Magnanimous in Defeat

It’s a beautiful place to sit, on a bench overlooking Tarakena Bay on the southeast corner of New Zealand’s North Island. One can watch the ferry boats traversing Cook Strait which separates the North and South Islands, and in the foreground are rocky crags with nesting gulls.
Just to divert a moment from the main subject, we observe a nesting gull (White, yellow beak with a red spot, gray wings) shift position as a juvenile gull (all brown) settles in on the nest. The juvenile stretches its neck up and down a couple of times, then bows down low, obviously to disgorge some food to unseen chicks in the nest. I didn’t know that juveniles did that! But we check the bird book. Adult gulls are similar in appearance but the juveniles are brown.
What a grand thing we’ve seen. A bird of one generation giving up food for members of its own generation. The mind wanders. In the US the government is running up a huge debt with ever-increasing gigantic deficits to finance corporate welfare and needless wars, when those funds could be used to house and feed the needy. What we could learn from gulls!
Anyhow, I told you that to tell you this. If you were fortunate enough to be sitting on that bench, and you looked up and over your left shoulder, you would see perched on a bluff a large concrete structure called “Ataturk Memorial.”

The Ataturk Memorial is an outcome of an agreement between the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand governments. In 1984, Australia asked Turkey if the cove on the Gallipoli peninsula could be renamed Anzac Cove in memory of the Australian and New Zealand troops who died there in 1915 during the Gallipoli Campaign of World War One. The Turkish Government agreed to change the cove’s name from Ari Burnu and also built a large monument to all those who died in the campaign. In return, the Australian and New Zealand governments agreed to build monuments in Canberra and Wellington to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who served as a divisional commander at Gallipoli and went on to become the first president of modern Turkey.
Here is the inscription on the memorial:

    Those heroes who 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 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 bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.

No problem, mothers, simply wipe away your tears.
In Australia and New Zealand, the campaign was the first major battle undertaken by a joint military formation, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries. Anzac Day (25 April) remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing Armistice Day/Remembrance Day.
from Frommer’s:

    The resulting offensive lasted 249 days. The line of attack was simple: Secure the heights, destroy the Turkish defenses, and sail on up to Istanbul. If the current hadn’t swept the Anzac’s landing boats a mile off course or if someone other than Mustafa Kemal had received the orders, then Turkey would probably be part of Greece right now and y’all would be reading another book. But tides were swift, communications were faulty, decisions were hasty, and watches were unsynchronized. The Gallipoli campaign ended on January 9, 1916, when the Allies withdrew in the middle of the night. The Turks boast that not one life was lost in the pullout; the Anzacs, leaving on boats in the darkness, said about their fallen comrades, “I hope they don’t hear us go.”
    The death toll was numbing: Roughly 86,000 Turkish forces and more than 160,000 Allied soldiers perished in the campaign. A staggeringly high number of Allied casualties were Anzac men — unfathomable losses for two countries with such small populations. Indeed, it’s all but acknowledged that during the campaign, the Brits offered up the Anzac troops as cannon fodder; consequently, a trip to Gallipoli has become a grim pilgrimage of sorts for countless Australian and New Zealand tourists.

In any case, the Ataturk Memorial is an amazing and probably unique memorial to the victor of a major battle in the land of the defeated attacking force. So I got to thinking — perhaps the US should have memorials, perhaps on the Washington Mall, to the victors in recent failed American military campaigns. Memorials to Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein, and in the future Mullah Mohammed Omar. Possibly, as the US sinks downward in world stature and economic power, as the President says “we’ve got to refine our goals” in Afghanistan, and he waffles on Iraq, how about plans for a grand memorial to Osama Bin Laden?

11 thoughts on “Magnanimous in Defeat”

  1. Greg – this is not the right forum to introduce a 90-year old controversy.
    I do realise that, after we (England) had run out of our own country boys to fight, and be killed, on the Western Front, we called on ‘our’ country boys in Aus and NZ to ship a quarter way around the globe and assault a 50ft cliff in Gallipoli.
    This was the daft idea of a certain Winston Spencer Churchill, the ‘First Lord’ of the Admiralty, but later, a deified hero.
    Better to start working on getting some of your toughie ANZAC troops to keep Likud and Hamas from fighting each other over Gaza and the West Bank.
    Much more to the point.

  2. Don welcome but why are you up there in the ugly bit? The real scenery is on the mainland! You will find plenty of very fine gulls on Sumner beach Christchurch. Also if you get that far down, don’t miss the bounty of the new Bluff oyster season.
    Yes the courageous and chivalrous Turkish people have been gracious in victory to their invaders. I can safely say as a kiwi that they have our deepest gratitude for both the respect shown to our fallen and to the many subsequent generations of New Zealand visitors to Chunuk Bair and other sites. We gladly salute the memory of Atatürk, a brilliant and determined commander and true Statesman.
    This by the way is the ode recited at the dawn ANZAC day service as the last post is played:
    “The ANZAC Day Ode
    They shall grow not old,
    As we that are left grow old,
    Age shall not weary them,
    Nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun,
    And in the morning
    We will remember them.”
    The Ode comes from ‘For the Fallen’, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon
    New Zealand’s total population in 1914 was little over one million.
    120,000 New Zealanders enlisted, of whom 103,000 served overseas.
    18,500 New Zealanders died and another 50,000 were wounded during WW1.
    Despite these losses, held by some locals to be the highest rate per head of population in WW1, New Zealand acted in its own right by formally declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939, simultaneously with Great Britain.
    However, our national enthusiasm for organised mass murder and its tools has much diminished since that time.
    I enjoyed your well researched dispatch, Don. Thank you and enjoy your stay! Have a good look at socialised medicine and the MMP electoral system while you are here.

  3. Roland,
    I did visit Canterbury Plain, Sumner and Arthur’s Pass to do a bit of a tramp, but saw no birds. My reward came in Picton with Tui and Weka sightings.
    Regarding politics I was quite taken, on my visit to the Beehive, by the system of select committees, which seems to be a capital idea.
    Thanks for the kind wishes. I am enjoying my stay, including dining on Pavlova and ANZAC biscuits. Even got to hear some Bluegrass in Wellington by a fantastic Aussie group called Coolgrass — they’re headed your way so catch them if you can.
    Best, Don

  4. Thanks for the travelogue, Don. Visiting New Zealand always sounds like a good idea. Still, since I have nowhere near the economic resources to fund such pleasure excursions, I’ll just have to break out my Lord of the Rings DVDs and tour that magnificent landscape vicarously.
    As for the continual (and bordering on the snarky) attacks on President Obama for “waffling” on his plans for withdrawing from Iraq, I suggest reading Tom Hayden’s excellent analysis of the situation, “Partial Peace, Looming War,” just published at The Nation.
    When you’ve finished reading this, Don, then we can move on towards discussing the means by which we can prod President Obama to “waffle” even more — only in our direction — through discovering new “refinements” (to the left-over Bush generals’ preferred policy of endless stalling) which can permit an even more rapid redeployment of our marooned middle-eastern foreign legion. Changing a set of numbers can work both ways: both to reduce as well as to augment.
    Especially perspicacious in regard to ending America’s military occupation of Iraq, Tom Hayden points out how the anti-war “left” of the Democratic Party proved itself quite effective in the Democratic Party primary process — leading, of course, to Barack Obamas nomination and election — and this voting force can certainly bring more pressure to bear on backsliding Democratic candidates as the primary elections for Congressional races begin shaping up for 2010. I know you don’t place much stock in voting yourself, Don, but President Obmama has to contend with those of us who do. He will not want to split his own party and bring on a revolt of its anti-war base (now largely an all-American consenus) by reneging on his stated goal of withdrawing ALL American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 (if not sooner) — no matter what the ticket-punching generals and their rabid Republican co-conspirators think.
    In short, I agree with the very experienced Tom Hayden that we anti-war Americans — again, a true majority of the country — have an opportunity here if we know how to relentlessly use the levers of Democratic Party pressure to achieve our goal of peace and prosperity for America. Perhaps one day soon the American and world economy can recover from debilitating American militarism to the point where my wife and I could even afford to visit New Zealand — and we don’t even live that far away (Southern Taiwan).
    If President Obama fails to outflank the Generals/Republicans/Corporations arrayed against him and us, then I guess the American economy will continue to implode and I’ll just have to wait until Peter Jackson produces the two new “Hobbit” movies in 2011 and 2012 so that I can once more visit New Zealand in my fantasies.

