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life Arrow vol 7 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 7 number 1, 2008


Life, in the hall of smashed mirrors:
Biopolitics and terror today

Anthony Burke
The University of New South Wales


The following text develops a form uncommon in social science: the essay in narrative prose form. Inspired by the biopolitical theorising of Agamben (1998), Foucault (2002), Mbembe (2003), Ahluwalia (2004), Butler (2004) and others, and interweaving personal and geopolitical experiences, it interrogates the value placed upon ‘life’ in contemporary western societies, the peculiar and terrible bargains thus struck, and the machineries used to support, define, preserve, utilise and destroy it. In particular, it demonstrates how the power to take hold of, preserve and create life coexists with a power (and a geostrategic ethics) which assumes the right to use and destroy lives at will. It is for another time and text to compare its conclusions in meta-theoretical terms with the theorists of bio- and necro-politics (see Burke, 2007: 1-23). Here my aim, with the objective of imagining a more humane and sustainable (geo)politics, is to allow the implications of the narrative to develop allusively through the interaction of metaphor, image and rhetoric—to let the signs begin their own work of thought.



I stared at my wife, but it wasn’t her. Her face was puffy, newly freckled, and so white. Drained of blood white. Still beautiful, but I did double-take after double-take as I listened to her voice emerge from the face of a woman I had never seen before. Every fifteen minutes one of the midwives came and did her obs, talking quietly to Jenny as she took blood pressure, looked at monitors, wrote down readings. Every few hours they changed one of the blood bags hanging from the stand beside her bed, gingerly detached the IV from the needle taped into her arm, twisted the cap and shook the line as the red fluid flowed downwards once again.
         It was the day after the birth. For a few minutes the night before, the twins had lain in the small portable cot beside her bed, swaddled and tiny, before being taken to the nursery to be fed their first meals and sleep under bright fluorescent lights. Now, for the first of a number of times that day, I walked with our boy, Nikos, and one of the nurses to the x-ray suite in the basement. There I dressed in a heavy lead gown and held his little body under the machine, so the doctors could trace the movement of barium meal through his intestines. The radiographer had her own gown, in leopard-print chic; I wore the blue, red and yellow shield of Superman. As I held Nikos’ tiny arms and slumped under the weight of the gown I thought of x-rays. The dentist’s chair, skeleton costumes, Superman’s x-ray vision. The way a nuclear explosion gives off huge pulses of them: x-rays, gamma rays, science fiction words for invisible, lethal wavelengths of energy.
         But there was no dying here, where the object was life and the means nuclear medicine. That morning the on-call paediatrician, upon hearing that Nikos had vomited some bile, ordered the tests to see if he might need an operation. Upstairs in the nursery he was fed infant formula every three hours through a thin tube fed through his nose and into his stomach. I pushed his cot into lifts and along corridors and through the nursery doors, then went from there to check on Jenny, where the new blood was slowly beginning its saving work, feeding the exhausted cells in her body, making new ones and flushing away the dying.
         Normally she would be in the ward with the babies, receiving visitors and learning to breastfeed, but this was her second day in the delivery room, which now functioned as a mini-ICU. For eight hours the day before she had lain in the same bed in labour, her pain dulled by an epidural, watching the contractions and the foetal heartbeats pulse across a paper graph. When Sophia’s heartbeat elevated, indicating distress, the obstetrician ordered an emergency caesarean section. A half hour later I was being ushered into the operating theatre, where the doctors were already painting antiseptic on Jenny’s swollen belly. Soon after that, amid the anaesthetist’s soothing chatter, we watched as the babies were lifted, kicking and bluish-white, into the world.
         I marvelled at the calm intensity of the staff’s teamwork: the anaesthetist monitoring his pain drugs; the nurses ventilating the babies’ lungs with what looked like tiny scuba sets, warming them under lights and carrying out checks; the obstetrician turning to the sewing of Jenny’s uterus as I was taken up to the nursery. There the babies were cleaned, swaddled and placed, tiny and dark eyed, into my startled arms. They looked at me and smiled, as if they recognised me. I returned their gazes, overcome by a strange and anxious bliss.
         Soon they were placed side by a side in a portable cot and moved to a room on the maternity ward, bare apart from an armchair, where I waited with them for Jenny to arrive from Recovery. I was struck by a sudden, terrifying sense of responsibility. Outside the sixth floor window the city gleamed and floated in the darkness. Long minutes passed. I watched planes float slowly into land at the airport, disappearing behind the university buildings as they descended, warning lights blinking on their wingtips. Nikos began to cry. As I picked him up I knew she had been too long.
         I did not know that, just a few minutes before, Jenny was lying in recovery bleeding copiously from a vast tear in the wall of her womb. Telling the nurses she felt strange, faint. As she felt herself losing consciousness she heard the nurses debating what to do, dialling for the doctors who couldn’t be found, until she was finally stabilised with a saline drip. She had lost one and half litres of blood.
         I did not know that as the babies were placed in my arms their mother had been ebbing away all too quickly, like a stabbing victim wheeled into Emergency at the edges of life.


