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Greek Civil War

The Greek civil war of 1945-1947 was really a continuation of struggles born during the Second World War. In 1936 General Ioannis Metaxas dissolved the Greek parliament and established himself as dictator under the restored monarch of Giorgios II. During the Second World War the Balkans was a secondary theater of operations. Organized resistance in Greece was broken and the country suborned to a combined German, Italian, and Bulgarian occupation. The Greek and Yugoslav Communist parties,in particular, succeeded in mobilizing large-scale partisan resistance and placing real military pressure on occupation forces.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) created a National Liberation Front (EAM) in September 1941. By 1943 its armed wing, the Greek National Liberation Army (ELAS), commanded over 60,000 fighters. In 1944, however, encouraged by Moscow for whom positive relations with its wartime allies remained all important, the leaders of ELAS opted to subordinate their movement to British command. When the Germans withdrew from Greece in November 1944, the British were able to occupy Athens and establish an interim administration.

On October 12, 1944 Greece was liberated from the Nazis The National Unity government returned from abroad with George Papandreou as prime minister. The situation in the country was critical. The British, who had been given military control of the area by the Allies, demanded the disbanding of the ELAS guerilla army and the surrender of its weapons. After the German withdrawal, the principal Greek resistance movement, which was controlled by the communists, refused to disarm. A banned demonstration by resistance forces in Athens in December 1944 ended in battles with Greek Government and British forces. Thus, the first phase of the Civil War began on December 3, 1944.

Accord quickly broke down, but in street fighting between ELAS and British occupation forces during December (known as the "Second Round "of the Greek civil war) the communists failed to press home their advantage. Instead the KKE accepted the Varzika Agreement of February 9, 1945, calling for the disarming of ELAS. The outcome allowed a revival of right wing nationalist forces shielded by the British occupation.

At the end of World War II, Greece stood in virtual ruin. During the German occupation, which lasted until October 1944, the economy nearly collapsed. Allied bombing raids destroyed miles of railroads and devastated the major port cities of Salonika, Volos, and Piraeus. A combination of heavy military traffic and neglect left the country's highway network in a precarious condition. Then, as the Germans withdrew, they blew up bridges, highways, and portions of the 4-mile-long Corinth Canal, which was a vital link between Athens and the Adriatic Sea.

The victors of World War II foresaw that differences in national objectives, policies, and even ideology would continue into the post-war world. They also knew that additional problems would challenge the international order. The US and its allies hoped to keep these differences to a manageable level through the newly formed United Nations. While much progress was made on some fronts, it soon became clear that there was a growing discord between the US and the USSR, and more broadly, between democracy and capitalism on the one hand and Soviet-led communism on the other.

Soviet intransigence, as demonstrated in Germany, in Korea, and in other areas, dashed American hopes for Great Power unity. The USSR, Winston Churchill warned in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, early in 1946, was lowering an "iron curtain" across the European continent. It successfully, and quickly, drew eastern Germany, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania behind that curtain. Much of the thinking was black and white. The United States stood for the morally good, while Stalin and the USSR's leadership was evil and bent on world domination.

Recent scholarship based on Soviet archives demonstrates Stalin's fears about internal dissent, his poor management style, and his own paranoia about the West and its intentions. Stalin had some reason to be concerned, as he was very sensitive to the allies' debate during the war on just how to contend with or influence Moscow. From late 1945 on, the events of the failed foreign ministers conferences, political takeovers in central Europe, the Berlin blockade, and the Greek civil war made it clear to the West that any hope for reasoning with Moscow was largely an illusion. A more focused, forthright, and proactive set of policy responses was required. In short, the US had to develop a strategy for the conduct of what had come to be known as the "Cold War." This difficult task was a novel undertaking for the US, whose newfound global leadership role remained controversial.

After Winston Churchill visited, a truce was signed and ELAS guerrillas withdrew from Athens. An agreement was reached on February 12, 1945 which called for the the ELAS to turn in its weapons within fourteen days. The Varkiza peace agreement terminated institutionally the political and military fighting of December 1944 and aimed at reconciliating the opposite blocs of the country.

The breach of its terms by both sides led to a new political polarisation and the dramatic events of the last stage of a harsh civil war that lasted until 1949. The mass movement of the left now came under pressure and persecution and thus, in 1946 the tragedy began of a war that cost thousands of lives, with Greek fighting Greek in the mountains and in the cities.

The Slavo-Macedonians, with the backing of the newlyformed Tito regime in Yugoslavia, kept up their efforts. Just a few days after the Varkiza agreement, Slavo-Macedonian emigres from Greece formed, in Skopje, an Organisation named NOF (National Liberation Front) and sent armed guerrilla bands back to the border areas of Greek Macedonia.

In May 1946 the Greek civil war resumed, with Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania channeling support to Communist guerrillas who aim to overthrow the Greek Government. because of its mountainous terrain and common borders with the Communist Balkan countries, Northern Greece (Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus) , became the center of the conflict. The fighting was most destructive in western and central Macedonia, and a large number of citizens fled the war zone and moved to the big cities, forming a mass of refugees. Meanwhile, former SNOF fighters (who, being loyal to Tito, had been forced by EAM to leave Greece) set up a new pro-Yugoslav organization (NOF), returned to Greece and sided with the Greek Communists.

Full scale Civil war between the KKE and nationalists erupted in 1947, but by then Greek communism had lost any hope of affecting a quick march to power. The fight continued for two reasons. The Greek government was unstable. and Greece had territorial conflicts with Yugoslavia and Albania. Josip Broz Tito, the leader of Communist Yugoslavia, gave his support to the EAM-ELAS. The Communist forces of Greece retreated north into the mountains where they could be supported by the neighboring countries of Yugoslavia and Albania.

Britain sent 40,000 troops to Greece and gave financial aid to the government, which became dependent on Great Britain's military and financial assistance to stay in power. Great Britain possessed its own financial difficulties, On 21 February 1947 the British announced that they would cease providing aid to Greece and Turkey, and would not continue its support after March 31, 1947, the day of Greek elections. The month of March brought the breakdown of the Moscow Conference and the signing of the Treaty of Dunkirk.

The United States could see no inherent limits to the outward push. Each Communist gain, it seemed, would serve as a springboard from which to try another; and a large part of the world, still suffering from the ravages of war, offered tempting opportunities for further Soviet expansion. The American response was a policy of containment, of blocking any extension of Communist influence.

China presented a dilemma. On the one hand, it was doubtful that Chiang Kai-shek could defeat the Communists with aid short of direct American participation in the civil war. Such participation was considered unacceptable. On the other hand, an attempt, through the efforts of General of the Army George C. Marshall following his Army retirement, to negotiate an end to the war on terms that would place the Kuomintang in full authority proved futile. The United States, consequently, adopted the attitude of "letting the dust settle."

Viewing the European continent as the main area of Soviet expansion, the United States at first limited its containment policy to western Europe and the Mediterranean area and attempted other solutions to the problem in Asia.

US President Harry Truman found himself beset by new and serious problems. The Soviet Union had become hostile to United States interests. Additionally, the Soviets heightened international anxiety when they seized control of several Eastern European countries and threatened the independence of Turkey and Greece. Soviet-supported communist guerilla actions in Greece, and Soviet diplomatic pressures in Turkey, were causes for great concern to President Truman. He believed the unrest in Greece and the overt Soviet political actions in Turkey were blatant attempts to establish a strong communist presence in the region. Truman also felt that the spread of Soviet hegemony was inimical to the national interests of the United States, especially in the non-Communist parts of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Persian Gulf region.

The wild cards that decided the outcome were the loyalty of the Greek communist leadership to Stalin 's direction, the Soviet decision to prioritize ties to its wartime allies, and the timely arrival of the British expeditionary force in Athens, inspired by a commitment to maintain Greece as a British sphere of influence in the eastern Mediterranean. Truman's hard-line stand against Soviet aggression had brought on an equally hard-line response from the Soviets. What had been an effective prewar US-Soviet alliance had deteriorated into a Cold War that would distract much of the world for the next 40 years.

