Burning Coals of Shame

(March 19, 2023) Last week during the public comments segment of a Zoom meeting with an Army subcommittee that will be advising Arlington National Cemetery about the future of its Confederate (Reconciliation) Memorial designed by Moses Ezekiel, I learned that some other countries are more respectful of their former opponents than is the Army’s Renaming Commission that wants to remove the memorial. Theron Walker of Charleston, South Carolina provided one moving example about a monument involving Turkish and British Commonwealth soldiers that fought each other during the World War I Gallipoli Campaign. Commonwealth dead that could not be reached by the survivors on their side were buried by the Turks where they now remain in respectfully maintained cemeteries. 

In 1985 Australia erected a cenotaph to the dead of both armies now standing on the ANZAC Parade within the capital city of Canberra. Its words are attributed to Mustafa Kemal who became known as Atatürk during his fifteen years as President of the Turkish Republic from 1923 to 1938. During Gallipoli Kemal was a Turkish divisional commander. The inscription in Canberra reads: 

[To] Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country [Turkey]. 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 faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

In contrast to such noble sentiments, the brutality of the Army Renaming Commission’s trash-everything-Confederate dogma may someday leave them with such bitter regret that will feel as if someone has dumped burning coals of shame on their heads. It eventually happened to the cultural elite of the 1960s and 70s who ridiculed, or merely failed to appreciate, the returning Vietnam vets.