A big-bellied C130 lolls on the south runway of the Hellenikon U.S. Air Base. With the waters of the Saronic Gulf to the west and the mountains around Athens to the north, this is one of four major American bases in Greece.
The C130 is part of a small fleet that hauls equipment and goods in and out of southern Greece. Electronic surveillance planes are here also. A base official says that no attack planes are allowed, a condition of the agreement signed in 1983 that the U.S. bases in Greece are only for "defense purposes."
The only attacking on the Hellenic horizon these days is coming from the Greek left. Its political strafings, which have ranged from street demonstrations outside the Hellenikon base to anti-American speeches in Parliament by Communists, are directed at closing the U.S. bases. The current agreement expires in 1988.
Like Homeric thought, the deeper the issue is studied, the greater the subtleties become. Homer said in "The Iliad," "We mortals hear only the news and know nothing at all." On current questions about the bases, the Greek public might as well know nothing. Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who came to power in 1981 on a commitment to close the bases, is now saying the agreement must be renegotiated: "Each side would have to appoint a team to meet and see where we are on the issue." Greeks on the left now suspect that they were had by Papandreou, whose earlier get-the-bases-out talk is now seen as convenient posturing.
It is widely assumed that the bases will stay. When George Shultz visited Athens in March, he and Papandreou, a former economics professor at universities in California and Minnesota, spoke of the "calmer waters" between the United States and Greece. The price of calmness abroad is roiled waters at home. In last month's university elections, which are taken seriously because of the harbinger factor, the Communists took a solid victory. The main right-wing party finished second, with Papandreou's ruling Socialist Party third.
The left wants the bases closed for reasons of independence. A decades-old feeling of subservience to the United States persists, with the bases symbolizing a client nation status. Papandreou enjoys popularity partly because he is a leader in what he calls "denuclear- izing Europe." He is a member of "The Six," the leaders of Greece, India, Mexico, Tanzania, Sweden and Argentina who have called on the nuclear governments to end all testing, production and deployment of their weapons. Papandreou said that "our primary objective must be to urge nuclear powers to abide by the voice of logic."
Papandreou's concerns for logic, unlike Aristotle's, appear to be limited. While calling on the superpowers to restrain their nuclear rabidity, he surges ahead to increase the militarization of Greece. The United States, the main weapons supplier for Greece, has approved General Dynamics' sale of 40 F16 fighter jets to the Papandreou government. Among the 13 European NATO countries, Greece allots the highest percentage of its GNP to its military. It is nearly 7 percent.
The stated reason for this enormous expense is the alleged devil to the east, Turkey. On this issue, "the voice of logic" suddenly hoarsens. Papandreou, sounding like Ronald Reagan projecting the Soviet government as the evil empire, told an interviewer, "We expect that the Turkish threat to Greece will extend into the next century . . . I'm not talking about imaginary things. I'm talking about things that happened and may happen again. And this time it will be war, because I am committed to defend Greece and Greek interests. We will not give up one inch."
Memories of ancient Aegean wars and raging modern feuds like Cyprus assure that few Greeks, even those on the far left, dissent from this kind of nationalism. Turks are superfiends, period. But the Greeks are not blameless either.
The economies of Greece and Turkey are alike: Each is tottering. Turkey is a poor nation with a per-capita income of $1,300, against Greece's $4,200. It has more troops than Greece but, according to the 1985 edition of "World Military and Social Expenditures," it is the most impoverished military in NATO. Turkey's public expenditure per soldier was $4,216 in 1982, against Greece's $14,628.
Greece and Turkey are another pair of poor countries locked into their own nationalism and doomed to economic insecurity due to their military extravagancies. Both are led by economists who should be speaking of cooperation and reconciliation. Both are armed, as usual, by the United States.
Papandreou, an intellectual and man of courage who has been jailed for his beliefs, could be a genuine peacemaker if he were as wise about ending Greek-Turkish hatreds as he is about ridding Europe of nuclear bombs. The sadness of Greece is that few in the media and fewer still in the opposition parties are pressuring Papandreou to be a voice of logic at home. Rave on as an arms-minded nationalist, he is told. And he does.