Peace or Patriotism?


Is patriotism enough? Nurse Edith Cavell first raised the question before she was shot by the Germans for treason  in 1916. She was an English nurse, matron of a Belgian hospital when the Germans invaded Belgium on their way to invade France. On the outbreak of war, her hospital was immediately designated a Red Cross hospital. For the next two years she not only carried on with the work of the hospital, but rescued and nursed back to health wounded British and French soldiers, who were then helped to return to their countries. She also nursed wounded German soldiers. She knew that she was in danger, but she said: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.”

The Germans arrested her, and court martialled her for treason. Under German law she was sentenced to death. From this perspective, it seems strange that an English nurse working for a Belgian hospital in a country which the Germans had invaded, breaking their treaty of neutrality, and then ravaging the country, shooting whole villages, burning ancient cities, should have been expected to be loyal to these invaders! The Germans said that they had treated her fairly.

She raised the question on patriotism just before her execution, when she actually said that: “Patriotism is not enough”.

This phrase has been in my mind, as this country prepares for the most solemn day in its calendar – ANZAC day – a day of national mourning and unity which it shares with Australia. It commemorates the Battle of Gallipoli on Turkish soil. It was a disaster for the Allies, who lost 21,555 British soldiers, 10,000 French, 8,709 Australian and 2,721 NZ soldiers. Winston Churchill has always been blamed for it, but from the beginning of his idea, and the actual carrying out of it, something now called ‘mission drift “ occurred, in which the original idea got lost in  more ambitious schemes, but without the extra men and supplies needed for these  ambitions.

In the forty three years that I’ve lived in NZ, I’ve seen a revived connection with these ceremonies, as more people remember – though they may not understand – their history, and the heroism of their ancestors. At my age, I heard firsthand the memories of my great-uncle and grandfathers who were in the navy and the army in the First World War, so it doesn’t seem almost a hundred years ago to me.

And one of the things that always saddens me about these ceremonies and rituals in my adopted country, is that this day also becomes an opportunity for some to bash the British in their sermons and newspaper articles. So it tends to be forgotten that the British and the French lost great numbers of young men in this battle too… and that they always valued the great qualities of the NZ and Australian fighting men. This is what is called chauvinism… the dictionary defines it as:militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism’.

And it happens all around the world, in some countries more than others. On the other hand, there are also many people around the world who have responded to Edith Cavell’s insight, and can see that patriotism is not enough. She also said:  “I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” She was not just a brave woman, but a deeply spiritual one, and had reached insights that many of us are still struggling towards.

Another one who did have those insights was the officer commanding the Turks at Gallipoli. Fourteen years after the Gallipoli campaign, some of the mothers of the soldiers who had died on the Turkish peninsula, wrote to the President of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, asking for permission to visit the graves of their sons. Kemal Ataturk had been that commander at Gallipoli, and he sat down and wrote these words to the grieving mothers:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers, who sent their sons to faraway 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 can never read these beautiful words without the tears welling in my eyes….

Kemal Ataturk was the great visionary leader who transformed Turkey into an enlightened and free country back in the twenties and thirties. In two years, his drive and vision raised literacy from ten per cent to seventy per cent, and he gave women all the freedoms that men enjoyed. His early death from cirrhosis of the liver was a tragedy for Turkey and for the world.

His foreign policy was simple: ‘Peace at home. Peace in the world’. These are the words and thoughts that rise above mere patriotism, and to use those lovely old words from the Anglican prayer book are what could bring us: “peace in our time”.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The cemetery with the war memorial in our village lies on one side of the tiny peninsula where we live. It looks out to sea. The other side of the road, we look out to sea in the opposite direction. So since everyone gathers in the road outside our house before entering the cemetery, we always end up having friends in for coffee when the service is over.

The cake I’m doing for this occasion is an easy apple cake – I seem to have dozens of different apple cakes – and this one is quite a chewy one. Peel and slice five apples, mix with a cup of brown sugar and put to stand for 15 minutes. Mix together a cup of self raising flour, a teasp of ground cinnamon, half a cup of oil, a beaten egg, half a cup of chopped dates (I often leave this out) and three quarters of a cup of chopped walnuts. Stir in the apples and sugar. Tip into a greased and floured tin and gently press the mixture down.  Bake in a 160 degree oven for one and a half to two hours, and cool before turning out. I often sprinkle sugar over the top, and add a dash of vanilla to the mixture.

Sometimes I serve it with stiff whipped cream, and make it the day before, as it matures deliciously.

Food for Thought

Everyone has within him something precious that is in no-one else. But this precious something in a man is revealed to him only if he truly believes his strongest feeling, his central wish, that in him stirs his inmost being.

Martin Buber  1878 -1965 Austrian born Jewish philosopher


Filed under great days, history, military history, peace, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, world war one

37 responses to “Peace or Patriotism?

  1. We share an appetite for apple cake and peace it would seem. Your post is very eloquent and moving. I treasure Ataturk’s words and I hope that if the horror had occurred on our shores we would have been as generous.


  2. A beautiful reminiscent post and I love that you shared those words written by Ataturk. It is a timely reminder, the men on either side are no different, they merely follow instructions. We need less patriotism and to foster more empathy, as Nurse Cavell practiced.


