Reflections On ANZAC Day 2012

Today, 25 April, is honored as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is now a day akin the Memorial Day in the United States. It was first observed in 1916 to remember those who served in the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps at the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I.

That bloody campaign saw great sacrifice and suffering on the part of all involved, but the ANZACs stood out especially among the forces deployed by the British Empire against the Ottoman Turkish empire. The ANZACs came close to dislodging the Turkish forces who held Gallipoli, but at the crucial moment, when the Turkish troops were exhausted and nearly out of ammunition, a leader appeared who rallied the nearly broken line and repulsed the British Empire’s forces, setting the stage for a long and entrenched stalemate which was so much a feature of WWI combat. Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later honored as “Atatürk,” or “Father of the Turks”, became the Turkish hero of Gallipoli for his success in salvaging eventual victory in the face of near-sure defeat.

The Gallipoli campaign was ghastly and bloody, and among the hardest fought struggles in a ghastly and bloody war. And in the end, it accomplished nothing at all. The Ottoman Empire eventually capitulated with the fall of its allies, but the slaughter at Gallipoli had little effect on this outcome.

Wars end, however. Mustafa Kemal went on the lead the broken and fragmented nation of Turkey from chaotic Ottoman imperial collapse into its status as a modern nation. Kemal was a warrior and a politician. But he was also a man of vision and a man whose preordinate aims for his nation are expressed in the simple phrase, “Yurtta suhl, cihanda suhl” which appears on monuments and memorials throughout modern Turkey. It means “Peace at home, peace in the world.”

Kemal was indeed a peacemaker. The great and victorious warrior also knew compassion and forgiveness, and he was careful to make it clear that the end of war meant not merely a cessation of fighting, but an encouragement of community and true peace. Famously, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said of the soldiers buried at Gallipoli, both Turks and ANZACs:

“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.”

This is inscribed on the Atatürk Memorial at, Gallipoli and at the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Canberra.

The world could use more such leaders.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

“Mankind is a single body and each nation a part of that body. We must never say “What does it matter to me if some part of the world is ailing?” If there is such an illness, we must concern ourselves with it as though we were having that illness.”

— Atatürk

The Assassination Of Lincoln

In the hustle and bustle of today, it is fitting to take a moment to recall one of the greatest men who ever served as President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. A moment of recollection and reflection is fitting today because it was on yesterday’s date, 14 April 1865 — Good Friday — that Lincoln was felled by an assassin’s bullet as he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln watched the popular comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

Moments after the shot rang out in the theater, John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor of the day, leapt from the President’s box onto the stage, shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” (“Death to Tyrants”; the motto of Virginia.) Booth broke his leg in the fall, but managed to crawl off the stage and escape in the ensuing confusion.

Lincoln was taken from the theater to a house across the street to lie abed as his physicians debated what could or should be done. Before surgery could be attempted, Lincoln died in the early morning of April 15. Secretary of War Stanton observed: “Now he belongs to the Ages.”

In one brief note, I cannot hope to sum up Lincoln’s life and his utterly crucial importance to the nation we have today, but I can note that he is almost always ranked at the top of the list of most important Presidents. And it is worth noting that the tales we learned in Childhood about Lincoln’s great public character and deep personal honesty and intergrity are well upheld under close scrutiny of the existing facts.

The world would be a different place had Lincoln not been killed in that fine early April of 1865; the world would likely be a worse place had he never lived.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. — Abraham Lincoln, 1864

In Memoriam: John Christopher Rawson — 12/5/52 – 4/12/74

I the wake of Easter, we are reminded that the reason for this holiday is to celebrate Life. For Christians, this has been a celebration of Life Everlasting and the Salvation that Jesus made possible for Mankind. Pre-Christian traditions also took time at this high point of Spring to celebrate the rebirth of nature after the bleakness of Winter. Familiar Easter symbols such as rabbits, (life abundant) eggs, (life emerging from lifelessness) and bright flowers (life reborn) have their origins in these Pre-Christian celebrations, though the symbolism applies fittingly to the Christian celebration.

Yet, as the Book of Common Prayer reminds us, in the midst of life we are in death. Last Friday, Good Friday, commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus and his earthly death. For many years, each Good Friday is also a time of personal remembrance for me, because it was on Good Friday, 12 April 1974, that my brother Chris was killed in an airplane crash. Though it has now been thirty-eight years, this loss is still with me. It is not a fresh pain, of course, it simply is a loss that I have grown accustomed to, but which nevertheless remains a loss.

Chris was a wonderful brother. The passage of time, as is natural, has caused me to forget any flaws and to remember only the good things.

When Chris was in his early teens, at a time when my father was considering an employment opportunity in Saint Louis, Chris decided to design an old-fashioned flatboat to take on a drift down the mighty Mississippi. He drew elaborate plans, did research on materials and costs, and spent time at the library to learn about similar designs. Ultimately, he built a 1/20th scale model of his plans in balsa wood. This plan was never realized (my father declined the job offer) but we had that wonderful model for many years.

