Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anzac Day

Yesterday was Anzac Day in Australia - the day that Australia commemorates the lives of all our soldiers who have died in wars.

The 25 April was the day in 1915 that Australian and New Zealand soldiers set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies. They thought it would be a quick fight to knock Turkey out of the war, but the Turks fought us back. The expedition was, in fact, an utter disaster from the Australian point of view.

I'm not sure what it says about us as a nation that we are so focused on celebrating and remembering a more or less complete military failure. But our view of ourselves as a nation pretty much began with that campaign. Generally speaking, we have an idea of ourselves as hardy, democratic, fiercely egalitarian, resourceful, brave and sticking by our mates.

To this day, thousands of people - mostly young people - make their way to the battlefields at Gallipoli and regard it as a kind of pilgrimage. Australians are mostly not very religious but, if we have a sacred place, it is Gallipoli.

I have written before about Anzac Day and, as usual, it was an emotional day for me. It was a day that crystallised all my mixed feelings about war - all the horror, the waste and destruction, but also the courage and endurance that humans are capable of.

But perhaps it is a sign of my improving state of mind that I didn't spend the whole day reflecting on the darkest aspects. In fact, I actually managed to find something positive to focus on.

There are not many people that I truly regard as great. But I think I would have to grant that title to Ataturk, the main commander of Turkish troops during that Gallipoli campaign. Not only did he hurl back an invasion of his country, become his country's first president, and essentially establish modern Turkey, but he wrote a tribute to the allied troops, his former enemies, that is now part of a new memorial in Canberra:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.

The generosity and greatness of soul of this tribute brought on the only tears I shed this Anzac Day.


Blogger Fusion said...

I was reading about Anzac day today in my travel book, It was interesting to find out the Australian and New Zealand forces were combined back then. I plan on checking out a few of the war memorials while in Australia the next two weeks. I'll be in Melbourne this time next week, and I'm really looking forward to it.

2:28 AM  
Blogger LePhare said...

Gallipoli, one of Churchill's mistakes. It made him think long and hard about the next invasion he planned in 1944.

The Anzac loses were terrible for such a small population, but twice as many British troops killed there and three times as many French.

4:30 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Attaturk was one of the greatest Leaders of the modern era!

That was a seriously fubar landing!

I was watching the movie in a college dorm with a GI buddy of mine.

We knew how it was going to end, for obvious reasons, but we could not believe the 'Cherries " watching it with us were so into the sanitized view of war tht they thought it would end happily.

We wanted to laugh and curse at them for their foolish ingnorance of world history and what happens to young men when the bullets start flying.

Probably the same demographic that has given us Bush II, part II.

That movie ending was just as werenching as the ending to Das Boot.

good job by the filmmakers to show the reality of WAr, not the John Wayne BS.

7:45 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Ps--Just the idea of some poor guy from say Alice springs being sent to the othe side of the world to fight and die is VERY sad, might as well have been Mars for gosh sakes.

heres to the Men who answered the call, and especially those who never came back!

Old men start 'em, young men pay for 'em.

6:20 AM  

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