Barbarism in Greece
Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front
The Greek Tragedy
Philhellenes have never liked Greeks very much, not real Greeks. They worship Greeks as once they were, or as they might soon become, but as they are—well, it’s so different from the home life of our own dear Perikles. So Alexander the Great showed his love of Pindar by destroying every other house in Thebes but his. So Flamininus announced that all Greeks should be free, but had to put away quite a few Greeks who happened not to share his view of freedom. So Britain, France, Russia, and the United States over the last century and a half have taken it upon themselves—but that part of the story belongs later.
What about the philhellene now, when he looks at the ridiculous little soldiers who set themselves up as dictators of Greece in April, 1967? Either he says that it’s a scandal in Perikles’ own country, and doesn’t ask why it happened. Or he says that it’s all that Perikles’ decadent descendants deserve, and doesn’t ask why it happened. Either way, the real Greek in Greece gets scant attention, be he happy or sad, in office or in prison.
So let us ask why. Dictatorship in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. A case can be made for Castro, for Franco, for Nkrumah, for the CP in Russia. Even of ancient Greece it can be argued that Peisistratos and his sons, autocrats though they were, did more good than harm. Can a case be made for this dictatorship today? It is brutal or benevolent? Unnecessarily brutal? Does it have a program that will solve problems which democratic politicians either failed to see or failed to solve? What are the long-term results likely to be?
In his answer to the question whether the regime is brutal or benevolent Mr. Becket leaves no doubt. The present Greek government practices torture. Some American troops in Vietnam have been brutal; so were some British troops in Cyprus; so, perhaps, were some Russians in Czechoslovakia. But this is not the brutality of a single officer or platoon or company—it is Nazi-style brutality, systematic government policy. In a harrowing account of his own experiences at Security Police Headquarters and at Military Hospital 401, a young artist, Perikles Korovessis (The Method, 1970), has told us what treatment like this means to the victim. One may come away from Korovessis with the feeling that he has overdramatized what happened to him (overdramatized does not mean exaggerated), but when one looks at James Becket’s cool, clinical account of how the agony of Korovessis was shared by at least 426 others, at the consistency of the stories, at the care Becket has taken to check them (uncheckable though many of them must be), it becomes impossible to believe that the present tyranny is benevolent. Torture is deliberate.
But perhaps, some will say, Korovessis and the others who suffer are communists, such a threat to civilization as to deserve torture. No …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
Greece and Its Future October 8, 1970