Chris was deeply involved in Scouting and attained the rank of an Eagle Scout. For many years he spent his Summers as a camp counselor at the Boy Scouts’ Camp Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island off of the Southern California Coast. He introduced my twin brother Rob and me into Scouting. We three did a great deal of hiking together with our troop, and we “conquered” many of California’s tall peaks. I have an especially fond memory from the Fall of 1972. Our scout troop was hiking in the Grand Canyon. At that time, Chris was attending school at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. As night descended on our first day in the Canyon, I was startled to hear a familar voice call out: “Rob and Jamie Rawson had better answer their older brother!”

Chris had hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch where we were encamped to join us for the long weekend! He led us on several day-hikes where he served as a well-informed tour guide sharing with us younger Scouts things he had learned about the geology of the canyon in a class at college. Chris supervised some pretty fancy meals as well, for he had packed in some steaks and potatoes and other non-standard camp fare. The Scout leaders were especially glad to see him, for he had ensured his welcome by bringing in a case of beer! (Just for the adults!)

Chris had many interests and enthusiasms. He loved drama (he played the comic-relief role of the porter in a production of MacBeth) and he loved stagecraft (he once designed the set for a college production of Jesus Christ Superstar.) He was fascinated by film and the movie business and he made several 8mm films, including his magnum opus, Kincaid’s Gold, a thinly veiled rip-off of a Hollywood film of similar name.

In the last year of his life his great passion was flying. Chris joined the Air Force ROTC. He took training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in the summer of 1973. The training was intense, but he took the time to mail a small Texan cactus to me and Rob for our cactus garden. During the next year he took opportunities to fly whenever he could.

Good Friday, 12 April 1974 was a stunningly beautiful day in Southern California. The air was clear, the temperature mild. It was a day so perfectly lovely that I well might have remembered it ever after just for that. I even recall thinking that afternoon what a fortunate day it was.

Rob and I had arisen at 4:00 am to accompany my mother to the Los Angeles Flower Market to pick up the stock for the Easter weekend at our flower shop. After we had finished cleaning and preparing the immense load of flowers back at the shop, Rob and I went to a local lunch counter. We ordered chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, only remembering too late that we should not have ordered meat. Fortunately, when the waitress brought the sandwiches, the cook had gotten the order wrong: the sandwiches were tuna! (Which was just fine for Good Friday.) It certainly seemed a fortunate day.

We were watching the broadcast of Ben Hur that evening when the telephone rang, delivering the stunning, tragic news.

At that time, and in the decades since, I tried to understand the “why” of this loss. There was no reason, no purpose, no greater cause served by Chris’ death. It simply happened. In the midst of life we are in death. On the threshold of the Easter celebration of Life and Rebirth a life was lost. I long ago concluded that the “why” of this loss will remain unknown to me in this life. There is no compensation possible, there is no “getting over it,” there is only getting used to it. And it would serve no purpose to be angry or resentful for the loss. It is not unjust; it is not just. It just is.

But I write this not to bring down peoples’ spirits after a wonderful holiday, rather I write this to remember a fine person who has been gone far longer than he lived. I recall him very often, and he well deserves to be remembered.

So as we celebrate Life and Rebirth, as we rejoice in Spring and think of delightful things, we also remember too those who are not here with us. Easter embraces both reflections.

John Christopher Rawson 1952-1974

Chris Rawson. Taken 11 April 1974.

Good Friday

Today is celebrated by many Christian denominations around the world in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In the English speaking lands, the day is known by the rather unexpected name of “Good Friday.” Good? What is good about such a day? I recall when I was in the 7th grade a Jewish friend asking, “why is it called “good” if it is the day that Jesus was killed?” Good question.

The etymology of the English name “Good Friday” is unclear and is the subject of much discussion and dispute. In other European languages the day is know variously as “Sad Friday,” (German) which is easily understood, “Passion Friday,” (Irish, Russian) where passion is used in the sense of suffering, also readily understood. In most romance languages, the day is termed “Holy Friday,” (French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian) which is once again fairly obvious. And in many Slavic languages, it is known as “Great Friday,” (Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Slovenian) with the sense of being an important day. And all of these descriptors makes good sense. So why do English speakers call the day “Good?”

One explanation is that “Good” is simply a derivative of “God.” This etymological heritage is attested to in the familiar phrase “good-bye.” “Good-bye” originated as “God be with you,” said to departing travelers in a time when travel was always perilous. (“Good-bye” has a well documented history and can be traced from its first recorded written use in 1573 in a letter from Gabriel Harvey [as “godbwye”] to earlier forms such as “God be wy ye” and others.) Thus “Good Friday” would have come from “God Friday,” and that seems plain enough.

Other sources argue that “Good” in this context is simply used in the sense of “Holy.” The American Heritage Dictionary offers this explanation with confidence, admitting no other opinion, stating “ETYMOLOGY: From good, pious, holy (obsolete.)” Yet it is interesting that in the extensive entry for the word “good” in that same dictionary, there is not a single reference to its use meaning either “holy” or “pious!” And there are not abundant, unambiguous examples of such usage. Shakespeare uses “good father” for churchmen in many of his plays, but he uses “good” so often to describe so many different people in so many different stations that it is impossible to be sure he means “holy” or “pious” when addressing churchmen. So this explanation seems under-supported, though plausible.

