Freedom or Death: March 25th, 1821

by John Kass | March 25, 2023

It was a few days or so after Greek Independence Day of 1999 when Congressman William O. Lipinski had a column of mine entered into the Congressional record. It was called “Freedom Comes at a Great Cost.” It made my family very proud.

Those of you who know me well know that my heritage and Hellenism mean very much to me, like the pride I get in referring to myself as an American. I’ve written other such columns about March 25th, including one about the “secret schools” where children learned by candlelight in mountain caves to avoid Turkish patrols, or so all young Greeks were told.

But it all comes to the same day, March 25th 1821 and the words that cut deep to the bone. Freedom or death.

I want you to do me a favor, or better yet do yourselves a favor. Pour out a glass of ouzo, just a small one or maybe a glass of red wine and lift it to the Greek people on March 25th.

You know we’ve celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day and there’s Cinco de Mayo, and Pulaski Day, and of course our Great American Independence Day and so on. Our American media reinforce all these, but does the media reinforce March 25th?

As an American of Greek descent and son of immigrants I could tell you this: I am bothered by an unfortunate stereotype of Greeks in this country. It is about the happy plate-breaking people who are so eager to please you, inviting you into their shops and stores and restaurants with a smile. And why not a smile to those you would welcome into your home or business.

But there is something else to it that’s bothersome. It was not done for the care of the people you were welcoming but to protect yourself and your family.

Come on in effendi? How may I serve you effendi? It is the plea of the shopkeeper in a land without our God given American rights. You don’t hear this other heart in the places where the tourists don’t go. Tourists don’t trek into the mountains, they walk along the beaches, sip coffee in the afternoon sun. No one sees the heart of the rocky Peloponnesus from Arcadia in the South.

That heart broods darkly like the clarinets, and in 1821 as they came running down their mountains from their villages with guns and knives with fire and sword, they weren’t smiling they weren’t eager to please they weren’t signaling their famous sense of hospitality.

They were done kissing the hand of the Turkish Pasha. March 25th is Greek Independence Day, on the way to Easter. And you can hear the pain of all those 400 years of occupation of Turkish oppression in the mournful clarinets of my people.

My great grandfathers and their fathers came rushing down from the mountains to cleanse their land of 400 years of Turkish occupation. It started with the elites in the upper middle class who thought they might win political concessions from the world superpower the Ottoman Empire. But then revolutions always start with the elite and in this one once the people bought it and 400 years of the Sultan stepping on them boiled over.

Louis Dupré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the people had blood in their eyes there were no concessions, it was all freedom or death. The Turks felt betrayed by their neighbors who they lived with for hundreds of years. The Greeks found that only blood and more of it could wash away their sins, it couldn’t.

There was blood, and fire, and pain because that’s what it takes to be free. The Greeks cleansed their land of their Turkish oppressors and in the end they were free. So on March 25th I’ll make sure to wear blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag. And think about how lucky I am to have been born here in the land of red, white, and blue.

This year I’ll lift the glass of ouzo straight up, no ice. Saluting my father and grandfathers and the Greek people, my people who fought a superpower and won their freedom. And you know what I’ll say “ελευθερία ή θάνατος” freedom or death because without freedom there is no life.




Comments 43

  1. So happy to hear you are healing so very well and God has saved you and he knew we need your wisdom in writing and telling the truth. Today is indeed a very special DAY for the Greek people and the Greek Nation. WE survived 400 years of SLAVERY FROM THE TURKS, THEY HAVE TAKEN A LOT OF OUR COUNTRY, THEY WANT MORE AND WE DO NOTHING ABOUT IT. OUR ANCESTORS TAUGHT THE GREEK LANGUAGE AND RELIGION IN CAVES AND WE SURVIVED SLAVERY. YES PEOPLE SLAVERY SO WE DO KNOW WHAT THAT IS ABOUT. FIGHT FOR AMERICA FOR YOU DO NOT BECOME SLAVES TO THE POLICITIANS AND EVIL. KALO PASHA JOHN PLEASE SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK.

  2. Glad you’re recovering, John. We’ve missed you. A lot.

    Nice article about Greek history. I’m a little less ignorant about that now.

    All the best to you.

