The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Archive for the ‘Athens’ tag

The Heartbeat of the World

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Katerados village where I’ve been coming before or after many a war zone.
©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Thera- Having come to Greece, or the Hellenic Republic as it’s actually called in English or Hellas more colloquially, for over two decades, I have a deep attachment to the place. But my personal history and relationship is a very narrow one involving just Athens and the port town of Piraeus as they relate to going back and forth to the Cyclades island group. I always have the best of intentions of visiting other parts of the country but that rarely works out. Back in 2015 in the heady summer of refugees welcome, I had finally resolved to visit Thessaloniki (aka Salonika). After paying for an airbnb in the city centre up there, I didn’t realise there were no seats on either trains or buses as genuine refugees lumped in with political asylum seekers and throngs of economic migrants posing as either of the two former heading toward Macedonia (since renamed North Macedonia to appease Greek nationalists and thereby open the door to possible EU assimilation) in their collective exodus to reach Germany or Sweden . Then there were no flights from Athens as there was an election whereby people were going home to cast votes and see family. An extreme example to be sure, but alas I’m in my content, utterly familiar Cycladian rut.

The island I may be on at any given time is a signifier of age to some degree. For much of my youth, I traveled to Ios which is situated neatly midway between here and Naxos. The island was a notorious party place since perhaps the early 1980s and so by my arrival in the late 1990s its place as a rite of passage was well established. Its pin to the ancient world was that it is said to be the burial site of Homer. Homer, if one believes he was an actual individual person depending on what side of the Homeric question the reader falls on, was born in Ionic-era Smyrna (today’s Izmir in modern Turkey), lived on Chios in the North Aegean, and perished on the “insignificant island of Ios” according to the 1965 work of the late English classicist Geoffrey Stephen Kirk entitled Homer and the Epic: A Shortened Version of The Songs of Homer.

Ios never became as developed as some of the other islands here because it had no airport and was only promoted as a fairweather destination. It was the haunt of Australian backpackers and Irish seasonal workers as I remember it. But this little place known mostly for summertime debauchery was what lured me into Greece to begin with. At night, walking back from the Chora (town) to Mylopotas beach, I would hear the bells jingling around the necks of a goat flock in the nearby brush as I trundled down the donkey path toward wherever I had a bed for the night. Beyond the red bull-fueled (and brand new thing at the time) bacchanalia in the main square, I somehow felt connected to the ancients. The constellations shone above the shimmering blue sea to give the feel of an epic, uninterrupted continuum where history never ended.

The rugged beauty of Ios on the way to Manganari beach. How I loved this place.
©2005 Derek Henry Flood

This time around I ended up on an unplanned, extended stay on Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. It doesn’t have the mass global tourism of here or Mykonos owing at least partly to that it doesn’t have an international airport nor a reputation as a bucket list destination around the world. A more provincial feeling place, the tourists there were entirely mainland Greeks or Westerners and the island only had a tiny handful of male Pakistani migrant workers. Here on Thera, primarily referred to as Santorini (Santa Irini-Saint Irene), it is back to a more bustling cosmopolitan reality with huge numbers of Chinese, and now Indian, tourists who come for short, busy, selfie-laden stays. There used to be large numbers of Russians as well until sanctions were set in place for the Russian president’s war in Ukraine in 2014 and the ruble plummeted in due course. Though only a 1-2 hour ferry journey apart, it is as if Thera and Naxos are on two different planets in terms of the numbers and national demographics of visitors.

As it sit and type this rather simple blog post, the Turkish military and its Syrian Arab and/or Türkmen epigones are reportedly beginning to attack northern Syria. I’m constantly flipping back and forth from WordPress to Twitter to keep up/see what I’m missing. But Thera, as the late British novelist Lawrence Durrell once wrote about Corfu, with the encompassing Ionian sea “being like the heartbeat of the world itself.” For me that is the Aegean and Thera is my 21st century Corfu.

Written by derekhenryflood

October 9th, 2019 at 7:13 am

The Futility of Battling Ideology at War’s End

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A massive piece of art in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section celebrating Bradley Manning, the Army private who passed a massive United States government document trove onto the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks.org. Manning, currently in detention at Fort Leavenworth, disclosed information which today is classified as secret but will one day very likely simply be part of the collective historical record. Lessons from history are rarely if ever learned by government. Perhaps it is finally time to reexamine our methodology. The balance between state secrecy and open governance almost invariably tilts towards further secrecy. Yesterday's release of yet more Nixon tapes and testimony-more than 17 years after his death-reinforce this idea. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I saw one of these living, contrasting images on the subway here the other day where I wonder if I am the only one observant or nosey enough to notice these things. An older man boarded the train donning a black leather vest with a green outline of Viet Nam divided rather starkly between North and South by a US Marine Corps rank insignia. I was born the year Viet Nam’s indigenous war ended and two years after it effectively ended for the United States. The political fervor of the Johnson and early Nixon era, where fighting Communism was deemed as an existential fight for America’s values at home as well as the biggest external challenge to American supremacy in the Pacific and Eurasian rimland realms, defined the imagery of my upbringing. We were all “All Along the Watchtower.”  Standing next to this man was a smartly dressed, city chic thirty-ish woman reading a fresh paperback.

