Today In History: On October 28, 1940, The Greeks Told Mussolini Ochi

Note:  I have to give credit for today’s entry to a friend of mine (and loyal reader) who suggested this idea to me along with an article from Trip Savvy by Detraci Regula that gave some information about Ochi Day.

The year is 1940.  The leader of Greece, Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, has received a “request” from Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini to allow Italy’s army to freely invade his country.  His reply is to send a flat denial.  Italy invades anyway (inspiring, among other things, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), is defeated, and the Italian troops are driven up most of Albania before they are rescued by the Germans, whose invasion of Greece costs enough lives and takes enough time that the Germans never again attempt a paratroop invasion like they did on Crete, and the Greek resistance is credited by some historians, at least, with delaying the invasion of Russia long enough to ensure that they would not take over Moscow by the beginning of winter.  Although the Greek experience during World War II involved a great deal of suffering under German dominance, the flat refusal of the Italian request for free passage through their nation is viewed as being important enough that the Greeks still celebrate it to this day.

Here at Edge Induced Cohesion, we write about small peoples and their sometimes tragic histories often [1].  As is often the case, Greece’s tragedy in World War II was being a small nation when much larger nations were fighting.  In World War I, a similar experience led Greek and Allied troops to spend much of the war besieged in Salonika before the collapse of the Central Powers in late 1918 led to an advance that ended in victory.  In 1940, the Allied powers were far weaker, and for a period Greece was the only ally of the United Kingdom in the period before the Soviet Union and the United States joined the fight against Hitler.  While the World War II experience is a complicated one for many nations–France has its shame in Vichy, Bulgaria, Romania, and Finland have the experience of being bullied first into one side and then another in the attempt to secure their freedom from conquest, Norway has its eponymous quisling, and Germany and Italy have their leadership during the war discredited by their wicked deeds, Greece belongs to those nations whose war experience is one of domination without shame.  It is no shame to be a small nation that its armies are defeated by larger and more powerful nations.  It is, instead, an honor to be able to tell bullies no and then live to tell the tale.

My own feelings about this are generally positive but also, perhaps predictably, complicated.  Throughout the melancholy course of my own life, I have experienced more than my fair share of encounters with bullies, and my replies to these bullies has involved a large amount of resistance, much of it successful.  Without having ever had a particular desire to bully or oppress others, I have also found that my own considerable strength of personality has been viewed as somewhat overwhelming and even threatening to those around me.  Likewise, I have also noticed that for many babies, no is among the first words they use, and a word they sometimes use with considerable vehemence when dealing with the overwhelming big people in their lives and their demands.  Sometimes this strong negative comes with justification–little children, like little nations, are vulnerable to oppression and deeply traumatic experiences because they often lack the force to enforce their strong negative.  A powerful nation can say no politely because few want to test their strength of resolve.  When Switzerland told the Nazi regime that if invaded they would shoot twice and go home, Germany respected the Swiss, not least because their reputation as fearsome mountain warriors and their tradition of citizen militarism meant that the Nazis would expend far more troops to subdue their nation than would be worthwhile for what one would gain by taking over a surrounded neutral neighbor.  It is therefore no surprise that Greece would celebrate its verbal no despite lacking the power to resist Italy when Germany entered the invasion of Greece to support its threatened bullying ally.

And, at least from what I have read, Greece really does go all out celebrating this emphatic negative.  Museums and archaeological sites are closed for the day so that tourists and everyone else can enjoy the groundswell of popular enthusiasm for parades that demonstrate the Greek people’s continued historical memory of their brave resistance against tyranny and oppression at the beginning of World War II.  Perhaps such a celebration as this encouraged Greece’s stubborn hostility to the demands of the European bank for their adoption of austerity after the financial meltdown they experienced a few years ago, as the European central bank, dominated as it was by Germans, was viewed as being a bullying foreign force that was trying to dominate its country.  This is mere conjecture, but celebrating such a refusal as happened on October 28, 1940 is an inspiration to continue to refuse powerful demands from others, come what may.  I know of no other nation that celebrates a firm refusal in the fashion that Greece does, but if you happen to know of such a celebration, feel free to let me know.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Military History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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