The 1961 Academy Award-winning film, The Guns of Navarone, centered on World War II battles fought in the Fall of 1943 for control of key Greek islands southeast of Athens. In a twisting conflict which included the shifting allegiance of pivotal Italian garrisons occupying the islands, the Germans eventually won the campaign, defeating 12,000 Allied and Italian soldiers. According to many military historians, the Greek islands conquest represented the last major victory for Germany during WWII.
Over 70 years later, the conflict in Greece is waged with currencies and not guns, and Germany once again factors heavily in the outcome. The world faces another turning point, this time in finance, and all eyes are fixed again on the centuries-old frontier between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Once again holding powerful trump cards in Greece, the Germans exert more genteel restraint through the framework of the European Central Bank, led somewhat ironically by Italy’s Mario Draghi, and also through the European Commission, now led by Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Junckers. But this time Greece has powerful wild cards of its own in its daring rebuff of European austerity, plus hovering potential allies Russia and China, who have made strong economic overtures to Athens by assisting with ports, gas pipelines, and railroad connections to Asia.
Americans have watched with increasing interest as Greece’s vocal Prime Minister Alex Tsipras has not hesitated to remind Germany of its not-too-distant past, and that Greece once again plays a pivotal role in the global balance. With a shrinking economy and over $360 Billion in mounting debt, most of it to Europe, Greece cannot continue without massive relief from somewhere. Will Athens, at the very cradle of Western Civilization, continue in the NATO-led West and remain in the Euro, or will it turn East for financial relief? Will Asia’s gold be introduced in a new currency support architecture? As Germany and the rest of Europe re-examine their core negotiating positions, they may remember a key naval battle in Greece in 1943, when German Junkers aircraft sank a key Italian warship, the Euro, on October 1.
It remains possible now, just as then, to win the battle but lose the war.