    • Thank you Claire, I felt of course, that the people and their words are as relevant today as then…your words made me think of Buffe Saint -Marie’s song of the sixties, The Universal Soldier – I listened to her singing it on Youtube the other day – amazing….


  3. Very good! Battle of Gallipoli was a horrible thing, Such needless stupid sacrifice by so many good men.


    • Thank you Bruce… It did have a military and strategic logic at the beginning, in that the planners hoped this would help to end the war quickly… but in the end it was a disaster of course…


  4. I’d never seen Ataturk’s words before, they are beautiful. I, like you, think it is so important to remember and the memorials to this generation of young people are very sobering to me. Lovely post Valerie.


  5. Amy

    Ataturk’s words are moving. Peace is eloquently addressed. Thank you, Valerie!


  6. The more I read and know about Kemal Ataturk, the more I realise why he is still so highly revered and celebrated in Turkey to this day. Great leaders change the whole world for the better, not just their own country and I think his leadership did that.


    • Yes, he was wonderful, wasn’t he? I feel really sad that he died so young, but what he achieved in twenty years was amazing.
      He had a burning vision, great integrity and incredible drive, which I fail to see in any world leaders at the moment


  7. Lovely, Valerie. Brought tears to my eyes, too…xoxoM


  8. I’m always overwhelmed to read stories such as Edith’s. The courage… the bravery. I wonder how I would handle the situation if I was born in that time and had to experience those experiences. I look deep, but I don’t think I’m seeing this kind of courage inside me. Then again, maybe you rise to the occasion. Thank you … as usual … for such a thoughtful and informative post.


    • Thank you Kathie, so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, Edith Cavell is such an inspiration, isn’t she… I think we fail our children when we forget to tell them stories of greatness and courage like hers. We need role models who inspire us to great deeds, and remind us that we can rise to the occasion….


  9. Thank you for this post – and for the apple cake. Here’s to Peace. 🙂


  10. I wish we could learn from these wise people as we go forward and stop repeating history so much.


  11. What a needles stupid sacrifice of so many wonderful men.. I hope, if I am ever in horror such as that, I can rise to occasion…I hope I do!



  12. Valerie, I wish I could find a center right now that would allow me your eloquence and grace. Thank you for this, as I read it I wept for the lovely thoughts and the dream of peace.


  13. Dear Val, thank you… and I have to tell you that your words were full of grace and eloquence… blessings


  14. Today, my son was a duty piper at a ceremony commemorating three WWII war veterans. He sat beside a veteran that was 96. November 11th is when Canadians wear the poppy and gather around the cenotaphs. I often then of the biography of J.R.R. Tolkien and how he lost his three most precious friends in the first world war. And yes, Valerie, I shed a few tears as I read your post.

    “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers


  15. Juliet

    I felt so moved to hear about Ataturk, his simple, humane philosopher and those poetic words. Thank you.


  16. Though I’d heard of Gallipolli, I’d never realized it was so devastating. Thanks for the interesting history. Most of history seems like a dog chasing it’s own tail. We do need to learn from it. My quick answer is no, patriotism is not enough, it is often a hindrance. Evil in the traditional meaning of the word needs to be fought, not other countries and its innocent. I’m going to become more familiar with Ataturk.


  17. stutleytales

    When I was in year 7 at school, I did a project on Nurse Edith Cavell. I never forgot that project, and can still see the picture of her in my mind. Amazing woman. And Kemal Ataturk was an equally amazing man.


  18. Valerie, this was moving and informative. I’m always happy when I get to read something historical, which has a strong spiritual and emotional thread. Thank you. And boy does chewy apple cake sound like the business!!


  19. HI Valerie,
    You are a very good storyteller! What an interesting blog you have. My son and I went to Turkey last October, and we made a point of going to Gallipoli–we were the only Yanks among lots of New Zealanders and Australians. What a tragedy, but I too was moved to tears at Ataturk’s words of comfort to the mothers of the soldiers who fell there.


    • Hello Naomi, great to hear from you and thank you so much for your generous words about my blog… How lucky you are to have been to Turkey, – one of the placers I’d love to visit – especially Constantinople /Istanbul – and the troglodyte homes – are they in Cappadocia ?… Yes, Ataturk was a wonderful man….


  20. Hello Valerie, I didn’t know that Ataturk was such a heroic and enlightened figure. Wonderful piece of history.

    I have to admit that I dislike patriotism intensely because I have rarely perceived any good come out of it. I struggle with the notion that ordinary people volunteer to go to war solely out of a sense of patriotism, even if it does play a small part. It seems to me that whatever else ‘patriotism’ is, it is a means for power brokers to secure the allegiance of insufficiently educated folk and for uncrupulous megalomaniacs to contort it into nationalism, with all its inherent dangers. I think in these days of increasing globalisation of humanity it is an anachronistic concept which more often leads to protectionism and selfishness than anything more noble.

    So I bow my head to Kemal Ataturk’s magnificent words and I’m completely with Edith Cavell: patriotism is nowhere near enough!


    • Hello Finn, what a lovely comment.
      I agree completely, of course.
      Yes, wasn’t Kemal Ataturk really something. He also adopted eleven, I think it was, children, including a girl who asked for his help. She became Turkey’s first woman pilot…
      As for patriotism, I’m with Wilfred Owen’s ‘ The old Lie’ and Rudyard Kipling on it…
      So good to hear from you,…


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