Excerpt (pp. 34-35) from "Ambassador MacVeagh Reports: Greece, 1933-1947" [1980]


Last week we sailed over to Smyrna on an American Export boat and spent two days there, driving up country to Bergama -- ancient Pergamon -- and calling on the Consul and the Governor. With our trip to the Dardanelles last Spring, we have now seen a goodly strip of the Asia Minor coast. Here in Greece we hear a great deal about the New Turkey, whose friendship means so much to this country at present. I have the official view of Turkish progress and achievement pretty well by heart. But though the vigor of the Government and the wealth of the land itself seems undeniable, the human material which the Government has to work with is very disappointing to the observer. A huge effort like that of Mussolini, or of Hitler, is being made to construct a great State on the occidental plan, and the population consists of orientals from whom their religion, the only thing that ever galvanized them into action, is taken away! It is a commonplace to remark on the fact that the immemorial businessmen of Turkey have been driven out -- the Greeks, the Armenians and the Jews. What I have wanted to see is how the Turks are getting along with only themselves as substitutes. Apparently they have taken to the new bureaucracy like ducks to water. They are a governing race. But now they must do the work of the country as well, and the people's poverty and ignorance are appalling. Taxes are terribly high, and paid because it is the will of those higher up, not because the necessity for them is understood. In Greece every person thinks too much about affairs, so that politics is always in turmoil. But at least the population as a whole is vitally responsive to ideas. It can be appealed to, as any Western people can be. But, with orientals of the dull psychological type of the Turkish peasantry, to try to make a modern organized State seems very like trying to make bricks without straw. I was very much impressed by the peasants I talked with who were refugees from Macedonia. They all longed to get back even to that unhappy region from a country where they can call neither piastres nor souls their own. As I wrote to Smouch the other day, I wonder whether the New Turkey, the product of the Great War, will not easily dissolve away in any new general conflagration. Or perhaps a recrudescence of Mohammedanism, when the present strong-willed people disappear, will do the trick. Certainly when we got to the Greek island of Samos, across a narrow strait from Asia Minor, we sensed a great difference at once. It was the difference between a small people of high vitality and a huge depressed population. The vitality of Turkey is concentrated in the head. In Greece it quivers in every limb of every Greek that breathes. Differences like this are not to be observed in the rooms and corridors of Foreign Offices. But they inevitably influence international affairs in the long run. In talking with the island Greeks who are near to her [Turkey], I find less confidence in Turkey as the Greek rock of defence than is expressed here in Athens. Those long-suffering people doubtless know that by taking a fez off a leopard one does not change its spots. East is East and West is West, and the line still runs where it always has. I am very fond of the upper-class Turks I have met and sympathetic with their problems. But to understand, one must get down to humble realities, and one cannot go about in Turkey without gaining the impression that its future is a huge question-mark.

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