In support of his views, Truman initiated an emergency request on 12 March 1947 for $400 million dollars to aid Greece and Turkey, a request which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. In justifying his views Truman declared:

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

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

In addition to funds, I ask the Congress to authorize the detail of American civilian and military personnel to Greece and Turkey, at the request of those countries, to assist in the tasks of reconstruction and for the purpose of supervising the use of such financial and material assistance as may be furnished, I recommend that authority also be provided for the instruction and training of selected Greek and Turkish personnel....

Congress was reluctant to act on the request because the United States had never before entered into a formal assistance program with a foreign state during general peacetime conditions. Truman persisted, however, and the Greece-Turkey Aid Act of 1947 was enacted, thus introducing the instrument of assistance as a significant factor in United States post-war foreign policy.

In response, the ELAS announced the formation of a Communist government, the "Free Greek Government." With about 20,000 to 30,000 guerrillas, the ELAS fought its way south, nearly to Athens.

America's second "Red Scare" also began at this time, and may in fact have been precipitated by the president to forestall attacks from the increasingly volatile right wing of both political parties. In March of 1947, Truman had inaugurated a loyalty program that subjected all federal workers to investigation as to their beliefs. The program was designed to enhance Truman's respectability among the growing number of American anti-Communists, but it set off an anti-Communist hysteria that led to a number of notorious espionage trials and accelerated the rise to national prominence of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

On 22 May 1947, President Truman signed an Interim Aid Bill establishing the American Mission for Aid to Greece (AMAG). Less than a month later, expanding on the principles of the Truman Doctrine, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed his plan for long-term economic recovery for all European nations. By spring 1948, the Marshall Plan was channeling dollars to Europe. Some of the money supplemented AMAG funds for Corps projects already underway.

In the ensuing three years [1947-49], Greece and Turkey received well over $600 million in both United States. military and economic aid. The legislation authorizing that aid stipulated that United States military advisers would administer the programs within the respective countries. By mid-1949 there were over 527 United States armed forces personnel in the Joint United States Military Advisory and Planning Group in Greece and over 400 in a similar organization in Turkey. With the establishment of these units, the administration of military assistance acquired another dimension, that of creating advisory groups which would eventually operate in many areas of the world and involve United States military personnel by the thousands. Thus, the Truman Doctrine was to provide a precedent for the principle of collective security. It was cited as the foundation of subsequent similar programs under the premise that to promote the security and well-being of friendly foreign nations was in the best national interest of the United States.

US financial aid stabilized the Greek government and its military assistance helped force the ELAS back to the north. The Communist party split ended Yugoslavian support. Yugoslavia disagreed with the Soviet Union on certain issues, dividing Communists into supporters of Tito and supporters of Stalin. The Greek Communist Party came to support Stalin and subsequently, Yugoslavia ended its support of the Greek rebels in July 1948. The last significant refuge of the Greek Communists was captured on August 28, 1949. On October 16, ELAS announced its surrender. Rather than stay in Greece, those of the fighters who survived and tens of thousands of other leftists chose exile in camps In neighboring communist countries and in the Soviet Union. After 1949, NOF fighters retreated into Yugoslavia; with them went that part of the Slavic-speaking population who did not share the Greek national identity.

Containment, as a policy launched by the Truman Administration, was designed to frustrate Soviet attempts to expand their military, political, and economic base in Europe. The Greece-Turkey Aid Act of 1947 reflects the policy's initial application. In theory, the policy held that if the Soviet Republic could not expand its influence or borders, communism would eventually collapse of its own inherent weaknesses.

The insurgency resulted in 100,000 killed, 700,000 displaced persons inside the country, and catastrophic economic disruption. This civil war left deep political division in Greek society between leftist and rightist. The civil war inflicted worse damage on Greece than the Second World War itself, and even by the 1990s the wounds had not entirely healed.

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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 23:49:44 ZULU