This is an essay about life, and it starts, as seems only proper, with a story about a hospital—those vastly complex and magical machines our civilisation has invented to nurture and sustain life, from our first breaths to our last, in the face of every possible disaster, vulnerability or affliction. These machines, and the human ingenuity, caring and work that sustains them, seem truly marvellous. For weeks afterwards I felt childishly grateful, writing cards to the midwives, the nursery staff and the obstetrician, pouring out our thanks in barely equivalent words.
         It starts with my marvel at life—at what Jenny had gone through to make these lives, the IVF, the ultrasounds, the emergency admissions during pregnancy, the anguish over untimely blood that promised the worst. And birth, a dangerous birth that just a few decades before may have not seen her live.
         My marvel at the fierce, instinctive determination of these new lives: their lungs that worked, their howls for milk, their tiny breaths as they slept and woke and added another day to their existence. At the mysterious work of cells, growing, dividing, forming organs and blood and skin, following a code buried deep in their interior. My marvel at life’s sheer fragility; at how, in the face of it, we have constructed a vast working edifice of medicine and welfare and insurance to stand between ourselves and death. During those days in hospital I felt loved by science and government and reason; I had prayed to God but gave silent thanks to modernity.
         But there was also something more unsettling.
         Often during that week I would go downstairs and stand at the entrance to call friends and family on my mobile phone. I watched the hospital helicopter warming up, then lifting and turning over the car park, the blades of its rotors thrumming a deep martial beat through the air. I thought of the Chinooks and Apaches flying the Sunni triangle in Iraq, ferrying troops around in the daily hunt for insurgents, laying down fire, destroying houses with rockets. I thought of the research I’d done on the war in Afghanistan—how U.S. AC-130 gunships attacked four villages during the war against the Taliban, killing fifty-four people and wounding 120 others. Afterwards U.S. troops found villagers gathering up the limbs of their neighbours.
         I thought of how after the U.S. invasion in March 2003 Iraq’s hospitals lost power, because U.S. bombers had deliberately targeted the electricity grid. Afterwards looters stripped them of medicines and equipment. The same hospitals filling with the wounded and dying, unable to provide more than the most basic and desperate of care.
         I thought of how, even now, many hospitals only had access to a few hours of power each day; and I thought of New Yorker writer George Packer’s description of a visit by the Iraqi occupation authority head L. Paul Bremer to a maternity hospital in the town of Diwaniya. They travelled down by Chinook, and Bremer swept though the corridors followed by a phalanx of journalists, aides and armed bodyguards with wraparound sunglasses. The power that day was on, but for a week before there had been none; an Iraqi doctor told Packer that the problems with the power supply had doubled infant mortality. Between seven and ten babies were dying every day. (In modern western hospitals like Prince of Wales the death of a premature baby over 24 weeks is a rare event indeed, and would not be attributable to a failure of equipment or care.)
         Bremer, who had been given stuffed animals by his aides to give out as presents, walked into a room to be confronted with a woman holding a ‘withered and skeletal’ premature baby, and in the next bed, a gravely ill three year old lying listlessly against its mother. He told the photographer to stop taking pictures and said: ‘I don’t like seeing this at all.’ A marine told Packer that just twenty-thousand dollars was needed to repair the generator and ensure a twenty-four hour supply.
         I thought of how Australian troops had joined the occupation of Iraq, of how our officials were placed in the allied military command and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and of how the Royal Australian Navy had bombarded Iraqi positions and our air force had flown bombing missions as the U.S. armoured columns raced to Baghdad.
         I pondered a some lines I knew from Hedley Bull’s great text on international relations, The Anarchical Society: ‘First, all societies seek to ensure that life will be in some measure secure against violence resulting in death or bodily harm. Second, all societies seek to ensure that promises, once made, will be kept, or that agreements, once undertaken, will be carried out. Third, all societies pursue the goal of ensuring that the possession of things will remain stable to some degree, and will not be subject to challenges that are constant and without limit.’
         I thought about how the West’s leaders insisted this war was necessary to make us secure. I wondered at Bull’s calm certitude.
         All societies seek to ensure that life will be secure. That promises will be kept.
         I thought about stability. About limits. About challenges without limit.
         The helicopter shook and shifted on the pad as it slowly warmed up. Cars drove slowly around to the hospital doors, stopped and released patients, then moved on. An ambulance stood outside the entrance to Emergency. People made calls and smoked cigarettes.
         I wondered if the life I marvelled at and treasured, and the machinery that made it possible, came at a price. If so, who is paying it? Could the living here and the dying there be connected? And would this too have a price?
         I wondered at the subtle caveat in Bull’s statement: in some measure secure.
         Later, sometime after we’d come home, I read an almost throwaway line in one of Michel Foucault’s lectures: ‘the coexistence in our political structures of large destructive mechanisms and institutions oriented towards the care of individual life is something puzzling and needs some investigation…life insurance is connected with a death command.’


On 5 December 2005, the day the babies were born, a young man, Lutfi Amin Abu Dalem, travelled to a shopping centre in the Israeli town of Netanya and detonated explosives strapped to his body, killing himself and five others and wounding forty more. Two weeks later three Palestinians were killed in an operation by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Nablus, while in the Gaza strip Israel shelled sites believed to be used by Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel. That month, according to the Red Crescent, twenty-eight people were killed and eighty-one injured by Israeli operations. Israel had withdrawn from the territory in September, but immediately imposed a blockade on Gaza that was strangling its economy, and was beginning an intensification of fighting with Palestinian factions that would culminate in a reinvasion of Gaza in mid-2006, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hamas militants and a new war in Lebanon. Israel had met Palestinian rocket fire with a campaign of air strikes and shelling that led to the deaths of seven and the wounding of forty Palestinians as they sunbaked on a Gaza beach.
         From that point only escalation was possible. In March 2006 in Gaza twenty Palestinians were killed and ninety-four wounded; in April thirty-one were killed and 126 wounded; in May forty-two were killed and 220 wounded; in June fifty-five people were killed and 222 wounded; and by 19 July, 111 had been killed and 310 wounded as an even more terrible war raged in Lebanon.
         Death creeps upwards on a graph, like a heartbeat in distress.
         The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, settlements and all, brought many expressions of optimism and hope, but others perceived darker forces at work: forces that saw the ‘peace process’ as an obstacle to securing permanent control over the West Bank, and who thought that raw military power could deal with any opposition.
         Forces who believed that life was theirs to secure, contain or destroy at will.
         In October 2004 Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that ‘the disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’ And on 4 December 2005, the day before the babies were born, a columnist with the same newspaper wrote somewhat forlornly ahead of the Israeli elections that ‘soon, the new party platforms will be printed, and then Abu Mazen will learn that they all want the same peace—a peace without Palestinians, sprawled out over the road map, lifeless.’
         Formaldehyde. For the lifeless.
         Palestinian Red Crescent statistics state that as of December 2007, 4,675 Palestinians have died and 31,815 have been wounded since the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out in September 2000. In the same period, according to the human rights organisation B’Tselem, 575 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians, and 1031 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.
         Life. Less.
         All over the road map.
         On the day the babies were born the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, gave a speech defending the ‘rendition’ of terrorist suspects to secret overseas prisons run by the CIA or to the intelligence services of U.S. allies, where they are often tortured. She spoke of ‘hard choices’ and ‘responsibilities’; of the need to ‘gather potentially significant, life-saving intelligence’.
         In Iraq, in the week the babies were born, 150 people were killed, mostly by insurgents fighting the U.S. occupation or other Iraqis. By June 2006, conservative estimates put the civilian death toll of the war at 38,353. Over 24,000 of them had died in Baghdad, and more than 6000 deaths were attributable to the invasion itself. They are lives unrecognised by the U.S. and UK militaries, who do not record civilian casualties, even as they claim to adhere closely to international law and are ultimately responsible for the stability and security of Iraq under occupation.
         And we know about Abu Ghraib. We’ve seen the photos. The electric Jesus, crucified by wires. The snarling dogs. The bodies covered in ice.
         Life-saving intelligence.
         What I’m trying to say is that life and death coexist.
         Not in some clichéd ‘dust to dust’ way: being born and slowly growing old, being human and vulnerable. Or some bleak Sam Beckett way: being born astride a grave.
I mean in the machinery: in the machinery of politics and government and security that we have built for ourselves. In the way we think about threat, and privilege, and survival.
In the fact that killing is functional.
         Think about it in semantics. The word operation, for example. What occurs when one is admitted to hospital, allocated a room, prepped and placed in a bed and wheeled into theatre? Why is the same term applied to a military endeavour that links logistics, science and the complex organisation of men and machines into a co-ordinated application of violence with an end? The same end: life, security, survival.
         An Israeli military intellectual, Shimon Naveh, calls soldiers planning manoeuvres ‘operational architects’, and has pioneered a field of ‘operational knowledge’.
         The operating theatre. The theatre of operations. The theatre of battle.
         Carl von Clausewitz: ‘the maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect’.
         Perhaps I am pushing the analogy.
         Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Defensive Shield. Operation Restore Hope.


