The "NO!" Heard Round the World
Photo by Barry Sweet
Original evzone photograph by Barry Sweet
Art by Barbara
On the 28th of October, 1940, Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas had an urgent late-night message from the Italian ambassador. At around 3am, the ambassador demanded, on behalf of Benito Mussolini, that the prime minister surrender access to Greek territory to the Axis forces.
This, you can imagine, did not go over well.
Metaxas is famously said to have just replied with a single word - "No", although most sources say he actually responded with “Alors, c’est la guerre,” or, “Then it is war”. Less pithy perhaps, but just as adamant.
Word quickly spread. That morning the Greek population roared into the streets en masse, regardless of political affiliation, shouting "OXI!" (NO!). An act of mass resistance lit a fire that launched Greece into war with Italy and ultimately, with Hitler.
Metaxas had refused to let the Axis occupy some of the most strategic regions of Greece, but nonetheless Italy rolled in from the Albanian border within a few hours of the refusal, expecting an easy win over such a small country.
The world watched as one by one, countries around Europe fell under the jackboot, but stunningly, Greece repelled the invaders with an unexpected ferocity and tenacity. Their counteroffensive against the Italians was the first Axis setback of WWII, and became the first breath of hope for the Allies.
Metaxas said, during a press briefing on October 30th 1940, that "Greece is not fighting for victory. It is fighting for glory. And for its honour. ... A nation must be able to fight, if it wants to remain great, even with no hope of victory. Just because it has to." (source: Wikipedia/Z. Tsirpanlis)
Winston Churchill famously said of Greek bravery and resolve, "Today we say that Greeks fight like heroes; from now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks"
While the Greek population had a much more optimistic - if ultimately overconfident - view, Metaxas and those in power held to a grim resolve. As summed up by a captured Greek officer to his Italian captors "We are sure that we will lose the war, but we will give you the spanking you need." (source: Z. Tsirpanlis)
The initial Greek victories over Italy bolstered morale and confidence in Allied Europe, and showed that the Axis was not the unstoppable juggernaut it had seemed to be.
As a result, Winston Churchill famously said of Greek bravery and resolve "Today we say that Greeks fight like heroes; from now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks".
While the Axis did eventually overwhelm Greece, the Greco-Italian War is seen as a victory for Greece, and Metaxa's rejection of Mussolini's ultimatum on October 28th, 1940 is now a national holiday known as Oxi Day, celebrated in Greece, Greek Cyprus and the diaspora.
Greece was on the right side of history again. Celebrate Oxi Day and lift a glass to the many heroic Greeks who resisted against monstrous odds.
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