The Week in Review

The dust has still not settled over the World Trade Center. The pall of the vanished dead hangs heavy over the scene and drifts, drifts, drifts out over New York, America, the world. As in every symbolic terror greater than the sum of its parts, the whole earth is their grave. The sky is their shroud. The sky from which death came, through which they fell in a last communion of light, spirit and flesh before all these became one and separated. The symbolism is biblical. Generations will fight with the context and meanings of what now both stuns us and has become a part of our daily routine. It is time to return to poetry just as we return to the ancient feuds where blood wants blood. As the days pass, it becomes clear how great a problem the United States and, by extension, the world faces. How does one retaliate against a faceless enemy? Because, other than the sweet smile of Osama bin Laden, this army of assassins could be anywhere and everywhere. Say that the circle of responsibility is widened, to include the very disparate governments of Afghanistan and Iraq; will attacks on selected targets on these countries bring the world back to where it was before those few deadly hours of September 11, 2001? If the West wants to smoke out the terrorists, as President George W. Bush puts it, will it not have to draw them into further, perhaps less surprising attacks? If military strikes are carried out, will they be able to combine massive force without causing the kind of civilian casualties that will topple America from the moral high ground? Will action lead to upheaval in the great undetermined lands of Muslim nations that will make the world a more volatile place? Will domestic security considerations in the United States and Europe change the nature of the freedom that we are defending to the extent that we will begin to wonder whether the deaths of 6,000 or 10,000, or another 10,000 at another time, can justify this? These are the great, unprecedented challenges that the American government, its military and its people face. And so does every other nation and every person on this lovely planet which, as Matthew Arnold wrote, has really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. Previous wars have been fought by the armies of nations or alliances trying to push each other off a piece of land. Now the enemy is in our midst and every sword thrust threatens more harm to us than him. But one of the many things that the enemy showed us on September 11 is that no one person and no one country is immune, and no one person and no one country is powerless. A few score men, with enough dedication and planning, can destroy what millions of others will struggle to rebuild. And reconstruction includes not only buildings and companies but also the (obviously foolhardy) sense of a life secure from sudden painful death at the hands of an invading enemy. So we are back where humanity has always been. And in a world of victims there is now one more victim, America. The giant has been hurt but is in no way wounded. The enemy has drawn America into irrevocable action without having done anything to decrease its ability to retaliate. So, unless the terrorists have a series of devastating attacks up their sleeves that will force the West to stagger in its pursuit of them, they have done what they have done and America’s revenge is simply an inevitable part and consequence of their plan. The world now waits to see how the United States will respond. President Bush has made clear that anyone who is not on the side of the United States will be on the side of the terrorists. If the Taleban who rule Afghanistan do not hand over Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists, Bush told a joint sitting of Congress on Thursday night, they will share in their fate. Throughout the week Prime Minister Costas Simitis made clear that Greece would stand firmly with the United States in the war on terrorism. There will be no compromise with terrorists and no tolerance, he said. Such a crime cannot go unanswered, he said. Members of his government, the opposition New Democracy party and some smaller groups stand squarely behind him. This represents more than 90 percent of the votes in the April 2000 elections. There is a grim realization that war may not be what we want but that if one has to be fought we know which side we want to be on. Only the Communist Party has continued bearing the grudge it has borne since British and American military assistance helped keep Greece in the Western camp after World War II, contributing decisively to the rout of Communist forces in the civil war of 1946-49. Unfortunately, there have been a few (admittedly loud) voices that made their presence felt on the television talk shows that are the modern plague of Greece – on which provocative eccentrics of every bent give vent to the rich variety of complexes that can be found in every ancient nation. There were comments that the Americans were punished because of their arrogance, because they had thought that they could wage war across the globe without paying the price. As if the willful murder of over 5,000 civilians in a merciless strike were all part of some morality play, or a television drama or a sports score. As if America’s ever-greater tendency toward unilateral action on the world stage, or some American commentators’ complacent condemnation of Greek anti-terrorism efforts, or American complicity in a dictatorship three decades ago that the Greeks brought upon their own heads, or America’s half-hearted efforts to kick the Turkish invaders out of Cyprus, could obscure the reality of the terrorist attacks. Most Greeks do not feel this way. There is genuine shock and horror over the destruction that rained down on September 11. What many may not have realized, though, is that for America and for the world everything changed on that day. We still carry on with our old arguments and our old complaints, as if we can absorb this dreadful cosmogony in America as part of some long historical path. Maybe the Greeks can. The Americans cannot and