Still others claim that the day is “Good Friday” because The Messiah suffered and died for the good of humankind. Though the day was dreadful, yet its result was good, runs this argument.

The explanation for the name “Good Friday” is therefore unresolved and, given the lack of a “paper trail,” is likely to remain so. Regardless of the name’s origins, it remains an crucial day in the calendars of Christendom.

Have a good Friday this Good Friday, and have a lovely Easter weekend as well, howsoever you frame your beliefs!

(The etymology of the name “Easter” is even more complex, and just about as much disputed. The Venerable Bede, our most extensive source for early English Church history explained that the name derived from the name of an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess.)

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

“And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.”

— Mark 15:25

Fifty Years Ago This Day: Remembering Dr. King

It was on this day in 1968, now fifty years ago, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The killing touched off a wave of urban violence on a scale and of a scope far exceeding anything like it before. The nation reeled under the twin shocks of assassination and widespread rioting.

Those of us over a certain age will remember the day: it stands out as one of a trio of assassinations which seemed to define the 1960s, the first being John F. Kennedy four-and-a-half years before, and the third being Robert F. Kennedy just two months later. It was late afternoon on that warm Thursday in Southern California where I then lived. My brother Rob and I had been to an after-school birthday party for a friend a few houses from our own. My older brother Chris had walked over to take us home. When we came to the door, Chris informed us that “Martin Luther King had been shot.”

I doubt that then, at the age of nine, I had a very full understanding of what Dr. King had accomplished, yet he had been a major figure throughout my conscious life up to that day. When I was quite young, my family had lived in Montgomery, Alabama at a time when that city was still grappling with the revolutionary impact of the Bus Boycott of a few years before; Dr. King was, of course, a prominent figure in that struggle. We had lived outside Washington, D.C. when Dr. King had delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech in August of 1963. My mother felt we should watch the television news reports when Birmingham, Alabama Police Chief Bull Connor ordered police and firemen to set dogs on peaceful demonstrators, and to turn fire hoses on the women and small children. We watched on TV as Dr. King and his followers marched peacefully from Selma to Montgomery only to be met with violence. Dr. King was a figure nearly as familiar as President Johnson – and to a nine year old, he was infinitely more dramatic and interesting.

What a shock, then, to hear he had been shot. It was so unreal. And when we returned home to watch the news, we watched more trauma unfold as city after city erupted in violence in reaction to the devastating news. Dr. King would never have approved of the violence and destruction of course. It was horrific in the extreme to hear that in Washington, D.C., firemen had been shot at as they responded to the emergency. It was frightening to see the skyline of Washington with the glow of fires illuminating it. Who could approve of senseless destruction, but especially in light of the character of Dr. King? Yet one also understood that the feeling of rage was too overwhelming to be contained. Dr. King’s program of non-violent action had ultimately resulted in a most violent death for himself, with so much of his work unfinished. No, one could not approve of the violence, but one could understand the rage.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being, so it is not surprising that in recent years some of his foibles have been brought to light. If he was flawed, however, these were minor flaws, for he remained focussed on his goal, and he remained true to his principles. When he was met with violence, he offered peaceful response. Dr. King never hesitated to speak out, but he continually forebore to strike out. And though he could march 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery to present their demands to Governor Wallace, he did not use that great crowd to extort or coerce. At a time of uncertainty and unrest, Dr. King strove to effect maximal change with minimal upheaval.

Dr. King was also one of America’s greatest orators, possessed of an entrancing speaking voice, a dramatic delivery style, and a great gift of rhetorical brilliance. Few people can hear a recording of a speech by King and remain unmoved. His, “I Have a Dream” speech surely ranks among the very foremost of American speeches, and it represents a landmark in the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. In one of the most often quoted passages in any American speech, Dr. King proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

It is clear that Dr. King’s work is not yet completed, even today. But it is also clear that his dream did not die with him. He was just 38 years old when he was killed; shortly before his death he was heard to wonder if he had accomplished anything at all in the previous dozen years: there was still so very much yet to be done. The work which Dr. King undertook remains to this day unfinished, but he did not strive in vain. The world we live in today is one far removed from that of 1955 or even 1968. It is today unthinkable that dogs and fire hoses would be used against peaceful demonstrators. It is unimaginable that a state government would seriously assert its right to disenfranchise and to discriminate against a large portion of its citizens. It seems medieval that a state would deny anyone employment, or legal rights, or even so basic a human institution as marriage, based upon race. Yet in one form or another, issues of these types still face us; the terrible scourge of racism has seen an appalling rebirth in recent years, encouraged in part by pretended “populist” politicians who flagrantly fan old fears to further their ambitions.

The work is not yet done. But it was well begun. And it must be rekindled by those of us today who understand the need.

Dr. King earned a goodly share of the credit for getting this work underway. It seems fitting, that we pause for a moment on this sad anniversary to remember a great leader. And to recall his great work, a work in progress.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Oh, the worst of tragedies is not to die young, but to live until I am seventy-five and yet not ever truly to have lived.

— Martin Luther King Jr.