  5. Michael,
    A year ago Senator Obama said: “I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. We can responsibly remove 1 to 2 combat brigades each month,” and he was elected on that promise. He hasn’t done it. There are no brigades being removed by President Obama.
    Instead there is being presented a plan for continued US military deployment in Iraq in which “combat brigades” will be called “advisory and assistance brigades” according to Gates.
    If you don’t call that waffling then what do you call it?

  6. Don,
    I’ll begin by correcting your account of what President Obama promised during his successful campaign for the Presidency. In fact, he promised, again and again, to convene a meeting of his top military advisors so as to request from them various plans for withdrawing American military forces from Iraq. He did suggest during the campaign that, in his opinion, we could withdraw a brigade per month once the process got underway, but equally obviously he had to let our General Motors generals have their say, otherwise he would have faced withering opposition from Republicans and their allies in the Pentagram for not consulting “the military experts” about their views. Having consulted them, of course, the commander-in-chief can then order them to implement whatever plans he deems in the best interests of the country. If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem positively unable or unwilling to grant even thirty days for President Obama to complete this preliminary process. I consider that attitude perfectly unreasonable.
    Now, I realize that Republicans in Congress and their handmaiden holdouts in the Pentagram will try to sabotage President Obama’s plans in order that they may accuse him of “losing Iraq.” I’ve lived through similar accusations from the very same flock of fools about “losing China” and “losing Vietnam,” et cetera; so President Obama — as a Democrat — has every reason to plan and speak carefully about withdrawal from Iraq lest he give his implacable enemies ammunition to use against him. Do you even know any of this “basic historical politics” stuff?
    As for Secretary Gates, he has his own troubles with Admriral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The two of them now cannot publicly agree about whether or not Iran has enough highly enriched nuclear fuel to build a bomb. At some point, President Obama will have to get them singing from the same page, but until he says anything definitive, I’d suggest not jumping at the obvious dueling leaks coming from self-interested factions in the Pentagram.
    As I see the bureaucratic game shaping up, President Obama has given Generals Odierno and Petraeus enough rope with which to hang themselves. Odierno has flat out said that he has no intention of withdrawing American forces from Iraq’s cities by this summer, as called for by the ostensible SOFA that his own government and the Iraqi government have jointly signed. In any event, the Orwellian jargon/neologisms that you find objectionable come primarily from Odierno and Petraeus and not necessarily from President Obama. Personally, I’d like to see President Obama do a Harry Truman on their combined Douglas MacArthur, but time will tell. President Obama seems to like to work more subtly than that. Ask John McCain. He knows.
    If I had my way, Speaker Nancy Pelosi would just refuse to allow any spending bills for Iraq and Afghanistan anywhere near the floor of the House of Representatives. “No money, no honey,” as the jaded bar girls on Saigon’s Tu Do street used to sneer at the broke and hard-up GIs. After all, it took a Congressional refusal to appropriate further funds in order to bring to a halt the interminable bombing of Vietnam. The President does not constitute the entire federal government and Congress really does need to re-assert its Constitutional war-making (and war-stopping) responsibilities.
    I’ll judge President Obama as harshly as anyone if he does not bring both Iraq and Afghanistan debacles to a timely and reasonable conclusion. So far, though, after only thirty days, I think that he has made a good beginning and only requires further public and Congressional pressure to speed things up. Getting past the entrenched military brass and their Republican co-conspirators will take a little finessing (my preferred term for “waffling”), but only time and actual results will show us if President Obama can succeed. So far, I don’t intend to dump on him too savagely for trying to find compromise solutions that (1) actually work, (2)do not split his Democratic Party (think Lyndon Johnson here) and (3) do not precipitate open mutiny by the ticket-punching military brass.
    Nobody ever said that staying atop Disraeli’s “greasy pole” would prove easy. We’ll just have to see if President Obama can put his programs into effective action and whether the American publica will sustain him in his efforts.