In April 2006, the state of New South Wales adopted new guidelines which will be used by maternity hospitals to advise the parents of very premature babies. These advise that babies born at 23 weeks or earlier should be denied intensive care treatment and allowed to die naturally. However, according to the doctor heading the group which had drafted the guidelines, there was a ‘grey zone’ between 23 and 25 weeks of pregnancy during which there was ‘an increasing obligation to treat…At 24 weeks we’d recommend transfer to a specialist centre [before birth], but there can still be an option of non-intervention’. The recommendations were based on research showing that in NSW between 1998 and 2001 ‘209 pregnancies ended at 23 weeks, of which only 89 babies were born alive. Half of them received intensive care treatment but only 14 survived—and just four had no apparent disability at age three.’ The article that reported the decision also stated that ‘international research shows that on average parents want more to be done to save their child than healthcare professionals think reasonable.’
         When I read this the babies were four months old. They had been born at 38 weeks, a good term for twins, and were both of healthy weight. Their stay in the nursery, which they shared with a range of pre-term babies, was precautionary only—to enable Jenny to recover and monitor Nikos as the pediatrician ran through the tests on his digestive system.
         I thought of the obstetrician’s advice to write the date we wanted the babies to arrive on a piece of paper and put it on the door of the refrigerator. To look at it every day. I thought of our feelings when Jenny bled so terribly in the middle of the pregnancy, the feelings that must come with a premature birth and especially with such a dilemma. I also thought of the power which brought such a dilemma into being: to be able to save the life of a child born at 25 weeks—not even two-thirds the period of human gestation—is truly an extraordinary thing. It takes science to the edge of the limits of nature.
         The power to make live is also the power to let die.
         A power of ‘hard choices’.
         I thought of the IVF technology that enabled the babies to exist, and also of the debate that occurred during those months about the imminent approval of the so-called ‘abortion drug’ RU-486, which is used in combination with other methods to assist pregnancy terminations. I thought of the efforts of the Howard Government’s health minister—spurred by his conservative Catholicism and anti-abortion views—to block its approval. The same government that had joined the invasion of Iraq, and stood silently by after they became aware of the torture and abuses of Abu Ghraib. The same government that had detained the children of asylum seekers in immigration prisons, for years on end, until they went mad with the trauma.
         I wondered why the lives of the unborn were worth more than those of the living.
         Why as a nation we accept that the incarceration of asylum seekers without charge or trial is necessary for our security and our way of life.
         Perhaps I was missing something.
         The obligation to save and preserve life is seen as one of the most fundamental values of our civilisation, and its violation is generally seen as a scandal—or, at the very least, so fundamental that it requires the employment of a complex apparatus of moral argumentation to justify its violation. Think just war doctrine. Utilitarian ethics. The law of war.
         An obligation that dates from the law handed to the Israelites by God, as described in the Book of Exodus.
         Thou shalt not kill.
         Francis Bacon, the seminal philosopher of science and one of the progenitors of enlightenment modernity, wrote that modern science and reason could reverse the fall of Adam and end man’s submission to God: ‘man, by the fall, lost at once his state of innocence, and his empire over creation, both of which can be partially recovered even in this life, the first by religion and faith, the second by the arts and sciences.’
         I was missing something.
         We thought we were gods, over nature and over each other. Moses’ law was now a ‘hard choice’.
         I began to understand that the power to save and make life coexists with the power to take it, to decide who shall live and who shall die.
         When, where, how, and why.
         To develop elaborate systems of reason and policy and doctrine that can make this power useful; that can secure it to the ends of political authority, hegemony, profit.
         Secure it to the ends of political power.
         Secure life to power.
         Life. Where Moses walked. All over the road map.


A week after the babies were born, on 11 December 2005, mobs of Caucasian Australians attacked Arab and Lebanese Australians at Cronulla beach. They tore scarves off women. They chased young men along streets and into trains. A policeman held off a baying, surging mob at the station with a swinging baton. In the nights afterwards young Arab Australian men drove into Cronulla, Brighton le Sands and Maroubra seeking payback, picking fights with local youths and attacking cars. The following weekend, we drove through police roadblocks to get to our home in Coogee, two beaches north of Cronulla. Hundreds of police patrolled iconic public spaces, where yellow sand met green water and blue sky, and few politicians would say the word on everyone’s lips.
         Such a powerful way of defining life. Of dividing and valuing life.
         I remember seeing the Prime Minister being interviewed the next day on A Current Affair. He was asked how he felt about the Leb-hating mobs singing ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi’ and draping themselves in the Australian flag.
         His reply: ‘I would never condemn people for being proud of the Australian flag’.
         His analysis: ‘loutish, criminal behaviour…that attack on the train was quite vicious and unacceptable’.
         His assurance: ‘I don’t believe Australia is a racist country. The overwhelming majority of Australians accept people, irrespective of their racial background, provided they behave as part of the Australian community. That’s always been the Australian way and it always will be the Australian way.’
         On the 28th of August a Liberal party backbencher, a close friend of the Prime Minister, gave an interview in which she endorsed the call by one of her colleagues for a ban on the wearing of the hijab—the Muslim woman’s headscarf—by girls to public schools. The hijab, she said, defies ‘the equality between men and women that is basic to Australian values’. It is being used as an ‘iconic item of defiance. It is not just a headscarf, it is a challenge to our freedoms and way of life’.
         Provided they behave as part of the Australian community.
         In February 2004 the French National Assembly voted by overwhelming majority to ban the wearing of religious symbols from all public schools. The Assembly took the view that the wearing of such symbols—primarily the scarf—contradicted the principle of laïcité, the religious neutrality of public spaces. The events were precipitated by the suspension of three Muslim girls in 1989 who defied a ban by their headmaster on the wearing of their scarves to school. Following a request by the education minister, the French supreme court ruled that while the wearing of religious symbols by students was not ‘in itself in contradiction with the principles of laïcité, since it constitutes the exercise of their liberty of expression…this liberty does not permit students to exhibit signs of religious belonging which, by their nature…or by their combative character, would constitute an act of pressure…’.
         It is being used as an iconic item of defiance.
         Of our way of life. Our values.


I have begun a study of these words and phrases about life, about values, about ways. A study that considers their meaning, their geopolitical function and their social power.
         That considers who uses them, and when.
         That considers their consequences.
         That considers their proximity to violence.
         Consider a statement in the 2004 Australian foreign policy white paper: ‘in the new climate of international terrorism, Australians have become targets because of the values we represent’.
         Consider the British Prime Minister on 7 July 2005, the day the London tube was bombed: ‘we are united in our resolve to confront and defeat this terrorism that is not an attack on one nation, but all nations and on civilized people…we will not allow violence to change our societies or our values’.
         Consider the Prime Minister on 5 August 2005 outlining the agenda for the Council of Australian Governments’ meeting that endorsed harsh new proposals for anti-terrorism laws: ‘The most important civil liberty I have, and you have, is to stay alive and be free from violence and death…we need each other and we need to work with each other…to reassert the fundamental values of Australia’.
         Consider the statement by the Australian minister for education on 24 August 2005: ‘If you want to raise your children in Australia, we fully expect those children to be taught and to accept Australian values and beliefs…if people don’t want to support and accept and adopt and teach Australian values then they should clear off.’
         Consider that the new counter-terrorism bills were unveiled in late 2005. They included sweeping sedition provisions, the capacity to place suspect individuals under ‘control orders’, and warrantless search and seizure powers for police.
         Consider the American political theorist, William Connolly: ‘the Cold War generated McCarthyism as an extreme response to threats that the Soviet Union posed to Christian faith and capitalism together…the McCarthyism of our day, if it arrives, will connect internal state security to an exclusionary version of the Judeo-Christian tradition.’
         To stay alive and be free from violence and death.
         To not allow violence to change our societies or our values.
         Consider that the Cronulla race riot took place on 11 December 2005.
         Consider an essay published by two prominent nuclear strategists in 1980, at the height of the second Cold War. This essay was entitled “Victory is Possible” and argued for the United States to develop a nuclear targeting and war-fighting strategy that produces ‘the destruction of Soviet political authority and the emergence of a postwar world order compatible with American values’.


