I’ve been thinking about Greece while
watching history unfold in Egypt.
After fighting the Germans in WWII, the
Greeks were caught up in an even more savage civil war. Though
the Communists initially lost, in early 1967 they were sending
mobs into the street to influence the coming election. The
police asked for the assistance of the military, and in April
there was a coup led by a group of anti-Communist Army colonels.
The Greek people, weary of war, seemed to
reluctantly accept the new order, especially since the Colonels
announced their intention to stay in power just long enough to
For two of the seven years until democracy
was restored, my Naval officer husband was stationed there; he,
our five year old son and I lived in a small town just outside
Athens. Most of what I know of modern Greek history I learned
from that experience and from reading Kenneth Young’s 1969 book
“The Greek Passion” just before I returned to the States in
The U.S supported the Junta, as it called
itself, so we Americans were welcome there. The American
military made it clear to its personnel and families that we
were guests, that we were to mind our own business and not
question our new Greek friends about politics. We were warned we
could get them in trouble if we did.
Mostly we didn’t notice anything odd; the
beautiful country seemed what Fodor’s guidebook promised,
overflowing with ancient history, delicious food, friendly
people. I experienced only two oddities. One was being invited
to downtown Athens to view a parade; I looked forward to
enjoying flowered floats and marching bands. Instead, we saw a
parade of military vehicles and what looked like a missile on a
flatbed. The American military officers at the party didn’t seem
to see anything strange about this. I remember quietly asking my
husband, can we go home now?
The other recollection is of hanging wash
with my Greek landlady, who lived next door, calling across the
yard to ask why her kids were home on an expected school day.
She moved close to me, looking over her shoulder, and whispered,
“Today is Papadopoulos’ birthday”.
George Papadopoulos was the leader of the
Junta. I couldn’t imagine having to whisper if I referred to
President Nixon’s birthday. I couldn’t imagine being afraid of
On the other hand, I also couldn’t relate to
the stories our landlord told us, about the fighting in the
streets during the civil war; he showed us the holes in the wall
of his shop, from bullets that had narrowly missed him.
During WWII, the communist partisans hid
weapons in the hills, waiting for the day that they could make
their move, which they did in 1946. By 1950 they were defeated
and the Greek Monarchy was re-established; Greece began to
recover and modernize. But Greek politics, where democracy
began, was always chaotic, and by 1967 people were in the
streets, chanting “the King must go”.
We were told that the mobs were encouraged by
Greek communists; international leftists still deny this. I
don’t credit leftists so I think this communist involvement was
probably real and threatening. Regardless, the Colonels seized
power, with a promise to restore order and, as soon as possible,
I somehow got the impression, living in New
England by then, that the Colonels voluntarily stepped down in
1974. But actually, another faction of the military stepped in
and arrested Papadopoulos and the rest of the Junta. Then
elections were held and Greece was free. We can talk about the
mess it has made of its democracy and its economy another time.
When I lived there, we Americans did whisper
among ourselves about the building in Athens where political
prisoners were allegedly tortured, but we tried not to think
about this too much. We were told that the Greek government was
a vital part of the Cold War against communism; certainly that
was true, but I’d argue not a good excuse for our country’s
So in reference to recent events: The
Egyptian dictator was an ally in the present war against terror;
the people were in the streets; American observers were dealing
with rumors that Islamic extremists were behind the
demonstrations and that if the government fell, it would be
replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood bearing evil Sharia Law.
Comparisons are made to the Iranian Revolution, which didn’t
work out so well for “the people”. The military has stepped in
and promised democracy.
It helps that the world is watching on CNN
and the Internet. But “the world” must include all Americans who
feel a sense of brotherhood with others who want freedom instead
of government control. The Egyptians we saw protesting in Cairo
looked, not like communists or Islamic fundamentalists, but like
us Teapartiers who hold freedom as our highest value.
This may be a romantic fantasy. While many
Egyptians probably do share this value, others are like some
members of the older Greek revolution and yes, like some
citizens of our own country today, more interested in getting
control of the machinery of government in the interest of
socialism, religious ascendancy, or just a more favored position
for themselves. I hope the freedom-lovers prevail, there and