March 19, 1964
This letter is about
Greek caterpillars. Are you interested in Greek caterpillars?
Of course you are. Practically everybody is.
They look like tent
caterpillars. They have the same greenish-yellowish tiger-stripe
markings. They're hairy, plump and about an inch long. They crawl.
And eventually they become butterflies. And that's where the similarity
We first discovered
them in the park in front of our apartment about a month ago.
Since that day every day has been filled with fun.
They travel across
the park in long lines, each caterpillar nose-to-tail of one in
front. The lines are fairly straight -- the impression you get
is of a long rope lying on the ground. One line measured about
fifteen feet -- about 180 caterpillars. The mortality rate --
the park I usually crowded as the caterpillars work their way
across it -- is appalling, a terrible carnage ... otherwise the
lines would probably be even longer.
Interested? You haven't
heard anything yet. This whole thing is fraught with social and
psychological implications. How much there is to learn from the
Now for the fun. Step
on the first caterpillar in line, the leader. Squash him. Everything
disintegrates. Mayhem. Chaos. The second caterpillar in line refused
to accept the leadership role. In desperation -- its movements
come quickly, it looks nervous - it searches for a new leader.
In a matter of seconds it settles on the third caterpillar in
line - except that they're nose-to-nose and the third caterpillar
refuses to accept the leadership role. Confusion spreads down
the line -- it may take a few minutes before the end of the line
knows what's happening, except that they aren't moving. Within
a few minutes the straight line of caterpillars has disintegrated
into masses and clumps of caterpillars and pairs of caterpillars
on the outer edges, all and each looking for leadership from the
And then something
amazing happens. Out of all this mass of confusion, a caterpillar
or perhaps two or three caterpillars accept leadership. A line
(or lines, depending on the number of new leaders) forms again,
nose-to-tail and the caterpillars once again begin their journey
across the park.
We have watched the
process many times. We have never seen a caterpillar accept leadership
without first going into chaotic stage. This is true even when
we have gone down the line, squashed every fourth or fifth caterpillar
-- none of the segment leaders accepts leadership and each section
disintegrates. (In some instances the section leaders turns to
the caterpillar behind. In other instances, it rushes to close
the gap in front, except that mayhem is already moving form the
front of the line towards the back.) Any caterpillar caught outside
the line has difficulty getting back in -- except at the end --
and it moves up and down the line, never losing contact with it,
trying to work back into it. It gets no cooperation from the other
Why doesn't the second
caterpillar in line accept leadership of the line? Why does the
colony go through a period of mayhem before new leaders emerge?
What makes the leader? Is it forced on one of them? Does one caterpillar
have more of a sense of social responsibility than others? What
distinguished the leaders from the others and what finally moves
the leaders to take the responsibility?
There. Wasn't that
interesting? Will you ever be able to look at a caterpillar again
without feeling a sense of humility and respect before squashing
Things have quieted
down. No riots since the day before King Paul's death. Have no
fears. There will be more riots. The Communists have things going
for them now and they're not likely to stop. (They didn't start
the embassy marches -- Greek Orthodox priests did -- but they're
aware of powerful economic dissatisfaction in the country and
they're making it work for them).
What will save the
situation? Not Fulbright, although it helps. Not the Peace Cops
(the Greeks won't have it). Only one thing: close U.S. Embassy-Center
Union cooperation in bringing about major economic reforms. There
is a need for a peaceful revolution that will change the social
and economic structure of the country. Some aid may be necessary
but much more in the way of technical assistance to help the Greeks
get started after eight years of the Karamanlis Government's economic
apathy. Engineers, technicians, specialists of all kinds, plus
U.S. business investments, might yet save the situation. Papendreau
and the Center Union Party are apparently serious; they're ready
for the big push. Are we? If we aren't, then we'd better get ready
for more setbacks here, including the likelihood that Greece will
move into the neutralist camps before very long.