Why do they hate us?
         It is 20 September 2001. The President of the United States is making a speech to Congress and the American people. The full line is: ‘Americans are asking, why do they hate us?’
         The President already has an answer. ‘They hate our freedoms.’
         We saw the planes fly into the towers. We saw them fall, collapsing into themselves amid huge foaming mushroom-shaped clouds of toxic ash and dust. We felt sick, some of us wept, as we imagined the lives they took with them.
         Their ashes falling on the streets of Manhattan throughout the day.
In December a videotape is delivered to the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera. Its author is Osama bin Laden. He says: ‘It was not nineteen Arab states that did this deed…it was nineteen post-secondary students…who shook America’s throne, struck its economy right in the heart, and dealt the biggest military power a mighty blow, by the Grace of God almighty.’
         He also says: ‘Those who condemn these operations have viewed the event in isolation and have failed to connect it to previous events or the reasons behind it.’
         I condemn these operations. I do so in Bin Laden’s own words, quoted from the Holy Qu’ran: ‘God almighty says: ‘On account of [Cain’s] deed. We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all of mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.’
         Unless in retribution—you see what I spoke of earlier, the elaborate artifice of moral reasoning to justify the violation of the law handed to Moses.
         But lets try to connect it.
         Bin Laden continues: ‘These blessed, successful strikes are merely a reaction to events taking place in our land in Palestine, in Iraq, and in other places.’
         ‘What is happening in Palestine today is extremely clear, and something about which all of humanity since Adam can agree.’
         ‘The deliberate killing of innocent children in Palestine today is the ugliest, most oppressive, and hostile act, and something that threatens all of humanity.’
         Perhaps such hyperbole threatens all of rationality. I could joke about this.
         However I do fear it threatens humanity, but not in the way Bin Laden argues, so relentlessly backwards. He is careful to efface his own agency, his own responsibility and his own authorship—with Ayman Al Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the others—of the 9/11 atrocities.
         It is his agency in response to the deliberate killing of innocent children I am afraid of.          His ability to think, and act, and inspire others to act. It is our agency in response to the deliberate killing of innocent people I am afraid of.
         I am afraid of the way our actions and words all connect, reflect and reinforce each other, like a hall of mirrors with no escape.
         Values opposed to values. Violence opposed to violence.
         Madrid, Bali, Jakarta, London, Amman, Sharm el Sheikh.
         The problem is how we connect it. Not only to previous events but to future ones, to decisions we have not yet taken, or have been taken in other fields—international law, nuclear proliferation, defence policy, immigration, the world economy—without the complex web of interconnections and causes and feedbacks mapped out or taken into account. Without the example or the meaning being taken into account.
         The problem is the work of imagination and empathy we bring to policy.
         The problem is what we put into the world when we act.
         The things now possible that were not.
         Consider that, according to the report of the 9/11 Commission, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Atta ‘had considered targeting a nuclear facility he had seen during familiarisation flights near New York…the other pilots did not like the idea. They thought a nuclear target would be difficult because the airspace around it was restricted, making reconnaissance flights impossible and increasing the likelihood that any plane would be shot down before impact. Moreover, unlike the approved targets, this alternative had not been discussed with senior al-Qaeda leaders and therefore did not have the requisite blessing. Nor would a nuclear facility have particular symbolic value.’
         Consider that as al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has been progressively killed or captured its ability to direct and control operations has also been undermined. This may be a good thing; but as the London bombings showed, smaller isolated cells are increasingly willing and able to act independently, with little or no warning.
         Consider the loss of life if the al-Qaeda leadership, or Atta’s team, had supported the idea of crashing one of the planes into a nuclear reactor. Or if they had had access to a nuclear weapon. Would they feel a sense of moral restraint in the face of such an opportunity? What would tip the balance?
         I am not thinking in the past tense here.
         Consider that the nuclear non-proliferation regime that the world community has so painstaking built since 1968 is on the brink of unravelling. That scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Carnegie Institute for International Peace speak of a nuclear ‘tipping point’. That the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), due for review at big international conferences in 1995, 2000 and 2005, has each time nearly failed to survive because of the reluctance of the nuclear weapons states to act on their obligations under the treaty to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
         Consider that after launching the Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in 1997 the Australian Foreign Minister quietly placed it in a drawer.
         I keep trying to connect it.
         The 1980 Foreign Policy article, “Victory is Possible”, was written by two young Hudson Institute scholars named Colin Gray and Keith Payne. Gray is now a Professor of International Politics at the University of Reading. He is the author of a major textbook on military strategy and was a member of President Reagan’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament between 1982 and 1987. Payne was the Bush Administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Forces and Policy (that is, for the development and management of the U.S. nuclear arsenal) until 2003 and is President of a conservative Virginia think tank, the National Institute for Public Policy.
Journalist Fred Kaplan, author of a history of the nuclear strategists, The Wizards of Armageddon, has nicknamed Payne ‘Rumsfeld’s Dr. Strangelove’.
         Their argument in 1980 was that nuclear war against the Soviet Union could be fought and won, that if deterrence fails the U.S. must have the ‘ability to wage nuclear war rationally’. This, they argued, was consistent with the Catholic Church’s just war doctrine, which maintains that force is just if it can be used with ‘a right intent’ and a ‘reasonable chance of success’. If the lives of non-combatants are spared; if the means used are proportional to the ends sought.
         The moral artifice again.
         They stated that the U.S. needs a ‘plausible theory of how it can control and dominate later escalation’. That the U.S. needs to ‘think beyond a punitive sequence of targeting options’. That the President must be ‘able to initiate strategic nuclear use for coercive, though politically defensive, purposes’. That ‘an intelligent U.S. offensive strategy, wedded to homeland defenses’ could limit U.S. casualties to 20 million.
         They did not state that to do so would have meant killing 140 million Soviet citizens with an overwhelming U.S. strike.
         Life insurance and death command.


In 1998 Osama Bin Laden gave an interview to a journalist from the American ABC network. His organization had recently declared a ‘fatwa’ on Americans and Jews; the journalist, John Miller, asked him to explain and clarify it.
         Bin Laden replied: ‘American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. They are ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military?…The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means’.
         In 2001 Payne and Gray were twenty years older. They were then respectively Director and Member of a National Institute for Public Policy study that served as a model for the U.S. Administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which determines U.S. nuclear strategic policy.
         More than ten years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the study rejected the disarmament obligations imposed by the United States’ membership of the treaty on non-proliferation. Instead it stated that ‘nuclear weapons must be assayed in relation to their utility to serve national goals [which] are not limited to non-proliferation, international norms, and operational safety. Deterrence and wartime goals are also priorities.’
         The study argued for five ‘current/future deterrence and wartime roles’ for nuclear weapons including ‘enhancing U.S. influence in a crisis’, ‘preventing catastrophic losses in a conventional war’ and ‘providing unique targeting capabilities’ such as ‘deep underground/biological weapons targets’. In turn the NPR stated that while ‘non-nuclear weapons may be particularly useful to limit collateral damage and conflict escalation’, nuclear weapons ‘could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities’.
         During 2005 the Pentagon was tasked with preparing a large set of strike options against Iran including suspected nuclear weapons or enrichment facilities, military training camps, airfields, missile sites and more. In early 2006 the Pentagon presented the White House with options that included the ‘use of bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapons, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites’.
         The B61-11 has a ‘dial-a-yield’ of between 0.3 to 170 kilotons, as compared to the Nagasaki bomb which was approximately 22 kilotons. A Princeton University Physicist, Dr. Robert Nelson, has conducted dose calculations which indicate that a ‘one kiloton earth-penetrating ‘mini-nuke’ used in a typical third world urban environment would spread a lethal dose of radioactive fallout over several square kilometres, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian fatalities’.
         A few weeks later the Joint Chiefs of Staff grew nervous about the nuclear option and tried to remove it from the Iran plan. White House officials refused, saying: ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’
         In 2003 an international criminal network for the sale of nuclear technology and secrets led by senior Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan was discovered. It had given designs and arranged for the sale of technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea, and made unsuccessful approaches to Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Khan had also travelled to Afghanistan while it was under Taliban rule, raising fears that nuclear secrets may have also been passed to al-Qaeda .
         Can these weapons distinguish between infants and military?
         You see where I’m going with this.
         I think of some of these things as I walk the babies in their pram around the headland at Coogee in the days after we got home. Jenny is home asleep, her body still struggling to heal. Both of us are exhausted from the anxious stay in hospital and the sleepless nights adjusting to the frequent feedings.
         The thoughts come foggy and jagged, but I am connecting it up.
         I think of the short, controlled bursts of radiation given to Nikos in the hospital, projected onto a film to create an image that might be used to save his life. (The condition the paediatrician was concerned about would have prevented him from absorbing nutrition, producing a situation known as ‘failure to thrive’.) I think of the vast bursts of radiation released by uncontrolled nuclear fission, entering people’s bodies, carried on the wind as minute particles of uranium and plutonium vaporised in the blast. I think of the constant low-level fission of uranium, of its high atomic number, the radical instability of its massive nucleus spitting lethal energy. Of hardened shells with depleted uranium tips, colloquially known as “DU”.
         I think of the same basic discoveries that enabled each. The same scientific method that underlay the research. The same application of logic and rationality. The same desire for progress.
         I think of Condoleezza Rice’s glib, hammer-blow line as she did the rounds of the talk shows in 2003 selling the Administration’s case for a preventive war against Iraq. ‘We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.’
         Careful what you wish for.
         I look at the bright blue sky, the people on the beach, the shops and apartment blocks packed together on the hillside. I sit on a park bench and give the babies their bottles before walking home.
         I think of a line from Robert Lowell’s poem, Fall 1961.
         ‘A father’s no shield for his child.’


We have names for all this.
         Strategy. Diplomacy. Intelligence. Policy.
         We build departments and institutes and committees and centres to decide what they are and how they occur. To whom and for whom. We send ministers and envoys, we make doctrine, we procure technology and weapons and computers. We assemble and deploy forces. We create lists of targets. We blow them away.
         ‘War is a continuation of policy by other means.’
         ‘War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’
         ‘War is an act of force, and there is no theoretical limit to the application of that force. Each side therefore compels the opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must, in theory, lead to extremes.’
         Strategy is a system of rationality and organisation that seeks to connect violent means to political ends. The nuclear strategists think that even in the face of the unfathomable, terroristic power of these weapons Clausewitz still holds—that nuclear weapons are a tool of foreign policy.
         Strategy, wrote the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling in his 1966 book Arms and Influence, ‘is the power to hurt’.
         ‘The power to hurt is a kind of bargaining power’, he wrote.
         He wrote of ‘the strategic role of pain and damage’.
         He wrote of the atomic bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki: ‘They hurt, and promised more hurt, and that was their purpose…the political target of the bomb was not the dead of Hiroshima or the factories they worked in, but the survivors in Tokyo.’
         Strategy is an attitude to life. It holds life hostage.
         After the end of the war against Iraq in 1992 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution obliging Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and long-range missile capabilities under UN supervision. Sanctions imposed before the war would remain in force until UN teams had verified that this had occurred.
         The governments of the United Kingdom and United States changed the policy. President H. W. Bush authorised the CIA to begin covert operations to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Deputy national security advisor Robert Gates stated: ‘Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained while he is gone.’
         Later the Clinton administration announced a new policy: the ‘dual containment’ of both Iraq and Iran. National security adviser Anthony Lake, writing in Foreign Affairs, stressed the ‘strategic establish a favorable balance of power, one that will protect critical American interests in the security of our friends and in the free flow of oil at stable prices’.
         He wrote: Iran and Iraq are ‘a complex strategic puzzle that has confounded the policies of three previous American administrations’.
         ‘As the sole superpower, the United States has a special responsibility for developing a strategy to neutralize, contain and, through selective pressure, perhaps eventually transform these backlash states into constructive members of the international community’.
         A U.S. study established that, by 1999, the sanctions had directly caused the deaths of between 106,000 and 227,000 Iraqi children under five. Other estimates, that include adult mortality, are much higher.
         Pieces in a strategic puzzle.
         Transform through selective pressure.
         I am starting to choke on the abstraction.
         The week I write this an Irish Nobel peace laureate speaks to the press in Brisbane.          She speaks of her recent visit to Iraq: ‘We went to a hospital where there were 200 children; they were beautiful, all of them, but they had cancers that the doctors couldn’t even recognise. From the first Gulf war, the mother’s wombs were infected.’
         DU. Not shells found on a beach by playing children.
         Now consider the words of the enemy. ‘We believe that the biggest thieves in the world and the terrorists are the Americans. The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means.’
         Osama Bin Laden often returns to the containment of Iraq in his writings and interviews. It is, after the experience of the Palestinians, the central theme in his theology of outrage and his exhortations to Muslims to wage war on the West.
         In his 1998 ABC interview he tells a story.
         ‘The prophet said: “A woman entered hell because of a cat.” She did not feed it and blocked it from finding food on its own. She is going to hell for blocking cat to death (sic), but [what do you] say to those who agreed and gave reason for the hundreds of thousands of troops to blockade millions of Muslims in Iraq?’
         This is where it starts to get interesting.
         On 6 November 2003 the U.S. President announces a ‘forward strategy of freedom in the Middle-East’.
         He says: ‘The success of freedom is not determined by some dialectic of history. [It] rests upon the choices and the courage of free peoples, and upon their willingness to sacrifice. In the trenches of World War I, through a two-front war in the 1940s, the difficult battles of Korea and Vietnam, and in missions of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent, Americans have amply displayed our willingness to sacrifice for liberty.’
         He says: ‘Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe.’
         On 29 October 2004 Osama Bin Laden issues a message to ‘the people of America’ admitting for the first time direct responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
         He says: ‘I speak to you today about the best way to avoid another Manhattan.’
         He says: ‘security is one of the pillars of human life. Free men do not underestimate the value of their own security, despite Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. Perhaps he can tell me why we did not attack Sweden, for example?’
         He says: ‘We have been fighting you because we are free men who cannot acquiesce in injustice. We want to restore security to our umma. Just as you violate our security, so we violate yours. Whoever encroaches upon the security of others and imagines that he himself will remain safe is but a foolish criminal.’
         He also speaks about Lebanon, but I am coming to that.
         Bush says: ‘the advance of freedom leads to peace’. A year before, one of his advisors tells a journalist: ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.’
         In February 2004 an internal U.S. army report on the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison is completed. It lists the following practices: ‘Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.’
         The power to hurt. A power of ‘hard choices’.
         One of the key figures in the abuse policy was Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. With the blessing of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Cambone took methods and personnel from the Pentagon’s secret ‘special access program’—which managed the incarceration and interrogation of prisoners detained in the war on terror, including ‘renditions’ to foreign countries and the facility at Guantanamo Bay—and brought them to Abu Ghraib.
         A Pentagon consultant told the New Yorker: ‘The White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, who subcontracted it to Cambone. This is Cambone’s deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program’.
         Cambone was also a member of the team that produced the 2001 National Institute for Public Policy study on new uses for U.S. nuclear weapons.
         This may or may not be relevant.
         I think of the Australian foreign policy white paper: ‘Australians have become targets because of the values we represent.’
         I think of the explanation offered by a member of the Indonesian radical Islamist cell that bombed the Australian embassy in Jakarta in October 2004: ‘the Australian Government is the American lackey most active in supporting American policies to slaughter Muslims in Iraq. It had the aim of preventing Australia again leaning on Muslims, especially in Iraq.’
         We, foolish criminals.
         I push the babies’ pram up the steep path at the north end of the beach. I pass the sculpture placed there by the state government as a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the bombings at Kuta Beach, Bali, in October 2002. I turn and walk halfway down the hill, to the entrance to the sea baths, where I can watch the waves breaking over the rocks. I look at the bronze plaque listing the names and photographs of twenty eastern suburbs residents killed in Bali.
         When we act, we create our own reality.
         Living in a giant fairground hall of mirrors, smashing them as we go.
         Moving from mirror to mirror, we see in the enemy only a distorted reflection of ourselves: here small and fearful, clinging to our leaders pant-legs; there powerful and gigantic, ordering the world to our whim…dialling up democracy, freedom, cheap oil, almost anything within our grasp. We see in each other the mirror of our prejudices and desires, given added force and meaning by every new atrocity, every policy, every response—the images broken into shards, jagged and blood-streaked silver.
         Each wedded to the same coercive, instrumental approach to life. The same zero-sum vision of security. The same addiction to war. The same myopic concern with an exclusive community over which we are the self-appointed guardians.
         ‘Bush is still practising his deception, misleading you about the real reasons behind [9/11]. As a result, there are still motives for a repeat.’
         We make each other’s fears real.
         Where are the leaders who would add to their anger at injustice and murder a horror of violence? Or an understanding of its chaotic, proliferating effects? An understanding that fear and hatred feed on each other until they cannot be stopped, like fissioning atoms running out of control.
         Where was the international criminal tribunal to try bin Laden and his allies for their atrocities? Where was the international criminal tribunal to try Saddam Hussein for his crimes? Where are the tribunals to try Rumsfeld and co? Who will act to create institutions and values that de-legitimise terror, theirs and ours, so that it becomes ever less possible?
         A power against hurt.
         At night when the babies are sleeping I read a few pages from Joan Didion’s novel The Year of Magical Thinking. It deals with the death of her husband and the grave illness of her daughter, events that occurred within weeks of each other in 2003. She writes, with some frustration, about how our society has banished death. About how Philippe Aries argued that sometime after 1930 ‘death, so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would be shameful and forbidden’.
         Just more collateral damage.
         Once death becomes the subject of a manufacturing process, a system of life management and political order, it must be effaced?
         There was, writes Didion, a rejection of public mourning.
         I think she is half-right.
         Death is too useful. What has been banished is grief.


In the summer of 2004, sixteen months before the babies were born, I left Jenny in London to travel to Israel. The mood was grim and determined, so different from the time I had travelled there in 2000, prior to the al-Aqsa Intifada, when the streets of Jerusalem were full of tourists and the city prepared to celebrate the double millennium celebration of Christ’s birth, and some Israelis openly wondered how their society might fare if peace came and there was no longer a permanent enemy.
         Now the Old City was virtually empty of visitors. Outside its ancient walls Palestinians burned huge piles of rubbish in the streets during a municipal strike, and police stopped cars full of Palestinian youths on the roads leading to West Jerusalem. Ben Yehuda street, centre of its shopping precinct, was lined by subtle landmarks of the conflict: restaurants bombed and just as determinedly rebuilt. The only trace of the events was the eerie absence of Arabs, and the security guards outside every door who stopped you to ask if you were carrying weapons.
         In Tel Aviv I spoke to former soldiers and security officials about the conflict. One, Shlomo Gazit, a former general and commander of the civil authority in the West Bank, speculated that Israel’s use of force had been too successful and sent ‘the wrong message to the political echelon—that there is no need for a political agreement’.
         This was a few months after Sharon announced his plan to evacuate settlements from Gaza. To preserve the peace process in formaldehyde.
         For the lifeless.
         This was when Sharon was still healthy, and Yassir Arafat alive, a prisoner in his half-destroyed headquarters in Ramallah.
         In August 2001 a small group of young Hamas recruits staged a suicide attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem, killing fifteen of the patrons and wounding 130 others. A young Palestinian television journalist, Ahlam Tamimi, recently told an Israeli film-maker, Shimon Dotan, how she placed the restaurant under surveillance for a number of days, planned the day and time of the attack, and drove the bomber there with orders to buy and eat a meal and only then detonate the charges, to give her time to get back across the green line.
         Her eyes were clear and her skin flawless under a stylish hijab as she spoke.
         The interviewer asked her if she knew how many children were killed in the attack.          She smiled, uncomfortably, pursed her lips in thought for a moment, and nodded. ‘Three.’ The interviewer paused, and replied: ‘It was seven.’ As he let the answer hang in the silence she blinked and her eyes appeared to moisten, but her gaze did not waver.
         During my stay I took a bus with the Israeli peace organisation Gush Shalom to East Jerusalem to observe a rally and march for non-violence being held jointly by Jews and Palestinians. Among the speakers were the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie and a grandson of Mahatma Ghandi, Arun. Ghandi appealed for the Palestinians to choose the path of non-violence, arguing it would increase global sympathy for their struggle. A Gaza-based psychiatrist and human rights campaigner later interviewed by the press said: ‘there’s so much hatred, so much thirst for revenge…going for non-violent resistance would look like a form of surrender.’
         For nearly four months there had been an uneasy ‘cease-fire’ in which no factions carried out suicide attacks against Israelis. It was broken five days later, on August 31, when Hamas attacked the bus station in Beersheva.
         At Tel Aviv University Mark Heller, one of the first Israeli thinkers to openly canvass a two-state solution, seemed resigned to the conflict. The Palestinians had ‘blotted their copybook’, he told me, and no peace was possible with them through dialogue. Only unilateral action by Israel could create a Palestinian state that Jews could accept, and until then military operations would be necessary.
         When I put the view to him that there was no reward being held out to the Palestinians for pursuing a non-violent option, he replied: ‘the argument that the Likud approach is almost all stick and very little carrot, is true...which is not to say that the stick is inappropriate’.
         He also said that ‘there is no army in the world that I know of that is more sensitive to civilian casualties’.


