March 7, 1964
The guidebook told
us that living in Greece is like living in a barrel with 8 million
electric eels. A Greek shopkeeper on Syros, on the other hand,
promised us a year of peace and tranquility. The guidebook was
right and the shopkeeper was wrong. Thucydides knew all about
it over two-thousand years ago when he wrote that Greeks were
born into the world to never allow themselves a moment's peace,
nor allow it to those around them. IT has been precisely that
kind of week.
Our lives have been
filled with Cyprus for some time now. Most of what has happened
has been deeply disturbing to us. We began to relax a little yesterday
when, as Secretary Rusk said, the Cyprus issue was transformed
from a danger to a problem. By late afternoon, however, King Paul
had dies and Greece went into a period of national mourning. I
might also point out that these events are taking place during
Greek carnival time, a two-week period a kind-of Mardi Gras.
There have been marches
on the U.S., British and Turkish embassies all week. Greek priests,
leading a silent march by several thousand, started it all. On
the following day, university students began their marches --
the temper was festive, friendly and in keeping with the approaching
holiday period. Leaders of the first student marches went into
the embassy, spoke to Ambassador Labouisse. They expressed surprise
at the site of the demonstration. "We started a small protest
rally at the university and the next thing we knew there were
five-thousand students following us." By Monday of this week,
however, a change was clearly apparent. For one thing, there was
less smiling and laughing. Posters became increasingly violent
("Enossis or death!"
out of Cyprus!") University marchers were soon joined by
high school students and by Thursday of this week by elementary
school children. The most shocking and ugliest demonstration was
one I saw on Thursday afternoon: several hundred elementary school
children, marching seven or eight abreast, down Venizelos Street,
carrying Enossis banners and chanting: "Cyprus is Greece
- Enossis!" What had started out three weeks or so ago to
be a holiday excursion had been transformed into something terribly
grotesque -- and frightening.
On Wednesday of this
week I went to the Varvakion to meet my classes. Marching out
from the school came about five hundred of its high school students,
carrying banners and posters -- and chanting. Inside the courtyard
were my students, the graduate teachers. They were obviously in
no mood for an English lesson but they expressed the desire that
we meet and discuss Cyprus. I agreed. It was catharsis. Their
frustrations and disappointments boiled over. Why was America
supporting the Turks and betraying a faithful ally? What had happened
to Stevenson's liberalism? Why didn't the American people do something
about the trusts that murdered Kennedy and put Johnson in power?
Why was the U.S. supporting dictatorships all over the world:
Turkey, Spain, Vietnam? Had I seen the movie The Ugly American?
Didn't the American people realize what their diplomats were doing?
Had I seen Seven Days in May? Why didn't the American people do
something about the military power groups? What is particularly
disturbing about the questions is that they came not from Communists,
for these men and women are strongly anti-Communist and not from
simple, illiterate people. These teachers, on the contrary, are
very able and intelligent people -- and equally important, they
are in positions from which they can influence many other Greeks,
children and adults alike. The teacher is looked upon with awe
in Greek society. Something, it is apparent, has gone terribly
wrong with American foreign policy in Greece. (I should add here
that, in making their comments, they spoke almost apologetically,
treated me with utmost respect and courtesy. This, with only a
couple of exceptions, has been the case as well with other Greeks,
even during the worst days of this past week.)
I didn't answer the
questions -- except for a few instances in which I thought they
might be able to listen. But I did hit hard, in the last few minutes,
on the use of children on the embassy marches, that foreign policy
is far too complex, the consequences of errors potentially so
disastrous, to give so much responsibility to small children.
Most of them agreed. But they also became extremely defensive,
insisting that teachers had not directly organized the marches.
One teacher insisted that it was simply a natural eruption of
children's powerful love-of-country. Another teacher asked about
the use of children in integration marches.
The Communists, of
course, are having a field day. They are, I'm sure, astounded
by their influence during the past week in keeping pots boiling.
Communists in our neighborhood have been working strenuously visiting,
talking, persuading. Wherever they visit, they leave a particular
line, monotonous in its repetition. They play on the Greeks' pet
hostilities and blindspots. "War with Turkey? We welcome
it! We'll be in Constantinople in 24 hours!" "Greece
must go-it-alone. Greeks fight best they fight alone." "We
won't sell our national honor for Anglo-American dollars."
Again, the vast proportion of these people are not Communists.
They are usually terribly frustrated people. Most of them are
battling for existence. They're not particularly intelligent.
They're terribly vulnerable. (I had a direct collision with the
tailor. For the 4th or 5th time that day I heard that only Russia
protected weak nations. Example? Look at the way she responded
to the French-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt: by threatening
to atom bomb London and Paris. What did America do? She scolded
at the United Nations. I exploded all over him: Hungry, Berlin,
the Greek Communist war. That poor little tailor was on the receiving
end of my own anger and frustration, my wounded pride as an American.
I stood over him, pointed down his nose and roared. He was astonished
and looked more than a little concerned.