Curious to know what others are reading to pass the commute time, I glanced over her shoulder to see who the author was and noticed it was a novel by a Vietnamese writer called Aimee Phan. The book was titled The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, a post-Viet Nam war odyssey of sorts. Looking it up on Amazon when I got home, I saw it won’t be out for some time, meaning the reader on the subway either worked for the publisher or a media outlet provided an advance copy to review the book. So here was a man representing the blood, death, and tears of a futile war with an invisible, unreachable goal and next to him a confident post-feminist woman born after his war’s end reviewing a book putting the war more firmly in history rather than the still very present tense of the vest wearer. Both of them appeared to stand oblivious to one another.

Sure perhaps we can revise our view and say that the war was either to buffer the vehemently anti-Communist but far from democratic South Vietnamese state or overturn its Communist peer competitor in the North. But in the context of the era, the American public was often extolled of the virtue of defeating such an evil ideology. That must not be forgotten. In 30 years, will there be a young person reviewing a book-in whatever form books will be in 30 years (assuming they still exist)-written by a second generation Iraqi-American author putting that war in the appropriate perspective with a grizzled yet proud Iraqi Freedom veteran nearby looking off the other direction?

Militaries and sometimes insurgencies can be defeated on the battlefield with overwhelming force and a scorched earth campaigns respectively (think Operation Desert Storm for the former and the Filipino insurgency in Luzon during the Spanish-American war for the latter). Though it may be possible to let the gun barrels cool down once both sides have exhausted themselves through the implementation of physical and psychological violence, it is impossible to kill ideas. Ideas can only be bested by more innovative, successful ideas, not columns of tanks and harsh secrecy laws. This is the eternal struggle between the short and long views of the intellectually ill-equipped men who describe themselves as “history’s actors.”

Tens of thousands of Americans died fighting to contain the spread of Asian Communism in the Korean and Viet Nam wars. Countless Americans served in Europe during the Cold War to stem the westward geographic creep of Soviet Communism. Today in troubled European cities like Athens (pictured here) rife with economic disquiet, the symbols of Marxism and Leninsim have failed to disappear. One has to ask, what was it all for? And was it all really such a success? Or did American triumphalism confuse Soviet and Warsaw Pact economic state collapse with the death of an ideology? Did America provide a security umbrella in Europe for decades only to allow for the freedom to espouse Communist ideology in the EU's economically devastated "olive belt" countries? ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

November 11th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

From Paris to Piraeus

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Underneath the innards of Le Tour Eiffel. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My place on stage at Maison de la Chimie on Rue St Dominique.

Paris & Athens- Firstly I want to thank Jean-Luc Marret and the staff of his Fondation de la Recherche Stratégique for hosting me and allowing me to speak at their global terrorsim conference yesterday. The title of my talk was Western Boots on Eastern Ground: A Comparative History of Western Intervention in the Muslim World in the Post-911 Decade (Which I may very well transform into an upcoming article). My only regret is that I had virtually no time to enjoy the city on my sleepless, croissant fueled whirlwind. I was happy to be part of the trans-Atlantic political continuum if only for a moment in time.

Asia Times Online reproduced my article on Said Bahaji from the August edition of Militant Leadership Monitor.

I left a gleaming, well functioning Paris this morning, full of shimmering life and bustling with tourists to arrive in a sullen, deserted Athens. I found out upon arrival at the nearly empty airport that the Greek capital is bracing for yet another paralyzing transport strike to show union and neo-Communist displeasure at the austerity measure being imposed on them by the Papandreou government. It was told that if I had flown in tomorrow rather than tonight it would not have been possible for me to reach to port of Piraeus-where I am holed up in a budget hotel for the night to catch the morning ferry to Santorini-except if I had hitchhiked. The few locals I was able to talk said this next day of direct action is meek compared to others earlier this year where the port was blockaded and tourists were apparently prevented from reaching their intended ferries by burly union types. I was assured that ferries will be running despite the possibility that most of Athens proper will reach a tense standstill rather quickly.  But I have left my big DSLR behind on this trip in order to take away the temptation that is always there to jump into the fray (though I do have one hell of a point and shoot should the mood strike). Heading to Santorini at the outset of its long, quiet (I think?) off season to get my nose to the grindstone on some long overdue long form writing.

Written by derekhenryflood

September 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm