"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life Informing Art, or The Empire Strikes Out, Part Two

Not even 20 years after the Boer War, during which misuse of Colonial Australian troops (dramatized in episodes such as the 'Breaker' Morant case) began to strain Australian allegiance to the Crown, came the infamous Gallipoli campaign during World War I.

The English, seeking to capture Constantinople, knock the Ottoman Turks out of the war, and open the Dardanelles to Russian shipping, devised a campaign which began with a naval bombardment in February of 1915. The campaign was devised by the same Lord Kitchener who had gained infamy in South Africa for his actions in the Morant case, and by the future Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. The opening naval attack successfully neutralized the Turk forts of Sud El Bar and Kum Kale in the approaches to the Narrows.

But then, on March 18 disaster struck and three British battleships were sunk by mines and shore-battery fire, and three other battleships crippled. The British then decided that in order to clear the waterway to Constantinople, a land assault would be required to silence the shore batteries and allow the Narrows to be swept for mines.

This assault on the narrow penninsula overlooking the strategic Dardanelles, was doomed to failure, through a combination of faulty intelligence and negligent planning, and would result in a bloody 9-month attempt to consolidate a number of beacheads and move inland towards Constantinople. In the event, very little progress was made even where the troops could get off of the beacheads. The extreme terrain and a dogged resistance of the well-entrenched Turks combined to produce a heartbreaking waste of life of the Australian, Irish, and English troops involved. When the plug was finally pulled on the operation in January of 1916, over 200,000 casualties had been suffered by the Allies.

The horrors of the beach assaults, especially those at Sud El Bar and Suvla Bay, and the push inland were vividly remembered by the survivors. Many Australians and Irish were horrified at the senseless loss of life incurred by the inept planning and execution of the campaign. A 1981 Australian movie, "Gallipoli," while taking the usual dramatic license with some details of the campaign, graphically portrays the futility of the conflict. In the ultimate scene, after waves of attacks on the Turks have been bloodily repulsed, the Australians wait to hear from their commanders if yet another wave of men must be thrown at the machine guns of the Turks:

A great anti-war song inspired by Gallipoli was written by a Australian, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda:"

The Irish, who also suffered at Gallipoli serving under the British standard, perpetually chafing against British rule, would end in armed rebellion against what they hoped would be a distracted and weakened enemy within a year of the Gallipoli disaster. A famous folk song composed by Father P. O'Neill in 1919 to honor the men who fought and died at the Easter Rising of 1916 in the attempt to gain Irish independence, specifically recalls Gallipoli with the words, "It was better to die/ 'Neath an Irish sky/ Than at Suvla or Sud El Bar."

It is appropriate, during February and March, to remember the sacrifices made by the brave men during the Gallipoli campaign, and to call to mind the dangers of empire on the one hand, or subjugation to any other nation's agenda on the other.

1 comment:

Ramona said...