In 1993 Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating gave a powerful speech on the folly of war at the internment of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. Imagining what it would be like to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Child, a victim of war is the subject of this speech as we head towards Remembrance Day.
We do not know this little girl’s name. We don’t know who her parents are, if she had brother’s and sister’s who is missing her with an ache that won’t go away. We do not know if she was running towards or running away from danger when she died in this zone of terror. We do not know if was holding someone’s hand as she spent her last hours and if that hand was squeezed and glued tight fused together for solidarity and the hope of security. We do not know if she prayed to a god, looked to the stars, had breakfast, sang a song, knew how to skip. We do not know anything about her. We do know she is just one of hundreds, thousands of children who have been fleeing this zone of terror, this place where children’s voices are no longer heard, where giggles and tickles have been replaced by shrieks and sirens.
We know she is a child who witnessed atrocities no human, let alone a child should witness. We know she is a child who touched someone with her toothy grin smile. We know she is a child who did nothing to bring the terror to her town, the destruction of her neighbourhood and the raining of bombs that led to her death.
We know she is a child who was born of a woman, a woman who would have welcomed her into the world, who would have cradled her and soothed her with lullabies and snuggled in to feed her from the breast. We know she is a child born in a time of fear and where promise and hope were in very short supply. We know she is a child who’s father was probably not in town the day she died or perhaps had already been killed in the war raging all around them. We know she was born in the year the city fell and became the zone of terror.
We know this is a mad, brutal awful struggle where human collateral is factored in to the cost to bring more terror and fear. We know this is not the kind of world we want for our children. We know she is not the only child being mourned. We know we have our excuses, our failures, our shame. We know we have to draw on the deepest part of our selves to turn this despicable situation around. We know we cannot do this alone, we will have to work with enemies and friends who are invested in terror and destruction.
We will fail, we will stall, we will make mistakes … we have done all that before … and we will have to do it again and again and again.
The little one, the civilian, the one who is on the front line lies here. Us in our bunkers, flying the drones, signed up for service, being paid by the State make the mess it is the littlest, lowliest and invisible who pay the price.
Today we intern the Unknown Child to assert and remind us it is the child who needs to be at the centre of our decision-making; whose anonymous presence transforms our memory, our hearts and our heads to act for the generation of the youngest. We come to this tomb to hold the truth of the ones who have been loved and died in their homes, play spaces and fields. These are the ones to whom we are accountable.
In this place of silence, place your hand on your heart. Feel the beat of the blood pulsing in your heart, notice your breathe syncopating in even time, bring yourself to stillness and pray: Holy Innocence give us courage for peace making.