  3. Thank you for the history lesson and happy to see you recovering. In our house we’ll raise a glass on March 25th in remembrance. Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.

  4. The impression I had as a child about Greeks, from afar, because I was in a neighborhood of Irish/German/a few Italians, was different. I understood the Greeks here to be excellent in business, not specifically restaurants either. I don’t remember the source of the impression but it was a quite positive one.

  5. Welcome back John. I’d ask if I could republish this history story on my Substack newsletter, “Cheeky History”, except there is no way to tell a story like that in a “tongue in cheek” genre. I self identify on the web as a freedom evangelist, so we’ll certainly toast to Greek freedom tonight. Prayers answered that you have recovered sufficiently to write again and prayers offered that we regain our freedom here in this country too. Be well.

  6. Great history lesson that, like much of world history, has been glossed over.
    Your comments about the faulty impressions that people get from stereotypical views of different nationalities is very true. My Mother is from Italy and my Dad’s people are Irish. I got pretty tired of hearing how all Italians are somehow “mobbed up” and all Irish are drunks, but there is no shortage of stupid in this world, as you so often point out.

    It is wonderful to have you back, again making your Greek ancestors proud with your skills, like you have been doing for many years. Your loyal readers salute you on Greek Independence Day. I hope you don’t mind, but Ouzo is a little much for me- I’ll raise a Guinness instead.

  7. How does violence, war, oppression, jive with the teachings of Christ? Christ was a pacifist, was he not? Shouldn’t a nation created out of Judeo-Christian values be promoting violence all over the world, blowing people up, and funding this ridiculous war in Ukraine?

    Billions for the military industrial complex and Big Pharma, and for those who are struggling and on the street? Get a job!

    Not very Christian, I must say. How do we reconcile these values with the greed, selfishness and corruption that surrounds us? The founders of this nation were elites, but the grappled with the idea that all men were created equally.

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are merely buzzwords and platitude used for public control. Taking an actual interest and helping people is Christian.

    The liberals are more dangerous than the neocons. As Malcolm X said, the white liberal is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are phonies. At least the neoconservatives are transparent. They hide behind the Bible to justify their exploitation and avoidance of the suffering out there. The white suburban liberals pretend they care, they do not. They care only about virtue signaling.

    1. Interesting, but I’d suggest a trip through the Old Testament…the story of God’s people and the nation that birthed the Man Jesus when He came to earth for our sake. You’re not suggesting that the free nations of the world just roll over and not defend themselves against evil, are you? In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:10-18 he tells us to put on the full armor of God! When my husband was 13, he was one of several young men forced at gun-point to dig the trenches to bury the neighbors who had been shot at point-blank range for DARING to gather in a little farm building to try to have a church service. You don’t think we should fight and fight hard against that kind of evil???

      1. And this right here, is the very essence of Christian Nationalism, the notion that Christ requires us to fight, judge, and kill in his name, which of course is the very opposite of his example. There is no ‘war’ on Christian values, it’s a manufactured tactic to motivate a base of voters, nothing more. We do agree on the sad situation in Ukraine, war is a horrible last resort but in this case a nation’s sovereignty is worth defending.

  8. Beautiful, John! “How may I serve you, effendi?” I’m so glad to see you’re writing again. Happy Greek Independence Day! How is it I have never met you personally and yet I’m so invested (both figuratively and literally) in your welfare as in a strange way it ties in to my own and that of our community! Stay well, my friend.

  9. Thank you for the history lesson! My results showed I am 59% Greek, and I would love to know my family background. Seems my relatives were from Pereaus and Peloponnesians.

  10. Bravou Yianni! Zeeto E Ellas! I’m disheartened that so many people in this country, young and old, have no appreciation of what it took to gain our precious freedom! They forget it was always won at the point of gun, or in the Greeks case, the point of a sword – and those who fought and died are forgotten or swept aside by today’s “progressives” with their own socialist agenda. At any rate, it’s so great to read your words once again, it’s been a long, cold winter, and your timing couldn’t be better on this cold, gray, snowy day. But mind your health. Take it slow and easy Phile mou! Zeeto!

  11. After a difficult night of stress and bad dreams it was a pleasure to wake up to your words of wisdom.
    So glad to listen to you at work.
    You are needed
    You are missed

  12. “I fear nothing. I am free. Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.” Nikos Kazantzakis from “Freedom or Death”

    Great offering, John!

  13. We had a Greek-American Master Sergeant in the 1st Cavalry. Tough as nails guy with a gray buzz cut and deeply lined face.

    Whenever we’d come home from a mission or patrol he’d remind us to be sure to pour a little of our wine (beer, Ouzo, water, etc.) on the ground, to slake the thirst of the shades of all the warriors that came before us.

    He told us it was a custom of the Hellenic warriors to honor their fallen.

    That was 40+ years ago, to this day most of us still do our little ritual, as an excuse to remember our friends and say their names again.

    Happy Independence Day!

  14. So nice to read your words this morning. Recovery is a time of toughness and a time of reflection. “The Bricklayer” will be with us tonight as we raise a glass of red wine to you and your family and Greek Independence Day.

  15. Great to have you back John! Your words should remind us that the first things the bastards closed during the “pandemic” were the churches and pubs. These bastards knew that the American Revolution was started by a few people in a pub with drinks in their hands saying ” …are we gonna take this s##t?” People that didn’t imbibe in were sitting in the church pews saying the same thing. The liquor stores and weed dispensaries were allowed to remain open during Covid to pacify and numb any resistance to this basic violation of your constitutional rights. All done with the assistance of the our complacent media and the weaponized social media. In the words of the great Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised .” I would hope our people remember what was done to them two years ago. But then again maybe not. We still have TikTok don’t we? God bless you all.

    1. The people of Illinois re-elected JB so I guess they have short memories. The people of Chicago are supporting communist Brandon Johnson for mayor. The rest of us just sit back and watch our freedom and liberty get flushed down the toilet.

  16. Thanks John. As I sat in a little cafe in the Anafiotika neighborhood in Athens today, immediately under the ancient Acropolis, I commented to my wife that perhaps this is the new Golden Age of Greece. The Greeks are beholden to no outsiders. They aren’t ruled by despots or colonels. They are free. My ouzo tasted mighty good pondering that thought.
    As I walked down the road through the Plaka, I saw a statue of a klepht, a mountain fighter. I saluted him on his success.
    It’s good to have you back John.

  17. Mr Kass, enjoy your Greek Independence Day! Hope your PT is also going well. Any chance we can hear from the other famous Kass Greek, your Brother? Not having any brothers a tad bit jealous. You two provide a lot of history and insights.

  18. John,
    Glad you celebrate this historic day.
    Unfortunately, the Serbs and many others also suffered under the thumb of the Turks.

    Where would we be, or would we be, if not for the bravery and strength of our forefathers?
    Having a shot of Slivovitz to celebrate with the Greeks today.

  19. We are of a similar mindset it the US. The motto of New Hampshire, one of my favorite states, is “Live Free Or Die”. I couldn’t say it better myself.

    And, John, keep on the mend! We need you fully back at it.

  20. Good morning Mr. Kass, and a heartfelt Happy Greek Independence Day to you and your family. We knew you would live to write another day. I hope you are starting to feel even better than your old self.

  21. God bless you John Kass….

    It is great to read your words as always. Welcome back and it is so awesome that prayers do get answered. I shall mark my calendar for March 25th to raise a glass of ouzo and wear something blue and white. Yes, it is impossible to NOT remember losing your freedoms and then regaining them….perhaps that is what we are experiencing right now in our USA?

  22. Hello John,

    Very nice to see you in print again.

    As a first generation American of Polish descent, I am well-aware of the struggles of those who lost their freedom and never gave up the struggle to regain it. “Za naszą i waszą wolność” – “For our freedom and yours” was the motto of Poles like Kościuszko and Pułaski who left their homeland to fight for the principle of freedom around the world.

    It is my pleasure to commemorate and honor your forefathers who fought for and won Greek independence.

  23. Welcome Back!

    A very touching and appropriate column. While this is for remembrance of Greek Independence from the Ottomans, it is valid for any country under outside rule. Freedom comes at a great price, but without it, life is meaningless.

  24. Thanks for your moving, educational column,which I plan to share. The Cradle of Freedom needs to be known and celebrated more often. Glad you’re back and hope you’re doing well!

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