ataturk - 25

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk felt that only the mediocre try to please everyone.

The man who founded modern-day Turkey and served as its first president argued that greatness inspires just the opposite.

“Greatness means that you won’t try and please everyone, that you won’t deceive anyone, that you will discern the true idea for the country, that you will strive for it, that everyone will turn against you and will try to make you change your course,” he said to a fellow army officer.

“They will pile up endless obstacles in your path, and you will surmount them, knowing all the time that you are not great, but little, weak and resourceless, a mere nothing, and that no one will come to your aid.”

Kemal (who took on the name Ataturk, or “Father of Turkey,” later in life) created Turkey out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Not only did he create the state, but he also brought it into the 20th century, introducing reforms like women’s rights, educational opportunities and religious freedom for all faiths.

Learning From War 

ataturk - 50Mustafa Kemal Ataturk [1881-1938] was born in Salonika in what is now Greece. His father was a customs officer and entrepreneur who died when Mustafa was young.

Still, his mother was determined that her son would get a good education. He attended military school as a child and graduated from both the Ottoman War College and Staff College. He liked the military. It “reinforced in him an already masterful disposition,” wrote Andrew Mango, author of “Ataturk.”

Kemal’s life was impacted by a war his country fought with Greece while he was in high school. The Ottoman Empire won easily, but the great powers of the time intervened and prevented it from reaping the rewards of its victory.

“The lesson, that the European great powers intervened when the Ottomans won, but failed to intercede when they were defeated, was not lost on him,” noted Mango. Rather than get discouraged, Kemal fueled his nascent nationalism with the new knowledge.

Once graduated from the staff college as a captain, he wanted to be posted where the action was. He’d been part of a group of soldiers who were unhappy with the government, but, much to his disappointment, he was stationed away from the other revolutionary officers.

Yet sometimes, he learned, bad news isn’t always as bad as it seems at first. And good things happen to those who wait.

The soldiers posted together took power after a coup in 1908. “But when that first group failed and destroyed itself and the Ottoman state, Kemal and his friends had their chance to prove their worth – and took it,” wrote Mango.

ataturk-3Kemal was assigned to the Ottoman outpost in Syria, where troops were more concerned with looting than keeping order. When he was offered a share of the spoils, he turned it down – in part because he was honest but also because he kept his eyes (and morals) firmly planted in the future. “Do you want to be today’s man or tomorrow’s?” he asked a colleague who was also offered some booty. When told tomorrow, Kemal responded, “Then you can’t take the (looted) gold. I have not taken it, nor can I ever.”

As a soldier, Kemal felt a strong sense of duty. Although he didn’t agree with the sultan, he fought for his country. Take the time he was sent to Africa to protect the Ottoman interest in Libya. It was hopeless, but Kemal went anyway, noting that he’d do his best even if his side was assured of losing.

While he was an optimist, Kemal was also a realist and knew that a deft compliment often paved the way with others. When a fellow officer and would-be revolutionary was denounced for “subversive talk,” Kemal praised the local commander’s patriotism. Flattered, the local commander agreed that the officer wasn’t a traitor.

He stayed focused on his goal at all times – freedom for Turks. That determination helped power his defense of the country. He won widespread acclaim at the battle of Gallipoli, where Ottoman forces repulsed superior Allied troops and sank several British naval vessels.

Kemal still strove for more. At one point, as the most successful officer there, he insisted that all the forces along a particular front be put under his command. Asked if that was too much responsibility, he replied: “On the contrary, it is not enough.”

He pushed himself hard, often sleeping just a few hours a night. He pored over dispatches, and he kept a constant stream of messengers busy while he communicated with his subordinates.

atarturk - 66After World War I, Kemal took charge of the decimated Ottoman army. It had little respite; over a four-year period it had to repel enemy armies that tried to invade at the same time Kemal was fighting the army of the ruling sultan.

While he was willing to keep fighting, Kemal understood the importance of timing. With the invaders battered by the Turkish ferocity, he saw it was time to start negotiation. He called other leaders to sit down with him and talk about the future.

In 1923, Turkey signed the Lausanne Treaty with Britain, France, Italy, Greece and others. Shortly thereafter, the Turkish Republic was proclaimed, and Kemal was named its president.

He was 42 and had achieved his ambition. Now he wanted to build on his position so he could bring Turkey into the modern world.

He believed in acting fast. Years earlier, as a young officer, he wrote: “If ever I acquire great authority, I think I would introduce in a single stroke the transformation needed in our social life. I do not accept and my spirit revolts at the idea entertained in some quarters that this can be done (only) gradually.”

Eyes Wide Open 

ataturk - 15While Kemal pushed through a series of reforms, he didn’t do so blindly. He’d been planning what he’d do for years. As much as a decade earlier he’d discussed abolishing the veiling of women, educating them and allowing them into professions.

He introduced changes in the civil and penal codes, putting them on a European rather than Muslim model. He eliminated Arab script, which had been used in Turkey for thousands of years, and introduced the Latin alphabet.

He made education from grade to graduate school free, co-educational and secular.

He pushed young people to learn about the arts and sciences so that they were well armed to help their country grow. 

SOURCE: “MILITARY AND POLITICAL LEADERS & SUCCESS” (From IBD’s popular Leaders & Success section), with and introduction from William J. O’Neil, founder of INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY,  New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005, pages 169-172. 

Jakarta, 14 May 2014 

Frans Indrapradja

This entry was posted in GREAT MILITARY & POLITICAL LEADERS - IN ENGLISH and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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