It’s Not Easy Being Greek

Argostoli, capital of Cephalonia. This is where I went to high school. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos.

I was born and grew up in a mountain village in the Greek island of Cephalonia. This island was part of the kingdom of Odysseus in late second millennium BCE. In modern times, Cephalonia and the rest of the Ionian islands have been the highway of Greece to Western Europe.

The survival of ancient Greek thought and the link to the West explain why my grandmother Demetra was a pediatrician. My mother kept reminding me I had to go abroad to study medicine.

German occupation of Greece

But the country I remember from my teenage years in the 1950s was desperately poor. The Germans, like their Goth ancestors, had systematically looted and destroyed Greece. Their WWII occupation was full of atrocities and barbarisms.

Early uneasiness

Despite the hard times in post-WWII Greece, I received a good high school education. I loved Homer and the classics. I knew I was intimately connected to that fabulous Hellenic culture. I was Greek.

However, I did not feel comfortable seeing Christian churches everywhere. I had a nagging suspicion they should not exist in the country of Homer and Aristotle. And, then, in my high school classes, we kept translating ancient Greek and Latin texts, but rarely did we talk about the meaning of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plato or Aristotle.

Were my “philology” teachers afraid of our Greek ancestors?

At the University of Illinois

That ambiguity left me slightly hesitant about my future studies. The glamor of high tech turned me temporarily away from Greek thought. I did not know where to turn. So, at the University of Illinois, I studied zoology as a step to medical school. But even medicine turned me off.

I followed medieval Greek history, which to this day passes for Byzantine history. Instantly, I did not like the word Byzantium. I knew Byzantium was the name of a Greek colony in Asia Minor. But why call medieval Greek history Byzantine history? Wasn’t Greek history good enough?

I suspect the triumph of Christianity had something with the new name – Byzantium. Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in the city of Byzantium in early fourth century. So, European historians dubbed Greek history after Constantine “Byzantine.” The name stuck.

Western historiography is very careful with Greek history: what with the gigantic Greek contributions to mathematics, astronomy, physics, geography, philosophy, history, medicine, architecture, art, poetry. literature, drama, theater, etc. Without the Greeks there would have been no Western Europe or civilization. Westerners and Americans know that.

However, in the 1960s at the ripe age of twenty something at the University of Illinois, I was not sure that was the case.

I wanted to join in. The graduate classes I took in ancient Greek history and medieval Greek  history never explained to my satisfaction why ancient Greece became Christian. In fact, my medieval history advisor, Deno Geanakoplos, never addressed that question.

Early 1970s America

I left for the University of Wisconsin where I earned a doctorate in Greek and European history. Yet my Ph.D. did not open academic doors to me. The universities were uncertain of their mission. Should they support democracy and humanistic studies or empire and militarized science and engineering?

This was the early 1970s when America was at war at home and abroad.

Black Americans marched for justice and recognition. They were dying in droves in the Vietnam War, so, they were demanding equal rights.

With no chance of academic teaching, I turned to the history of science and American politics.

International kleptocracy

I wrote my first book about the greatest kleptocracy of all times. This is a very sophisticated conglomerate of philanthropic foundations, governments, agricultural schools, departments of agriculture, pesticide companies, United Nations organizations, and agribusiness seeking to steal the land of peasants and family farmers.

The decades-old mission of this feudal project is to convert the world to a model of agriculture practiced in Iowa. Principals like the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundations, the US Agency for International Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have been describing this monstrous idea as “the green revolution.”

I called my 1976 book Fear in the Countryside because land and culture grabbing is a violent act fueling endless wars all over the world.

I don’t know if this book made any difference, save for marking me as an enemy within the green revolution establishment.

The book may also have undermined my stint on Capitol Hill. I found resistance to helping peasants or family farmers in both the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and in the Office of Congressman Clarence Long (D — Maryland).

Fear of truth

However, it was the Cyprus crisis that forced me out of Capitol Hill. This was late 1970s. I prepared a meeting between the Cypriot ambassador and Clarence Long. Long was a powerful subcommittee chairman in charge of US foreign assistance. In my background memo, I said to Long not to reject the small request of Cyprus for economic assistance. This was only four years after the 1974 vicious invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. America had given Turkey permission for that attack.

“The Turkish invasion of Cyprus,” I said to Long, “is like

America had lost more than 40 percent of its territory. Just imagine the magnitude of such calamity.”

After the meeting with the Cypriot ambassador, Long bended close to me saying: “I never thought I hired a Greek agent.”

Of course, this rhetorical statement was wrong and insulting. I was an agent of no one but my Greek principles to dig for facts and tell the truth. The fifth-century BCE tragic poet Euripides said it best: Blessed is the person who learns history / science. He is a benefactor. He investigates the order, truth and beauty of eternal and ageless nature.

Euripides has always been my model. But in a symbolic sense, Long’s discomfort with hearing the truth marked my career in America.

The universities are doing what my philology teachers did: they are muzzling Greek thought. Under the propaganda of multiculturalism they are silencing the voices of Greek reason and wisdom. Indeed, with the assistance of the industry and government, they are sliding towards Augustine who lived about a millennium after Euripides.

Augustine, a father of the Western Church, was terrified by the secrets of nature and the truth. He branded curiosity with the symptoms of disease and urged Christians to stay away from it.

The rulers of the world and especially the ruler of America, Donald Trump, are drinking from the glass of Augustine. Trump and his followers are bringing back ignorance, danger and the dark ages.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.