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