September 27, 2004

The Dead in Gallipoli, and in Iraq

John Burke replies to the argument that "a thousand US deaths (apparently Iraqi deaths are denied meaning under any circumstances) will be meaningless unless a few thousand more are added, at which point all the deaths will have meaning restored to them" with words E. M. Forster wrote in 1922. It's apparently public domain, so I'm going to follow John's lead and reproduce the whole thing.


E. M. Forster (1922)

Scene: the summit of Achi Baba, an exposed spot, looking out across the Dardanelles towards Asia and the East. In a crevice between the rocks lie two graves covered by a single heap of stones. No monument marks them, for they escaped notice during the official survey, and the heap of stones has blended into the desolate and austere outline of the hill. The peninsula is turning towards the sun, and as the rays strike Achi Baba the graves begin to speak.

FIRST GRAVE: We are important again upon earth. Each morning men mention us.
SECOND GRAVE: Yes, after seven years' silence.
FIRST GRAVE: Every day some eminent public man now refers to the "sanctity of our graves in Gallipoli."
SECOND GRAVE: Why do the eminent men speak of "our" graves, as if they were themselves dead? It is we, not they, who lie on Achi Baba.
FIRST GRAVE: They say "our" out of geniality and in order to touch the great heart of our nation more quickly. Punch, the great-hearted jester, showed a picture lately in which the Prime Minister of England, Lloyd George, fertile in counsels, is urged to go to war to protect "the sanctity of our graves in Gallipoli." The elderly artist who designed that picture is not dead and does not mean to die. He hopes to illustrate this war as he did the last, for a sufficient salary. Nevertheless he writes "our" graves, as if he was inside one, and all persons of position now say the same.
SECOND GRAVE: If they go to war, there will be more graves.
FIRST GRAVE: That is what they desire. That is what Lloyd George, prudent in counsels, and lion-hearted Churchill, intend.
SECOND GRAVE: But where will they dig them?
FIRST GRAVE: There is still room over in Chanak. Also, it is well for a nation that would be great to scatter its graves all over the world. Graves in Ireland, graves in Irak, Russia, Persia, India, each with its inscription from the Bible or Rupert Brooke. When England thinks fit, she can launch an expedition to protect the sanctity of her graves, and can follow that by another expedition to protect the sanctity of the additional graves. That is what Lloyd George, prudent in counsels, and lion-hearted Churchill, have planned. Churchill planned this expedition to Gallipoli, where I was killed. He planned the expedition to Antwerp, where my brother was killed. Then he said that Labour is not fit to govern. Rolling his eyes for fresh worlds, he saw Egypt, and fearing that peace might be established there, he intervened and prevented it. Whatever he undertakes is a success. He is Churchill the Fortunate, ever in office, and clouds of dead heroes attend him. Nothing for schools, nothing for houses, nothing for the life of the body, nothing for the spirit. England cannot spare a penny for anything except her heroes' graves.
SECOND GRAVE: Is she really putting herself to so much expense on our account?
FIRST GRAVE: For us, and for the Freedom of the Straits. That water flowing below us now --- it must be thoroughly free. What freedom is, great men are uncertain, but all agree that the water must be free for all nations; if in peace, then for all nations in peace; if in war, then for all nations in war.
SECOND GRAVE: So all nations now support England.
FIRST GRAVE: It is almost inexplicable. England stands alone. Of the dozens of nations into which the globe is divided, not a single one follows her banner, and even her own colonies hang back.
SECOND GRAVE: Yes... inexplicable. Perhaps she fights for some other reason.
FIRST GRAVE: Ah, the true reason of a war is never known until all who have fought in it are dead. In a hundred years' time we shall be told. Meanwhile seek not to inquire. There are rumours that rich men desire to be richer, but we cannot know.
SECOND GRAVE: If rich men desire more riches, let them fight. It is reasonable to fight for our desires.
FIRST GRAVE: But they cannot fight. They must not fight. There are too few of them. They would be killed. If a rich man went into the interior of Asia and tried to take more gold or more oil, he might be seriously injured at once. He must persuade poor men, who are numerous, to go there for him. And perhaps this is what Lloyd George, fertile in counsels, has decreed. He has tried to enter Asia by means of the Greeks. It was the Greeks who, seven years ago, failed to join England after they had promised to do so, and our graves in Gallipoli are the result of this. But Churchill the Fortunate, ever in office, ever magnanimous, bore the Greeks no grudge, and he and Lloyd George persuaded their young men to enter Asia. They have mostly been killed there, so English young men must be persuaded instead. A phrase must be thought of, and "the Gallipoli graves" is the handiest. The clergy must wave their Bibles, the old men their newspapers, the old women their knitting, the unmarried girls must wave white feathers, and all must shout, "Gallipoli graves, Gallipoli graves, Gallipoli, Gally Polly, Gally Polly," until the young men are ashamed and think, What sound can that be but my country's call? and Chanak receives them.
SECOND GRAVE: Chanak is to sanctify Gallipoli.
FIRST GRAVE: It will make our heap of stones for ever England, apparently.
SECOND GRAVE: It can scarcely do that to my portion of it. I was a Turk.
FIRST GRAVE: What! A Turk! You a Turk? And I have lain beside you for seven years and never known!
SECOND GRAVE: How should you have known? What is there to know except that I am your brother?
FIRST GRAVE: I am yours...
SECOND GRAVE: All is dead except that . All graves are one. It is their unity that sanctifies them, and some day even the living will learn this.
FIRST GRAVE: Ah, but why can they not learn it while they are still alive?

His comrade cannot answer this question. Achi Baba passes beneath the sun, and so long as there is light warlike preparations can be seen on the opposite coast. Presently all objects enter into their own shadows, and through the general veil thus formed the stars become apparent.

Some other time, I may say something about this as rhetoric, about how Forster manages to convey indignation through Homeric allusions. Not today. Today I'm too depressed to do more than end with the words of Atatürk's speech to the first Australians and New Zealanders to return to Gallipoli in 1934, words now on the monument to the dead of the battlefield.

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

I don't think we're going to hear anything remotely as magnanimous in 2023.

(Atatürk speech via Making Light)

The Continuing Crisis

Posted at September 27, 2004 23:24 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth