This is the building that I loved most in my travels (so far), Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It has meant different things to those under the leadership of several empires, inspired by both Christ and Mohamed, but all who stand in it feel the insubstantiality of their humanity and the ephemeral nature of their existence, because it conjures within us the scale of the spheres, and the forces beyond us.
This self-conscious manipulation of us, the common folk by the rulers and regulators, encourages an assumption that, because we have become so grand, we are right. And yet empires fade and paradigms change, and ordinary people want the same things they always did; food, shelter and safety for the children.
April 25th here is Anzac day, a day of remembrance for the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who joined various struggles. I fear that it may become another media festival of self-congratulation and jingoism. Platitudes and simple explanations do nothing to underpin the service and loss of so many people in the past century.
These days of remembrance used to be rather sombre, quiet affairs. Most returned servicemen said very little about their experiences, except perhaps to each other as they marked another year in the absence of their friends, but in the guilty presence of the remainder who dealt as well as possible with the realities of having been the agents for all the things they had been brought up to abhor. Some families, such as mine, had nothing to do with the remembrance days, despite the family lives that were lost.
Ironically, because so little was said, generations of us grew up not really knowing much about the grisly realities faced by our forebears. Of course, a thirst for the truth followed, and history is the richer for the curiosity that poured from that.
But media and politics combined have a bad habit of taking deeply held feelings and turning them into myths and national identities, and these breed simplistic self-congratulatory explanations that do no service at all to the dead. Along comes hubris, and the assumptions that our way is always the right way. I've seen this now in the last days of the British Empire, the Japanese Empire, the German Third Reich, The United Soviet Republic, and we are beginning to see it in the US of A. I won't live long enough to see the end of the next world power, but someone will. And along the way, millions of people will probably suffer all over again for exactly the same reasons that they always have- that exceptionalist belief and that certitude.
I hope one day Anzac Day can again become a quiet day to reflect, remember, mourn and pay respect, without flag-waving and nation-building.