Encountering Conflict

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This response is in the form of a personal expository essay which is presented as a speech that endeavours to discuss the important values and morals shown by the victims of conflict. Its intended audience is the general public and would be suitable for an audience of VCE students studying Greene’s novel, The Quiet American or an audience that is well-educated, socially conscious and wary of political and social issues. References are made from Australian media reports about the war in Afghanistan, interception of Asylum seekers and the atrocious situation of Indigenous Australians, as well as the selected text, The Quiet American.

An expository essay provides a suitable form for a personal exploration of these ideas, designed to encourage readers to reflect on similar ideas and issues as they occur in society. While the essay is subjective, it retains some formality and refers to sources beyond personal experience, and uses conversational yet grammatically correct language. ‘Asylum seekers refuse to leave the boat. ’ ‘For us, Australia Day means Invasion Day,’ Mick Dodson, Australian of the Year. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

Headlines about conflict are commonplace in our newspapers because, sadly, conflict is commonplace in our world. Asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and others are tragic victims of conflict on a global, national and personal scale. People fight for power over others, they fight over land, religion and culture, political beliefs and values, money and love and there are always victims. These victims of conflicts may have no country, no rights and suffer tragic losses with devastating consequences that can be felt for generations.

Much is written both in newspapers, stories and texts about the nature of conflict and the plight of the victims and we can learn a lot from these texts because it is about how people deal with the aftermath of conflict that shows us what is really important about life, values and the human race. Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American demonstrates how social and political conflicts can cause tragic consequences for ordinary civilians. Their particular vulnerability is highlighted by the use of napalm, ‘detested’ (p. 143) even by the French captain, on defenceless villagers.

Similarly, the way in which a peaceful street scene can explode into chaos underscores the daily terror with which the victims of war live. They are never entirely able to dispense with the fear that violence may occur at any moment. After a mother and her small child are accidently shot by the French – ‘Mal chance’ (p. 45) – Fowler feels personally targeted by the bitter resentment of the soldier responsible. He reflects that, ‘Perhaps to the soldier the civilian is the man who employs him to kill, who includes the guilt of murder in the pay-envelope and escapes responsibility’ (p. 5).

War dehumanises all those who participate in it, both the soldiers at the frontline and the anonymous strategists who plot its course. Greene’s novel detailing the devastating murders of innocent civilians in The Quiet American presents a terrible reflection of man’s inhumanity towards others. This text depicts the important values in life revealed through the plight of its victims. Survival, respect for their families, religion and culture is what is really important.

We need to ask questions and learn from the victims: What do we really know about the suffering of the Indigenous Australians? Why have thirty-six boats full of asylum seekers been intercepted in Australian waters in 2009? What can we do to help? Failure to learn anything would be our biggest mistake. To choose to ignore what these victims have to say is the only wrong decision you can make. We can learn that some victims seek to resolve conflicts others to champion their causes, like the Indigenous Australians.

We can also learn that some victims, like the people of Afghanistan, are a people so oppressed and have had bury loved ones ‘after battles they did not start and did not want’ that they are forced to flee their country and search for a place where ‘they can worship and work’. Other victims refuse any possibility of resolution and perpetrate conflicts by committing themselves and ‘a hundred generations of their family to battle’, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We can also learn a lot about our own values from our reactions to victims of conflict.

Do we refer to asylum seekers as ‘queue jumpers’ or ravaged people who need the safety and opportunities our country can provide? When our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said ‘sorry’ to our Indigenous population it was a step in the right direction because it was a deliberate action of the leader of our country, designed to encourage the rest of us to think differently. However, saying ‘sorry’ is the first step, not the last step. We need to respect the cultures of our Indigenous Australians.

The effects of conflict on victims can be felt for generations is evident by the problems of high levels of malnutrition, poor housing, poorer medical facilities and lack of education for our Indigenous Australians. Bureaucracy has swallowed up many government funds needed to close the gap between the first and second peoples of Australia. We should not deride the Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, for speaking about the atrocious situation of our Indigenous people but find ways to support and improve their living conditions.

What we, together as a nation and, separately, as individuals, need to learn from victims of conflicts is the importance of respect for family, culture, religious practices and a safe place where people can ‘worship and work’. However, in order to learn this we need first to be willing to ask questions and to pay attention to what victims of conflicts have to say. We then need to show compassion and find ways to provide them with what they really need. In doing so, we will learn more about compassion ourselves, and our own values. Thank you all for listening.

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