Cretan Cleansing | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Cretan Cleansing 

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Last time I wrote a Private Eye column from here in Chania, Crete, I had just read in the Deseret Morning News online that Salt Lake City Mayor Ross “Rocky” Anderson was having a hissy fit with local news organizations. He and I were already into our own spat at the time, so it was no surprise that he chastened me and City Weekly. It was a surprise, though, that he made some statements that were simply untrue. For that, I wrote that he was full of skata and that, if I could, I’d toss him into the limani (harbor) waters for a cleansing. Time heals all wounds. I’m thus proud that I never acted on my urge to pollute such a pretty environment, and I apologize to the people of Crete for even thinking of desecrating such a wondrous place.

nn

Last week, while in Athens, I read online that Rocky is in another spat, this time with a commercial developer. Some things, indeed, never change. I’m happy that I’m nowhere near that'Crete is as peaceful as can be. As a peace offering, I’d like to invite the mayor and his most current nemesis, Dell Loy Hansen to Chania for a little relaxation, perhaps some ouzo. Rocky likely would partake, but I doubt Hansen would. He seems like a pretty uptight guy to me. Rocky claims he can kick Hansen’s ass. That’s either true or a bald-faced lie and Hansen'the 10-cent patriot and self-styled kingmaker'probably isn’t worth it, anyway.

nn

In Chania, there’s no such thing as wasting time on such triviality. After a couple hundred years of Venetian rulers who built their fine stone buildings inside the supposedly insurmountable fortress walls (Chania was to be a miniature Venice), it took the Ottomans only two months to capture the city. The Ottomans controlled Crete for nearly 400 years, finally ceding the island to the rest of Greece in 1913. During World War II, German and Italian troops occupied Crete. Thus, for nearly 800 years, Crete was under outside dominion. My grandfather was born here in 1886.

nn

His father was a guerrilla fighter who fought the Ottoman Turks. All over Crete are monuments to such men and women. Most of the names on those monuments honor the dead. They are not in short supply. Through all those years of occupation, Crete never relinquished its love for freedom nor its proud defiance of any and all occupiers. Just up the road from where I am is the German graveyard of Maleme. More than 4,000 German soldiers are buried there, over half of whom were killed in just a few days in May of 1941 during the battle of Crete.

nn

Germany lost more soldiers in just a few days in Crete than they had lost in the entire war up to that point, including the conquest of Poland and France, more even than were lost on our own D-Day. Many Germans died by the hands of the Cretans themselves'old men, women and children attacked Hitler’s most elite paratroopers, striking them dead with anything available, even stones and garden tools. After just a few days, Hitler declared there was no future in paratroopers'many of his men never managed to get a few feet from where they landed. Germany got even, though.

nn

Throughout this city, many of those beautiful Venetian buildings were leveled by aerial bombings. Germany was so incensed at its humiliating losses that it was on Crete that German bombers for the first time dropped their weapons on European cities and civilians. All because the freedom-loving Cretans, after 400 years of practice by resisting the Ottoman Turks, wanted to protect their home turf and wouldn’t roll over for the Führer. In fact, Crete embarrassed him. In retaliation, Germany abandoned the basic rules of warfare.

nn

Resistance fighters were executed without trial. Cretans still resisted. Whole communities were rounded up and executed if they were deemed to be sympathetic to the resistance forces. Cretans still resisted. Torture was commonplace. Cretans still resisted. Their Great Britain and New Zealand allies had mostly retreated from southern Crete to Africa, but until the end of the war, Cretan civilians and resistance fighters were killing German soldiers. It’s that same old cycle of war'escalation begets escalation, and there’s nothing like home-court advantage.

nn

At the end of World War II, both Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill spoke that the most heroic fighters of the entire war were the people of Crete. Stalin added that if not for those men and women'whose efforts delayed Germany’s attack on Russia until the disastrous wintertime'Germany would have won the war. Is that important to you? Yes, but only because most of you don’t know a whit about it, only knowing'like I did until a few years ago'that the United States won that war all by itself, thank you.

nn

It’s also important to note that in many parts of today’s Iraq, American forces are not seen as liberators, but as occupiers. This isn’t about which side is right or just, but if an Iraqi is just one-quarter as strong as a Cretan, we are in for a long, long haul. We can call the Iraqis “terrorists” all day long. Murderers, even, or barbarians. But one thing does not change'they love their soil more than we do, and with every drop of Iraqi blood we spill upon it, a hero is born. In Crete, similar episodes developed the heroes that have inspired this island for centuries.

nn

I hear that Hansen dude is a Republican and a Bush supporter. Big deal, and so what? Maybe it’s he who needs to be tossed into the limani. He’ll be a nobody in five years, let alone 500.

nn

View Saltas’ vacation photos at flickr.com/photos/jsaltas.

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