The following article was written by Roger Casement in November 1915 for The Continental Times of Berlin. It is just one of a series he composed that have lain neglected for over a century. Some of them will appear for the first time since original publication in 1915-16, in a special edition of Irish Foreign Affairs next month.
Casement’s article ‘A Pacific Blockade’ is followed with a commentary by the present writer on its main subject, the Greek tragedy of 1915-22, explaining how Britain violated Greek neutrality in order to press gang the country into its Great War and use it as its catspaw against the Ottoman Turks.
A PACIFIC BLOCKADE.
A new disease appears to have been discovered in London. It was announced at a recent sitting of the Clerkenwell County Court when a medical certificate was handed to the presiding Judge to excuse a subject from his legal obligation on the ground that he was suffering from “War Depression”.
We should say that War Depression is a widely extended malady to-day and probably has its acutest places exhibited in localities very remote from Clerkenwell.
We have known of cases of war depression in America, for instance, and a notable example is to be found in the depression of the English sovereign on the American exchange.
If gold be the “veins of war”, then the English public shows a marked decline of vitality with the golden sovereign down from 4,90 to 4,57.
A new type international malady is chronicled in the London press of the last few days to take its place beside “war depression” first discovered in the same quarter.
This latest form of the complex ailments, from which our civilization is suffering, is termed “a pacific blockade”.
In some “Lost Words to Greece”, uttered on the 22nd November, the Liberal “Daily News” defines in the following words the scope and aim of the new disease which has so providentially been discovered just when needed to aid the cause of the allies in the Balkans.
The specific object in view of those controlling the new international malady is to “assist” the King of Greece to arrive at a “decision” in conformity with their interests.
To achieve this end the friends of Greece have devised a new weapon- we are told they have “ready to their hand a form of pacific pressure to which Greece is peculiarly susceptible.”
This latest development of a war, begun on behalf of the violated neutrality of Belgium, takes the form of a scheme of “pacific pressure” to be exercised on Greek neutrality, which we are told should “be interpreted in a broad rather than a technical sense.” In a technical sense it might be hard to defend, much less to define, but taken in a “broad” sense, its philanthropic aim is at once apparent. Greece is to adopt an attitude of neutrality based on a friendly blockade of her external trade calculated to “paralyse” the entire national life.
Her “extensive carrying trade” is to be brought to a standstill and her means of existence out off by laying her “under a constricting grip at a moment when imports by land are unattainable.”
The Euphenisms of the liberal “Daily News” are exchanged for the rattling of the bared sabre when the conservative “Daily Telegraph” takes up the case for “friendly neutrality” on the part of Greece.
The “pacific pressure” of the organ of the nonconformist Conscience becomes a very antithesis of a “peaceful blockade” in the mouth of the City money leaders. They have no hesitations of speech any more than of conscience. What the Greeks understand we are assured, and what must be applied to their case “is strengths, not too refined in character, and a downright masterfulness which is first cousin to brutality.”
Greece must be “under no illusions as to her position, if she chooses to oppose our projects and must be fully aware that a blockade would be ruinous to her trade, to her shipping and above all to her corn supplies.”
The Allies mean to have their “way”, we are told, “and will use all legitimate means to secure the objects at which they aim.”
We are left in no doubt as to what “legitimate means” involve for this unhappy neutral State, but we should welcome a definition by the “Daily Telegraph”, what illegitimate methods could be employed against a people whose sole desire is to maintain at once their neutrality and peace with their neighbours.
The “Daily Telegraph” assures its London readers that the French are popular with the Greeks “and so are the country-men of Byron”.
Byron came to aid Greece in a war of independence; “the countrymen of Byron” to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future.
If Byron could say in his day “’tis Greece but living Greece no more”, his fellow countrymen to-day are assuredly determined, that the strict fulfilment of the poet’s words shall come to pass a century later.
Not content with occupying Greek territory and marching large forces through it in defiance of the protest of the Greek Government, these friends of Greece and of the small nationalities proceed to assail the very existence of the country they have lawlessly invaded and threaten it with everything short of open acts of war, if it will not “aid their projects.”
