Back in 2007 at the height of the ‘War on Terror’, I joined a group of talented entertainers and spent two weeks on a whirlwind tour of Australian army bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. The tour was run by Forces Entertainment, a division of the Australian Defense Force that have been sending Aussie performers to entertain our troops since Vietnam.
The main function of our tour was to break up the monotony of the dull, daily lives that the soldiers were living for six months at a time. The men and women we entertained were so appreciative and so incredibly hospitable. Be traveling all that way, we showed our troops a huge amount of support. Our concerts helped take their minds off the ordeal of fighting a war halfway across the world and I was proud to be a part of it.
Our first stop in Afghanistan was Tarin Kowt, an isolated fighting base in the south of the country and the base out of which Australian casualties would prove highest. It had a makeshift kind of feel to it; steel bunk beds inside bare concrete structures, tarp on the ground and a dining hall with a flapping door that was little more structured than a tent. The base was surrounded by grey, beautifully misty, rolling mountains and we were told that amidst those mountains, Taliban fighters were hiding. During our concert a few hours after we arrived (the back of a large semi-trailer doubled as our stage) we heard machine gun fire and saw flares being sent out into the hills. The flares, we were told, were to let the Taliban fighters know not to cause any trouble that night. (I didn’t realize there was such a co-operative dialogue!)
My thirty minute set of feel-good pop songs opened the show and whilst enjoying the masculine attention of a group of Australian Army engineers, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of defiance towards the Taliban fighters that were supposedly hiding in the hills enjoying our concert. “If you want to attack us,” I thought, “go for it. Send a rocket in and blow my arm off. I don’t care. We’re doing an important thing for our men and women and nothing is going to stop us.”
Of course our invincibility wasn’t guaranteed. Our scheduled concert at Camp Victory in Baghdad a week later was cancelled due to intelligence warning of an imminent rocket attack. (Camp Victory was mockingly referred to a few years later as Camp ‘We Spoke Too Soon’) We scrambled to pack everything away as quickly as possible and take shelter inside. What amazed me was that after twenty minutes of terrible fear, probably the greatest fear I’ve ever known, I forgot all about it and got on with my evening just like everyone else.
With a little bit more thought and reflection on the nearly paralytic fear I felt the face of real danger, I realized that if my arm was blown off that night in Baghdad or the previous week in Tarin Kowt, I would care. Agreeing to take this trip was patriotic, sure, but had I returned to Australia with one less limb, I would not be able to take pride or solace in the fact that ‘I did it for my country.’ Not a chance in hell. So the question I found myself asking was how did the parents of thirty-three-year-old Sergeant Matthew Locke, who was killed a week after we left Tarin Kowt, how did they cope? Did they take the Australian flag that was wrapped around their son’s coffin and hang it up with pride on their living room wall? I’m sure I couldn’t. We read statistics in the paper about deaths at war and often overlook the significance, because a disconnected number is difficult to fathom. But I was there. I had just left the base that Sergeant Locke was serving in—he probably heard me sing. His death had a profound effect on me and we didn’t even meet.
The biggest thing that struck me on our trip was the wasted human life. In November 2007, the month I returned home from our tour, there were already 4,700 U.S. soldiers dead, 4 Australians, 255 British, 14 Dutch. There were an estimated 70,000 Iraqi civilians dead and 40,000 US medical evacuees—meaning 40,000 men and women with seriously debilitating injuries including irreversible brain damage and blindness. There were 10,000 people with grave psychological issues (as well as countless veteran suicides in each of the subsequent years). If you take a second to think of just one of those people—just one, selected out of any one of those categories—if you think of that one person as your father or your husband, your daughter or your son, then you might find yourself asking, is it worth it? I may be hugely idealistic, but with a tragic history of so many millions dead at the hands of war, surely we are smart enough to find a better way.
Alexis Fishman is an Australian singer and actor who has lived in New York City for the past six years. She is a graduate of the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (Hugh Jackman’s alma mater). She is the creator and star of a solo show,
Der Gelbe Stern, which tells the story of a famous cabaret singer performing her final show in Berlin 1933. After successful seasons in Australia, Der Gelbe Stern will make its off-Broadway debut at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in July, 2014. As a writer, Alexis will be a contributor to “God, Faith and Identity in the Ashes: Perspectives of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors” due to be published by in 2015. She is also completing a Masters in International Relations through Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia and due to graduate at the end of 2014. www.alexisfishman.com
Why is this "The i’Mpossible Project?"
Inspired by Josh Rivedal's book and one-man show The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah. Gospel (non-religious) means "Good News" and Josh's good news is that he's alive, and thriving, able to tell his story and help other people.
On his international tour with his one-man show, he found incredible people who felt voiceless or worthless yet who were outstanding people with important personal stories waiting to be told. These personal stories changed his life and the life of the storyteller for the better.
Josh's one-man show continues through 2015 and beyond and he is looking for people in all walks of life, online and offline, to help give them a voice and share their stories with the world.