This past Monday, April 25th, was Anzac Day in Australia. Anzac Day is a public holiday, the anniversary of the 1915 landings in Gallipoli in Turkey during world war one. British, Australian, New Zealand, and other allied troops invaded Turkey in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war. This date is often given as the day Australia, then only an independent country for 14 years “came of age”.
Whether entering a war is a true test of coming of age is something that can be debated. But what can’t be argued with is that the Gallipoli campaign was a bloody, futile campaign that resulted in a decisive Turkish victory. The victory came at a huge cost – 44,092 allied dead, 96,937 allied wounded. The Turks, defending their home, lost far more, an estimated 86,692 dead, and 164,617 wounded. Altogether this adds up to almost 400,000 people, mostly young men, dead or wounded.
The most successful part of the campaign was the withdrawal. By December 20th 1915 all the allied troops had been withdrawn, leaving behind a peninsula criss-crossed with trenches, covered in shell craters, and soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of shattered lives.
Anzac Day is a day to reflect on those lost in war. As far back as recorded history takes us we find records of war. From the mess that is Afghanistan today, the trenches of World War One, Napoleon’s troops marching on Moscow, the crusaders sacking Jerusalem, the Romans razing Carthage and salting the earth, to Alexander’s troops carving up the Persian empire, we see troops on the move, cities on fire, rape, destruction, murder and theft, century after century. I am not enough of a dreamer to think this will ever come to an end.
But I’m enough of a dreamer to hope that it will. That some day the swords, rifles, and laser-guided bombs will be put aside, and we will find a better way.
I can’t help but think of a quote, very famous in Australia, from the first president of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who had fought at Gallipoli. Talking of the war, he said:
“Heroes who 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 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 bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
That sentiment is only talking about one war, one set of enemies who have ceased to kill each other. But it is a start. And I hope someday such eloquence will not be needed ever again.