  7. Michael,
    Okay, call me devious, but I wanted you to illustrate how Obama waffled from his nomination race position to his presidential race position, and you did. The balance of your Iraq argument is to claim that Obama needs concurrence from the Repub wingnuts and their generals to make any decisions. So Mr. Change — er, Mr. Hope — is not only a waffler but a weak waffler, not a great qualification for commander-in-chief, eh wot? I wonder, can he find the latrine on his own?
    If you were pre-1970 you’ll remember your first general order — To take charge of this post and all government property in view. The O-Man has no such memory, of course.

  8. I’ll begin by correcting your account of what President Obama promised during his successful campaign for the Presidency.
    And I will begin and end by correcting YOUR account. Obama repeatedly stated explicitly that his plan was to remove “combat forces” within 16 months, leaving a “residual force” to conduct various specific missions, which would include several that were clearly combat missions, and to protect “American interests”. In other words, his plan was to reconfigure the occupation. He never once mentioned an end point for this reconfigured occupation.
    Military experts estimated that it would take around 50,000 troops to fulfill Obama’s “missions”, and that number was confirmed by one of Obama’s campaign advisors (sorry, I don’t remember who right now). Obama’s plan for Iraq was virtually identical to Hillary Clinton’s.
    Obama never mentioned a full withdrawal. It was always “combat troops” only. That is one of the reasons I could not support him.

  9. so President Obama — as a Democrat — has every reason to plan and speak carefully about withdrawal from Iraq lest he give his implacable enemies ammunition to use against him. Do you even know any of this “basic historical politics” stuff?
    “Basic historical politics” stuff?
    So that’s what it is!
    I wondered…….
    From the Emperor himself:
    Obama Plan to End the War: Barack Obama will immediately give his military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. He will immediately begin to remove our combat brigades from Iraq. He will remove troops at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.
    And he will maintain a force in Iraq or the region with two tightly focused missions: guarding our embassy and diplomats, and targeting al Qaeda inside Iraq.”

  10. Michael,
    Here’s consolation for you — the reason we were in ‘Nam.
    According to Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ), Vietnam held 600 million barrels of proven oil reserves as of January 2007, all of which are located offshore. Ongoing exploration activities are likely to increase this figure in the future, as Vietnam’s waters remain relatively underexplored. Vietnam’s oil production has increased steadily over the last two decades.

