The Spirit of Freedom


By A. A. BERLE, JR., Assistant Secretary of State

Delivered at the Greek Independence Day Dinner of the American Friends of Greece, New York City, March 25, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 406-408.

LIKE every American, I am proud to recognize the anniversary of the independence of Greece as a day worthy of honor in the annals of every country. Greece is no less independent today than she was before the German invaders entered her soil, plundered her cities and now attempt to starve a valiant people into submission. We refuse to accept that invasion. We have no faith in that

conquest. With the help of God, we will redeem the pledge of the Atlantic Charter that the nations submerged by Nazi cruelty shall be restored in freedom and strength. This is the record which will never be forgotten: In October of 1940 Greece resisted a treacherous attack by the then boastful Fascist Empire of Italy. In a brilliant campaign she crushed that attack—both with her ideas and

with her arms. Italian troops and the Italian people suddenly were made to see their shoddy rulers as the braggarts, the betrayers and the oppressors which they were. Thousands of Italian soldiers simply declined to join in the fighting against the free Greek people whom they knew as friends and neighbors.

Five months later, Greek leadership, backed to the limit by the heroism of Greek soldiers and civilians, had brought the Italian Empire literally to its knees.

From that defeat the Fascist and Nazi legions have never recovered.

Mussolini has never recovered because he has never again been able to reconstitute an army which could or would fight. He had made it plain to his people that he had nothing but dishonor to offer them. In March, 1941, to keep afloat the wreck of his government, he was forced virtually to turn over the Italian people in bondage to their ancient oppressors, the German invaders. To save himself from the victory of Greek soldiers he committed a crime against Italy and against Italian history. He called back the foreigner. He gave his police to the Gestapo. He undid the work of Garibaldi and Cavour. He betrayed his people and his civilization. At that moment the boast of Mussolini's empire was at an end. It has never emerged since.

In April of 1941 Greece met a second assault, the furious attack of the Nazi army. She, with British assistance, held that army at bay long enough to do two things. She made possible the reinforcement of the eastern Mediterranean, and she delayed the German attack on Soviet Russia for several weeks.

Those weeks were precious; and the delay was decisive. They spelled, in the end, the failure of last summer's attack on Russia. They made it impossible for the German divisions to finish their Russian campaign in the summer of 1941; and the German armies were not prepared for a winter campaign. I believe that the summer of 1942 will make it plain that thereby the Nazi rulers of Germany have lost the war and have decreed their own ruin.

We now have information from sources inside of Germany making it clear that the Germans themselves know that there can be but one end. The German people know, as we know, that no provision has been made by the Nazi government for the year 1943. They know that the machines they need to produce the tools of war are no longer repaired. They know that the skilled workmen and the young engineers who must do the production of tomorrow have been and are being sent, half trained, to slaughter on the fighting fronts in Russia. They know that the battalions which go out, do not come back—save as a collection of shattered wrecks. They know, indeed, that the men who have gone to the Russian front are frequently not allowed to come back to Germany, lest the German people learn what has befallen.

Without the glorious weeks of Greek resistance I believe this would not have been possible. And so I say that to the spirit of freedom in Greece every people in the world owes a debt of gratitude.

It is not the first time in the world's history that Greece has saved the honor, the culture and the soul of the Western world: We are, all of us, the heirs of Marathon and Thermopylae.

I know, of course, that in the present agony of Greece there must be those who will ask whether it is all worthwhile. To them we must answer that Greece, throughout two thousand five hundred years of history, has always given the same response: There is no life worth having save the life of freedom, as free people, with free minds, free hearts—and free children.

Indeed, we know why that is true because we know whatis now happening in certain countries not far from Greece which did not resist.

We saw a frightened Hungarian government grant the right of passage to German arms. We saw a weak and corrupt Rumanian government invite the Nazi hordes within their country. Both Hungary and Rumania were trying to buy their peace, on evil terms.

Today a German agent in Buda-Pest is insisting that the Nazis shall take the flower of Hungarian youth and send them as soldiers under German command to fight on the plains of Russia. This is not to defend the freedom of Hungary, for as soon as these divisions have gone to Russia, the Germans propose to take over Hungary. Their plans are already laid.

This is to give Hitler a chance to bribe Rumania. The bribe will be an offer to let Rumania take back Transylvania from Hungary. For this price the Rumanians are also asked to send the bulk of their army to fight once more in Russia. Hitler is already short of men; and the German people now fear what further slaughter may do to their race. It is therefore proposed that Hungarians and Rumanians shall be sacrificed instead. This will leave to the Nazi Gestapo and S. S. troops the easier task of sucking the last ounce of food, of property and of self-respect from the Hungarian and Rumanian peoples who are (as you know) classified by the Nazis as second and third class peoples, fit only to make good servants for good Nazis.

This plan is now under negotiation in Buda-Pest and in the Rumanian capital. Should it slip up, a second plan is to offer Transylvania as a bribe to Hungary, if her divisions will go out to fight Russia. Indeed, it is not clear that Transylvania has not already been promised to both parties.

Meanwhile, German troops have occupied the important points in both countries; the Gestapo and the S. S. have been systematically entering and wrecking every Rumanian and Hungarian institution. Through force and fear these two countries are already being brought within sight of hunger this year and starvation a year hence.

These are the governments which, unlike Greece, did not resist. They tried to buy peace—with dishonor. They found that the part of the bargain which the Nazis kept was to give them dishonor.

They sought peace and quiet at the hands of the Nazis. They were given hatreds, riots and suppressed civil war.

They sought, by giving up their countries, to keep their harvests for food and their manufactures to supply their homes. They have been given economic serfdom at the hands of Nazi masters. Their people, even their children, are compelled to work in the fields—for foreign invaders. The products of their land and their toil are shipped to Berlin, Corrupt Nazi officials make fortunes from bribes or blackmail extorted from the peasants and manufacturers of Hungary, of Transylvania, of the Banat, of the Danube Valley.

Worst among the lies was the tale that Nazi arms would defend them from all enemies. But in fact, the Nazi diplomats and statesmen were building enemies for them, and are plotting now to leave these countries defenseless.

We do not for one moment lose sight of the fact that resistance is hard, and even terrible. It is true that we have not thus far felt here the privations of war, though that will come soon enough. But we watch with horror and rising anger the cold-blooded policy of starvation which the Nazi gang has imposed on occupied Greece. They have not even the code which first-rate soldiers observe towards a brave enemy.

As we sit here tonight, men, women and children are dying of hunger in Crete, in the Peloponnesus, in Epirus, in Athens, in Thrace. They are dying for an ideal which hasmaintained the glory of Greece and the culture of the world since the dawn of history. Let it be resolved that not even the humblest of these dead shall be forgotten. Let it be determined that the men who are responsible for these horrors shall meet at long last the justice and the judgment they have deserved at the hands of the free peoples.

But justice requires more than dealing with the guilty. It must include relief, assistance and reconstruction of the life of Greece. In honor and in humanity we can do no less.

Greece will not die. She could not, indeed; for there is more of western life and western hope in a handful of dust on the Acropolis than in all the makeshift religions, philosophies and new orders that have come from the diseased brains in Berlin. From the example of Greece the United Nations must draw increased devotion to their declared ideal of preserving liberty, independence and religious freedom, and of setting up once more a world in which human rights and justice are the foundation of the law of the earth.

For many of us this has been a long road. As sometimes happens in history, the struggle for eternal values has occupied an entire life span. You and I belong to a generation which has had to meet a world war twice in a lifetime.

We came to maturity in the shadow of the first world conflict. We have struggled with the after effects of that war until the new struggle began to appear. We must live and sweat and toil through this second cataclysm, greater even than the first. We shall have spent most of our lives without knowing what peace really means.

We have dreamed dreams, and have never surrendered them. We have sought a city whose builder and maker was God. We shall continue that search, though we may have to go from camp to camp; though, having fought, we can only rest and take the field again. But we will not in this life relinquish a ray of splendor of our dreams, or a fragment of faith that has brought us, with clear eyes, through a lifetime of conflict.

We are resolved that there shall be no compromise in this present struggle. What Greece could do, we all must do. If we never know what peace is in our lifetime, we propose nevertheless that the light which came into Europe, and from Europe to the Americas, from the lamps of the Acropolis, from the tragedies of Euripides, from the songs of Monander, from the thought of Aristotle, from the science of Archimedes—that light will not go out.