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March 25, 2005—No.24 (202) 785-8430


The Glory of Modern Greece

The world celebrates the glory of Ancient Greece—the golden age of Pericles and 5th Century Athens, and their extraordinary achievements—the creation of Western civilization and the ideals of democracy.

But there is a glory to Modern Greece which is little known and seldom celebrated.

The citizens of Modern Greece have a great deal to be proud of, and it starts with their War of Independence from the Ottoman yoke.

The political setting in 1821 was anything but conducive to the start of a rebellion. The Congress of Vienna of 1815, following the Napoleonic Wars and the defeat of France, was dominated by Metternich. It established monarchies and authoritarian rule throughout the continent of Europe and was thoroughly anti-democratic in its outlook and decisions. Metternich was particularly opposed to political unrest and revolutionary movements.

It is important to note that the Greek leaders were influenced by and took inspiration from the U.S. War of Independence.

During their War of Independence, the Greeks received encouragement and aid from philhellenes throughout Europe and the United States. Daniel Webster and Henry Clay gave memorable speeches in the Congress, and President James Madison in 1822 issued a message to Congress in support of the Greek revolution. Russia played a major role, and philhellenes in England were important. The most famous philhellene was, of course, Lord Byron.

The significance of the Greek War of Independence, which lasted from 1821 to 1829, goes beyond Greece, in that it was the first revolution in nineteenth century Europe and had a direct bearing and influence on the revolutions of 1848 in Europe. It is also significant in that it played a major role in the decline of the Ottoman Empire. As a totality, it was a glorious chapter in Greek history with significance beyond its borders.

From an historical perspective, Great Britain, France and Greece have been the United States’ most loyal and trusted allies in the 20th century and the only ones to have fought as allies with the U.S. in four wars in that century. However, Greece’s historic role in the 20th century has been little noted nor fully understood. The following should be kept in mind in analyzing Modern Greece and the role it played in the 20th century and its importance to the U.S. in the new millennium.

In World War I, Greece sided with the allies and played an important role in the Balkans, while Turkey fought against the U.S. as an ally of Germany. Greece’s actions also prevented Turkish troops from reaching the Western Front and saved many American and allied lives.

In World War II, with Europe under the heel of Nazi Germany and with Britain fighting the Axis powers alone, Greece’s courageous reply on October 28, 1940 of OXI (No!) to Mussolini’s surrender ultimatum echoed throughout the world and give support to Britain and the forces of freedom.

The defeat of Mussolini’s army by Greek forces, actually pushing them back into Albania, gave the first taste of victory to the allies against fascism. Greece’s success against Mussolini forced Hitler to change his plans and divert valuable troops, arms and equipment to invade Greece. Hitler’s invasion of Greece delayed his invasion of the Soviet Union by several weeks, from April to June 1941. That delay has been credited by military experts and historians as one of the main factors that prevented Hitler’s defeat of the Soviet Union.

Karl E. Meyer, in a New York Times editorial footnote, stated that Hitler believed that several weeks it took Germany to subdue Greece was responsible for his losing the war against the Soviet Union. (April 16, 1994, A20, col.1)

General Andrew J. Goodpaster, former Supreme Commander of NATO, has characterized Greece’s actions in World War II as a turning point in the war.

But the glory of Greece’s actions in World War II did not end there. During the harsh Nazi occupation, Greek resistance activities forced the Germans to retain a large number of troops in Greece, which otherwise would have been deployed to Eastern Front and in North Africa, and could have tipped the balance in both of those campaigns. Six hundred thousand Greeks, 9 percent of their population, died from fighting and Nazi Germany’s starvation policy.

In contrast with Greece, Turkey failed to honor its treaty with Britain and France to enter the war, remained neutral and profited from both sides. In fact, Turkey supplied Hitler with chromium, a vital resource to Nazi Germany’s armaments industry and war effort. Albert Speer, Hitler’s armaments chief, wrote in November 1943 that the loss of chromium supplies from Turkey would end the war in about 10 months. See F. Weber, The Evasive Neutral 44 (1979) and A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich 316-17, 405, 550 n. 10, (1970).

While the rest of Europe was rebuilding following World War II, Greece was involved in a civil war from 1946 to 1949 against communist forces supported by Stalin and Tito and supplied by them from the Skopje area of Yugoslavia. Greece’s defeat of the communists, with the Greek blood and American military aid provided under the Truman Doctrine (but without American combat troops), was an historic turning point in the post-World War II Cold War period.

Stopping the communist takeover of Greece, including Crete with its Souda Bay naval base, prevented Stalin’s domination of the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean and the strategic encirclement by the Soviet Union of the Middle East oil resources including the Persian Gulf area. General Goodpaster has called the Truman Doctrine and Greece’s role a turning point in world history.

Greece was then and is today the strategic key in the Eastern Mediterranean for United States security interests as demonstrated by the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003.

Despite its extraordinary role in the 20th century in support of freedom, Greece today and for the past several decades has been at risk regarding its national security.

Greece’s national security problems stem from its neighbor, Turkey. Turkey’s aggression in Cyprus and the occupation, now entering the 31st year, of 37.3 percent of the island with 35,000 troops and 100,000 colonists and Turkey’s threats against Greece in the Aegean and its outlandish claims to half of the Aegean make Turkey Greece’s primary security problem.

Until we puncture the myth of Turkey’s importance to U.S. national security interests, Greece and Cyprus will remain at risk. Some serious questioning has emerged recently as to Turkey’s value to U.S. interests.

What can each other of us do to help, keeping in mind that the issues are not simply parochial disputes between Greece and Turkey. They are first and foremost American issues. They go to the heart of what America stands for—democracy based on majority rule, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minority rights—as embodied in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights—the most important documents in modern world history.

We can help in the interests of the United States by becoming active in the political process and in the foreign policy formulation process. That means knowing the issues and arguments and being active with the Congress at the grassroots level, the Executive Branch, the media and the academic community and think tanks.

As we celebrate 184 years of Greek Independence, let us keep in mind that each one of us can make a difference. Our being active is important to the world-wide interests of the U.S. and to the future of our community and Hellenism in the U.S.


For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at