The French are busy.
Their popularity has risen sharply in Greece, although most intelligent
Greeks I've spoken to also more than suspect grandstand-playing
by DeGaulle and really don't expect much help from him. From here
we get the feeling that the French are busy leading all of us
toward disaster -- Americans, Greeks, Englishmen and Frenchmen
alike. Too strong? Perhaps. As I said, it has been an angry, frustrating
week -- and the French haven't helped matters.
The Greeks we've spoken
to -- the teachers on one end and the tailor on the other -- agree
on one thing: American power and influence in Greece have suffered
a powerful setback; it will probably never rise to its previous
level again. I am very much inclined to agree, although a rise
from the depths of last week is likely and already is under way.
What has gone wrong?
How did America drop from its tremendous popularity of even a
few short years ago? How is it that the people of a country who
have so much affection and admiration for Americans as people
can harbor so much anger and resentment toward our government?
I think I've written
before that, given the complexities of the situation, I doubt
that any American foreign policy could be spectacularly successful
here. The Greeks responded powerfully, overwhelmingly to the personal
touch -- are there enough Americans, armed with their copies of
Margaret Mead and a determination to be helpful, to go around,
and is it really worth it all? I don't know but as matters now
stand, and without a miracle by the Papendreo government, the
situation is not encouraging. You might even say that, on the
face of it, we're failing.
The roots of the problem
go deep. It's possible to dwell here on the Turkish occupation,
the terrible Balkan conflicts, life which has been a bitter struggle
for survival -- and the attitudes, institutions and traditions
that have resulted. Focal to all of this and in a real sense of
preserving and extending these cultural remnants, for better and
for worse, has been the Greek public school. It is an archaic
institution, both in the physical and intellectual sense. It indoctrinates
a kind of virulent nationalism, appalling by our standards. Its
textbooks emphasize a hatred of Turks that is frightening (and
the Turks probably do the same). Greeks hate Turks. They despise
them with indescribably intensity. Revulsion is not too strong
a term here -- and it is an emotion shared by the vast majority
of the population. Greeks simply do not discuss Turks except in
these terms -- and with a suspicion bordering on paranoia.
And then there is
a second contemporary element. Greece is a marvelously free country.
Debate and controversy flourish. The recent elections, in which
90% of the eligible population voted, were peaceful (but lively)
and honest. Their motion pictures are relatively free of the problems
of censorship -- certainly as free as ours. Take a stand on any
issue in Greece and a discussion quickly follows. People are not
afraid to say what is on their minds. This is all a very remarkable
thing for a country which only a few years ago was fighting a
bitter civil war with the Communists. It is more than remarkable
-- it's a miracle. But there is another side of the coin. It is
Lippman's theme in The Public Philosophy. Debate, if it is to
have meaning, must have as its goal the search for truth -- an
in order to do this, there must be adequate access to and use
of knowledge and information. This is the problem. The schools
place little focus on present-day issues, except in the context
described above. And neither do the information media fill the
role. The press is free -- as free as any in the world -- but
it is hardly responsible. Its function is to sell newspapers --
it can do this by feeding popular emotions. It has fed them on
the Cyprus issue with enthusiasm. Newspapers attacked the U.S.
position as pro-Turkish. One newspaper displayed a front-page
cartoon showing Stevenson placing a container over the head of
the Statue of Liberty. Distortion followed distortion as the newspapers
clamored for readers. They competed with each other with a fury
-- and sales went up. The BBC and VOA Cyprus reports were calm
and objective -- and the Greek newspapers demanded that BBC and
VOA news scripts be dropped from Greek radio stations. (That night
the VOA calmly quoted a Greek government official -- poor devil
-- to the effect that Greek newspapers were doing a disservice
to the Greek people by distorting the issue. We cheered. The VOA
scripts were not dropped.) And because the Greek is not particularly
well-informed to begin with, there was nothing to counteract the
torrent. Students marched, tempers rose and by the end of the
week, we had suffered a serious set-back. Discussion flourished,
rumor piled on rumor -- and by this past week we were wearing
the clock of military imperialism, preparing to seize Cyprus for
Pretty dreadful. But
we are hardly free of responsibility.
Something else is reflected
in all of this: the Greeks' growing resentment toward American
foreign policy. There are 3,000 American soldiers here in Greece.
They have had a strong and positive military impact. But has their
political impact outweighed, in a negative sense, their military
contribution? I don't know. Soldiers can't be expected to be very
good goodwill ambassadors, particularly in a culture as puzzling
as that of Greece. But they are critical of Greeks and Greece--
not publicly, certainly, but they have Greek maids, many of whom
speak English. Our kids come home with it -- Matthew picks it
up from soldiers' kids at the American Community School: "Papendreou
is a Red." "Karamanlis was a friend of the U.S. and
now he's gone." "Greeks don't know how to make good
(food, machinery, cigarettes, -- pick it)." The Greeks pick
it up. The Army Air Force radio station, one of the four powerful
stations in Athens, displays a whole stable full of illiterates
for announcers (they recently added one good one, fortunately);
Venizelos dies and the station does not interrupt tits collection
of rock 'n roll and shop talk (they are playing classical music
now that King Paul is being mourned -- that God! Thank God!) The
Greek notices. We were walking in the Plaka the other night --
very narrow streets -- a car came around the corner, blasted its
horn -- frightened everyone, including a half-dozen Greeks, half
to death. Inside the car: a U.S. government official and his wife
(in a fur coat) and children. Commented one of the Greeks: "Ah!
