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The Lessons and Spirit of “OXI” are Needed more than ever Today
Last December The Atlantic featured a cover story entitled “The Bad Guys Are Winning”. Just two months later, much of the world seemed resigned to Russia quickly occupying and dismembering Ukraine. But against all odds, Ukrainians resisted, fought and denied Putin a quick – and perhaps any – victory. This December, “the bad guys” – including Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Iran’s ayatollahs – don’t look much like winners anymore.
82 years ago, another set of bad guys (the Axis Powers) also seemed to be inevitably winning. And once again, a smaller state that looked to be a push over stood up. Greece’s “OXI” also changed conventional wisdom in the 1940s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed that “when the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”
Chicago columnist Sydney J. Harris once said, “History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.” We took the victories of World War II and the Cold War for granted. When the Cold War ended, scholars declared the “End of History”. We moved around Western societies as if hate had been eradicated, some declaring that Barack Obama’s election as President was proof America had reached a “post-racial” phase.
But we were all wrong. The last few years, the public debate has shifted dramatically. Instead of “The End of History”, we now have “The Return of Marco Polo’s World”. Instead of liberalism and capitalism drawing us closer to together, nationalism pulls us further apart. Another “ism” – fascism – is becoming normalized. Its proponents have donned cunning disguises, trying to convince us that their movements are all about “family values”, or only against “illegal” migration, but their penchant for political violence and ignoring the rule of law comes through quickly enough.
The triumphalism of May 8, 1945 (VE Day) or November 9, 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall) has dissipated – maybe disappeared altogether. The lessons and spirit of October 28, 1940 are needed more than ever today.
OXI Day and the Greek resistance it kicked off are not remarkable because of success – indeed, after initially defeating and pushing back Axis invaders, Greece fell to a Nazi blitzkrieg and endured a brutal occupation. Greece’s resistance in World War II is noteworthy because of how a typical it was. At the time of OXI Day, Britain could credibly claim that it was fighting the Nazis “alone”. The U.S. was still on the sidelines. The rest of Europe was falling quickly and installing collaborator regimes. The Soviets were bound by a non-aggression pact with Hitler. But as of October 28, 1940 – it was Britain AND Greece vs the Axis. When Captain America was still selling War Bonds in the U.S., Captain Ellada was exacting a high price from the Axis for the invasion of Greece.
On this OXI Day, let us recall that heroes in 1940’s Greece and in today’s Ukraine made a choice to defy the most overwhelming of odds. As Prime Minister Mitsotakis emphasized in his speech to a joint session of Congress, “the heroism of the underdog” and the “importance of friends” can be seen today in Ukraine as it has been time and again in Greece’s history.
The “importance of friends” is more critical than ever. Russia, China, Iran, Turkey all believe that Western democracies do not have the patience, fortitude or discipline for a protracted struggle. They see our elections, consistent polling and free public debate as a weakness in dealing with inflation, higher energy prices in the winter, and the increasing toll of war. They are betting on us not being able to sustain the spirit of OXI. I’m betting they are wrong.
Russia’s invasion has awoken the West from a slumber. Putin will be remembered one day for accelerating the renewable energy industry (so Europe no longer relies on petro-dictatorships) and for the expansion of NATO (and banishing the term “Finlandization” from the lexicon of international relations).
VE Day was made possible because of the resistance of the Greeks. Imagine if the German divisions that were pinned down in Greece and Yugoslavia had been on the beaches of Normandy instead. The worst nightmare for Putin, for Xi, for Erdogan is that all Western democracies – and the people living in them – to show that we will honor the spirit of October 28. We are fighting for more than a temporary drop in gas prices, and when we win those will come down to. If we live up to the heroism of OXI Day, The Atlantic will soon be featuring a cover story entitled “The Bad Guys are Losing.”