COMMENTARY BY PAT WALSH
Roger Casement’s article, ‘A Pacific Blockade’, was found in the Clare County Library (pp/1/48(1)). It was written by Casement on 27 November 1915 and published on 13 December in The Continental Times. It is largely about the British/Allied violation of Greek neutrality during a Great War that England was originally claiming to fight because of a violation of Belgian neutrality.
As Casement noted:
“… a war, began on behalf of the violated neutrality of Belgium, takes the form of a scheme of ‘pacific pressure’ to be exercised on Greek neutrality.”
On 5 October 1915, the British 10th and French 156th Divisions landed at Salonica without the permission of the Greek government on neutral Greek territory. On 23 October additional French and British forces invaded in an effort to force Greece into the Great War on the Allied side. The original two Brigades were reinforced by larger forces until the British 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th Divisions were occupying Greek territory.
What was the “Pacific Blockade” Casement was talking about? The following passage explains:
“Towards the end of 1902, Mr. Balfour, then Prime Minister, was interpellated in the House of Commons as to whether there could or could not be such a thing in international law as a pacific blockade. The immediate occasion for this was the joint action of Great Britain, Germany and Italy in blockading the coast of Venezuela without any formal declaration of war. According to the press dispatches from Germany, the United States had declined to submit to the position of a neutral on the ground that — the status of belligerency not existing — there could be no such thing as a pacific blockade, and Sir Charles Dilke demanded to know whether similar representations had been received at the British Foreign Office. Mr. Balfour answered: ‘I think it is very likely that the United States will think there can be no such thing as a pacific blockade and I personally take the same view. Evidently a blockade does involve a state of war.’ If the answer be somewhat vague as to the attitude of the United States, it at least pretty accurately reflects an objection once widely held by those who professed to speak with the voice of authority. ‘Could there be a greater contradiction than to speak of a pacific blockade!’ exclaimed Gessner in his Le Droit des Neutres sur Mer, published in 1865. To him, such a thing was a ‘monstrous institution.’ (Albert H Washburn, Legality of the Pacific Blockade, p.55)
Albert Hogan in a Preface to a 1908 book, Pacific Blockade, noted that
“It is strange that although Great Britain has been, perhaps more than any other nation, responsible for the practice, there is no work in the English language dealing with it at any length.” (p.3)
The Royal Navy was undoubtedly the chief exponent of the “Pacific Blockade”. It had originated the measure against Norway (1814) during the war against France and had also used it against Portugal (1831), Holland (1832-3), Carthagena (1834), New Granada (1837), the Argentine Confederation (1845-50), Greece (1850), Brazil (1862), Greece (1886), Zanzibar (1888-9), Crete (1897) and Venezuela (1902).
In 1902 Balfour described the “Pacific Blockade” of Venezuela as an act of war. As First Lord of the Admiralty during the Great War he instructed his Navy to impose it on neutral Greece.
England violated Greek neutrality on the first day of the War on Turkey by occupying the harbours of three Greek islands in the vicinity of the Straits. In justifying this action Britain came up with a very ingenious argument. It said that since these islands had been taken by Greece from Turkey in the Balkan Wars and so they were formally still part of the Ottoman Empire. So there was no violation of neutrality, there was simply a conquest of enemy territory.
On January 24, 1915, Edward Grey formally requested that the Greeks enter Britain’s Great War, and in return, Greece would receive parts of Asia Minor.
Irene Willis is very perceptive on why Liberal England showed a great determination to draft in neutral countries to fight its Holy War on Germany:
“As the talk about conscription grew louder, the Liberals became increasingly interested in the mobilisation of other belligerents. The Conservatives were more concerned to conscript at home than abroad. But the Liberals’ dislike of compulsion did not extend to unwillingness to see it operated in other countries. Neither did their aforetime interest in neutrality and in the attempt to localise the conflict incline them to discourage interventionist movements in Italy, Rumania and Greece. On the contrary the Liberal Press was most active in advertising war fervour in these countries and in pointing out the moral and material advantages which would accrue upon their entrance into the war.” (England’s Holy War, p.211)
English Liberalism was opposed to military conscription. A conscript army had been seen as a luxury for an island state without frontiers that only needed to dominate the seas to operate the world market. And it had become a principle of Liberalism to oppose it. That opposition in principle made it necessary, once the Germans had not been defeated quickly, to expand the War and get others to do the fighting for Britain – the fighting that the Liberal Party was reluctant to impose on its own citizens for fear of interfering in their freedoms. So began the process of intimidating and bribing other nations to fight to avoid Conscription at home.