They're Americans." And there is so much more
an apathy, a condescension, repeated a thousand times. The Greek
gets the message.
then, is eliminated, as far as it affects the average Greek, as
an essential element of foreign policy in Greece. Perhaps this
is right -- is it possible to influence 8 million Greeks through
face-to-face relationships and good works? (Contradiction: why
do we spend great sums of money on a Hellenic-American Union building
here in Athens and fail to keep it filled with people and activities
most of the time?) Greece, in a cultural sense, does not lend
itself easily to a Peace Corps type of philosophy. But is it out-of-the-question?
The approach, then,
is something quite different. As one USIS officer explained it,
it is to work with the power elements in the country, influence
them and let the rest take care of itself. The theory has a lot
of validity. It means, in effect, that U.S. influence is now to
be directed at assisting the Papendreou government to carry out
the basic reforms so necessary to the country: economic, educational,
social. And there are indications that precisely this is being
attempted -- Papendreou's educational reforms include a new university
closer to the American pattern. But there are problems, too. How
do we keep from being identified too closely with a particular
government -- Karamanlis is an example -- when that government
becomes unpopular? ("The Americans want Karamanlis"
was a constant refrain last fall. It hurt us very badly.) It is
a problem. Is it necessarily a fatal one?
Perhaps the philosophy
is not the problem, although it is my feeling that one approach
does not, except in a budgetary sense, eliminate the other and
that far more could be done with person-to-person. The problem
may be more in the area of execution. How is it possible to exert
a powerful influence at the top without in some way reaching the
Greek teacher? Or other Greek intellectuals? Why are they -- and
they'll influence many people -- so poorly informed about us,
about American policy, about why we're putting so much energy
and time and money in Vietnam, in Berlin, in Greece? They are
ill-informed -- dreadfully ill-informed. Are they being included
among the groups "at the top?" Are there ways of reaching
them more effectively than we have been? Or is it a pretty hopeless
situation? And the newspapers -- what about the newspapers? Is
it possible to work in Greece without having the newspapers periodically
clubbing us? Can they be persuaded in any way? Counteracted? Or
is this also hopeless? Again, perhaps the situation defies all
remedy. But it is hard to believe that we're really trying. You
sense an apathy here in Athens -- a then-bee-rah-zee -- that seems
to permeate our offices. The resources of the Fulbright people
are not being tapped to the fullest. USIS people look almost bored
as they go through their daily routines. A secretary sat lounging
in a chair munching an apple -- she managed to drawl out a "What
do you want?" The Hellenic-American Union lies almost idle
-- all five magnificent floors of it. Isn't there something more
than can be done in informing people than the very insipid
"American Viewpoint" newsletter? The textbook delivery
caused quite a stir -- but only in that it might cause some damage
by identifying us too closely to the king. I have a feeling and
it is shared by others -- and perhaps we're wrong -- that the
principal concern has somehow evolved into preservation of the
institution, not winning a cold war battle and as such the greatest
premium is placed on taking few risks and maintaining a comfortable
posture. (We had a USIS spokesman tell us that the Air Force Station
was really no so bad, that those boys really try pretty hard and
anyhow, the Greek stations are so much worse by comparison. There
was no concern about rocking the boat here -- or at least I should
say visible concern. This isn't too surprising -- if the first
concern is for the preservation of the institution and the Air
Force is part of it.)
What a year! What
Oh, yes. The British
ambassador asked to see Papendreou. He got the meeting. The little
guy (actually, I don't know if he's a little guy -- I just think
of English ambassadors as little guys -- he's probably eight feet
tall) went in and demanded an apology for the behavior of Greek
students at the British Embassy for putting fezzes on fence posts
and that sort of thing. He got his apology -- and the newspapers
ran it. He also won a lot of Greek admiration, too. Great, great.
One Varvakion teacher said to me: "the English know so much
more about Greeks and diplomacy than Americans do." Nevertheless,
the British got it a lot worse this past week than we did.
Oh, yes, again. As
I was saying, the king died. He had been on the brink for several
days. We awaited the announcement of his death the way I used
to wait for John Ryder's telephone call for a snow day. Schools
will be closed. Yes, I know. Pretty grisly, insensitive. And anti-climatic.
Anyhow, I'll try to
get to the funeral procession. Maybe, if it doesn't seem too vulgar
and I can do it discreetly, I'll take a few pictures.
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