The Destruction of Smyrna

by John Derbyshire

I passed some friendly remarks about Turks and Turkey in my May Diary. This caused a friend of mine, whose confession is Eastern Orthodox, to press upon me a book, Milton’s Paradise Lost. No, not that one, this one.

Giles Milton’s book is about the destruction of Smyrna, a cosmopolitan trading city, by the Turkish army in September 1922. This was an episode in the Turkish War of Independence, 1919–23.

In common, I’d guess, with the generality of educated Americans, this was a corner of history I knew next to nothing about. The events of that time still excite strong passions in the Eastern Mediterranean, though — check through the Amazon reader reviews of Milton’s book.

Milton doesn’t spare us the horrors of Smyrna’s destruction, nor the part played in them by Britain and France. (He quotes Churchill: “At last, peace with Turkey. And to ratify it, war with Turkey. However, so far as the Great Allies were concerned, the war was to be fought by proxy. Wars when fought by great nations are often very dangerous for the proxy.”)

Milton makes it clear, though, that the war was fought with great ferocity by both sides, with atrocities all round.

No sooner had the [British warship] Bryony docked at Kapakli than the investigating commission realised that something was wrong. A thick pall of smoke hung over the village … The few survivors found cowering among the ruins declared that Greek soldiers had descended on their village and slaughtered everyone they could find.

“Man is wolf to man,” and in the chronicles of wolfishness, I don’t think many nations are absent. More on this in another post.

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