How America Helped Greece Avoid Falling Into Soviet Orbit

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Harry S. Truman (middle) with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee (left) and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference (July 17-August 2, 1945). Public domain

The Truman Doctrine of 1947 was crucial for Greece to avoid falling into the Soviet sphere of influence as the country was ravaged by civil war (1946-1949).

With the Truman Doctrine, the President of the United States Harry S. Truman established that the United States would provide political, military, and economic assistance to all democratic nations threatened by external or internal authoritarian forces.

The decision was announced to Congress by the US President on March 12, 1947, its main purpose being to contain Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War.

In his speech, Truman pointed to the wider consequences of a failure to protect democracy in Greece and Turkey.

The US Congress responded to the message by quickly allocating $400 million to support Greece and Turkey, the latter under pressure from the Soviets to allow base and transit rights through the Turkish Strait.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

The Truman Doctrine was further developed on July 4, 1948, when the US President pledged to contain communist uprisings in Greece and Turkey.

Greece after World War II

The liberation of Greece from German occupation on October 12, 1944 was celebrated like crazy by the people. However, the country itself was in dire shape on many other fronts.

Joy has been replaced by the new specter of famine, misery, decadence, corruption, public health problems and economic disintegration.

Before the liberation, the government in exile led by the liberal Georgios Papandreou had settled in Italy, with a view to returning to Greece.

On September 26, 1944, the leadership of the Greek Resistance forces (EAM/ELAS and EDES), the government in exile and the British Middle East Command met in Italy and signed the Caserta Agreement.

Under the agreement, all resistance forces in Greece were placed under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie.

The Greek resistance forces were the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its military body, the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which was controlled by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

The Greek National Republican League (EDES) was the non-Communist resistance force against the Nazis.

The struggle between left and right ideologies (EAM/ELAS versus EDES) had already begun in 1943 with scattered clashes.

The internal struggles between the Greek people had made foreign mediation necessary. The Truman Doctrine would later prove crucial to post-war Greece in this regard.

The Greek Civil War

In the spring of 1944, the government in exile and the resistance forces reached an agreement to form a government of national unity comprising six ministers affiliated with EAM.

However, upon the arrival of British troops in Athens on October 13, 1944, Scobie ordered the resistance groups to disarm. This led leftists to resign from the fledgling government even before officially joining it.

On December 3, a pro-EAM rally ended when British forces and Greek gendarmes opened fire on the crowd, killing 28 protesters and injuring dozens.

The result was the Dekemvriana Uprising, a precursor to the Civil War, with battles in Athens lasting 33 days and resulting in the defeat of EAM. On February 12, 1945, EAM surrendered with the signing of the Treaty of Varkiza.

A year later, the Greek Civil War erupted when former ELAS supporters in hiding organized the KKE-controlled Democratic Army of Greece (DSE).

At this time, the neighboring communist states of Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria provided logistical support and armaments for the Soviet Union, especially to forces operating in northern Greece.

Greek government forces, the national army – with crucial help from the British army – fought against the partisans, with intermediate defeats from 1946 to 1948.

However, in February 1947, Britain formally requested the United States to resume its role in supporting the royalist Greek government.

Thanks to the financial assistance provided by the Truman Doctrine, from 1947 and after the withdrawal of the British, the forces of the Greek army won the war in 1949.

The KKE’s efforts to bring Greece under the Soviet sphere of influence like its neighboring countries, was exactly what the Truman Doctrine aimed to stop.

In his address to Congress promoting the Truman Doctrine, the US President pointed out:

“I believe it must be United States policy to support free peoples who resist attempts at subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.

I believe that we must help free peoples to build their own destiny in their own way.

I believe that our assistance should be primarily through economic and financial assistance which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

Truman argued that a Communist victory in the Greek Civil War would also endanger political stability in Turkey, which would consequently undermine political stability in the Middle East.

After the Civil War

Greece actually emerged from the civil war in a much worse state than when the Nazi occupation ended. Restoration was a mammoth task as both sides continued to despise each other.

Thousands of leftists have been killed, tortured or sent to camps on the arid islands of Gyaros, Makronisos and Leros.

On the winning side, the Truman Doctrine was the beginning of a new era not only in Greek-American relations, but also a turning point in the whole course of post-war international life.

Greece further established its place in the West by joining NATO in February 1952.

Nevertheless, political polarization continued in Greece, culminating in the riots of July 1965 following the resignation of the government of Georgios Papandreou and the subsequent appointment of successive prime ministers – unsuccessfully – by King Constantine II.

Political unrest continued, leading to the military coup of April 21, 1967, and the right-wing rule that followed for seven years.

To this day, Greeks remain polarized about the consequences of a leftist victory for the country.

In a 2008 Gallup poll, Greeks were asked “if it was better for the right to win the civil war”. Forty-three percent answered that it was better for Greece if the right had won, 13 percent answered that it would have been better if the left had won, 20 percent answered “ni” and 24 percent n did not answer.

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