What if Colombus Had Not Discovered America
ELEFTHEROTYPIA is a mainstream Greek daily (usually first or second in circulation). The title is a compound from ELEFTHEROS (free) and TYPOS (press), yet the modern Greek meaning of the title is not Free Press but Freedom of the Press. I think that it would be interesting for ZNeters that, every now and then, I submit to ZNet Commentaries, news, etc taken from this or other mainstream Greek or European papers. Here is the first one:
Recently this paper, in the context of a series of articles on the history of the last 1,000 years, had an article on the discovery of America by Columbus; the usual encyclopaedic stuff but with some deeper analysis of the consequences from the discovery. Included in the series is the publication of answers by prominent persons on questions posed by the paper about the various historical events.
The following question: "What the world would had been like, if Columbus had not discovered America?", was posed to Nicholas Burns, former Clnton spokesperson and now US Ambassador to Greece.
Here is his reply:
- "If there had been no America there would have been no haven for millions of Europeans, and for my Irish grandparents, who were seeking freedom and security in a dangerous and intolerant world. There would have been no Thomas Jefferson to claim, through the Declaration of Independence, the rights of men and women against the absolute rulers and to dare declare that men are borne equal. There would be no philhellenes (friends of the Greeks, parenthesis mine) to fight alongside the Greek people in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman empire.
- Without America, how would Europe escape the tyranny and the violence of the two bloody wars that marked our century? What soldiers would fight and die in France, in Italy, in Germany and in Greece for the liberation and the independence of the Europeans? Without America, there would be no George Marshall to help rebuild Europe after the destructive war.
- If there were no America, who would help the freed Europeans to fight and win the Cold War? No Martin Luther King would prompt us to dream for a new and more just world.
- Without America, there would be no Statue of Liberty to lighten the tired of the earth on their way to freedom. There would be no Graham Bell to invent the telephone, nor Thomas Edison to invent the electric light, nor Neil Armstrong to take the first giant step for humanity on the surface of ths moon, nor the Hubble Space Telescope to gaze into the sky.
- If there were no America, we cannot be certain that in some other part of the world there would appear an Emerson and his 'self-confidence' or that the brilliant inspiration of Poe and of Melville would have manifested itself in a different climate.
- Without America, would there be jazz, the blues or rock and roll, the hip hop or rap music? Would it be possible to create a Hollywood in France or a CNN in Britain? Would the Internet have been invented, which changed our lives, or the polio vaccine?
- A world without America would be like music without Frank Sinatra, like WWII without George Patton and like the Cinema without Steven Spielberg." (Emphasis in the original)
The comment of the paper was: "The (Ambassador's) reply was interesting-only an American could put it that way." The sarcasm was not too subtle. However, putting aside the rather simplistic generalization of the paper concerning the Americans (the Greeks being at the top of the scale in patriotism and in ancestor worship), there are quite a few more things one could say about the reply of Mr. Burns.
Let us start with the facts. Did Europe "escape" the "violence of the two bloody wars"? The, very obvious, answer is that it is America that escaped the violence,etc. The only Americans that did not escape violence (by fellow Americans, on American soil) were the returning black soldiers of WWI.
No American soldiers fought or died "in Greece for the liberation, etc" during the wars. As for WWII probably the only known American soldier in Greece was Costa G. Couvaras, an American intelligence officer with the OSS (the progenitor of the CIA), who "worked with the Greek resistance movement" against the Nazis and "reported that action to the US government." After the war Couvaras "suffered persecution by the FBI and the CIA when he returned to the United States and attempted to inform the American people of what was really going on in Greece." What was happening in Greece was that "The EAM-ELAS, which was the heart of the resistance, became an antinational conspiracy of communism and pan-Slavism. Churchill and Truman and their puppet politicians and scribes in Greece brainwashed an entire generation just as thoroughly as Hitler and Goebbels brainwashed an entire generation in Germany." Also, what is not widely known is that the British troops that crushed the Greek resistance, a few weeks after the Nazis (!) left Greece, were transported to Greece in US aeroplanes under the command of Patton or Eisenhower, who knows.
The competitive-sports attitude of the Ambassador is amazing. It is reminiscent of the "patriotic" rewriting of the encyclopaedias by the Soviets to prove that everything was discovered or invented by the Russians. Take for example the fact that Edison "invented the elsctric light" simply as a technological application of Faraday's scientific discoveries in electricity. By the logic of the Ambassador NASA was "unpatriotic" enough to ignore Frank Sinatra and instead sent a disc with Bach's music printed on it to the galaxies over yonder.
Why does Mr. Burns take pains to present this rather "unrealistic" view of America and the world? Even if these things were internalized since grade school, an adult has moments of rationality, no matter how rare, that would make him feel uncomfortable when expressing such views. The claim that he has to have a job in order to feed his family is legitimate, but not very "persuading."
Finally one cannot avoid the temptation to imagine the Ambassador completing his listing of American achievements by declaring that: "Without America (or the Ukraine, for that matter), there would be no Noam Chomsky for the world!" Who, by the way, gave a quite "complete" answer in his Year 501 to the question put to the Ambassador about Columbus and the discovery of America.
(1) ELEFTHEROTYPIA of Sunday, Jan., 24, 1999, p.18
(2) Couvaras, G. Costa, Photo Album of the Greek Resistance, Wire Press, San
Francisco, 1978, p.9
(3) Ibid, p.8
(4) Ibid, p.7
Nikos Raptis is the author of "Let Us Talk about Earthquqkes. Floods and...the Streetcar" and "The Nightmare of the Nukes". He, also tranlated into Greek and published Noam Chomsky's "Year 501" and "Rethinking Camelot." He lives in Athens, Greece.