Slightly off-topic blog today, but don’t worry, the second edition of Scrawling a Short Story should be available soon!
Tomorrow is ANZAC Day, and as some of you may know, I’m not a huge advocate of the otherwise revered day. Some may view this as unpatriotic, or perhaps insist that I need to avail myself of more facts before commenting on a sacred occasion. I must digress, for beyond my initial views of war, politics and blatant brutality, there is a plaintive purpose behind my stalwart point of view.
I must preface this by saying that I do understand the legend of ANZAC. I appreciate the patriotism, and the Dawn Service is an admirable tradition that encourages a sense of responsibility and esteem in a relatively stale culture; tradition is the hallmark of any great society. I also have two direct relatives—both great-grandfathers—whom served in WWII, Corporal Norman Gerald Hope, and Sergeant Leslie Charles “Cookie” Carpenter. I know my ancestry, and I know what it means to be Australian, but I also possess the ability to question and query history. Remember that history is written by the winners, so is it so wrong to wonder whether the bona fide story is known or not?
First, we must understand the true nature of the Dardanelles Campaign. To cut a long story short, King George V wanted to pry open a rear way into Germany, and the only feasible way was to come up through the Dardanelles and force an army across Eastern Europe. Alas, the Dardanelles were under the control of the crippled Ottoman Empire, which had been failing for a couple of centuries. Now, while the Ottoman Empire had entered a secretive agreement with Germany against Russia, they were not required to enter the war. They had neither the resources nor the zeal to directly enter the engagement, yet King George V consistently acted aggressive toward the Ottoman Empire, eventually seizing a couple of their vessels for his own purposes.
This caused a lot of tension between the two empires, and when Germany (without permission from the Ottoman Empire) closed off the Dardanelles, it was unanimously agreed among the Allied Forces that the Ottoman Empire was in league with Germany, and war was declared. Ergo, the Ottoman Empire had no choice. They were thrust into a war they initially sought no part in, and eventually declared jihad, seeking to reclaim any land lost to them in wars of yore. Could you blame them? Of course, the Armenian Genocide followed, but that’s a story for another day, the details of which are muddied.
The ANZACs were eventually sent to the Dardanelles by King George V to reclaim the strait. Ultimately, no matter how you colour the canvas, the Dardanelles Campaign was an invasion of a sovereign nation. Was it the right move? I’m not one to judge, but we must understand that we did not venture forth into the Great War as noble men with a cause; we were the pawns of a bloody campaign. It was violent. It was cruel. It was unprecedented. Those men—those boys—did not march forward like the Sons of Atreus to reclaim a woman from across the sea; they died without humility and without fanfare far away from their warm beds. Thinking about the atrocities of that campaign is sickening, yet putting a lampshade over the truth is beyond disingenuous—it is an insult to the memory of those thousands of lost souls.
Moving forward, I feel I must also recall the immediate impact of the distorted ANZAC legacy on Australian tradition. Active women and Aboriginals were essentially erased from the legends, the latter of which were legally forbidden from serving in the Australian military, and it is ironic that these pioneering Aboriginals who went to war did not go at the request of King George V, a demonic baron in their humble eyes. Instead, they went to fight for the country they loved, not as pawns, but as knights, yet they were conveniently forgotten.
Men who hailed from a city life of white collar careers were also abruptly ignored, as the legendary ANZAC figure primarily embodied an archetypal presence indicative only of outback Australia. It was deemed that men with smooth fingers possessed no noble skills, and were therefore fodder among the much prouder soldiers. There were also the men who did not serve, who were considered cowards for not offering their life. They were vilified by their communities, considered less than dogs.
Many of these distasteful traits have since been washed out of the ANZAC legends, and a far more mutually inclusive and patriotic tradition awaits millions of weary-eyed Australians on the morning of 25th April. Yet how many of these know the truth? How many who relentlessly spout the phrase “Lest we Forget”—deriving from a poem by Rudyard Kipling nonetheless—for the sake of tradition, truly understands the genesis of ANZAC or the revolting hypocrisies that followed the end of the Great War. ANZAC has, of course, evolved into a day of remembering every soldier who has ever served in the name of Australia, yet while it would be far easier for most Australians to simply brush the unsavoury parts of the legend under the rug and pretend they didn’t happen, we must endeavour to preserve the past or be doomed to repeat it.
Most importantly, however, we cannot be selfish. We cannot claim that we were the victims of the Dardanelles Campaign. We cannot thrust a murderous finger at the Ottoman Empire for defending their land against an invading force who came with the intent to kill, for they never called us their adversary, but rather brothers of the soul, both sides fighting and dying for something neither could possibly understand.
So while tomorrow when, with a touch of melancholy, you remember the many young Australians who died a senseless death, remember that many young Ottomans shared the same fate. They were not our enemy; they were our friends, we just didn’t know it yet. And while The Ode might suffice for the fallen sons of every nation, I think there is a far more poignant oration that should also be observed. It was delivered by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the man who secured the Ottoman Victory of the Dardanelles Campaign and eventually founded the Republic of Turkey, and it is beautiful:
“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
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.”