McKenna, Mark & Stuart Ward: Anzac myth and creative memorialisation

McKenna, Mark & Stuart Ward

An Anzac myth: the creative memorialisation of Gallipoli‘, The Monthly, December 2015 (temporary pay-wall)

Australian-Turkish friendship has become in 2015 a pillar of the Anzac legend. The work of Paul Daley and Cengiz Ozakinci (and, Honest History would add, Honest History) has raised questions, however, noting particularly the creative work of Igdemir and Campbell in 1977-78.

If there were any doubt that the purported history of the Gallipoli campaign – built on a midden of historical half-truths and outright falsehoods – had fallen prey to contemporary politics and commercialisation, the spate of centennial memorialisation and relentless Anzackery provided ample evidence.

The authors describe ceremonies and unveilings in Auburn, Sydney, Goulburn and Melbourne, each of them featuring redemptive stories that could foster multicultural community spirit. They then go into detail about how the Pine Ridge (Respect to Mehmetcik) statue at Gallipoli tells a bogus story about the rescue of an Australian soldier by an Ottoman soldier, how the story has changed over the years and how its bogus status (admitted even by some guidebooks) has not stopped versions of it becoming embedded.

A central figure, Richard Casey, who was at Gallipoli and later became an Australian minister and governor-general, is quoted by the authors to rather less reconciliatory effect than the version of his story that contributed to the Pine Ridge legend.

Fighting war [the authors comment] creates a radically different set of imperatives to those elicited by remembering war. [Essentially, people fighting wars know that the enemy is to be killed.] Returned soldiers struggle to forget the horror, and have to reconcile the suffering and loss of life, while their fellow citizens reach for stories of friendship to redeem the humanity of loved ones who fought (emphasis added).

More evidence of the disjunction between the attitudes of soldiers in the front line and later remembrance is gleaned from the wartime diaries of Alan J. Campbell, the champion of reconciliation six decades later. ‘Campbell is calmly committed to killing his enemy.’ The opposing Ottoman soldiers have similar attitudes.

The stories of Turkish–Australian friendship at Gallipoli are repeated endlessly today as a means of ennobling the campaign for a generation uneasy with older myths of martial valour. We imagine the battle as the heroic birth of a nation, despite the fact that our soldiers did not understand why they were there in the first place. We remember tales of fraternisation and forget the overwhelming evidence of inhumanity, preferring our wars cleansed of killing. We feel connected to the story of Gallipoli but at the cost of historical understanding.

The story of Private Dunne, which is superficially like the Pine Ridge legend, shows considerable brutality by Ottoman soldiers and women towards Australians.

On the back of one Turkish soldier and the comforting words that Atatürk never uttered, Turkey and Australia have rushed to memorialise a romantic image of Gallipoli – one of co-operation and friendship. As admirable as these intentions might be, they are based on falsehoods and the misrepresentation of war. Far better a friendship that has the courage to confront war’s brutality, and the senseless loss of life that occurred in 1915.

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