The Epic of the Modern Greeks
I propose in this book to tell the story of an epic enterprise. Heroic figures crowd the busy scene: Venizelos, a modern Pericles in his nation-building genius; Karamanos, just such a flashing figure as Achilles, born leader of men; Delta, benevolent, energetic, wise; Charilaos, bold as Hector and more successful in a better cause; Diomede, man of money, man of courage, man of heart; and many another, whose names and deeds will appear as the story unfolds.
The scenes of this drama are as old as history, and as new as the newest suburb of Los Angeles: romantic Smyrna, which six years ago was a great commercial seaport, and which to-day is again decaying under Turkish rule; immortal Athens, now more populous than ever before in history, as teeming and alive as in her Golden Age; cosmopolitan Salonica, that has known the armies of every great soldier from Philip of Macedon to Haig and Foch; picturesque Cavalla, old when St. Paul landed there from Asia Minor on his way to answer "the Macedonian cry," and thriving to-day upon a huge tobacco industry, whose principal managers are Americans and whose principal market is the United States; and those "isles of Greece" that so thrilled Lord Byron, and still so thrill all visitors from distant lands.
These present-day Greeks, in this illustrious arena, have just performed one of the most epochal and inspiring achievements of modern times—a veritable modern labor of Hercules, in which any race or nation might take a glorious pride. Just how great is this achievement can perhaps best be pictured by drawing an analogy:
Suppose that something like this had recently occurred: that twenty-six million men, women, and children had suddenly and unexpectedly arrived by steamer at the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Suppose, further, that this mighty host was well-nigh starved, was penniless, was without any worldly possessions beyond the clothes they stood in, their bodies covered with vermin and filth and ravaged by typhoid and smallpox. Imagine these twenty-six million human beings (chiefly women, children, and old men) to be absolutely dependent upon American charity for immediate food, for shelter, and for medical attention. Imagine that they must depend entirely upon America for an opportunity to make their homes and their livelihoods for the rest of their days.
Now imagine that America had magnificently met this challenge to its humanity and resourcefulness, had fed these starving, sheltered these homeless, healed these sick, found work for the less capable among them, financed a new start in life for them, built modern group houses for most, found land for the farmers, sold them seed and implements and animals at cost—in brief, had rehabilitated twenty-six million wrecked human lives, and had done all this within six years from the date they landed on her shores. Would not the world resound with praise of American humanitarianism American bounty, American energy and resourcefulness?
Exactly such an achievement, not in absolute numbers but in percentages, has been accomplished by Greece in the last six years—and yet the world at large has heard almost nothing about it!
Nothing in Homer is more exciting than this modern epic of the Greek people, which I have made my theme. These present-day Greeks have exhibited the qualities that made their ancestors illustrious: the courage of Achilles, the wisdom of Agamemnon, the ingenuity of Ulysses, the pity of the High Gods themselves. The frightful catastrophe at Smyrna in 1922, when the victorious Turks killed Greeks by the uncounted tens of thousands, and forced the surviving hundreds of thousands to proceed at once to Old Greece, created in that tiny nation of five million people just such an emergency as we have imagined for America—-the sudden influx of a 25 per cent, addition to its native population, requiring instant relief and eventual permanent rehabilitation.
This challenge to Greece's "humanity and resourcefulness" it met most magnificently. It fed and sheltered this great army of brothers from Asia Minor, granted them immediate citizenship, and promptly evolved a plan to absorb them into the life of the nation. Six years ago I was sent to Athens to become the first chairman of the Refugee Settlement Commission, the international agency set up by the League of Nations to plan and supervise the staggering work of repatriating the million-odd destitute refugees from Asia Minor. What I saw six years ago, when the first chaos of a great calamity seemed to have caused a hopeless disorganization of a nation's life, and what I saw last year, when I again visited Greece accompanied by my collaborator, French Strother, and found the Greeks of their Great Exodus established in orderly urban and rural settlements, busy at the normal tasks of daily life, affords such a striking contrast, and is so wonderful a demonstration of the force of human character, that I feel the story will be read with eager interest wherever men take pride in glorious achievement.