This land is my native
land. And yet, I am sick for home for the red roofs and the olives,
And the foreign words and the smell of the sea fall.
How can a wise man have two countries? How can a man have the earth
and the wind and want
A land far off, alien.
— "American Letter," Archibald MacLeish
I'm not sure exactly when
I fell in love with Greece. I met the Greek gods in childhood, from
a Nathaniel Hawthorne story about Zeus and Hermes visiting a village
in disguise and being refused refreshment until they stopped at the
simple home of an elderly couple, who gave them bread and milk. As
their reward, the milk pitcher remained filled for the couple's
lifetime, and when they died they became trees, with branches
The giant spruce trees in
my front yard are named Philemon and Baucis, after the hospitable
couple. A small statue of Athena, with her bronze horse, is next to
my computer, and her sacred owl decorates my bedroom wall, as does a
profile of Poseidon, god of the sea. A drawing of Athena and
Poseidon is the first thing you'll see as you enter my home.
It's not all about the
gods, though; a bust of Aristotle sits next to my television, Greek
vases and tile decorate my kitchen and bath, and my favorite
earrings carry the Greek key design, which symbolizes infinity.
I lived in Greece with my
Naval officer husband and our young son for two years, between
1969-71, in the downstairs of a two-family house owned by a Greek
family, who lived behind it. Georges, a carpenter, told us stories
of the fairly recent civil war, and Georgia taught me to make
I loved everything about
the country: the weather, the friendly, honest merchants; the fresh
food, the warm waters of the Mediterranean coast, the magnificent
scenery. Though living in a modest home in a middle-class Greek
neighborhood, we had a magnificent view of Mount Parnis across the
Athens valley, while Mount Pentelicon, with its marble quarries,
rose behind our small town of Kifissia.
Soon after settling in, I
took a local bus to Delphi, to consult with the oracle, who told me
what she tells everyone: "Know thyself." I was also interested in
knowing Greek history, especially ancient and modern, skipping the
Byzantine era. I spent hours on the Acropolis; our family drove to
the ruins of Corinth, Olympus, more obscure sites down rocky paths.
I read Kenneth Young's "The
Greek Passion," which took me from 2000 B.C. through the
attempted communist takeovers leading to the military dictatorship
that ruled Athens for the time I lived there.
The colonels encouraged
tourism and supported the U.S. military presence. As happens
elsewhere, Americans chose to support dictators who held back the
communists we were fighting during that era. We Navy dependents were
told to avoid discussing politics with our new friends.
Back in the U.S.A., I was
happy when the military junta left in 1974, and Greece returned to
the "democracia" it had invented. Unfortunately, Harvard-educated
leftist Andreas Papandreaou also returned, from his exile in Sweden,
and formed a new party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which
eventually won democratic elections, and here we are.
We're told about the
pensions to civil servants who can retire at age 58 and the almost
universal tax avoidance, fueled by government incompetence and
corruption. So we can blame the Greek voters for their current state
of affairs, but let's make sure we include others who validated them
into fiscal insolvency.
Author Michael Lewis, who
exposed some of the secrets of the 2008 American fiscal crisis and
bailout, wrote an article about the 2008 crisis in Greece for the
October 2010 Vanity Fair now called "Beware
the Greeks Bearing Bonds." I haven't seen any mention of this
article during the present crisis; I recommend you read it online.
Lewis said that until
Greece dropped the drachma and went to the Euro, it was charged
interest rates 10 percent higher than German rates. To enter the
Eurozone and get better rates, it had to show low budget deficits
and low inflation, so it cooked its books.
"To lower the budget
deficit the Greek government moved all sorts of expenses (pensions,
defense expenditures) off the books. To lower Greek inflation the
government did things like freeze prices for electricity and water
and other government-supplied goods, and cut taxes on gas, alcohol
and tobacco — remove (high-priced) tomatoes from the consumer price
index on the day inflation was measured."
Lewis charges that Athens
showed the European Union a fabricated set of books created by
financial statisticians in one of the Mount Athos monasteries, which
was allegedly rewarded with valuable government land. He also
accuses Goldman Sachs of helping hide the Greek government's level
of indebtedness, by effectively loaning Greece money in return for a
reported $300 million in fees.
Which makes me continue to
wonder, why didn't the German financiers notice all this going on?
After 2009, EU bankers continued making loans, and collecting
interest, before the fiscal dysfunction was addressed. I think they
should forgive some portion of those loans now if the Greeks accept
My studies of the Greek
people teach the wonders from the Golden Age of Pericles, the genius
of the playwrights and philosophers, the fierce fighting ability of
warriors who defeated the Persians, outlasted the Turks, repelled
the Italians, resisted the Nazis and won a civil war against the
communists, who massacred 10,000 hostages as they retreated.
Why did their descendants
bring their country to its knees by adopting the entitlement
mentality of socialism? Though, not to sound judgmental, because
here's a second question: Why did we Americans start down that same
road to ruin by beginning to adopt the entitlement mentality of
socialism? As we owe the Greeks for the beginnings of our American
dream, we may owe them a sad bit of gratitude for the warning about
its potential ending.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem