War is an issue for me. I am producing a production of “Mother Courage and Her Children“. Some strange views and attitudes reveal themselves. Yet, no one speaks of drawing out the contradictions in the state apparatus.¬†Yet war can be defined quite broadly as we see with notions of “War on drugs” and “war on poverty” etc. Significantly, it is understandable that students in a fairly cloistered and sheltered environment of middle class Australia might see war as the natural state of humanity; the concept of “perpetual war” as just as natural as the flowing streams that nourish the sewer.

George Orwell presented the idea of constant warfare as a means of unifying and controlling populations. The history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries bares this out. So our students performing “Mother Courage” get caught in a conundrum. They see war as natural. War becomes a part of everything they see and hear. Yet they are see and feel nothing of its impact. War happens over THERE …


Joe Woodward, would-be radical though never fully committed

Let’s step back and get personal. I was not called up for National Service in 1970 to go and fight in Vietnam. The call-up lottery didn’t come my way! Therefore, I didn’t ever have to be a conscientious objector or have to expose my thinking to the world. .

Instead, I learned to create political consciousness amongst the masses of mostly culturally privileged students. Students and people generally need to be traumatised before being motivated into action. If the oppressor is identified and an oppressive action is clear it becomes easier to radicalise large groups of people! This was relatively easy in Queensland in 1971. Students had been on the streets and demonstrating for some issues that were relevant (ie. civil liberties). This meant they began to draw out the “contradictions” within the state.


What further contradictions in our society might become apparent and worth challenging and changing?

Chances are the police would come down heavy handedly and throw individuals and whole groups into police vans and then a cell over-night before releasing them. The participants would then begin thinking about other anti-state agendas and realise that it wasn’t all that bad being tossed into a van and then in a holding cell overnight! So what other nasty little things was the State power doing that could be attacked and challenged? What further contradictions in our society might become apparent and worth challenging and changing? And of course, one realises that once overcoming the fear of being targeted by the state apparatus, one can venture further. We might question what is the State apparatus perpetuating on the population? Especially the most marginalized?

Essential state actions draw out the violence of the state. The establishment and the status quo prove their oppressive power. Unfortunately, this represents a much larger truth. War is a necessary agenda for activists of any persuasion. The evidence of this procedural agenda is everywhere today. Warfare becomes the necessary agenda for activists. But it must be observable and transparent.

Easy to condemn

Some use war as a means to amass their own power. Anna Frieling profits of war. She survives by selling her goods to whoever is willing to pay. In the process she sees her two children killed and one killed without her knowledge. Should we condemn her?

Maybe! But the point of the play is that ethical action in wartime is virtually impossible. Once it starts, it is a beast that devours humanity and humanitarian action. The isolated heroic action and heroic instances of ethical purity are outweighed by the gross inhumanity that is the norm in WAR. Even if Frieling and her children had the consciousness that might have allowed them to see the contradictory nature of their predicament, would it have changed their relationship to the the war? Frieling profits, the honest child is tortured and killed; the mute child dies a hero; the wild child becomes a war criminal and is executed. And all happens in a cabaret of deception and irony.

It is easy to condemn the actions of perpetrators of war crimes while watching a cabaret show at a school production of “Mother Courage”! It is harder to prevent it happening. But just for a moment ask the WHAT IF question …

“Mother Courage and Her Children” as comic distraction and cabaret?

We can watch a play or film or whatever and know that death will not come in the form of bombs through our roofs at any moment. We can assume no one will tie up our family members and make us watch as they are executed, raped and humiliated for some kind of military advantage. We can enjoy the songs of Brecht and Weill without the disturbing thought that our children will be tortured and killed before our very eyes.

And so the play is light, amusing and made more endurable by the Bar sales of German Beers, Schnapps and wines. We can watch our children perform with commitment and skill in ways that many will not dare.

This is no “High School Musical” with its traits of narcissistic excess and abnormal normality! This is savage truth! So enjoy but consider! Reflect! Discuss …

And at the end of the night …

The children perform with severe and emotional clarity. Parents shudder at the vehermance of the act. Children sing, dance, sculpt and endure a performance drawn from Brecht’s play. The actors present comedy and absurdity. They sing parodies. They sing truthful observations. They reveal hidden realities that are buried under decades of deception. They revolt against the certainties of their parents’ generation.


27 April 1, 2, 3, 4 May








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