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What if the Greeks Hadn’t Said “Oxi” on October 28, 1940?

greco-italian war greek oxi day october 28
Greek soldiers in the Greco-Italian War. Credit: Greek Foreign Ministry/CC BY-SA 2.0

“Oxi Day,” on October 28th, is a Greek national holiday, but it’s establishment as such is not without its share of criticism, as there are those who argue that it commemorates the country’s entry into a war instead of a victory or a liberation day, as is typically the case with such holidays.

However, if Greeks had not declared “Oxi,” and thereby avoided the war, it is entirely possible that the consequences for Greece and the world would have been far more devastating. Greece likely would have lost portions of its territory and definitely would have lost its national pride.

On the contrary, the proud “Oxi” uttered by Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas in the early morning of October 28, 1940 and a few hours later by the Greek people who went out on the streets celebrating, united the nation.

Greeks said “Oxi” on October 28th out of patriotism

The events of that historic night united the Greek people, who had previously been divided into leftists and rightists, monarchists and republicans, communists and nationalists.

The division was so intense that between 1922, the year of the Asia Minor disaster, and 1936, no government could remain in power for long.

This brings us all the way to 1940, when the man who said “Oxi” to the Italian ambassador was a dictator who had been appointed prime minister by King George in early 1936 and who by August 4th of that year had established a military regime.

Ioannis Metaxas was a monarchist who was accused of being a sympathizer of both the Nazis in Germany and the Italian fascists. Yet, he was a patriot first and foremost.

But what would have happened if on that night Metaxas had said “yes” instead? The Greek prime minister was a highly educated military man and knew quite well that a war would cost Greece thousands of lives while causing tremendous damage.

Oxi Day, an important moment in history of WWII

He could have surrendered and allowed the Axis forces to enter Greece in an easy and relatively bloodless occupation. France, which had been under German rule since June of that year, was a good example of such a relatively smooth occupation.

Instead, Metaxas chose the noble, patriotic path. According to historian Miltiadis Chatzopoulos, the war with Italy and the subsequent German Occupation left about 335,000 Greeks dead, caused the destruction of virtually the country’s entire infrastructure, property losses totaling over seven billion dollars, and further financial losses in the form of a $3.5 billion forced loan, which, in today’s value, totals an estimated five hundred billion dollars.

This was in addition to the psychological and moral repercussions borne by the Greek people and the further destruction that the country’s Civil War (1946-1949) brought.

However, the total subordination to the Axis forces would have cost Greece multifold just in loss of morale and national pride alone.

David and Goliath

At the same time, Greek territories in Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace would almost definitely have passed into the hands of the Albanians in Epirus and the Bulgarians in the northeast.

Metaxas had also calculated that in the event Greece surrendered, it was highly likely that Turkey would claim the islands of the eastern Aegean, with the annexation of the Dodecanese all but certain.

The greatest benefit of “Oxi,” therefore, was the momentous moral victory of the Greek people despite the devastating losses they sustained.

Greece emerged from World War II with tremendous moral stature, representing a David that resisted a Goliath. “Oxi” was a wise choice compared to the moral damage France suffered from its total surrender to the Nazis after a brief struggle.

Unlike the French, the Greeks emerged from the war spirited and proud, ready to rebuild their country and look ahead, based on their brave decision to stand up and fight.

United, they fought against the common enemy and finally washed away the memories of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 and the bitter divisions which that defeat had brought to the nation.

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