they will see the world through the prism of the fallen towers of the World Trade Center. And as long as the Communist Party, which is still bristling over the defeats of 1949 and 1989, continues to keep up its attacks on imperialism, this will set the tone of street demonstrations and television talk shows. Even some right-wingers, angry over what they perceive as a lack of support from Washington in the fight over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia a decade ago, sound just as bitter as the Communists when they discuss America. Then there is Archbishop Christodoulos, who, perhaps in an effort to get his flock to understand what he was talking about, appeared to say a week ago that America brought destruction upon its head with its policies. His office has proclaimed that his comments were misconstrued. But Christodoulos has enough media savvy to know what to say and when to say it. He seems to spend most of his life on camera. So, in a way, much of the public debate is hijacked by people who are expressing bitterness that has nothing to do with the world today. But perhaps the greatest alienation between Greece and the United States came with the US-led war on Yugoslavia in 1999. Much was said at the time of the traditional ties between Greece and Serbia because they share the Orthodox faith and because they both fought wars of liberation against the Ottoman Empire. But this sentiment, which might exist for a relatively small number of people, was outweighed by the fact that most Greeks were horrified at the cavalier way in which they saw the United States and NATO intervening in the Balkans without giving much thought as to what would follow. For a nation that saw several wars, foreign invasions and occupation, a civil war and military dictatorship in the past century, a war in its backyard was an evil that had to be averted. It did not, of course, help that the local news media often warped reality to feed what they believed were the needs of the population, in which they saw every victim as being the victims of one side. So, on the one hand, the majority of the people were against war, while, on the other, the protesters in the streets belonged to the small Communist Party with some smaller ragtag groups hanging on to make their presence felt. And then, beyond all this, the government quietly kept its head low and provided NATO with all the necessary support. This, however, was not enough to keep Greece from once again becoming the black sheep of the alliance family. Especially as in the past few decades complaint, not argument, has been our strongest weapon in what be believe is the defense of our foreign policy and national interests. There is also the sense in Greece that America is just so strong and so dominant that we need not fear how its citizens – who might be our family or our friends – feel. There were instances a few decades ago when Cabinet ministers would pop out of a meeting to go to the US Embassy for instructions. What some might not realize is that that great big country is hurting and grieving and is seeing the world in a different light. The Greek government has realized this. But this is a free country in which people are free to misbehave and to say whatever they like, as long as it is not illegal. It is sad that some stupidity should be the cause for the United States not to hear the sane arguments that Greece has to offer. This is a nation that has lived in a dangerous neighborhood for millennia. Such a past breeds certain instincts for survival which could be helpful in dealing with the fallout from the campaign against international terrorism. For the United States, only now has the world become a dangerous place. The two can learn from each other. Greece, too, must learn from America. Especially in the war against terrorism. Because this is our problem too. We have seen the effects of international terrorism on our country and we have seen the effects of local terrorism on our country’s image and its relations with others. Right now, we should live in fear of November 17. If ever this conspiracy had the opportunity to fulfill its dream of destabilizing Greece and wrecking its relations with the rest of the West, it is now. With the nerves of the world still raw from the tragedy of September 11, all it takes is one well-placed hit to put Greece squarely in the camp of countries unable to fight terrorism. We might not be accused of harboring terrorists, but we will never have the willing ear of the countries that will make a difference to our standing in the world. It is worth remembering that anything that Greece has won it has won through sacrifice, not petulance. It has fought on the same side as America in every major war and paid the price in the form of invasion, occupation and hunger. It is this that it wants to avoid, for itself and for others. In the middle of all this uncertainty, Greece is blessed to be in a position to play a leading role in the fight for the civilization that is based on the principles of democracy of ancient Greece. It cannot equivocate. It is a small country but it now has to become an important one. The new world emerging after September 11 gives it an opportunity to start afresh, without the complexes of being a victim. Greece has to place itself in the center of developments and not allow anyone to accuse it of shirking its duty. Because Athens will hold the celebration that must be the world’s coming out party after the war against terrorism – the 2004 Olympics. We, being the hosts, must work doubly hard to make the world a safe place, rather than get over-sensitive whenever anyone mentions security. No one will point the finger at us and say that they are any better at making their country safe, but they also will not mince their words when evaluating our country for their visitors and athletes. So, without complexes, we should put our heads down, recruit the best and the brightest people available and work toward achieving a goal that will allow humanity to celebrate, to compete, and to triumph.

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