Protest at 'secret' ACT military base: ‘Peace Witness in a Time of Endless War’

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Peace Witness protest at entrance to HQ JOC, Canberra, Friday, 28 April 2017, including Helen Bayes under 'Peace'(Image supplied)

A small group of committed peace activists staged a protest at a secretive Australian military installation near Canberra last week. But you probably never heard of it. As Chris Mordd Richards reports, hiding war-fighting bases in plain sight means nobody talks about them.

IN THIS TIME of "endless war", at 7am on Friday morning, 28th of April 2017, a small but passionate group of protesters gathered outside the gates of the Headquarters, Joint Operations Command (HQ JOC) to protest at Australia’s involvement in overseas wars and the role the HQ JOC plays in that.

The protesters were there to call for an end to war, a return of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to a purely defensive/civil defence role and to call for an end to the current habit of blindly allowing the U.S.-Australian military alliance to act against the best interest of Australians or those overseas.

"We understand that HQ JOC is the Centre from which Australian forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan get their operational orders and their operations are monitored in real time on large screens and in large auditoriums," said Helen Bayes, coordinator of the Peace Witness training, which led up to the protest.

"This is, our group says, death and destruction from afar served upon peoples and nations who have made no acts of aggression against Australia or Australians."

Australia is a target in any looming war with North Korea

Winter is coming! A threat from the north bears down upon us.

No, I am not talking about everyone’s favourite fantasy TV show, I am talking about Australia. North Korea has threatened thermonuclear war and to strike Australia, being one of the closet military allies of the United States, along with South Korea, Japan and American assets in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the last 12 wars, Australia has fought in three-quarters of them alongside the U.S. — often at the behest of that superpower.

This threat is not just tangential to our military alliance with the U.S. either.

As the Daily Mail recently reported:

'North Korea claims Darwin will be the site of a nuclear war, accusing the U.S. of using Australia to prepare for an attack on its territory.'

Almost two weeks ago, 1,250 U.S. Marines arrived in Darwin to conduct military training exercises with both the Australian and visiting Chinese military. The threat to Australians living in Darwin and other northern areas of the country is quite real — and not something we should take lightly. As recently reported in IA, the threat of a nuclear war involving Australia and Korea cannot be ruled out entirely.

While it is doubtful North Korea can hit southern Australian locations yet, just like it cannot yet hit the mainland United States with a nuclear ballistic or missile, this is the "red line" for the U.S.A. beyond which they are prepared to take whatever extreme action(s) may be necessary to contain the threat entirely.

I imagine a capability to hit Pine Gap, Sydney or Canberra would also be a red line for our Government as well in regards to North Korea. I presume the location of our Headquarters, Joint Operations Command, the ADF operational level headquarters responsible for the command and control of ADF operations worldwide, was located in a southern, inland location in Canberra for good reason.

The security around the HQ JOC seems more intended to keep civilians out than withstand any serious military attack though, as Carol points out in the video below [skip to 3mins01secs for the specific comment]:

Interview one of two with the protesters outside the HQ JOC

Currently, the U.S. is dragging us into volatile conflicts in Syria and potentially a repeat of the mistakes and mass casualties of the Vietnam war, except this time with nuclear weapons instead of napalm and agent orange. With a president like Donald Trump, who is prone to reactionary policy – such that he can and will change his opinion on depending on which Fox News broadcast or tweet he saw most recently – we should all be worried.

Now, more than ever, Australia can no longer afford to blindly march in lockstep with U.S. foreign policy. As parochial as it sounds, we need to be putting our interest before that of The Donald's right now. Trump and Kim Jong-un are locked in a very dangerous game of nuclear chicken with each other, neither seemingly willing to be the first to blink, and there are unlikely to be any winners from this foolhardy pissing match they are engaging in.

Peace Witness protest at entrance to HQ JOC, Canberra (Image supplied)

“Turn to peace and bring the troops home!”

As Helen Bayes said at last week’s protest, it is time for Australia to withdraw from the U.S. alliance before it leads to disaster.

"Our peace witness is a call to our military, collectively and individually, to grow a moral conscience, withdraw from the US alliance, and turn to peace-building and humanitarian service," said Ms Bayes, a Quaker Granny who has witnessed against war at Shoalwater Bay, Pine Gap and Avalon Arms Trade Fair.

The message from the HQ JOC protesters to the 500 or so civilian and military staff who work at the facility was: ‘Not in our name do you engage in the US led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Turn to peace and bring the troops home.’

Interview two of two with the protesters outside the HQ JOC

One of the protesters, Anne Rampa, said they were there to witness "intense human suffering":

"At HQ JOC, what they see on their real time footage is military strategy. But we have seen war footage too. We have seen what the people and journalists have posted, and what we see is intense human suffering. We were here today to witness to this suffering."

The protest action was the culmination of a five-day residential training course at the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre near Bungendore. The retreat was called Peace Witness in a Time of Endless War

Peace Witness protest at entrance to HQ JOC, Canberra (Image supplied)

This is only the third time a protest has been held at the gates to this "secret" military installation, the HQ JOC, after an informal protest there in 2012 and the first large Quaker Grannies protest there in 2013. In order to access the base, one must drive five minutes down a road from the highway, that leads nowhere else but the base, with multiple signs warning on the way that the area is a military installation and only authorised personnel are (normally) permitted to proceed any further.

Helen Bayes, the protest organiser and a long time Quaker Granny, is no stranger to conducting Peace Witness protests. She was, for instance, one of the three charged in 2015 after being arrested holding a tea party outside the base for the Talisman Sabre military training exercise in central Queensland.

Reverend LUND, the HQ JOC base Chaplain, joined us for prayers at the end of the protest (Image supplied)

I would like to note that although part of what the HQ JOC does is overseeing our role in foreign war zones in offensive capacities, it is also the operational command HQ for peaceful (humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping) and other roles as well, and disaggregating the site’s offensive roles from the peaceful roles is no simple task. I am personally anti war, but I am not anti military. I think it is important to acknowledge that the military can and does play in part a peaceful role as well as an offensive or aggressive one, and to keep that in context when advocating for peace overall.

[Disclosure: The author attended part of the training course as a guest of the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre, however he did not participate in the final planning or execution of the protest itself.]

You can follow Chris Mordd Richards on Twitter @Mordd_IndyMedia.

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