Friday, October 10, 2008

Gallipoli II, Reflections

The Turkish embrace of the ANZAC visitors (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), et al. is quite fascinating. The General who fought the Allied Powers off, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, later the "father of Turkey" famously said:

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

This country, with the help of the Commonwealth, has maintained many beautiful memorials and graveyards to those who fell, on both sides. They treat the issue with fairness, dignity, and respect. I find this rather amazing; can you imagine us feeling that way about an attack on our soil? Granted, the attack was on the Ottomans, rather than the Republic of Turkey, but the Empire was governed by the Turks and these are the ones who often suffered the most.

The battlefields were vivid—wall-like hills to climb, facing endless fire, little ground ever gained. At one point the trenches come together only 8 meters apart (to keep the back up artillery from firing from the Turk side, or the British navy from firing from the allied side).

It changed the outcome of the war (Churchill and Kitchener were greatly diminished), the investment of Britain in carving up the middle east, raised Attaturk to the level of legend, and broke the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men. It is said that this is when Australians and New Zealanders really started to have their own national identity.

Something that has always interested me on the western front happened here in Gallipoli as well. There was fraternization. They would have mutual cease-fires for collecting the dead. One ANZAC officer who was hurt and was in no-man’s land was crying out for help, but no one could come to him, for his rescuer would certainly be shot. So the Turks raised the white flag, and let the ANZACS out to save him. They would throw each other tobacco and paper, so they could each roll their cigarettes, and the ANZACS threw the Turks canned meat on their holidays, so that they could celebrate. There was even some serenading.

At one point, when the Allies were stupidly charging, one row after another, and being mowed down in seconds, the Turks started yelling for them to please stop, stop, stop!

But they also killed each other in epic proportion.

To me, this all makes me wonder about so many things. Human nature particularly. We can be so brutal, and we can be so kind. Even more amazing, is that the same people can embody both at almost the same time.

And there is the war thing. Most wars are the wars of our Grandfathers, played out by their grandsons. Most of the dead were in their late teens or early twenties. There is a reason we call them "our boys." They are just little boys, too often pawns in an extraordinarily selfish game that the often rarefied world of politicians doesn’t have to deal with, except for political repercussions if things don’t go well. Poor them.

Anyway, Gallipoli was touching and humbling. It was hard to see that so much suffering had occurred, but it was also wonderful to see the way that reconciliation has been offered and taken.

An Australian older gentleman asked if he could recite an excerpt from his army's ode:

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemnAt the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them."

It made me tear up. He also said something I think is quite profound. In war, there are not winners and losers. There are only those who lose some and lose more.


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