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I rose too late for the celebration.  It began at dawn, presumably at 6 am, in the City.  The march was scheduled to begin at 8:15.  I rose early, but bearing witness to the commemoration of the Australian losses during World War I was not on my agenda.  It was coffee, breakfast, and the morning paper, wrapped tight as a drum in plastic wrap.  The significance of the day itself has been foreshadowed in “The Age” all week.  Ironically, despite the passing on of all the players, interest in  Anzac Day, Gallipoli and the Australian role in the campaigns of past wars has been increasing.

When war broke out in 1914, the new national government was eager to establish its reputation.  Australian and New Zealand forces formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture Istanbul, capital of the Ottaman Empire, at that time an ally of Germany.   They landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 and met fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.  There were more solders lost in the first day than had been estimated for the entire campaign.  The battle dragged on for eight miserable months before the soldiers were evacuated.

News of the extraordinary bravery of those soldiers electrified Australians, helping to  forge a notion of  national identity, only tenuously formed thirteen years earlier with the  amicable separation from Britain.  The campaign itself was a failure, of course, a fact that was brought out brutally by Peter Weir (see previous post on Hanging Rock) in his 1981 film starring young, handsome blue-eyed boy, Mel Gibson.

Weir and screenwriter Williamson’s take on the war is that the campaign was poorly conceived, and botched by British officers who had nothing but contempt for Anzac soldiers and saw them as mere machine gun fodder. Here is a telling exchange between the two mates at the center of “Gallipoli.”

Frank:  Because it’s not our bloody war.   Archy:  What do you mean, not our war?  Frank:  It’s an English war, it’s got nothing to do with us.  Archy:  You know what you are, a bloody coward.

The trajectory of the film sets out to prove the falseness of the last statement, but it does raise serious questions about the value of unquestioning patriotism which fuels all wars.  An editorial in today’s “Age” says it very well.  “Anzac Day was born of a folly and christened on the shoreline of Gallipoli in 1915.  It is estimated that 8000 Australians and New Zealanders will be standing on the shoreline at dawn.  They will watch the sun rise with the ghosts of the victims…. One tourist for every dead Australian.”

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