Passing Bull 42 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Refugees and Us


Many people outside Australia want to come to it because they are threatened or oppressed in their own country.  They are prepared to risk death to do so.  We say that their attempts to come here are illegal – unless they can afford to fly – and we use our navy to stop them.  We then justify our stopping them by saying that we have saved them from the risks of the voyage.  We are doing these people a favour.  Then we lock them up in lands that are brutal or corrupt or both.  We employ private institutions to do our SS work.  And we wait for the refugees to start burning themselves to death.

Have I missed something or is this why I will be again reminded in Cambridge that Australians are pariahs in Europe?  This is not just bullshit.  It is not just an offence against the mind.  The offence is against humanity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the following remarks at the beginning of 1943 after he had been many years in a Nazi jail.  They look to me to apply to Australia word for word in its attitudes to refugees in 2016.  Has ever such a rich country been so utterly mean?

There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity.  We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow men.  The following thoughts may keep us from such a temptation.  It means that we at once fall into the worst of blunders of our opponents.  The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him.  Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves.  We often expect from others more than we are willing to do ourselves.  Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability?  We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer…..

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.  Are we still of any use?  What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.  Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

When I look with disgust on the sloganeering dope and the dull thug who have been in charge of this cruelty to people worse off than us, I am deeply ashamed of my own complicity.  What is the difference between me and the citizen of Munich who preferred to look the other way when Dachau was mentioned?

Poet of the Month: A D Hope

The Pleasure of Princes

What pleasures have great princes?  These: to know

Themselves reputed mad with pride or power;

To speak few words – few words and short bring low

This ancient house, that city with flame devour;


To make old men, their father’s enemies,

Drunk on the vintage of the former age;

To have great painters show their mistresses

Naked to the succeeding time; engage


The cunning of able, treacherous ministers

To serve, despite themselves, the cause they hate,

And leave a prosperous kingdom to their heirs

Nursed by the caterpillars of the state;


To keep their spies in good men’s hearts: to read

The malice of the wise, and act betimes;

To hear the Grand Remonstrances of greed,

Led by the pure; cheat justice of her crimes;


To beget worthless sons and, being old,

By starlight climb the battlements, and while

The pacing century hugs himself for cold,

Keep vigil like a lover, muse and smile,


And to think, to see from the grim castle steep

The midnight city below rejoice and shine:

‘There my great demon grumbles in his sleep

And dreams of his destruction, and of mine.’

One thought on “Passing Bull 42 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Refugees and Us

  1. It’s a strange predicament to be living through an event that is offshore processing. I have no doubt that in the future we will reflect on the horror and injustice that we, as Australians, subjected these innocent people to. I was quite young during the stolen generation but it feels like a similar out of control policy. How do we stop it.

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