  11. Don,
    You do not have to apologize for “deviousness.” That sort of thing requires a certain level of subtlety to really master, and I don’t think that you’ve quite gotten there yet. But please don’t stop trying on account of me. I can read the lines — and between them — as well as the writing on the wall.
    Your derisive comments about President Obama’s personal manly-man shortcomings as “commander-in-chief” don’t deserve an answer. I would have thought that we’ve all had enough of that juvenile macho swagger from Deputy Dubya (“bring ’em on!”) Bush. I don’t know where you keep your testosterone meter, but I suspect it needs serious recalibration. In the real world of grown-ups, after only thirty days in office, President Obama has already gotten the brass to publicly sign off on withdrawing first combat troops and then all troops from Iraq: something that they never wanted — and still do not want — to do. Sure, he gave them a little wiggle room to save their faces, and you want to roast him for it. Feel free to indulge yourself. They gave up their 25 month demands for 18-19 months and he adjusted his 16 month schedule for the same 18-19. Do the math and then see who “waffled” the most.
    You seem to believe in the “magic wand” theory of omnimpotent presidential “commanders,” but that betrays a political innocence that has obviously never heard of the real-world bureaucratic infighting, interservice rivalries, and monumental military egos that every president must deal with in order to govern effectively. I suggest that you read the late David Halberstam’s classic The Best and the Brightest for an exhaustive review of the vicious personal back-stabbing, duplicitous Old-Boy networking, back-channel communications cut-outs of the State Department by the Pentagram, and just plain mendacity that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had to deal with in relation to their military commanders. JFK didn’t get off to a very good start in curbing the brass and CIA — and got the Bay of Pigs debacle as a result. Johnson got “slow ramped” by his “military experts” into a runaway escalation that cost him his presidency. Anyway, if interested in the sordid details of real-world government, you can read all about it from someone who knew …
    As for your your ill-informed “consolation” remarks about “why we were in Vietnam,” well, they simply border on the conspiratorial. Frankly, I consider them simply ignorant. Apparently you never heard of French Colonialism, the Chinese Civil War, the Cold War, Monolithic World Communism, et cetera. But don’t take anything on my word. As the late, great historian Barbara Tuchman concisely summarized the dementia in her classic The March of Folly:
    “The American government reacted not to the Chinese upheaval or to Vietnamese nationalism per se, but to intimidation by the rabid right at home and to the public dread of of Communism that this played on and reflected. The social and physological sources of that dread are not our subject, but in them lie the roots of American policy in Vietnam.”
    (1) Subsititute, respectively, “Iranian” for “Chinese,” “Iraqi” for “Vietnamese,” “Terrorism” for “Communism,” and “Iraq/Afghaninstan” for “Vietnam.” (2) Read the above pararaph again. (3) Tattoo the phrase “The American government reacts to intimidation by the rabid right at home” on the inside of your eyelids. If that doesn’t do it for you, then I must regretfully conclude that you simply don’t want to know the awful truth.
    (And if I’ve somehow missed the news about Vietnam becoming a major oil producer in the last thirty years, then please advise me.)
    As a minor cog in the great wheel of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent, I once participated — over a two-and-a-half-year period — in one of these “phased withdrawals” from a quagmire, so I know something about how they mostly don’t work as well as simply negotiating an armistice (with whomever) and getting the hell out of Iraq in less than six months. Ditto for Afghanistan. I still want President Obama’s policy to move in this direction. This means that I don’t completely agree with him, but at the same time, I haven’t given up on him yet. I’ll give him a little more than a month to sort things out.
    Still, in an effort to avoid succumbing to the nit-picking “brigade count” controversy, I’d like to reference what Senator Russ Feingold said recently in an interview with The Huffington Post. Briefly, Senator Feingold thinks that President Obama’s compromise with his military “experts” costs too much, remains too vague, and could possibly prove more dangerous than a forthright withdrawal. I agree with Senator Feingold and, of course, would like to see him and other Congress-persons exert their war-terminating responsibilities vis-a-vis President Obama and his military subordinates. Those who seem determined to grant President Obama sole power and responsibility for rectifying these twin national disasters seem to me possessed of some mythic “commander-in-chief” fetishism. We, The People, along with the other branches of government, all have to do our parts, as well. I don’t subscribe to the notion of an Imperial President, but those who demand unilateral salvation from President Obama (and in less than thirty days) apparently do. Perhaps McCain/Palin would have proved more to their liking?
    Naturally, no president wants his rabid detractors in the opposition party (and and their accomplices in the senior military brass) to accuse him of “losing” China, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, et cetera — all countries that the United States never owned and operated successfully in the first place. If I could get through to President Obama with a single, simple slogan of advice, I’d tell him to memorize what we used to say back during America’s doomed War on Southeast Asia, namely:
    “We lost the day we started. We win the day we stop.”
    President Obama — against formidable odds over a two-year marathon campaign — soundly defeated first the Democratic Party establishment and then the vicious Republican right-wing smear machine. So those doubting his “cojones” should just ask Hillary Clinton and John McCain what they think of the man who made theirs (gender pun intended) altogether irrelevant. Which leads me to conclude with a reference to that James Bond movie where a stuffed-shirt British admiral sneers at “M” from MI-6 for her cautionary desire to avoid an needless war with China: “Frankly, madam, I don’t think you’ve got the balls for the job.” Says she in retort: “Perhaps so; but that frees me from having to think with them.”

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