The towers of Lebanon.
         Speaking of how to avoid another Manhattan.
         In 1982 the Israeli defence minister, a former general named Ariel Sharon, convinced his prime minister Menachem Begin to begin an invasion of Lebanon. His cabinet believed they had authorised a limited intervention to deal with PLO fighters who were firing rockets and launching attacks across the border into northern Israel.
         Sharon, however, had a ‘grand plan’: to push north to Beirut, drive out the PLO, and install a Christian regime that would sign a peace treaty and enable him to absorb the West Bank into ‘Greater Israel’ and create a ‘Palestinian’ state in Jordan.
         Operation Peace for Galilee.
         The maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect.
         On 6 June 1982 45,000 troops poured into Lebanon, overrunning the south and laying siege to Beirut. Israeli airforce F-16s bombed entire apartment blocks, collapsing them onto their occupants like vast concrete houses of cards.
         At least 11,000 people were killed by Israeli actions alone.
         In the October 2004 interview in which he admits responsibility for 9/11 Osama Bin Laden spoke of this war.
         ‘The events that made a direct impression on me were during and after 1982, when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon with the help of its third fleet…It was like a crocodile devouring a child, who could do nothing but scream.’
         ‘In those critical moments, many ideas raged inside me, ideas difficult to describe, but they unleashed a powerful urge to reject injustice and a strong determination to punish the oppressors.
         As I looked at those destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the oppressor in kind by destroying towers in America…’.
         ‘I will explain to you the reasons behind these events, and I will tell you the truth about the moments when the decision was taken, so that you can reflect on it.’
         It seems important to say: he did not reject injustice.
         Relentlessly backwards.
         To July 2006.
         Sharon lies comatose in a Jerusalem hospital, his condition deteriorating.
         The Israeli Air Force continues to bombard southern Lebanon and Beirut. The army shells the south. This time the objective is not the PLO, but the Islamist guerrilla organisation and political party Hezbollah, who have stepped up their rocket attacks in solidarity with the Palestinians fighting Israel in Gaza.
         The war has gone for two weeks. The IAF has bombed ambulances, lines of cars and trucks, and a UN observer post. They have destroyed whole neighbourhoods of apartment blocks. Children fill the hospitals, their faces a sea of burns.
         U.S. diplomacy deliberately frustrates an international push for a cease-fire.
         The streets are thick with dust and ash, like another city on another day five years before.
         An Israeli Army spokesman tells The Associated Press that Israel has hit ‘1,000 targets in the last eight days, 20 percent missile launching sites, control and command centers, missiles and so forth.’
         ‘We are still working through our original targeting menus’, says another official.
         Refugees and visitors crowd the ports hoping to get out. In Tyre, a Shia woman is filmed being helped onto a small boat taking refugees out to ferry moored in the bay. It is the last boat of the day, before the bombardment begins again, and it is already pulling away. She is agitated, screaming at the driver, at the shore, her teeth bared in a rictus of distress. The shot cuts to two small boys stranded on the wharf—a ten or eleven year old holding his brother, who looks three or four, his mouth open and face streaming with tears.
         Her sons.
         The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Air Force General Dan Halutz, was asked after his forces bombed a residential district in Gaza, killing fourteen civilians, how he felt after dropping a bomb. He replied: ‘A slight bump to the wing.’
         We want to restore security to our umma. I fear the next statement will not be a message read on Al Jazeera.
         And then what will become of our way of life?
         Outside the weather is clearing after days of rain. The beach is deserted and appears like a painting, with a row of steel dinghies at one end, the waves rolling in, the sand-coloured surf club at the other. Mothers push prams past joggers and people with dogs. People sit on the steps eating ice-creams and drinking fruit smoothies from long foam cups. The cafes are busy with customers. A council van drives slowly over the grass and onto the road.
         Jenny is alive. The babies are alive. What could be wrong?
         Sometimes at night I go into the babies’ room to watch them sleep. I touch their faces, so serene and still. They are too young to speak, reason or hate. The quiet is broken by a bus, its sound rising and falling as it passes and then brakes at the end of the street. I listen for their breaths, so light as to be imperceptible, and I am afraid.


Anthony Burke is the author of Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence: War Against The Other (Routledge, 2007) and Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety (Cambridge University Press, 2008), and co-editor with Matt McDonald of Critical Security in the Asia-Pacific (Manchester University Press, 2007). He is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW, Canberra. A version of this essay will also be published in Meanjin Quarterly later in 2008.



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