bomb that falls in Iraq. That's not happening in the US, that's happening in your backyard. These brave people walked onto the place and they face seven years in prison. That's the legacy of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and that's what my friends and I are trying to do in the United States. To confront these nuclear military imperial installations through active gospel non-violence, and say no to it.
Another sign of what's happening in Australia I think is the Talisman Sabre 07 actions this summer. I looked it up on the internet. It says 15,000 US troops (are coming to Australia), but the activists are now telling me its 30,000 on US warships, possibly carrying nukes, possibly using depleted uranium. They are going to be part of the largest ever US military exercise on Australia territory, fooling around on the Barrier Reef, with depleted uranium. People should be up in arms over this.
15,000 Australian troops will be part of it too. My hope is that Australia can continue to wake up to the gospelmethodology of creative non violence, and be a beacon of peace to the world. Australia has a very important role to play with Indonesia China and the US and Britain, you could really push us all into the right direction.
JM: But I think that one of the major problems facing Australia is that there are less and less people interested in standing up – how do you get people to stand up?
This is the great danger – there are 35 wars happening, 3 billion living in poverty, the US has 25,000 nuclear weapons, and Dick Cheney and Bush would be thrilled to use them…they don't care about the environment and global warming…we all have to wake up and get involved publicly for peace and justice, and get involved or we are going to wake up one day and find a far worse events than 9/11…and this violence will hit home in Australia. Sydney or Melbourne will be attacked because Australia has co-operated in the global war against the poor and with the injustice of the US. So people have to wake up. The churches should be leading the way because that's what their spirituality is about.
JM: Did you ever think that Robert Drinan SJ might have had the right idea –a 'top down' approach – he entered Congress, put forward a motion to dismiss Nixon, spent ten years there, was a visible person on the Hill. Do you ever think you should have done something like that instead?
JD: I lived with Robert Drinan, he is a great man, and he taught me a lot. He told me in 1982, if you want to go around talking about peace and justice, you have to write books, so people will invite you to speak. And I don't know how to write, but I've written 25 books. And I blame him!
To be in Congress is really to be working with the nuclear industry, and planning the destruction of the planet, and I think now things are so out of hand, and yet, there are some good people - there are certain good people, I'm friends with Congressmen and senators through my work– but I think the role of a Christian in the US is to resist these structures and change them, and create a non-violent US.
One day Robert Drinan said to me "John, if you can get 500 Jesuits to surround the White house, and go on a hunger strike, and kneel down, and not leave, and get arrested and for this over and over again, because if Jesuits did this it would shock the whole US – then nuclear weapons would be dismantled. But I would be lucky to get two or three Jesuits, and he would not join me either. But he knew too that Christian non-violence was the ideal, that what Martin Luther King talked about works, but it means organising people and taking great risks.
When the Jesuits of El Salvador were killed, we had massive Jesuit-led demos in the US, at one point I was arrested with 18 other Jesuits, and a month later US military aid to El Salvador was cut off.
Robert Drinan was right, but it's hard to get this organising to happen. I'm a big believer in getting this grass roots organising happening, community based work for justice and peace. It just seems to me that that was the way Jesus worked.