The Greek 1917

The Greek 1917

Sam Mendes’ war epic “1917” has captured the attention of audiences and critics alike; it’s also an Oscar favorite. Watching the film made me think about Greece’s experience in the Great War.

For Greece, World War I was not so much trenches and military operations as it was domestic turmoil – both political as well as social. The National Schism was civil strife without military operations but with fanaticism, hatred and blood nevertheless.

According to the younger generation of foreign historians, the First World War did not end in November of 1918 but in September of 1922. In other words, they deem that the Ukraine intervention (1918-19) and, most importantly, the Asia Minor campaign functioned as a tail to the Great War, which however are ignored by the British and the Western Europeans.

If the failed campaign in Ukraine was due, to a certain degree, to Russia’s change of course with regard to military operations in World War I as a result of the revolution and the Bolshevik coup, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-22 was the continuation and the closing of the front that opened at the Dardanelles when the Ottoman Empire stood by the side of the Germans.

The most memorable battle in this case was Gallipoli: a failed amphibious operation by British Commonwealth forces which were held up by Turkish troops under a young lieutenant colonel, Mustafa Kemal, who would later become famous as Ataturk.

According to a section of modern foreign historiography, both 1919-22 and Turkey’s genocidal policies between 1915 and 1917 are integral parts of the First World War (like Germany’s genocidal policies would come to be seen as an integral part of the Second World War). Meanwhile, we should not forget “our” Macedonian front, which constituted Greece’s military involvement in the Great War in 1917-18. The conflict was most famously dramatized in Stratis Myrivilis’ emblematic work “Life in the Tomb.” The book was published in 1923.

However, a collection of (most likely forgotten) stories by leftist writer Petros Pikros had circulated a year earlier. The volume includes short stories inspired by the Macedonian front. Pikros focuses on the human geography of a military hospital behind the frontline which is looking after wounded soldiers.

There are no war scenes, but the horror of war is here: A man is spitting blood, another, named Dekatrio (meaning Thirteen), complains that his leg hurts (it has been amputated). His younger sister has fallen into prostitution and he, as the only patron of the poor family, now missing one leg, is always away from home because of repeated conscriptions. Here’s a small-scale representation of 1917 Greece.

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