We Are All Responsible


In the 1970s, I lived in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in what was then West Germany. I spoke the language, loved driving into the Black Forest to sit in the outdoors lazily drinking wine and water in summer, sitting by a glowing fire in winter.

The bracing athleticism of the Germanic culture crept into my soul, so that I swam lap after lap in the outdoor pool, and cycled miles between the Max-Planck-Institut (work) and the other side of town (home). Alles war gut.

Thanks to Alan Moir.

Thanks to Alan Moir.

Yet, it was impossible to live in Germany without thinking of the rise of fascism Hitler and his thugs ascendant, the murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, persons with a disability, Romany people and those to whom the authorities (from the highest to the lowest) took a dislike.

Back then, 30 years after the defeat of the Third Reich, I tried to pinpoint responsibility for what had happened under the totalitarian regime that had ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 with a harsh and murderous hand. I located it squarely not only in the world as it was then charging responsibility to everyone who lived through the period of appeasement and the toleration of crimes against humanity which were known or were readily found out by reading the pages of the New York Times and other national media but also in the German people.

Thinking back on this now, 30 years later and with our local Australian experience in mind, I look at the question of responsibility with more discernment. I ask myself about the individual, private motivations behind the gradual acceptance of increasingly horrific public policies in Hitler’s Germany to ‘go along to get along’, to abide by the ruling diktat, to support concentration camps, inhumane policies, thuggish behaviour, denial of human rights by reference to race/ethnicity, religion, and disability, selective killing, and genocide.

There must, I now reflect, have been three categories of people:

¢ Those who applauded Hitler’s policies and practices, were fully in support, and believed, along with him, in the ‘rightness’ of his cause;

¢ Those who simply wanted to get on with life the ‘don’t trouble me with talk of conscience or demands to follow one side or the other’ lot, the ‘just let me go to bed at night, wake up in the morning, earn a crust, and be comfortable’ crew;

¢ Those who discussed, debated, worried, despaired and flayed about, wanting to take action to stop what was happening, taking action yet finding it led nowhere (if they were not shot or mown down, or carted off to incarceration), and ultimately becoming and being a part of what they deplored, because they could not change it.

Those of us who deplore the race to totalitarianism in this country fit into the third category.

And, like our German counterparts, we have no excuses.

We are equally responsible for what has happened here, what is happening here, and what will happen here in the future. We are responsible alongside those who applaud, support and believe in repressive policies, inhumane practices and the notion that compassion and humanity are words and ideals with no place in the Australia of the 21st century. We are equally responsible with those who don’t want to be bothered, or cannot think beyond their own, personal concerns to the importance of the rights of others, and the human responsibility each of us has to be bothered and to acknowledge concerns beyond the personal.

Our concentration camps house refugees and asylum seekers, along with Australia citizens and permanent residents, people caught up in the dragnet of draconian policies that allow officials to trample over those who seem ‘different’, who are inarticulate, who don’t have the ‘right’ papers, who have no one to ask about their whereabouts, who can be ‘lost’ forever in a system that brooks no protest and labels dissent as criminal or mad.

Our ‘security’ policies target people who ‘look’ Middle-Eastern or Muslim, operating on the basis that you can tell a terrorist by looking at them, naively believing terrorists won’t have any cover and therefore will be obvious to the nakedly racist eye. Or believing that how a person looks dictates terrorist tendencies and actions.

Our police and secret security forces are told that they should have a right to kill, although any killing except in self-defence literally, one’s own defence is unlawful and would make offenders of them if the rule of law prevailed, should they follow the policy and hence obey their superiors.

The fear of a terrorist attack shuts up politicians who should stand up for the rights of all citizens who should stand against policies that will stop no terrorist, protect no one against attack, and serve only to engender more fear. Ironically, legislation trumpeted as protecting security and protecting against terrorist attack is fashioned by those who are responsible for putting Australians in danger in the first place, by joining in and promoting as ‘just’, a war that offended against international law.

When we ask: ‘What can we do?’ three things are plain.

If we do nothing, we are complicit.

If we believe we have done something by speaking amongst ourselves, blogging on the Internet, publishing in the New Matilda and other journals and magazines in dissent, speaking at rallies and marching at them, we remain complicit in that our words and actions have not halted the totalitarian slide.

And if we don’t take action to stop the slide, in 30 years time (and longer) Australia and Australians will be on that register that says: ‘You actively supported, or you passively supported, or you did not do enough.’

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.