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AHI Commemorates "OXI" Day: The Importance of Greece to the United States Then and Today
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
October 29, 2004—No.63 (202) 785-8430

AHI Commemorates "OXI" Day: The Importance of Greece to the United States Then and Today

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute commemorated the 64th Anniversary of "OXI" day, Greece’s refusal on October 28th 1940 to surrender to Mussolini’s Italian fascist government. During the Noon Forum held yesterday at the Hellenic House, AHI President Gene Rossides gave a presentation on "OXI Day and the Battle of Greece: The Importance of Greece to the United States Then and Today." Greece’s heroic resistance played a pivotal role in the ultimate victory of the Allied Forces in World War II.

Mr. Rossides remarks follow:

OXI Day and the Battle of Greece—The Importance of Greece to the United States Then and Today

The battles fought in the Greek Italian War in northwest Greece and Albania in 1940 and 1941 are among the most important battles in World War II. Yet little is known or written about them and they are little studied outside of Greece.

Nazi Germany's attack on Greece in April 1941 and the several weeks it took Hitler to subdue Greece and its impact on Hitler's subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union is also little known or written about and little studied outside of Greece.

In October 1940, Europe was under the heel of Nazi Germany. Poland, the Low Countries and France had fallen and Britain was fighting the Axis Powers, Germany and Italy, alone.

In October 1940 the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, had massed an Italian army in Albania pointed at Greece. Italy had occupied Albania in 1939. In the early hours of October 28, 1940, at 3:00 am to be precise, Mussolini issued an ultimatum to the Greek dictator General Ioannis Metaxas to surrender, in effect, by allowing Italian troops to occupy Greece. The ultimatum was to be answered by 6:00 am.

Greece's courageous reply on October 28, 1940 of OXI! (NO!), to Mussolini's surrender ultimatum echoed throughout the world and gave support to Britain and the forces of freedom.

The Greek forces actually defeated Mussolini's army and pushed them back into Albania to the surprise of everyone. It was an extraordinary accomplishment and the first victory of the Allies against the Axis Powers.

Retired General and former Supreme Commander of NATO, Andrew J. Goodpaster wrote that Greece played "a pivotal role" in World War II. In the introduction to the American Hellenic Institute Foundation's 2001 publication Greece's Pivotal Role in World War II and its Importance to the U.S. Today, Goodpaster states:

"As the years pass, it becomes more and more necessary to recall and record for new generations just how the people of Greece, alone or with allies, gained and held for their country for a century and more the independence and democracy it possesses today—and how in one special moment in history Greece at heavy cost and sacrifice and with great courage and determination played a pivotal role in World War II in defying great forces of tyranny and Axis aggression that were arrayed against not only Greece but the whole of Western civilization. It is an inspiring history." (Emphasis added.)

"Never to be forgotten is the valiant role of Greece against the Axis nations that were on the march in Europe. Brought into the war by Mussolini's attack in October 1940—at a time when Britain stood alone against the Axis partners—Greek forces in defense of their homeland brought the Italian forces to a standstill, and in fact threw them back into Albania by the end of the year. When Hitler, to support his humiliated partner, launched his attack against Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941, he did so with massive forces that were capable and sufficient to overwhelm the Greek and supporting British forces. The delay that resulted, however, is widely held to have been a vital factor tipping the scale against decisive victory by Hitler in Russia."

Greece's Pivotal Role in World War II and its Importance to the U.S. Today provides an in-depth historical analysis of the political, military and geopolitical dimensions of Greece's contribution to the Ally forces during World War II and explains its importance to U.S. interests today.

I well remember that period. I was in the seventh grade in public school at the time and classmates would come up to me and comment on how great the Greeks were. More significant for Greek Americans, particularly our parents, was the fact that Greece's heroics elevated the status of Greek Americans to first-class citizens. You have to realize that the Greek immigrants were the last wave of immigration from southern and eastern Europe. We were at the bottom of the barrel. We were the greasy Greeks. Literally overnight that status changed because of the actions of the people of Greece.