While Liberal England hesitated to compel its own citizens to “Fight the Good Fight” it trumpeted its crusade around the world and went looking for surplus manpower to wage its Holy War. In looking for that manpower the British Government went to the neutral countries of Europe, carrying the message to their people that this was a War of Good versus Evil that it would be morally inexcusable for them to abstain from.
English Liberalism had to turn the War into a great moral crusade of Good versus Evil in order that its Gladstonian substance would support it. This meant that neutrality was almost impossible as countries had to be either ‘for’ or ‘against’ the “war for civilisation”.
This really was an innovation in the conduct of war and gave the Great War its catastrophic character because an accommodation or peace could hardly be made with Evil, particularly for non-conformist Protestants, who made up a great deal of the Liberal rank and file. This moral aspect of Britain’s Great War thwarted all efforts at peace, particularly those of Pope Benedict XV, who tried to put a stop to Europe destroying itself, but failed because the moral power of England trumped him.
The Liberal Imperialists favoured a policy of expansion of the War in a desperate attempt to win it. In France and Belgium the War had got bogged down into a static war of attrition where great casualties were being suffered. The thinking was that if the fringes of Europe, and even Asia, were set ablaze this would let others take the casualties and stretch the forces of the Central Powers wider and wider to weaken their lines. Then the breakthrough would occur on the Western Front.
Basil Thomson of the intelligence services, and later Scotland Yard, who acquired the Black Diaries which were used to blacken Casement’s name as a sexual degenerate, wrote a book called The Allied Secret Service in Greece. In the early pages he describes the political situation in Greece at the start of the European War:
“Greece was in a state of internal peace which has been rare in her history. In 1913 she had emerged victorious from two consecutive Balkan wars in which her King had led her so successfully in the field that her territory had been greatly enlarged. But her people were war-weary, and since the quarrel between Austria and Serbia seemed in no way to concern them, their feeling was for a neutrality benevolent toward England and France. Their sympathies were with the Allies, and if the vital interests of Greece required the sacrifice, the great majority of people were resolved that their country should range herself on the side of the Allies… Not a voice was raised in favour of the Central Powers. No individual Greek could have been described as pro-German, for all the Greek material interests were linked with one or other of the Allied countries.” (The Allied Secret Service in Greece, p. 37)
Britain encouraged a great internal division in Greece to manoeuvre the peaceful country into the Great War.
Right from the outbreak of the Great War the Greek Premier, Eleftherios Venizelos, argued for an unqualified and unconditional Greek entry into the War on the side of the Entente. Venizelos, who had been an insurrectionist in Crete, wanted to use the War to advance Greek interests against the Ottoman Turks and he seems to have been made aware of the British plans to extend the conflict to the Ottoman Empire, even though it was neutral at this time (Churchill was forming a plan to involve the Greek Army in a naval attack on the Dardanelles at this moment and it seems to have been communicated to Venizelos).
Venizelos argued that Greece would never again be presented with an opportunity like the European War – the chance of fighting with so many powerful allies – to gain a “Greater Greece” in Asia Minor.He had as his ultimate dream the Megali idea – a large Greek Empire across the Balkans and Asia Minor on the lines of Byzantium.
The Greek War of Independence created a Greek State with a majority of Greeks inside the territory of the new state but with a sizeable number of Greeks outside in colonies along the Black Sea and the coasts of Asia Minor. That presented the possibility of future Greek irredentist claims on Ottoman Turkey in Anatolia, where ancient Greek communities existed. The Greek contribution to the Ottoman Empire had been substantial and the Greek communities benefited in many areas of commerce, shipping and linguistics as well as enjoying privileged positions with the Porte. But the division between the free Greeks and the large communities of Greeks still inhabiting parts of the Ottoman Empire had implications for what happened to Greece between 1915 and 1922, since it inspired the dream of a “Greater Greece” taking in territories in Asia Minor at that point belonging to the Ottomans.
