A former Australian Army chaplain delivers his opinion about war in Irak and Afghanistan
Father Michael TAYLOR witness
Now he has joined Stand Fast, the Australian pacifist veterans organisation. .
Saturday 2 May 2009, by
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Father Mickaël TAYLOR witness, the 1st of may 2009.
Thank you for your kind welcome.
I am Father Michael Taylor, Catholic Parish Priest of Ingham North Queensland. I come from an Army family (my late father served in various Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment from 1946 - 1977 (and fought in Korea, Malaya, and Vietnam). I joined the Army myself as a soldier in 1979, and discharged at the end of 1982 and trained for the priesthood. Ordained in Townsville in 1989, I was commissioned an Army Chaplain in 1990 and served in a variety of units across Australia until I resigned in September 2007. I saw operational service in Bougainville (with Chip Henriss-Andersen) in 1997, and was the sole Chaplain supporting the ADF inside Iraq/Kuwait Aug 2004 - Mar 2005.
I highly value and support the Australian military, and have done much over these years to care for soldiers, whether they were the newest recruits or senior two-star generals.
In 2003, I formally protested through the Catholic Church the lack of any basis for the invasion of Iraq. In fact, I wrote a one-liner that was published in THE AUSTRALIAN in March 2003 “I know where the weapons of mass destruction are. They are with the children overboard!” It was abhorrent that our nation was committing human lives on such false pretexts. It is worthy to note that the late Pope John Paul II protested against the imminent invasion, stating categorically that the reasons were not moral. The “coalition of the willing” launched its invasion less than 48 hours later.
Yes, I served on Operation Catalyst and worked inside Iraq during the period when, far from being “Mission Accomplished!” as proclaimed by President Bush, the vast extent of the insurgency revealed itself and the violence and carnage simply escalated. Again, I do not fault in any sense the great commitment, the courage, and the professionalism of our soldiers. My job was to help look after them, and do my best to ensure they came home to their loved ones and families. I was greatly disturbed by the unreported and unrecognised suicide and attempted-suicide rates amongst the US troops, and my own work brought me into contact with several who were highly distressed and disturbed — all bar one were National Guard who did not have a “return home” date!
Australian troops too are not unscathed. FOUR CORNERS, as you would know, recently broadcast “The War Within”. I was the Chaplain that former Private Millman spoke briefly about when he described the assistance (or lack thereof) that he was given after a series of traumatic incidents. The ADF is not equipped to handle trauma. This is not a criticism of the ADF — they can only work with what they are given. Resposibility rests solely with the Australian Government. Nothing I saw in Iraq convinced me of the justification for invasion. Democracy, as we understand it, is about as workable in that place as it would have been in Tudor England.
I remain deeply concerned about the war in Afghanistan, and particularly by the lack of debate that is currently happening in Australia. I fear deeply for our young soldiers, many of whom do not perceive or comprehend the extant of the lethality. It is almost like 1914 in terms of the “glory” of going “on operations” (ie, to war). I yell and scream at the television every time it’s announced “another digger has died in Afghanistan, bringing the total to . . .” as if the score is somehow important, but moreso because another young life has been destroyed — for nothing. Terrorism is repugnant and evil, but it will never be destroyed by military means. The Prime Minister perceives a time when the Afghanistan war will become “unpopular”. I wonder just how many body-bags have to be filled before Australians say “ENOUGH!” Political parties are not threatened by the possible loss of troops. They are only threatened by the possible loss of seats, or the loss of government.
On my part, I am also concerned by the silence of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on this issue, and will do my best to raise awareness and help illuminate their consciences oncemore.
Thank you for wading through all this, but I thought it best that you know from the outset where I stand.
Rev Michael Taylor
Parish Priest - Ingham
Diocese of Townsville