Karl E. Meyer, in a New York Times editorial footnote, stated that Hitler believed that the 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)

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 the Eastern Front and in North Africa, and could have tipped the balance in both of those campaigns. Six hundred thousand Greeks, nine percent of the 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, prolonging World War II by seven months. Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments chief, wrote in November 1943, that the loss of chromium supplies from Turkey would end the war in about ten months. See F. Weber, The Evasive Neutral 44 (1979) and A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich 316-17, 405, 550 n. 10. (1970)

Greece's actions in World War II can be characterized as a turning point in the war.

There is in my judgement a great need to have many more books and articles published on Greece's heroic and critical role in World War II. I receive periodically book catalogues that contain lists of World War II books. Literally thousands of books have been published on practically all aspects of that key war, yet only a handful deal with Greece's role. Greece needs to lead the way to more scholarship and publications not only in Greek but also in English and French. Greece should initiate at once an oral history program for survivors of World War II and the occupation.

Greek Americans and Greeks around the World should be encouraged to write about Greece's role in World War II.

It is important today because the United States, the only superpower is, of course, heavily involved in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Defense and State Departments over the past several decades have had a pro-Turkish bias to the detriment of U.S.-Greek relations and U.S. strategic, economic, political and diplomatic interests.

Greece is the strategic and reliable key for U.S. interests in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Greece is the key for U.S. interests in the region—not Turkey.

The Souda Bay naval base in Crete is the key base in the Eastern Mediterranean for the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and the air base in Crete is of significant importance. The Souda Bay naval base is worth far more to the U.S. than all the base facilities in Turkey put together.

Greece's role in the Balkans makes it the key ally for U.S. interests in furthering the economic and political progress and stability in the Balkans.

Turkey was of minor strategic importance during the Cold War and is of minor strategic importance today as proven by the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003.

Turkey was a disloyal ally in the Cold War in the second half of the 20th century and is disloyal ally in the 21st century as the Iraqi War of 2003 proved. During the Cold War Turkey actively aided the Soviet military to the great detriment of U.S. interests. In the 21st century Turkey's disloyalty to the U.S. regarding the Iraqi War has been well documented.

Greece is a democracy. Turkey is a partial democracy as stated in Freedom House's annual survey.

Greece is a law-abiding nation. Turkey is an aggressor nation, which continues to occupy 37 percent of Cyprus, now in its 30th year.

Greece's citizens have full legal, political, cultural and human rights. Turkey is a terrorist nation, which uses torture on a national scale against its citizens, has thousands of political prisoners in jail, commits ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide against its Kurdish minority of 20 percent, jails journalists and restricts freedom of speech, press and religion.

Successive U.S. administrations have followed a double standard on applying the rule of law and human rights criteria to Turkey and have appeased Turkey at the expense of Greece and Cyprus, all to the detriment of U.S. interests in the region and worldwide.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Monteagle Stearns, in his book, Entangled Allies (1992), criticized U.S. policy of tying U.S. policy on Greece with U.S. policy on Turkey. He stated that the U.S. should have a Greek policy and a Turkey policy and not make our policy on Greece dependent on our policy on Turkey.

The American Hellenic Institute held a two-day conference in Washington D.C. March 12-13, 1997, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Truman Doctrine. One of the conference sessions was titled: "Greece's Strategic Importance: The Military Dimension." The Honorable Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Admiral Henry C. Mustin, U.S. Navy retired, outlined Greece's strategic importance then and now. They stated that Greece's importance is greater now than in the Cold War because the center of attention has shifted from the Central Front in Europe during the Cold War to southeast Europe, including the Balkans, and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Greece is central to the protection of the sea routes for Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea oil.

In concluding, I urge you to encourage continued scholarship about Greece's pivotal and heroic role in World War II and Greece's current key strategic, political, economic and diplomatic role in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean and its importance to the U.S. today.

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For additional information, please contact Georgia Economou at (202) 785-8430 or at georgia@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.