In the foothills of World War Three?
Historically, the dates on which the ‘starting gun’ for previous global conflicts was fired is arguable; so too today.
"Historical justice obliges me to state that of the enemies who took up positions against us, the Greek soldier particularly fought with the highest courage. He capitulated only when further resistance had become impossible and useless."
Adolf Hitler addressing the Reichstag on 11 Dec 1941
"Either we are going to accept these draconian measures or it is the sudden death of our economy.."
Greek Reform Minister George Katrougalos, 13 July 2015
The trigger of the First World War is viewed as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914: the formal end to that global conflict came about on 29 June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
The imposed conditions forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers.
In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (roughly equivalent to £284 billion or $442 billion in 2015).
At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes, predicted that the treaty was too harsh — a "Carthaginian peace", and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive.
What can be safely said is that the punitive conditions imposed on Germany provided Hitler with an expedient backdrop for his ‘Third Reich’ ambitions which led to the Second World War. By the late 1930s the Spanish Civil War, the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria, the occupation of the Sudetenland and the subsequent invasion of Czechoslovakia all became key components of the potent tinderbox that was Europe at that time.
While historians put the occupation of Poland on 1 September 1939 as the ‘start date’ the war was initially a European conflict. It was only with the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and the subsequent American response, that the term ‘World War’ could be rightfully applied.
While Germany exercised its power then through military might during that conflict, what we are now seeing is a Europe dominated by a reunified German using its economic and political muscle to intimidate, dominate and control its European neighbours; not least those – currently Greece – which pose a threat to German self-interest.
Last year we holidayed in Crete. The island was invaded by Germany in 1941 and the memory of German occupation and war crimes is still very much part of the Greek mindset. During the most recent crisis cartoons have been appearing in Greek newspapers depicting Nazi symbolism while one street poster showed Angela Merkel dressed in an SS uniform.
While the indigenous Mediterranean culture, reckless borrowing and spending, tax evasion, pension benefits and political ineptitude may have brought the Greek people to their present situation, their creditors could be accused of irresponsible behaviour also. The money lent to Greece in the 'boom years' was substantial used to support the export-dependant German economy: top-marque autos roamed the streets of Athens. (In contrast, Porsche sales were down 68% to only 8 cars sold on the Greek market in 2013 – in 2007, Porsche sold 562 cars in Greece.)
Yet we now see the Greek nation and its people being summarily crushed by Germany in a manner not a million miles removed from what the latter suffered under the Treaty of Versailles. Germany now has the economic and political power to dominate not just Greece but the rest of Europe. In the recent crisis intervention even French opinion was sidelined.
While the immediate crisis of Greek default has passed, the humiliation, loss of sovereignty and continuing austerity provides ample cause for serious economic and socio-political turmoil in the days and months to come.
And while Greece has been in the crosshairs of German self-protectionism and bullying behaviour, the other southern European countries, and those beyond the Mediterranean rim, must be feeling rather vulnerable as Greece, as Cyprus before it, falls victim to the great European experiment.
Footnote: See article 'An Empire Strikes Back; Germany and Greece Crisis'
Greece is also caught up heavily in the intractable migrant crisis facing the EU. According to a Guardian report up to a thousand people every day are reaching the islands off the Greek mainland. Most of them come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps 10 percent are from Eritrea, Sudan or other countries in East Africa and the Middle East. They leave from 600 kilometers of difficult-to-patrol Turkish coastline for dozens of habitable islands in the Aegean sea.
Meanwhile across the world Islamic terrorism strikes at random and with apparent ease while Iran continues with its nuclear ambitions and its support of its Shia proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen which are steadily encircling the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia.