Justice: One or Many? Writing from New Symposium 2007

Paros 2007: Justice: One or Many: III. Justice as Potentiality: Haviaras

Injustice: Coming of Age

Stratis Haviaras

On one occasion a general informed me by telephne that his troops had discovered a cave, high in the mountains, full of very small children, all half-dead from cold and hunger…. Of these children only a few survived; all the others died on the way down. [August 1949].

Frederika, Queen of the Hellenes,

A measure of Understanding

Increasingly, since World War II, in African and Asian countries caught in revolutionary turmoil or suffering civil strife, warring factions have been abducting or otherwise “recruiting” underage children, whom they subsequently indoctrinate and force into combat duty, a practice that nations and world organizations have been unable to prevent or to stop.

In the modern era, the first known example of children being rounded up, armed, and thrown into battle occurred in Greece during the civil war (1945-1949), which was fought between leftist revolutionaries and rightist government forces – the  fortunes of the latter supported by British and US economic and military aid. During that protracted, bloody war, the leftist insurgents were accused of a practice that came to be known as “Paidomazoma” (the herding of children). Armed guerrillas descended on remote villages under the cover of darkness, gathered the boys between the ages of 12 and 15, and took them away to mountain training camps to fight the war on their side. They explained these actions by saying that the parents of some of these very children were themselves in the guerrilla army, while other parents trusted their children to the guerrillas to save them from the nationalist army and their camps, the so-called “Paidopoleis” (Children Cities), run under the auspices of Queen Frederika.

When, some thirty years later, I began research for my second novel, The Heroic Age, based on that war and its aftermath, the books and documents I consulted were so rife with propaganda that I feared the whole truth might never be revealed. Well, having as a child learned their platitudes, sloganeering and every abuse of language the beligerents had to resort to in order to win the moral high ground, reading between the lines, and interviewing veterans on both sides, I thought I began to negotiate my way toward what seemed to be a promise of facts. But it wasn’t until the deliberations of the creative imagination and the actual writing were underway that the truth began to transpire – a  multi-faceted truth. Interestingly, my struggle toward that end soon involved considerable soul searching, for when I set out to write The Heroic Age I was far from being a neutral observer of history, and confronting my own biases on the subject was equally frustrating. How can one who has been part of the divide strive to bridge it? My biases were inherited (you may call it my sentimental education), then reinforced by years of hard-earned experience. Identifying with the causes (and the losses) of the Left, and without parents or property, I could claim no right to formal education. When at age twelve I became a construction worker, I could only claim a folder at the Asphaleia.[1. the Security Police] Still, martyred as it was, the Left had not been without blame, and as a novelist I was dead set against becoming its literary apologist.

The Heroic Age is the story of a group of war-orphaned, destitute boys caught up in the Greek Civil War in the years following World War Heading north, intending to cross the border to safety, they walk into the arms of the Andartes, a ragtag army of mainly young women and boys, and find themselves involved in brutal fighting (“The heroic age is between six and fourteen, when one is too old to be a child and too young to be a soldier.” As for the women, “The heroic age is from the day they are born to the day they die”).

The novel is divided into two parts:  Book One is titled, “The Children’s War”; Book Two, “Peace and Reconstruction.” The war ends in August, 1949, with the victory of the Right. The following spring, the army discovers, hiding in a cave in the northern mountains, dozens of children, half-dead from cold and hunger. Because of their participation in the war on the side of the leftist guerrillas, the boys who survive the rescue operation must now be re-educated to belief in Nationalist ideals, so they are deported to a remote island to serve time learning their lessons and working in a stone quarry. A detachment of the Boy’s Corps of the Royal Greek Navy is in charge of the prison camp of Antikalamos, a fictional island. A similar camp did exist on the island of Leros (a name related to the word for “dirt”), where the young prisoners attempted mass suicide.

What follows are seven brief excerpts from The Heroic Age, recounting the Odyssey of the children from their march north and their wanderings south of the Albanian border in the hands of the leftist Antartes, andtheir post-war deportation by the victorious Nationalists to the prison camp of Antikalamos.

The first excerpt is from the opening chapter of The Heroic Age.

All day we'd been roaming the flooded fields for food. Five-, six-, seven-year-olds, ten-, twelve- and thirteen-, Just a dozen boys altogether, mostly ten to thirteen. It was hard to find a thing to eat; it was harder to steal. In the afternoon we tried to rob a farmhouse; we were beaten back. Those who couldn't run very fast were whipped as they ran away. The small ones sniffled. The older ones swore. We spent the night in the trees, pressing against one another to keep warm. It rained. At dawn we spat on a stone and flipped it: heads, we'd head northwest; tails, east of north.

Many others had done this before us. They'd leave the village, promising to return in a couple of days or so, but the promise of bread kept moving northward, east or west, some- times even crossing the border into another country. "Back soon," they'd promise, but a few days later it no longer made sense for them to return,

Heads, west. Tails, east. We flipped the stone, but the stone fell into a puddle. After that we couldn't agree on anything. We dispersed, hoping at least to get rid of the five- and six-year- olds who cried most of the time, and who shouldn't have been allowed to leave the village in the first place.'

When the sun came out I saw two rows of sharp yellow teeth across its blazing face. It reminded me of Uncle Jimmi's face. I stared at it until its light grew dim and my eyes ached, then I pressed north.

An unusual event takes place when the children have already reunited by a riverbank, outside the perimeter of an American military base.

The sound of bulldozer and truck engines had grown  louder. There was nothing to warn us that the site was off-limits, but we planned to get past it as fast as we could, anyway.

Just then I saw what I thought was a large heap of trash dumped into the river over the right-bank dike. From the looks of it, it was unlike all other heaps of refuse that we'd gone through before; this one was fresh, clean-looking, colorful.

“Fresh?”

“Clean?”

“Look at it carefully.”

“It’s colorful, all right,” admitted Andreas. “It must be American.”

We were heading toward the trash without even a token debate. Minos was now sniffing in that direction, and the rest of us kept our eyes fixed on the glittering mound as if trying to nail it down that way, to make sure it didn’t move from where it was.

“Bread,” said Minos. “I smell bread!”

“Easy, now.” Andreas spread his arms to make us slow down. Several crows and a small dog were at work scavenging, and we couldn’t afford a commotion.

“I’ve never seen any trash like that in my whole life.” There was a wild look in Issaris’ eye.

A couple of crows turned, saw us, and took off.

“American,” whispered Andreas. “Name it and it’ll be there!”

“Bread!”

Two more crows took off and the rest followed them soon. The dog wagged his tail at us. He wouldn’t go away, but he wouldn't bark either.

We dug into the refuse with hands and feet, plowing through crushed cartons, boxes, empty cans of food and engine oil, sorting out beer bottles, tires, clothing, broken tools, and newsmagazines with such excitement that the dog was appalled and started to back off, turning his ears in this direction and that as if he feared the worst was yet to come.

A pair of headphones, odd pieces of cable and a spool of copper wire. Bent instruments, screws, empty rifle shells, nails. An assortment of small bottles still full of pills, powders, liquids and ointments, from which we could identify only aspirin, quinine and ammonia. Deeper in, where birds and dogs had not reached, we found a loaf of bread that had started to mildew, a few unopened cans and several boxes of neatly stacked crackers and biscuits. Other fantastic objects, shining and looking as good as new, and still others that had lived only part of their useful lives before they were discarded without thought of repair. The wristwatch didn't work -- quarter of one. A pair of binoculars, but one of the lenses gone. One-eyed Issaris gave them a try: perfect! Andreas found a brown army bag and the barrel of a broken rifle. Minos found a switchblade, but Andreas wouldn't trust him with it and he took it away. Then Minos found a small enameled pan. Issaris got a thermometer and a box of wet matches, another loaf of bread, already sliced and wrapped in paper, and a deck of playing cards. And I found a pair of leather gloves made for a person with two left hands. Minos got a pair of overalls that could fit all four of us together. Andreas a fountain pen that had run out of ink, and a pair of suspenders. Issaris a bottle of ink and a broken syringe. And I found a book that taught Greek from alpha to omega through pictures. We hastily threw everything we thought we could use into the army bag, and we were ready to run.

“Wait!” Using Minos’ switchblade, Andreas cut a wide strap of rubber from the inner tube of a tire and showed it to us proudly before adding it to the bag. “Slingshots,” he said.

—————————————

The ideological divisions in the adult world, and the atrocities common to civil wars, cannot leave children indifferent, and games such as “hide and seek” and “kick the can” assume wartime significances beyond their childhood meanings.

When we got closer to the kids who were gathered by the west bank, we saw that they were kicking and jabbing with sticks at another kid whose arms and legs had been tied around a treelog on the ground. They were between ten and twelve years of age. They did not look familiar. Now they had turned in our direction, raising their sticks as a warning to us not to get closer.

Andreas let the bag fall to the ground and put his hand into his pocket, where he kept the switchblade. We took out our slingshots and stretched them out, aiming at the heads of the bigger kids. Andreas took another step forward.

“What’s going on here?” he asked. A tall, skinny kid from the other group took a step toward Andreas. Like Andreas, he kept his right hand in his pocket.

Injustice: Coming of Age

Stratis Haviaras

On one occasion a general informed me by telephne that his troops had discovered a cave, high in the mountains, full of very small children, all half-dead from cold and hunger…. Of these children only a few survived; all the others died on the way down. [August 1949].

Frederika, Queen of the Hellenes,

A measure of Understanding

Increasingly, since World War II, in African and Asian countries caught in revolutionary turmoil or suffering civil strife, warring factions have been abducting or otherwise “recruiting” underage children, whom they subsequently indoctrinate and force into combat duty, a practice that nations and world organizations have been unable to prevent or to stop.

In the modern era, the first known example of children being rounded up, armed, and thrown into battle occurred in Greece during the civil war (1945-1949), which was fought between leftist revolutionaries and rightist government forces – the  fortunes of the latter supported by British and US economic and military aid. During that protracted, bloody war, the leftist insurgents were accused of a practice that came to be known as “Paidomazoma” (the herding of children). Armed guerrillas descended on remote villages under the cover of darkness, gathered the boys between the ages of 12 and 15, and took them away to mountain training camps to fight the war on their side. They explained these actions by saying that the parents of some of these very children were themselves in the guerrilla army, while other parents trusted their children to the guerrillas to save them from the nationalist army and their camps, the so-called “Paidopoleis” (Children Cities), run under the auspices of Queen Frederika.

When, some thirty years later, I began research for my second novel, The Heroic Age, based on that war and its aftermath, the books and documents I consulted were so rife with propaganda that I feared the whole truth might never be revealed. Well, having as a child learned their platitudes, sloganeering and every abuse of language the beligerents had to resort to in order to win the moral high ground, reading between the lines, and interviewing veterans on both sides, I thought I began to negotiate my way toward what seemed to be a promise of facts. But it wasn’t until the deliberations of the creative imagination and the actual writing were underway that the truth began to transpire – a  multi-faceted truth. Interestingly, my struggle toward that end soon involved considerable soul searching, for when I set out to write The Heroic Age I was far from being a neutral observer of history, and confronting my own biases on the subject was equally frustrating. How can one who has been part of the divide strive to bridge it? My biases were inherited (you may call it my sentimental education), then reinforced by years of hard-earned experience. Identifying with the causes (and the losses) of the Left, and without parents or property, I could claim no right to formal education. When at age twelve I became a construction worker, I could only claim a folder at the Asphaleia.[1]   Still, martyred as it was, the Left had not been without blame, and as a novelist I was dead set against becoming its literary apologist.

The Heroic Age is the story of a group of war-orphaned, destitute boys caught up in the Greek Civil War in the years following World War Heading north, intending to cross the border to safety, they walk into the arms of the Andartes, a ragtag army of mainly young women and boys, and find themselves involved in brutal fighting (“The heroic age is between six and fourteen, when one is too old to be a child and too young to be a soldier.” As for the women, “The heroic age is from the day they are born to the day they die”).

The novel is divided into two parts:  Book One is titled, “The Children’s War”; Book Two, “Peace and Reconstruction.” The war ends in August, 1949, with the victory of the Right. The following spring, the army discovers, hiding in a cave in the northern mountains, dozens of children, half-dead from cold and hunger. Because of their participation in the war on the side of the leftist guerrillas, the boys who survive the rescue operation must now be re-educated to belief in Nationalist ideals, so they are deported to a remote island to serve time learning their lessons and working in a stone quarry. A detachment of the Boy’s Corps of the Royal Greek Navy is in charge of the prison camp of Antikalamos, a fictional island. A similar camp did exist on the island of Leros (a name related to the word for “dirt”), where the young prisoners attempted mass suicide.

What follows are seven brief excerpts from The Heroic Age, recounting the Odyssey of the children from their march north and their wanderings south of the Albanian border in the hands of the leftist Antartes, andtheir post-war deportation by the victorious Nationalists to the prison camp of Antikalamos.

The first excerpt is from the opening chapter of The Heroic Age.

All day we'd been roaming the flooded fields for food. Five-, six-, seven-year-olds, ten-, twelve- and thirteen-, Just a dozen boys altogether, mostly ten to thirteen. It was hard to find a thing to eat; it was harder to steal. In the afternoon we tried to rob a farmhouse; we were beaten back. Those who couldn't run very fast were whipped as they ran away. The small ones sniffled. The older ones swore. We spent the night in the trees, pressing against one another to keep warm. It rained. At dawn we spat on a stone and flipped it: heads, we'd head northwest; tails, east of north.

Many others had done this before us. They'd leave the village, promising to return in a couple of days or so, but the promise of bread kept moving northward, east or west, some- times even crossing the border into another country. "Back soon," they'd promise, but a few days later it no longer made sense for them to return,

Heads, west. Tails, east. We flipped the stone, but the stone fell into a puddle. After that we couldn't agree on anything. We dispersed, hoping at least to get rid of the five- and six-year- olds who cried most of the time, and who shouldn't have been allowed to leave the village in the first place.

When the sun came out I saw two rows of sharp yellow teeth across its blazing face. It reminded me of Uncle Jimmi's face. I stared at it until its light grew dim and my eyes ached, then I pressed north.

An unusual event takes place when the children have already reunited by a riverbank, outside the perimeter of an American military base.

The sound of bulldozer and truck engines had grown  louder. There was nothing to warn us that the site was off-limits, but we planned to get past it as fast as we could, anyway.

Just then I saw what I thought was a large heap of trash dumped into the river over the right-bank dike. From the looks of it, it was unlike all other heaps of refuse that we'd gone through before; this one was fresh, clean-looking, colorful.

“Fresh?”

“Clean?”

“Look at it carefully.”

“It’s colorful, all right,” admitted Andreas. “It must be American.”

We were heading toward the trash without even a token debate. Minos was now sniffing in that direction, and the rest of us kept our eyes fixed on the glittering mound as if trying to nail it down that way, to make sure it didn’t move from where it was.

“Bread,” said Minos. “I smell bread!”

“Easy, now.” Andreas spread his arms to make us slow down. Several crows and a small dog were at work scavenging, and we couldn’t afford a commotion.

“I’ve never seen any trash like that in my whole life.” There was a wild look in Issaris’ eye.

A couple of crows turned, saw us, and took off.

“American,” whispered Andreas. “Name it and it’ll be there!”

“Bread!”

Two more crows took off and the rest followed them soon. The dog wagged his tail at us. He wouldn’t go away, but he wouldn't bark either.

We dug into the refuse with hands and feet, plowing through crushed cartons, boxes, empty cans of food and engine oil, sorting out beer bottles, tires, clothing, broken tools, and newsmagazines with such excitement that the dog was appalled and started to back off, turning his ears in this direction and that as if he feared the worst was yet to come.

A pair of headphones, odd pieces of cable and a spool of copper wire. Bent instruments, screws, empty rifle shells, nails. An assortment of small bottles still full of pills, powders, liquids and ointments, from which we could identify only aspirin, quinine and ammonia. Deeper in, where birds and dogs had not reached, we found a loaf of bread that had started to mildew, a few unopened cans and several boxes of neatly stacked crackers and biscuits. Other fantastic objects, shining and looking as good as new, and still others that had lived only part of their useful lives before they were discarded without thought of repair. The wristwatch didn't work -- quarter of one. A pair of binoculars, but one of the lenses gone. One-eyed Issaris gave them a try: perfect! Andreas found a brown army bag and the barrel of a broken rifle. Minos found a switchblade, but Andreas wouldn't trust him with it and he took it away. Then Minos found a small enameled pan. Issaris got a thermometer and a box of wet matches, another loaf of bread, already sliced and wrapped in paper, and a deck of playing cards. And I found a pair of leather gloves made for a person with two left hands. Minos got a pair of overalls that could fit all four of us together. Andreas a fountain pen that had run out of ink, and a pair of suspenders. Issaris a bottle of ink and a broken syringe. And I found a book that taught Greek from alpha to omega through pictures. We hastily threw everything we thought we could use into the army bag, and we were ready to run.

“Wait!” Using Minos’ switchblade, Andreas cut a wide strap of rubber from the inner tube of a tire and showed it to us proudly before adding it to the bag. “Slingshots,” he said.

The ideological divisions in the adult world, and the atrocities common to civil wars, cannot leave children indifferent, and games such as “hide and seek” and “kick the can” assume wartime significances beyond their childhood meanings.

When we got closer to the kids who were gathered by the west bank, we saw that they were kicking and jabbing with sticks at another kid whose arms and legs had been tied around a treelog on the ground. They were between ten and twelve years of age. They did not look familiar. Now they had turned in our direction, raising their sticks as a warning to us not to get closer.

Andreas let the bag fall to the ground and put his hand into his pocket, where he kept the switchblade. We took out our slingshots and stretched them out, aiming at the heads of the bigger kids. Andreas took another step forward.

“What’s going on here?” he asked. A tall, skinny kid from the other group took a step toward Andreas. Like Andreas, he kept his right hand in his pocket.

“Are you Bandit sympathizers, or Nationalists?” he said. The Nationalists always referred to the Andartes as “Bandits.”

“You answer my question first,” said Andreas. “What’s your name, anyway?”

“What's yours?”

“Andreas.”

“Mine's Vasilis, and I am for the King.”

“That's fine with me,” said Andreas. “What's the story with him?”

“He’s a Bandit sympathizer. He’s our prisoner.”

“Help! They want to cut my throat,” cried the other, pushing to turn the log so he could see us. Unable to move, he went on crying and pleading for our help.

Andreas was staring at the kid who’d said his name was Vasilis. “That true?” he asked him calmly.

Vasilis was surprised. “None of your business,” he said.

“Suppose he is a sympathizer. What are you going to do with him?”

Vasilis turned his face halfway around to exchange a meaningful look with one of his pals who stood behind him.

“Tell him,” urged the other.

“First they’ll have to tell us where they come from,” said Vasilis.

Andreas wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to say where we were coming from.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you are not from around here. If you were you’d know what we do to Bandits and Bandit sympathizers that we catch.”

We did know. It just hadn't occurred to Andreas and to the rest of us that what they were planning to do was to cut the kid's throat and take his head to the nearest Gendarmerie station to collect bounty. It didn't occur to us, because the kid was under fourteen and did not qualify. We'd heard many stories about the headhunters who went around the country hunting down Andartes and anyone friendly to them, and once we'd seen photographs of severed heads in the newspaper; but it was unheard of that children were taking the heads of other children for money. Everyone knew that the Gendarmerie had orders from the government not to pay a single drachma for the heads of children under fourteen. Either Vasilis and his pals didn't know the law or the law was different in that region. Andreas shook his head. “You are going to cut his head off?” he said.

“That's what we do around here.”

“He says he's on his way to Yannina, where he has relatives.”

“Was he armed?”

“No.”

Andreas took out his switchblade and flipped it open. “You know what this is?'” he asked. The kids behind Vasilis came forward to have a better look at the switchblade. They were impressed.

“It's an American gutting machine,” said Andreas, folding the blade in and flipping it open again. “A dangerous weapon,” he added. He walked cautiously over to the other side of the log, from where he could see the prisoner’s face. “I’ll be damned!” said Andreas

“Who is he?” asked Minos.

“Well, you won't believe it – it's Makis!” Andreas said.

“Makis?” Who was Makis? We didn't know anyone named Makis. And Makis was not a name. That's just it! It was a nickname for almost any male Creek name. That's just it.

“You are kidding me,” said Issaris.

“Come see for yourself,” said Andreas while trying to untie the prisoner's hands with his left hand.

“Don't,” Vasilis warned him.

Andreas stood up, showing the switchblade to everybody, while Issaris untied the prisoner.

“His name is not Makis,” said Vasilis. “His name is Avraam.”

“Avramakis, Makis,” said Andreas. “We're friends. We call him Makis for short.”

Minos and I went closer to see Makis, who was rubbing his wrists and ankles.

“Andriko! Nikola?” said Avramakis, embracing us. Smart.

“I don’t believe you,” said Vasilis, his face red with frustration and anger. “He is our prisoner,” He then turned to his pals. “Are you just going to stand there looking and do nothing about it? What's going on?” he said.

The kids did not move.

“You know who my father is?” Vasilis shouted at us desperately.

“No, but I have a pretty good idea,” said Andreas. Andreas had risen to the occasion; he was our leader, all right.

“My father's a professional headhunter,” announced Vasilis. “Mine too,” said the kid who stood next to him. “We've been waiting to meet them here.”

“Good!” said Andreas. “So pretty soon you’ll all find out it's against the law to cut the throat of anyone who’s only eleven years old.”

“What you want us to do, wait for him to become fourteen?” muttered Vasilis.

We kept staring at Vasilis’ pocket, trying to imagine why he kept his hand in it. No one thought he might be carrying a knife or a pistol, for if he was he would have tried to use it before we released his prisoner. And yet he still kept his right hand in his pocket.

Andreas sat down on the Log. “Tell me,” he said to Vasilis calmly, “how do you go about cutting somebody's throat, anyway?”

Vasilis was silent.

The kid next to him said, “Where did you find that knife?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me first how you were going to cut my friend's throat,” said Andreas.

“You tell first where you got that knife,” said Vasilis.

Andreas turned to me. “Tell them,” he said.

I would not trust them with anything, not even with the location of that American dump. “My Uncle Jimmi brought it all the way from New York,” I said proudly. “He's a gangster there.”

“Tell us where’s your town, and we'll ask his uncle to send you one, too,” said Issaris.

“You're teasing me,” said Vasilis.

“Honest,” said Issaris. “What do you have to lose?”

Vasllis was confused. “It's over there,” he said shyly, pointing beyond the left bank of the river. “The name of the village is Katouna,” he said.

“What's your name?” said Andreas. “Uncle Jimmi can’t send you the knife if he doesn't know your family name.”

“You won't go tell the Gendarmerie?” said Vasilis.

“Why bother? You are not a Bandit sympathizer, are you?”

“Oh, no. I was just thinking . . .”

“His name's Tranos,” said the other kid. “Vasilis Tranos."

“Fine,” said Andreas. “Now tell me how you go about cutting somebody’s throat in Katouna.”

“Show him,” said the same kid to Vasilis. Vasilis hesitated for a moment, then pulled his hand from his pocket, revealing – what! the lid of a tin can, folded in two for extra thickness. Its edge was as jagged and sharp as the can opener had left it.

“With that?”

Vasilis flashed his terrible weapon in the air. It made a swishing sound and stopped just short of Andreas’ face. “Cuts better than most knives,” he said.

“Don't,”said Andreas. “Don't ever use this thing. What you need is a real knife – like this. And if you’re a nice kid, Saint Basil will bring you one.”

I put the slingshot into my pocket and lifted the bag to my shoulder. After having gained some distance, we looked back.

Vasilis and the others were still there, still at the same spot, facing our way like little white statues in a cemetery.

——————————————

Children who witness or who are made to repeat acts of extreme violence, will be haunted by their recollections  and will be compelled to repeat these acts into adulthood, long after the “wars” have ended.

We followed the barking sound until we spotted Trash near the left-bank dike. He was running around a mule or a horse that was probably tied to a stone and could not break free. There were two baskets fastened one on either side of his saddle.

Issaris took out his binoculars and scanned the vicinity, to see where the owner of the mule might be. “Nobody,” he determined.

We loaded our slingshots, approaching with caution. When we got there, Minos took hold of the dog and pulled him aside. Docilely Trash quieted down. Andreas went straight to the mule to check the contents of the two baskets.

“Whatever it is, it's covered with bugs,” he said. “It's got to be food.”

Issaris, Avramakis and I went around a small pool nearby to see if there was anybody behind the broomweed. And it was there that we found the owner of the mule. He lay on his back, his face and hands completely hidden by insects. Crossing his chest were two cartridge belts. Under his left leg, his German rifle. His feet were soaking in the green water. We were still standing by, staring at him, when Andreas and Minos joined us again.

“Get me that bottle of ammonia – quick!” said Andreas. I opened the bottle over the man's face, and most of the insects flew away, while others tumbled down or caught in the stubble of his cheeks. His face was so swollen by the bites that we could not open his eyes. Andreas tried again until he succeeded in pulling the lids of one eye apart and holding them open for a moment with his thumbs. We saw the brown pupil glide to the center of the eye under a layer of mucus. Was it trying to focus? Andreas jumped back, frightened.

“He's still alive,” he said. Minos then went back, and with Avramakis’ help he pulled the two cartridge belts off the dying man's chest. As they lifted the upper part of his body, we saw the bloodstain and the bullet wound in his back.

“Let’s check the baskets,” said Issaris.

We went back to the mule. Issaris and I pushed one of the baskets up while Andreas and Avramakis unfastened the other. They put it down. It was still full of insects. When we took the second one down, once again I opened the ammonia bottle over the baskets until the insects had flown away, and we looked in. We stepped back, stumbling onto one another, holding on to one another, terrified.

“What's in them?” asked Minos, stepping on tiptoe to see for himself.

“Hold it right there!” lssaris blocked his way.

In the meantime, Avramakis had turned his face the other way, throwing up violently.

Andreas and I waited for a minute, then decided to have another look: Inside each basket were the severed heads of four or five young men and women.

——————————————

On the eve of the decisive battles on the summits of Mt. Vitsi, Mt. Belles and Mt. Grammos, numerous groups of non-combatant boys and girls were gathered by the Antartes near Albania. They meant them to cross the border to safety, but the border was closed.

“I think they're coming,” whispered Pelekys, putting a hand behind his ear.

Through a low-perching cloud, among the trees: two young women armed with submachine guns, then several kids. One, two more women followed by many more kids, hiding and showing up again around the trees, panting, looking at us and panting, coming around to join us, three or four at a time. The armed women, who weren’t older than sixteen, said the children ought to number seventy-three: twenty-eight girls and forty-five boys. Scorpaena counted the newcomers, counted again. They were all there: seventy-three of them – all under fourteen.

Out of the cloud they came, and the littlest ones spoke no language. Parting from the cloud as the first light of day filtered through the cloud: born in Argos, children of Danae, and they spoke no Greek. Born in Athens, children of Athena, and they spoke no Greek, or any other language. From Thessaly and from Thessalonike, and they spoke no Greek. Achaeans, Messenians, Spartans. Moslems from Thrace, Armenians from Volos, Hebrews from Thebes and Yannina spoke neither Greek nor Turkish nor Armenian nor Hebrew nor even Serbian.

“Eh?” they asked.

“Ha,” or “Ai,” they answered.

“Pa,” they said, “Pa” and “Bah,” they said.

They said, “Ts” and “Ah,” and “Vai” or “Vava.”

“Oooo,” and “Ooh,” they said.

And if one kept asking questions, they said, “Shh.”

And others were just crying. That they al1 knew: Dorians, Moslems, Armenians, Jews, Wallachians.

Out of the dawn’s low-perching cloud, wearing burlap or khaki, courtesy of the dead. Goatskin, unmatched boots twice their size, and no socks on their feet. Their fingernails were as blue as their lips, and the soles of their boots laughed. Their lips they preferred to keep sealed. Anthoula from Ferrae. Varant from the vineyards of Corinth. Litsa from Pelion. Aristos from Pella. Sukru from Xanthe. Sirnos and Stephanos from Vasilikon. Maritsa from Veroia: don't say “Ai,” say “Nai.” Don't say “Ts,” say “Ohi.” Don't say “Mam,” say “Pssmi”and “Artos” for “bread,” say “Nero, neraki” for “water.” Don’t say “Oooo,”  don’t say “Ooh,” say “Kryo” for “cold.” K-r-y-o, k-r-y-o . . . just the sound of it turned their lips bluer.

For years they’d camped outside Ljubojno north of the border by the Lake Prespa, and people there spoke no language, not even the Slavomacedonian, so the littlest ones didn’t even learn to speak that. People showed their tongues, but spoke no language. They showed their hands, beat their breasts, scratched their heads, picked their noses, crossed themselves, but spoke no language. And their eyes stared at each other, but they could not see. At Ljubojno they had no bread, baked no bread to have a name for it; and they had no milk, and no name for milk; no meat, and no name for meat; no name for eggs. And the fish from the lake tasted brackish.

—————————————

“Of these children only a few survived; all the others died on the way down,” wrote the late Queen Frederika in her memoir, A Measure of Understanding.

Those who did survive found themselves in a military igloo, being photographed and awaiting deportation to an island prison camp.

A barrage of machine-gun fire sounded, and I felt my entire body convulse, my head, arms and legs jolting upward as if I were a puppet awakened on stage by a jerk of my strings. Other naked limbs lumped on both sides of me and over my face and bare chest. Had they discovered our hideout? Were they finishing us off on the spot? “Mama,” whispered a weak voice nearby. A word I hadn’t heard in a long time. I was searching its silent echo as my lips met and parted twice, blowing weak syllables into the air, like kisses. But whom were those kisses meant for? For a loaf of bread and a bowl of sugar, perhaps; but the bread had already turned green from mildew, and the sugar was actually salt. A bird came next, a warm bird, but I couldn’t stretch my hands toward it, and before I knew it the bird had gone up in flames, A sweater, then, a wool sweater to hide the chills and to quiet down the cramps in my stomach. Was there time? Was there still time! The outline of a figure against the window, against the dusk. Her hands are knitting a small sweater, and her index fingers are needles with which she knits. The day comes to an end. Is there still time? She lights the kerosene lamp to continue the knitting while there is still time. That light too comes to an end as it consumes the last drop of oil. She moves back to the window to knit by the moon- light. She won’t hurry. Slowly, while the mind wanders, she’ll bring that sweater to flawless completion. She doesn’t look at the clock. What keeps the time is the wool in her hands and her mind’s wandering: a second or so per stitch, but several stitches per thought. And how often does she look at her knit- ting? Her eyes are deep-set, slanted a little at their outer cor- ners, almost beyond hope, by now perhaps even beyond sorrow. Her eyes are the tips of her fingers, and when she parts her lips she is not about to sigh and give away her thoughts, but to slow down the mindless momentum of her fingers, the needles. By morning she might discover that the back of the sweater is a bit longer than it needs to be, a bit longer than the front, anyway, so she’ll prudently undo a few rows, as though attempting to undo time.

A second, deafening barrage rang out, scaring my eyes open. The cave – was it a cave? – looked small and symmetrical, its vaulted ceiling lined with corrugated tin. A number of us lay crowded on straw mattresses on the floor, all naked, a pile of bones wrapped in stained yellow skin. We had no cheeks, nor stomachs and buttocks – just skulls, cheekbones, rib cages, kneecaps and shins, the eyes unusually large in their sockets. The lips, having shrunk like fabric, kept the mouths half opened and the teeth bared. The hair had been clipped short or had fallen out. When the second barrage sounded, the bones began to stir, mingling or tangling: feet over faces, legs under arms, backs over thighs. Somewhere under the bones a few weak cries: ‘Mama, mama.’ Issaris, Minos, Andreas and Avramakis were not there, or else had shrunk beyond recognition. And all the girls were missing. I made an effort to crawl, but couldn’t. The ceiling was vaulted and lined with corrugated tin sheets: the common, quick, inexpensive construction used in military installations.

Soon, the gate at the far end of the building opened up, flooding the interior with daylight. It rushed in, piercing our eyes, and our half-open mouths gave out a sigh, a sound so deep and distant that I, even I, thought it was coming from a well, a basement. All hands moved slowly over the faces, covering the eyes. When the gate clanged shut, I saw two boys wearing navy uniforms and gas masks walk toward us. Each one carried a small tank strapped to his back, and, pumping with the right hand at a lever, he extended a thin rubber hose toward us with the left, spraying a solution that smelled like camphor and gasoline over our heads. The cloud of mist began to settle on us in no time, stinging our eyes and skin and causing violent coughing. We coughed, scratched and cried, hoping it wouldn’t be long before the poison did its work. By the time the sailors left, the coughing ceased and I felt a pleasurable numbness crawling over my skin. I reeled, gazing at the vaulted ceiling through the saltwater that had gathered between my eyelids.

It must have been hours later that once again we were awakened by the same machine-gun-like rattle, except this time I also heard the end of another sound, a sound of hard objects rolling down the roof, and it occurred to me that someone outside must have been throwing a handful of stones onto the tin roof each time we were supposed to be awakened for a visitor. If so, any moment now the gate would open again and the sailors would walk in with more insecticide or some torture of another kind, or death by real machine-gun fire. Still shaking, I clasped my hands together, breathing deeply. The air still smelled of DDT.

The gate opened and everybody covered his eyes, but no sailors showed up this time. The gate was kept open. Bones stirred, creaking, limbs moved slowly over slow limbs like cold worms, and as the eyes became accustomed to the light; a few eyelids blinked. In the opening of the gate stood a dark figure: a man with both hands raised in front of his face as though covering his eyes; a newcomer, perhaps, someone who could not bear the sight of us and had to cover his eyes before they got used to the sight, or at least to the darkness inside. Click, it wasn't his hands that covered his face, but a camera. He held it before his face. The photographer didn’t see us, but the camera focused on us. Click – its metal eyelid blinked time and again, its glass eye scanning the bones, scanning the stained skin and the bared teeth, but the photographer didn’t see a thing. He took a few short steps backward, and the gate began to close, A last click, then the gate was closed shut like the eyelid of a huge camera, but neither the photographer nor anyone else saw the sight.

—————————————

The Antikalamos camp: not merely a place of exile and punishment and forced labor, but a place of reindoctrination in the national ideals, through the discipline of the stone.

Many of the Greek islands have little children islands by their side: Skyros, the mother island, has a little daughter island, Skyropoula. And Spetsae has Spetsopoula; and Serifos, Serfopoula. Anaphi, one of the prison islands, has a very-little-boy island, Anaphopoulo, which is too little even for a little boys’ prison. Then there are a few parent islands that have disowned their children because their children opposed them: Paros - Antiparos. Psara - Antipsara. Melos -Antimelos. Paxoi - Antipaxoi. Kithera - Antikithera. Kalamos, a parent island, was named after the reed that had thrived on its soil for centuries. Antikalamos, its unprincipled child, stood about four nautical miles to the east, and it detested the reed and anything growing on soil and water. Antikalamos could afford no soil or fresh water on its back. It had a head, a back and a tail of stone, but the head and the tail were submerged, and all we could see from the ship was its bent back of stone, a hard reddish stone swept clean by the strong briny wind and disinfected daily by the cloudless sun. If there had been a prophecy that after so many centuries of isolation and punishment by the elements Antikalamos would someday be inhabited, that day had come, because Greece had run out of islands for isolation and punishment, had run out of stone.

“Welcome to Antikalamos, the place of your exile,” said the stone. “According to archaeologists, in ancient times it used to be one of the Kalamae, a chain of islands that broke up during a major geological upheaval in the second millennium. Therefore it is natural to suppose that some of the islands that sank at that time were interspersed between Kalamos and Antikalamos. As for the entire region, it is still considered to be geologically young and unstable, prone to violent quakes and volcanic eruptions. The climate conforms to the general conditions of the entire Aegean and eastern Mediterranean: temperate, with seasonal winds, and rainfalls in the late autumn and throughout the winter. Throughout its glorious history our country has used several uninhabited islands such as Antikalamos to rid itself of subversive and seditious elements, in short of any individual or group of individuals who threaten peace or the prevailing social order,” said the stone. “It is a humane practice, and as such it has failed more than once to guarantee the safety of our national institutions and of the law-abiding subjects, but Greece refuses to abdicate from this civilized tradition.” And the stone coughed, and the dark sea slapped its hard reddish cheek, but the stone wasn’t through yet. “The Royal Navy has already assembled and installed the facilities in which you must live when not at work in the quarry. There are two barracks for your guardians, and six large tents for yourselves. We will supply your rations of foodstuffs and water, but you will be responsible for the preparation of your meals. Only those who work will eat. I repeat, only those who work will eat, and the work amounts to hard labor. The only ship that you will see anchoring at Antikalamos will be the Nikaia, bringing your monthly provisions in exchange for the product of your work at the quarry. Also once a month you will be visited by a medical doctor, and when necessary by a priest. For those among you who will succumb to the hardships of exile there will be funeral services, but the burial will take place at sea. Petty Officer Palioras and I will see to it that your re-education is replete with mental and physical discipline. . . .” The stone went on and on. Its rank and name was Ensign Tsakalos of the Children's Navy, commanding officer of the Antikalamos Camp.

Later we marched to the campsite, where we were greeted by two flags, one Greek and one American, that flapped in the chilly wind on poles. Down below, mounted on a concrete base that resembled a headstone, a marble slab read:

THIS INSTITUTION

ESTABLISHED BY THE QUEEN’S FUND

AND THE AMERICAN MISSION

IS DEDICATED TO THE IDEALS OF FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY 1950

——————————————

The persecution of the Left only came to an end in Greece following the collapse of the military dictatorship (the”Junta”) and the legalization of the Communist party, twenty-four years after the end of the Civil War.

Still, the election into power, in 1950, of a liberal party that campaigned for national reconciliation, did result in the closure of several prison camps in the islands, including the one known in my novel as “Antikalamos.”

As I look back on my experience of writing this novel, and I call to mind the brutal and unforgiving history of Greece in what for the reader is the “post-war” period, 1946-1974, I question again what are its uniquely tragic effects. In other words, “Why write this book?” The horror story of war has been told, and told again.

The key for me is the deep dismay with which we continue to endure the news reports of children forced under arms: not only trained in combat, but shackled – perhaps forever – to a bleakly cynical view of life: all possibilities, relationships, and the chance for happiness smeared with the excrement of adult wars.

We “adults” fight wars to regain or to capture for the first time our vision of life as it should be lived. Accurately or not, we carry pictures in our minds of what we want – a piece of land, the respect we deserve, prosperity, a loving and safe family, possibly equality, or possibly only the unrestrained power to drive the lives of others. For the children we enmesh in the web of war – not only as victims but also as perpetrators – there is no “model” of an agreeable future to arrive at “after the killing stops.” The ideal state that we assume is the prize for bloodletting and terror does not exist for them. Compelled to witness atrocity, cruelty, and the capricious spilling of guts and blood, they are conditioned to believe that this is the natural state, and that is the only way open to the future that they know. And so, long after we have come to accept war’s outcomes, and especially if we do not, the youth of our land, having lost their youthfulness forever, go to work only with the brutal tools we have placed in their hands.

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