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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

March 19, 1964

This letter is about Greek caterpillars. Are you interested in Greek caterpillars? Of course you are. Practically everybody is.

They look like tent caterpillars. They have the same greenish-yellowish tiger-stripe markings. They're hairy, plump and about an inch long. They crawl. And eventually they become butterflies. And that's where the similarity ends.

We first discovered them in the park in front of our apartment about a month ago. Since that day every day has been filled with fun.

They travel across the park in long lines, each caterpillar nose-to-tail of one in front. The lines are fairly straight -- the impression you get is of a long rope lying on the ground. One line measured about fifteen feet -- about 180 caterpillars. The mortality rate -- the park I usually crowded as the caterpillars work their way across it -- is appalling, a terrible carnage ... otherwise the lines would probably be even longer.

Interested? You haven't heard anything yet. This whole thing is fraught with social and psychological implications. How much there is to learn from the lowly caterpillar.

Now for the fun. Step on the first caterpillar in line, the leader. Squash him. Everything disintegrates. Mayhem. Chaos. The second caterpillar in line refused to accept the leadership role. In desperation -- its movements come quickly, it looks nervous - it searches for a new leader. In a matter of seconds it settles on the third caterpillar in line - except that they're nose-to-nose and the third caterpillar refuses to accept the leadership role. Confusion spreads down the line -- it may take a few minutes before the end of the line knows what's happening, except that they aren't moving. Within a few minutes the straight line of caterpillars has disintegrated into masses and clumps of caterpillars and pairs of caterpillars on the outer edges, all and each looking for leadership from the other.

And then something amazing happens. Out of all this mass of confusion, a caterpillar or perhaps two or three caterpillars accept leadership. A line (or lines, depending on the number of new leaders) forms again, nose-to-tail and the caterpillars once again begin their journey across the park.

We have watched the process many times. We have never seen a caterpillar accept leadership without first going into chaotic stage. This is true even when we have gone down the line, squashed every fourth or fifth caterpillar -- none of the segment leaders accepts leadership and each section disintegrates. (In some instances the section leaders turns to the caterpillar behind. In other instances, it rushes to close the gap in front, except that mayhem is already moving form the front of the line towards the back.) Any caterpillar caught outside the line has difficulty getting back in -- except at the end -- and it moves up and down the line, never losing contact with it, trying to work back into it. It gets no cooperation from the other caterpillars.

Why doesn't the second caterpillar in line accept leadership of the line? Why does the colony go through a period of mayhem before new leaders emerge? What makes the leader? Is it forced on one of them? Does one caterpillar have more of a sense of social responsibility than others? What distinguished the leaders from the others and what finally moves the leaders to take the responsibility?

There. Wasn't that interesting? Will you ever be able to look at a caterpillar again without feeling a sense of humility and respect before squashing him?

Things have quieted down. No riots since the day before King Paul's death. Have no fears. There will be more riots. The Communists have things going for them now and they're not likely to stop. (They didn't start the embassy marches -- Greek Orthodox priests did -- but they're aware of powerful economic dissatisfaction in the country and they're making it work for them).

What will save the situation? Not Fulbright, although it helps. Not the Peace Cops (the Greeks won't have it). Only one thing: close U.S. Embassy-Center Union cooperation in bringing about major economic reforms. There is a need for a peaceful revolution that will change the social and economic structure of the country. Some aid may be necessary but much more in the way of technical assistance to help the Greeks get started after eight years of the Karamanlis Government's economic apathy. Engineers, technicians, specialists of all kinds, plus U.S. business investments, might yet save the situation. Papendreau and the Center Union Party are apparently serious; they're ready for the big push. Are we? If we aren't, then we'd better get ready for more setbacks here, including the likelihood that Greece will move into the neutralist camps before very long.

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