Fellow fans of my favorite band, Midnight Oil, reminded me this morning that today is Anzac Day. The holiday, marked by the people of Australia and New Zealand, is a commemoration similar to Veterans Day or Memorial Day in the United States. The only reason I know much about Anzac Day is because Midnight Oil -- a strenuously Australian and historically aware band -- makes several references to the Anzacs in its songs.
The acronym “Anzac” stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a name given to the soldiers who landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula on this date in 1915 during the early months of World War I. The fighting that ensued between the Anzacs and the Turks was among the most horrific of a war known for its horrors. Two thousand Anzacs were killed the first day after storming a beach that lay below cliffs filled with Turkish troops and guns.
In the ensuing months, the bloodshed continued. Nearly 2,300 Australians and 4,000 Turks fell on a piece of ground smaller than two soccer fields called Lone Pine. Three waves of Anzacs were annihilated at a place called The Nek within minutes of each other, none reaching the Turkish trenches they tried to storm. After the war, the bodies of 300 Anzacs were found piled in an area smaller than a tennis court at The Nek. Before the Anzacs withdrew in December 1915, over 8,000 of the 50,000 Australians who served in Gallipoli were dead. In total, about 43,000 Allies and 86,000 Turks had been killed in a military campaign that, as is so often the case in war, accomplished nothing.
Over the last several years, the final survivors of the Gallipoli campaign -- “The Last of the Diggers” as Midnight Oil called them in a song of the same name -- have died. As wise old men, however, they left behind a few quotes we should ponder in the face of our new world at war.
“I was brainless,” said late veteran Tom Epps, “but I’m not sorry I went. It taught me how stupid the politicians and military can be. They were boneheads.”
When Gallipoli survivor Ted Matthews died in 1997, he was honored by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who said: “To those of us who lead nations, let us recall that it was Matthews who said: ‘Politicians make up the wars. They don’t go to them.’ ”
Upon reading these words, I found it odd that Howard was eager to join Bush and Blair in the coalition that made war on Iraq.
The greatest quote to emerge from Gallipoli, however, was spoken by Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey and one of the Turkish commanders in the campaign. His words were paraphrased in the Midnight Oil song “Blossom and Blood.” Written in 1934, they appear on monuments in both Australia and Turkey:
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 front 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
We can only pray that the current conflict eventually brings such comforting words of peace between the combatants. I fear, however, that it won’t.