Greek tragedy

The Knife is a great admirer of Victor Davis Hanson. A superb historian (mostly military), a Greek speaking Hellenophile and true classicist, a farmer, an academic and a vigorous and pointed critic of Obama and those who would wish to denigrate or undermine the American ascendancy, his website VDH’s Private Papers, is one of the must reads on the web.

Not only does VDH himself write superb opinion pieces and polemics, but his co-authors and collaborators are also outstanding.  However, enough hagiography. As someone who knows both modern and historical Greece, his reflections on the state of that unfortunate country make essential reading, given the pivotal role of Greece in today’s euro crisis, which continues to be the main drag on Britain’s economic recovery (that, and the Liberal Democrats).

A few excerpts:

...default and a return to the drachma would destroy contemporary Greece as we know it. Bankruptcy would lead to political isolation, a scarcity of fuel and medicines, exorbitantly expensive imported consumer goods, the inability to purchase key military hardware, and a virtual cessation of overseas travel — in other words, a return to the impoverished Greece of the 1960s

Greek schizophrenia, alternating between victimhood and braggadocio, is a product of both the nation’s unfortunate history and its geography. Few countries have known such historical gyrations. Ancient Athens birthed Western civilization; even today, most of the philology of the Western mind remains Hellenic to the core, whether we are talking about democracy, technology, or philosophy. When Rome fell, a Greek-speaking Byzantium in the east, almost alone, kept Western thought alive for another millennium. There may be only 11 million Greeks today, but there are still traces of a vast ancient Hellenic diaspora. Vestigial communities of Greek speakers in the Crimea, Asia Minor, North Africa, Sicily, and throughout the Eastern Mediterranean offer a tiny glimpse of the former scope and influence of a now lost Hellenism. In other words, the Greeks have lost forever a once magnificent history and, in their reduced position today, they feel both the pride and pain of former glory hourly.

…The collapse of classical Greece, the end of the Byzantine Empire, and the final destruction of Hellenism abroad in the 1920s have made Greeks feel more victimized by their losses than exalted by their past accomplishments

…I remember that during a six-hour walk through the Attic countryside in 1979, I found amid the olive orchards a Roman oil lamp, an Ottoman bowl handle, and a German World War II helmet — the flotsam and jetsam of two millennia of foreign occupation.

Like other endangered, but proud and unique peoples — Armenians, Kurds, and Jews — the Greeks have somehow preserved their religion, language, and ethnicity amid military occupation, forced assimilation, and coerced religious conversion. For these homogenous but fragile groups, fierce pride and unapologetic chauvinism were often requisite to their very survival. Greeks understandably both look for foreign succor and then almost instantly fear the repercussions of such dependency, a national characteristic that explains much of their present nonsensical behavior of resenting the Germans who have lent them so much — and who now alone can keep Greek bankruptcy at bay.

…Why had Greece, once the cradle of Western civilization, become a cultural backwater by the fifteenth century, as the West’s center shifted to the formerly tribal and wild northern Europe? To that question, Greeks have a different answer from the standard historical explanations about the value of Northern Europe’s Atlantic seaports facing the rich New World or the dynamism of the Protestant work ethic. Someone, they remind the Europeans, had to be Christendom’s shield against an aggressive Ottoman Islam. And for nearly a millennium, Greek-speakers kept Muslim conquerors away from Northern Europe, paying a terrible and mostly thankless price for it.

…To a rational disinterested observer, Greece’s shrill scapegoating and obnoxious xenophobia — a good Greek word — are inexplicable. Now more than ever, eleven million Greeks need the financial support of Germany, the political unity of Europe, and the military allegiance of the United States. Poverty is not Greece’s only contemporary worry. A new Ottomanism in Turkey is once again ascendant. The future of Cyprus seems more in Ankara’s hands than in those of the European Union or the United Nations. Muslim theocracies may well sprout up right across the Mediterranean in North Africa, and the Balkan mess on their northern border is still not settled.

The whole thing is a masterclass in interpreting history as it relates to the present. The lack of such an approach is one of the reasons why Britain’s foreign policy since 1997 has been, with a few exceptions, so disastrous.

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