Saturday, November 24, 2012

Greece Is Slaughtering Its Elephants.

What elephants?  Bear with me (no pun) and you'll see.

Forty years ago, amid another life, I attended an event in a close friend’s Upper Eastside NYC apartment filled with glitterati out of a Dominick Dunne novel.  The nation was in turmoil, torn apart and galvanized into intractable positions over the Vietnam War.  That night we were introduced to a decorated navy man and his organization, John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

It was a fundraiser and I was standing next to a local TV reporter buddy I suspected felt just as fiscally out of place in that crowd as did I.  I still smile when I think of him leaning over and whispering to me, “Jeffrey, what are we doing here?”  Today, that’s not a question Geraldo Rivera would likely ask in any crowd.:)

The highlight of the evening came when I was introduced to a group of three men chitchatting in a corner.  They graciously brought me into their conversation, though to be honest—and as hard as it may be to believe—my total contribution was a star-struck “hello” and on-cue nods to the back and forth among Messers Kevin McCarthy (actor and brother of author Mary McCarthy), Andy Warhol, and Kurt Vonnegut.

It was all a blur, except for one comment made by Kurt Vonnegut that I shall never forget.  And perhaps never fully understood until this morning as I contemplated what to write for today’s post.

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007
In response to a question from Kevin McCarthy about what each regretted most about The War, Vonnegut said, “The elephants.  The slaughter of the elephants.”

Yes, elephants are a symbol of strength, honor, stability, and patience; a vibrant bulldozer of obstacles to success.   But I didn’t see that, and my immediate reaction I dared not voice: “What an isolated, intellectually pretentious thing to say in the face of all the human suffering experienced there every day.”

That just goes to show how little I knew then…or now.

I doubt there is an informed individual anywhere on earth who is unaware of Greece’s fiscal crisis.  On top of that, each day more learn of a homegrown terrorist organization seeking to cleanse “their” country of those they believe are not “true Greeks.”

But this is not about any of that, for ultimately Greece alone will bear the burdens of its fiscal and national identity decisions. Yes, there will be financial turmoil in world markets and undoubtedly some will suffer, but the world will adjust and go on to prosper.  

No, this is about the ongoing slaughter of Greece’s elephants.

The best and brightest of the nation’s youth are fleeing Greece in torrents unmatched in decades.  They see no future in an economy geared to protecting the connected and already successful, where all the bickering and battles between those in favor of and those opposed to the status quo are seen only as words, and change is not expected no matter whom the ultimate victor.

I ask you Greece, does it really matter who wins if you’ve slaughtered your elephants? 



  1. Jeff, you've gone from a writer of mystery novels to one who tells a horror story. And the scariest part is that this tale is not one of fiction. What a telling moment you recalled from those many years ago with Mr. Vonnegut. Let's hope Greece can stop the slaughter of its elephants, its own civilization, its own soul.

  2. I mourn for the rent families. How can they maintain their culture under these circumstances? Too, too sad. And the killing of actual elephants will get more sympathy globally. Sigh.

    1. This has happened before, Annamaria, and each time the result has been extraordinarily successful ex-patriate populations establishing themselves in other lands. The obvious downside is Greece's loss of some of its most imaginative and hardworking entrepreneurs with each exodus.

    2. My grandparents were part of such an exodus in Southern Italy. It took three generations for my cousins there to recoup. One of the things the Greeks and their gene pool mates across the Agean have in common is the strength of their cultural bones. The culture does endure these trials, but the people, individually, suffer so much.

  3. There is great sorrow in Vonnegut's statement as there is in your evocation of it. Our governments are doing us in in so many ways, and we are losing so much of our spirit, and our youth in these determined actions to keep inequality in place. Greece is losing its spirit. At least it has its beauty. Maybe the leaders will wake up.