X-Post Review: H-Net Review [H-War]: Paxton on MacLeod, 'Gallipoli'

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Jenny MacLeod.  Gallipoli.  Great Battles Series. Oxford  Oxford
University Press, 2015.  256 pp.  $29.95 (cloth), ISBN
978-0-19-964487-2.

Reviewed by Jennifer L. Paxton (Texas A&M Kingsville)
Published on H-War (August, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

For centuries, both wars and the history of wars have revolved around
"great battles": conflicts which pit two armies against each other in
a climactic clash that, though relatively short, is decisive to the
war as a whole. Names such as Waterloo, Gettysburg, Gaugamela, or Ia
Drang come to mind. Great battles can alter the trajectory of a war,
or even of a nation. They can also create powerful cultural
narratives that may live on long after the end of the war, and even
sometimes outstrip the purely military importance of the battle;
America's Battle of New Orleans is a classic example of a battle
whose importance is almost solely symbolic. It is this combination of
practical importance and cultural impact that the Great Battles
series, steeped in both military history and history of memory, seeks
to examine, and Jenny MacLeod's examination of the Gallipoli campaign
and Anzac Day is a worthy addition to the series.[1]


MacLeod's stated goal is an ambitious one, particularly in so short a
book: "to present the most fully transnational examination of the
campaign and its memory that has been written to date" (pp. 6-7). In
particular, her aim is to examine the myth, memory, commemoration,
and use over time of the Gallipoli campaign in five different
countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, and Turkey.
Possible in part because of the increased availability of
Ottoman/Turkish sources (previously accessed only with great
difficulty, or even entirely inaccessible), this methodology gives
_Gallipoli_ a balance and depth sometimes lacking in works of
military history, and allows the reader an extraordinary and very
readable view of the Gallipoli campaign from not one perspective, or
even two, but five.

The first three main chapters of _Gallipoli_, along with a set of
useful maps, comprise an extended narrative of the campaign itself.
This portion of the book alone makes it of value; a reader entirely
unfamiliar with the Gallipoli campaign will finish these chapters
with a good working understanding of its events, its background, and
its context. MacLeod utilizes both primary and secondary sources to
build a picture of the reasons for the battle, its planning and
strategies, its major engagements over the course of several months,
and its outcome. Although this portion of the book is primarily
narrative, MacLeod does draw some conclusions. First, she lays the
blame for the campaign's disastrous outcome squarely upon the
cumbersome, excessively political, and disorganized British War
Council, and more particularly upon the First Lord of the Admiralty,
Winston Churchill. She asserts that the War Council planned the
operation very poorly: "mission creep" and "half-baked planning" are
used as descriptors (p. 17). However, she also argues that the
Ottoman forces did not win simply by default; they were, she states,
much better organized, better trained, and better led, and their
logistics were far superior to those of their attackers (for example,
the Ottoman soldiers suffered far less from disease and lack of
water). In short, according to MacLeod, the Ottomans did not simply
hold on long enough to avoid losing; they actively won, and Turkey's
later pride in the battle was entirely justified.

The following four chapters deal with the different legacies of
Gallipoli: its commemoration in Australia, New Zealand, England and
Ireland, and Turkey. Here, MacLeod utilizes a creative variety of
sources: newspapers, speeches, physical war memorials, films and
plays, attendance numbers at commemorative events, and more, allowing
her to access developing public perception and usage of the events.

Appropriately, in this portion of the book Australia is dealt with
first; more than once, MacLeod characterizes Anzac Day, and its
characteristic "dawn service," as "Australia's greatest export" (p.
116, for example), and in no other country examined did the Gallipoli
campaign have such a pivotal role in nation-building and the creation
of identity. According to MacLeod, immediately after the campaign and
during the war, the role of the Anzacs at Gallipoli was portrayed as
both uniquely Australian and proudly British (something which, she
asserts, was not only possible within the British Empire at this
time, but usual). Heroic descriptions of the campaign, penned by
dedicated and skilled war correspondents, portrayed the Australian
Anzacs as exemplary of a unique Australian character: strong,
fearless, independent, loyal, and indomitable. This perception, which
came to be known as the Anzac Legend, became (unsurprisingly) a
tremendous point of pride for Australians, and according to MacLeod,
continued to shape Australian identity through the following century,
while adjusting and adapting to the times. The focus on empire waned,
while an emphasis on antimilitarization and multiculturalism grew,
but the Anzac Legend endured, and continues to endure.

Next, MacLeod describes the legacy of Gallipoli in other places. New
Zealand, she asserts, adopted the idea of Anzac Day commemorations
from the Australians. However, the New Zealand version of Anzac Day
took a different trajectory. Instead of Australia's proud assertion
of uniqueness, the New Zealanders preferred to frame their narrative
in terms of their role in the British Empire; later, after the
British Empire was no longer welcome in the narrative, this emphasis
on the larger world and New Zealand's place in it would remain. In
addition, New Zealand's observations (at least in the beginning)
tended to be far more solemn, even grim, than Australia's.

In England and Ireland, which MacLeod examines in the next chapter,
there was considerably less desire to remember Gallipoli at all. In
the case of England, the fault for the campaign's failure was
primarily theirs, a problem none of the other nations had to deal
with (indeed, anti-British sentiment cropped up in some post-empire
Australian, New Zealand, and especially Irish treatments of the
campaign, and was used to reinforce solidarity by contrast to the
Other). Consequently, the English narrative of Gallipoli emphasized
the doomed heroism of their soldiers, and the validity of the basic
idea of the campaign, its actual outcome notwithstanding; a
comparison might be drawn to some defenses of the Vietnam War in
America more recently. English writers also focused on the mythic,
heroic, or classical setting of the campaign: the Dardanelles (known
in antiquity as the Hellespont), the proximity of Troy and
Thermopylae, and so on. This, according to MacLeod, made a defeat
more endurable, or more comprehensible; England was, however, still
not interested in any large-scale commemoration of it, and so any
commemoration that occurred tended to be small, local, often
informal, and (interestingly) frequently tied to Anzac Day.
Meanwhile, MacLeod notes, Ireland was in the process of fighting for
its independence from England, and once independence was obtained,
any commemoration of Gallipoli (or even World War I in general) was a
reminder of English rule, and therefore unacceptable. Anzac Day
celebrations--so long as they were tied to Australia or New Zealand,
not to England--took place, but as in England, these tended to be
small and local. Only in recent years, as relations with England
improved, have the Irish desired to commemorate their role in World
War II and Gallipoli.

Finally, MacLeod describes the legacy of Gallipoli in Turkey, as the
new Turkish Republic sought to reinvent itself. This chapter, though
one of the most unique and important in the book, is also one of the
more difficult. Largely because of the complicated political events
(for example, multiple coups and governmental turnover, as well as
the suppression or destruction of undesirable records) in Turkey over
the last century, tracing the legacy of Gallipoli there is
considerably less straightforward, and the clarity of the chapter
suffers somewhat, though perhaps unavoidably. Not only is Gallipoli
examined, but MacLeod also brings into the story the veneration of
Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk, as a Turkish founding father, as well as
the Armenian genocide (an event which was more or less contemporary
with Gallipoli, and which MacLeod argues is important for
understanding the Ottoman role in it). According to MacLeod, Turkey's
memory of the campaign had to be particularly flexible and adaptable,
as it was used to bolster several very different regimes and
narratives.

In _Gallipoli_, Jenny MacLeod takes on a complex and difficult task:
not only to describe the events of the Gallipoli campaign itself, but
to explore five very different (and constantly changing) legacies or
memories of those events. Despite this complexity, _Gallipoli_ is a
remarkably clear, readable work, and one which would be invaluable
not only to a historian of memory or of World War I, but also to
professors seeking an excellent study of the history of memory to
assign to graduate students, or indeed to any person who desires to
understand this "great battle" in its complexity and its immense
importance.

Note

Citation: Jennifer L. Paxton. Review of MacLeod, Jenny, _Gallipoli_.
H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2016.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=45785

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