|View from "The Neck", one center of the Gallipoli engagement|
Battlefields shouldn’t be beautiful. At least this is how I feel. Battlefields should be cold and gray and melancholy. You shouldn’t look out and think “man, what a great beach”, or “wow, what a fantastic view”. Human beings refuse to fight over the truly ugly parts of the world though and so we are constantly forced to face beautiful battlefields, looking at a breathtaking vista and looking down to find graves at your feet, men of 19 and 20 whose lives ended with that view. My brain always short circuits at this point as it tries to rectify how the ugliness of man made destruction could coexist with the natural splendor of the place. I’m never going to win though and so I just consume the paradox and move on.
|The cemetery at the first ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Auxiliary Corps) landing site Ari Burnu|
I tried to imagine the fields a sea of dirt and dust, bodies and blood, but I cannot. I see the green pines and shrubs and remember the swaths of electric yellow that surrounded the motorway on either side of the road to Eceabat. My mind cannot comprehend the horror of trench warfare. And I don’t think I want it to. Many of the graves that exist today are “presumed to be buried here”. No one knows. Many names do not even get a headstone, just a line carved into a stone monument, standing mute, each one identical to the other on spots throughout the landscape. Tiny scraps of land that men fought viciously over, pouring hot metal and fire into a football field’s worth of no man’s land before launching themselves towards a goal that they knew the first attackers could not possibly reach. Many of these maneuvers were ‘diversionary’, meant only to distract attention. Men dying for an optical illusion, a sleight of hand, while other men fought just as hard and died just as quickly for the ‘real’ objective, another slice of land in the Aegean, wafer thin ridges on a skinny peninsula for a vein of maritime property that would bring the allies to Russian waters.
|Brighton Beach, where the ANZACs were meant to land on 25 April 1915|
There’s a quote by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk about the Battle of Gallipolli that I find incredibly poetic. He wrote it 20 years after the fighting, and nearly 80 years ago and it still strikes me as one of the most chivalrous, courageous and simply heart wrenching things I have ever heard. I leave you with it.
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives; – You are now living 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 faraway 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.