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All that most of us know about the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire was that Lord Byron died at Missolonghi. I had thought it was from wounds fighting the Turks, but no, he had caught a bad cold from horseback riding in the rain.At the risk of incurring the wrath of Greek leaders, my conclusion from reading David Brewers Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression was that the ten-year conflict was at one and the same time a war of independence and a civil war. After hundreds of years of Turkish occupation, the Greeks did not know how to cooperate with one another -- such that there were numerous instances of Greek forces battling other Greek forces. Even the attempt to form a government was hampered by a tendency toward secession.It was only when England, France, and Russia got together and decided that someone had to clean up this mess that a powerful combined naval force under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington demolished the Turkish fleet at Navarino that Greek independence was guaranteed. (Even then, it took a couple more years for the Sublime Porte to acknowledge they had been defeated, but only after Russia had declared war on them.)There were conflicting views of the Greek fighters. On one hand, Byron wrote in his journal that the Greeks were such d----d liars; -- there never was such an incapacity for veracity since Eve lived in Paradise. On the other hand, G. S. Howe summarized his own impressions slightly differently:A Greek soldier is intelligent, active, hardy, and frugal; he will march, or rather skip, all day among the rocks, expecting no other food than a biscuit and a few olives, or a raw onion; and at night, lies down content upon the ground, with a flat stone for a pillow, and with only his capote, which he carries with him winter and summer, for covering; baggage-wagon and tent he knows nothing of. But he will not work, for he thinks it disgraceful; he will submit to no discipline, for he thinks it makes a slave of him; he will obey no order which does not seem to him a good one, for he holds that in these matters he has a right to be consulted. In a European army, a body of Greeks would be called cowards. They can never be brought to enter a breach, to charge an enemy who has a wall before him, or to stand up and expose themselves to a fire. The invariable practice is to conceal their bodies behind a wall, or a rock, and fire from under cover. They wear pistols, but never come within reasonable distance to use them; they have yataghans, but the only service they are of is to cut off the head of a slain enemy. As an army, then, and compared to Europeans and Americans, they are not brave; but it may be doubted whether Europeans or Americans, in the same situation, would be any braver.Brewer writes a remarkably even-handed history that excoriates the Ottomans, the Greeks, and even the Europeans when necessary. It is a history well worth reading on a subject that will be new to most (non-Greek) readers.

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