King Constantine of Greece who “had led her so successfully in the field that her territory had been greatly enlarged” whilst predisposed to the Allies, believed that it was in the interests of Greece that it remained neutral in the European War. He felt that the newly enlarged Greek State, which he himself had helped to enlarge, required a period of consolidation, and not war, if it was to incorporate and develop the new territories and people it had acquired in the course of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13.
The King believed that both Turkey and Bulgaria, the two countries which had issues with Greece regarding territory that the Greeks had prised off them in the wars would ultimately join the Central Powers and determined to keep Greece out of conflict with them. He also calculated that Britain would be an unreliable ally and could not be trusted to make the military commitment necessary to make any gamble worth the risk.
Owing to Greece’s geographical position her existence – and potential expansion – depended on the Powers who controlled the Mediterranean. Her large merchant marine could be destroyed, her islands captured and Athens easily shelled by anyone controlling the Sea. King Constantine, in refusing the Kaiser’s overtures for help at the start of the War told him that “The Mediterranean lies at the mercy of the combined British and French fleets. Without being of any use to the Kaiser we should be wiped off the map.” (The Allied Secret Service in Greece, p. 39)
King Constantine was well aware of the situation of the million or more Greeks inhabiting Constantinople and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, whose position would be made very difficult in the event of a full-scale conflict between Greece and Turkey.
Constantine, a trained military man, saw that such an adventure would be extremely unwise and, unlike his Prime Minister, he listened to military advice on deciding on military matters. The Chief of the General Staff, General Metaxas, who had been involved in compiling a report on taking and holding Western Asia Minor during the Balkan Wars believed that such an enterprise would be beyond the Greek Army. The General concluded that the basis of a Greek colonial venture would be the effete commercial classes of Greeks and Armenians in the vicinity of the town of Smyrna, who were surrounded by seven million hardy Turkish peasants. The long term prospects of survival of such a colony were not good. So Constantine, taking the advise of his Chief of Staff, informed the Entente that in line with his policy of “benevolent neutrality” he would not fight Turkey unless Greece itself was attacked.
As a result of his stand on neutrality King Constantine was denounced as an agent of the Kaiser by British propaganda, including in the Greek newspapers owned in England. Because he was married to the Kaiser’s sister Constantine was handily depicted as the Kaiser’s man, although “Tino” had, in fact, resisted his brother-in-laws’ efforts to court him.
Assuming the Greek Premier could deliver Greek participation in the Great War, Sir Edward Grey offered him a vague promise of “important territorial concessions in Asia Minor” in return for Greek military assistance in January 1915. Britain thus attempted to draw Greece into its Great War on irredentist grounds, as it did with Italy four months later.
The British Foreign Secretary was very careful with his offer, however. The Dardanelles expedition was being planned in England and Grey judged it imperative to promise Constantinople to the Tsar, something that was later formalised in the secret Treaty of London (Constantinople Agreement). Grey explained his actions thus, in a State Paper of November 1916:
“Russia would never have stood five months of reverses in 1915 but for the hope of Constantinople. Even now the assurance of it is absolutely essential to keep Russia up to the mark.” (G.M.Trevelyan, Grey of Fallodon, p. 282)
The Tsar had been brought into the Entente/alliance against Germany with the understanding that perhaps “the Russians shall have Constantinople” with British acquiescence. Through this indication to the Tsar England acquired the Russian Steamroller, vital to the substantial military force needed on Germany’s eastern flank that an alliance with France and Britain, a largely maritime power, could not provide. But Grey knew that the basic reason why Russia was fighting and sacrificing lives was for Constantinople and with the British forcing the Straits, cards had to be finally placed on the table.
Grey’s biographer Trevelyan notes that for this reason although Britain desired Greece’s entry into the War the Greeks had to be kept well away from the Dardanelles and Constantinople “or Russia would go out of the war” (p.282). England needed the Tsar’s massive armies much more than the small Greek army. The Russians vetoed any involvement of the Greeks at the Dardanelles, knowing that Venizelos aspired to possess the city of Constantinople for Greece. So Grey declined Venizelos’s offer in March 1915 to help Britain take Constantinople.
Venizelos’s imagination had been aroused by the offer of the British Foreign Secretary and the Greek Premier attempted to flesh out the detail for his King, arguing that Greece should cede Cavalla, in Eastern Macedonia, to the Bulgarians, to facilitate Britain’s acquisition of allies and encourage the Bulgarians to join the Allies. Venizelos was aware that the concern of the King and General Staff was that Greece could be attacked by the Bulgarians whilst her army was off fighting elsewhere.
The King was against the ceding of Cavalla to the Bulgarians. It was the richest agricultural province within the Greek State and it had been hard won in the Balkan Wars from the Turks. Venizelos suggested to the King that trading Cavalla to the Bulgarians for a hundred times that amount of territory in Asia Minor would be good business and that the Greek inhabitants of Cavalla could be used as colonists to maintain order among the Turks in the future Asia Minor colony.
Venizelos calculated that Greece would double its territory and gain another million to her population. But the General Staff still refused to have anything to do with it, seeing it as the utmost madness.
Venizelos offered three Greek Divisions to the Allies for the Dardanelles expedition, without the knowledge or authorization of the King or Cabinet. Even though the King was totally opposed to this the Premier led the British to believe that he had given his assent to it. When the Greek General Staff learnt that Venizelos had been offering their forces to England without thought of the military implications they were furious and Metaxas, the Chief of Staff, resigned in protest. He had made a systematic study of forcing the Dardanelles and had concluded that such an operation would be doomed to failure because of the strengthening of the Straits defences, the increased efficiency of the Turkish Army under German direction, and the advance warnings already given by the Royal Navy through its earlier attack on St. Patrick’s Day.
Venizelos told the Greek cabinet that the Entente would be in Constantinople in a week and it was best not to miss the bus. There was some enthusiasm within the Greek Cabinet for adopting his proposal but the King stated he would abdicate if the Cabinet agreed to participate in the venture, saying he would rather step down than sanction such a disastrous course that would ruin Greece.
King Constantine and the General Staff were proved correct by the events in the Dardanelles as the implications of the Premier‘s plans became evident. The Ottomans left their Greek citizens unmolested outside some vital strategic coastal areas, whilst the Armenians, who had mounted an Insurrection, were forced into migration from the eastern war zone.
The governor of Smyrna, Rahmi Bey, operated a remarkably tolerant administration toward the 45,000 Greek nationals in the city. Both in Smyrna and Istanbul the flags of the Allied nations were hung out and their victories celebrated openly by the Greeks and Armenians. Whilst England interned anyone suspected of being a racial German the Turks declared business as usual and only demanded that the Turkish born Greeks, many of whom spoke Turkish rather than Greek, be ready for army service. Most in Smyrna avoided it. The Armenians also remained unmolested. British Air Force bombing raids, specifically targeting the city’s Turkish quarter, which killed dozens of people in May 1916, aimed to stir up community tensions but the city governor was able to keep order. (see Giles Milton, Paradise Lost, Smyrna, 1922, pp.72-4, p.86, pp.92-4)
Venizelos finding his proposal for intervention in the War shot down resigned as Premier on 6th March 1915.
On the day of his resignation Allied representatives signed the secret Treaty in London, assigning Constantinople to Russia. The Czar placed a veto on the Greek offer of participation at Gallipoli, seeing the Greeks as a potential rival for the possession of the Byzantine capital. Because of the secret nature of this Treaty the Allied Powers did not communicate its terms to the Greeks. So they had to create a smokescreen around rejection of Venizelos’s offer of help which involved black propaganda against the King.
After the resignation of Venizelos an interim administration was formed under Gounaris which adhered to the same policy as the previous government. However, the new Government submitted proposals as a basis for discussion to the Allies concerning the conditions under which Greece might enter the War. The new Government, in conversations with the Entente, ascertained that Venizelos had exaggerated the vague territorial offer to Greece in Asia Minor made by Edward Grey finding the British Foreign Minister had only offered Smyrna and its hinterland rather than large tracts of Anatolia as he had claimed. So the new Greek administration sought clarification of the deal that might be on offer if Greece eventually decided to enter the War on a calculation of its own interests.
The Greek Government wanted the Allies to guarantee the territorial integrity of Greece after the War, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire to secure any Greek gains in Asia Minor, and exact details of war materials and finance available to the Greeks, along with the defining of the territorial gains on offer to her. If these details were provided, Gounaris offered to fully commit to the War on the Allied side.
But the Entente preferred the Venizelos offer – unlimited Greek commitment for undefined objectives, and did not take any notice of the new, more limited, Greek offer.
There was good reason to show why great care was required in dealings with Britain. Serbia, the ally, and Greece, the neutral, found out that Grey had already made formal offers of their territories to Bulgaria to encourage her into the War. In the case of “gallant Serbia” this was an outrageous stab in the back, because it was, supposedly, for her integrity that the Entente had went into the European War. And in the case of Greece the Entente was offering the territory of a neutral state, and a friendly one at that, to another state that had always been inclining toward the enemy (England had a much higher opinion of the Bulgars as fighters than the Greeks from their performances in the Balkan Wars).
The knowledge of this double and triple dealing brought the relations of the Entente Powers with the Gounares Government to an end.
However, the effect of the Venizelist offers was to create a situation whereby Venizelos began to regard himself alone as the national will of Greece personified and the Entente to regard Venizelos alone as synonymous with the national will of Greece. In countless British accounts of the time, including Churchill’s and Esher’s, Venizelos is described as “imaginative” and “far-seeing” while the King is portrayed as a short-sighted ditherer or enemy agent.
On August 3rd 1915 the Allies passed a note to the Greek Government calling them to cede Eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria on a promise of compensation in Asia Minor. This was an eleventh hour bribe to keep the Bulgarians out of the ranks of the Central Powers by offering them part of a country – Greece – the Allies had no jurisdiction over. However, in the meantime the Serbian leadership discovered the details of the secret Treaty of London whereby Italy was promised large areas on the Adriatic Coast (that the Serbs had their eye on for a Greater Serbia) in return for their entry into the War. This scotched Britain from offering any other Serbian territory to Bulgaria in order to bribe her into the War.
In September 1915 Bulgaria mobilised her army and signalled her intent to join the Central Powers. Grey offered Cyprus to Greece if she would join the War at this point, despite the Cyprus Convention. Treaties and long-standing international agreements became mere “scraps of paper” when the bit came to the bit.
The Allied Ministers let it be known that if Greece refused to hand over Cavalla to the Bulgarians pressure would be brought to bear and to demonstrate this was no idle threat the Royal Navy began to detain Greek shipping and harass its life-blood of sea-borne trade, to show what was in store for the country if it resisted the English embrace.
King Constantine held his ground, but the Greek King’s refusal to surrender territory for a Bulgarian bribe increased the Allied naval pressure on Greece.
Venizélos returned to power in August 1915 after the resignation of Gounaris. The Greek public were unaware of the manoeuvring that the ex-Premier had been doing behind the scenes with the Allies and saw him as the representative of a unified neutral Government, in unity with the King. The dispute over Greek neutrality between Venizelos and the King was seemingly patched up when Venizelos returned as Prime Minister, having accepted to serve in the Government under a policy of neutrality. The publication of the Allied demand for Eastern Macedonia had produced a wave of indignation in Greece and Venizelos would have found it very difficult to openly advocate joining the War at this point in time and remain in power. Despite advocating the very policy the Allies were now demanding of Greece he dared not endorse it publicly and it seemed as if he had bowed to the King‘s wisdom in affairs of State. Venizelos was, however, biding his time.
After the Bulgarians had begun to mobilise Venizelos urged the King to enter the War on the side of the Entente, using his election as a sign of the popular will. The King agreed to mobilise the Greek Army in response to the Bulgarian mobilisation but refused to go any further than his stated position of armed neutrality.
At the start of the European War the question of Greece’s stance in relation to Serbia had emerged. Greece had a mutual defence Convention with Serbia, due to King Constantine’s efforts between the First and Second Balkan Wars. There were those in the Entente who hoped this Convention would bring Greek military assistance to the Serbs but it only provided for Greek assistance to Serbia, and vice-versa, in relation to a Bulgarian attack. This was tested when Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia and Greece saw itself as having no obligations to the Serbians, unless Bulgaria entered the war against Serbia as well.
King Constantine had made an offer to the Allies in late August 1914 of aiding the Serbians with 180,000 men on strict condition that this army was not used anywhere other than in the immediate theatre of war, so that, in the event of a Bulgarian attack, it could be pulled back to defend Greece. This was done outside the Convention.
Bulgaria was neutral, but one of Constantine’s concerns was that a Greek mobilisation would provoke a parallel Bulgarian mobilisation and an allying of Sofia with the Central Powers. Britain had the same concern, but had been secretly making plans for an offer of territory, at the expense of Greece and Serbia, to gain the Bulgarians as part of the Allies. So the King’s offer was turned down by Edward Grey.
According to the 1913 Convention between Greece and Serbia the Serbs were required to supply 150,000 troops in the event of a conflict with Bulgaria. Under an annex to the Treaty the two armies were to form a line facing north-east, with the Serbs taking the north flank and the Greeks the south. If one of the parties failed to take up their position the overall stipulations of the Convention were deemed to fall. But overall, the Convention was meant to defend Macedonia from Bulgarian attack and never envisaged to be applicable to deal with a conflict with the Austro-Hungarians, or a World War.
The Greek King had requested assistance from Serbia just before the Great War when he feared that the British building of two powerful battleships for the Ottomans would encourage Istanbul toward war with Greece. The Serbs told Constantine that the Convention was not applicable and Greece took it that it had been therefore abrogated – until England raised it as an issue in 1915.
Throughout late 1914/early 1915 when the Entente were trying to induce the Greeks to march to the aid of Serbia, and offering them Ottoman territory as an inducement to do so, the Greeks pointed out that they could not send their army to the north leaving Salonika open to attack from Bulgaria, and whilst they stayed put Bulgaria was unlikely to move. The Greeks urged the Serbs to abandon their line on the Danube, which was getting dangerously exposed, and to join them on a line against Bulgaria, which would activate the Treaty of 1913. This was sensible but the Serbs, encouraged by the praise heaped upon them for their effective resistance to Austria, got over-confident. Then, under pressure from the Allies, they declined to retreat.
With the Serbians fighting on the Danube line they were in no position to supply their armies. So Venizelos sought to use the Convention in another way to end Greek neutrality. Without the knowledge of the King or Cabinet he contacted the Entente in private inquiring if they were willing to make up the Serbian contribution with French or British troops. The Allies, realising the opportunity to break the Greek’s neutral status, replied immediately that they would send 150,000 soldiers. When King Constantine got wind of what was happening he warned Venizelos of the consequences of this violation of Greek neutrality, particularly since the activation of the Convention was only supposed to come into effect in the event of war with Bulgaria – and Bulgaria was still neutral. He argued that the landing of Entente troops in Greece was most likely to be the provocation that would bring the Bulgarians into the war. The Premier communicated the King’s wishes to the Entente governments and that seemed to be that.
But the Entente, seizing the opportunity, went ahead and despatched an army to Salonika – in spite of the Greek Government’s position of neutrality. Bulgaria then entered the war.
Compton Mackenzie, the famous novelist and then a British Intelligence Officer in Greece, described this duplicity as an example of Edward Grey’s “capacity for self-deception” and “an example of Whig mentality.” (Greek Memories, p.152)
As Casement pointed out the difference between Liberals and Unionists regarding Greece was one of form rather than substance. The Liberals, with their moral sensibilities and conscious of how they had been brought to support the War, talked of executing “a form of pacific pressure to which Greece is peculiarly susceptible” (Daily News, 22.11.15) and used “euphemisms” to minimise the aggression implied in such threats. The British action against neutral Greece was to merely “assist the King of Greece to arrive at a decision” – namely the right one. It was meant that the Greeks “saw sense”, which really means co-operating with the transient British interest.
English Liberalism had a soft spot for the Greeks partly due to the central part the Classics played in an Englishman’s education. Manchester Capitalism had also developed an economic alliance with Greek merchants, backing Greek nationalism with the interests of the Baltic Corn Exchange. The Gladstones of Liverpool had entered into extensive commercial connections with Greek merchants and their trading networks, for the mutual benefit.
In the early nineteenth century the Greeks had become the chief carriers of merchandise in the Mediterranean and they monopolised the lucrative Black Sea trade in corn. They were the sailors of the Ottoman Empire and owned most of the Italian merchant marine.
However, from Britain’s viewpoint their assets were also their vulnerable spot. The Royal Navy was very experienced in the seizure of maritime trade and had a speciality in starvation blockade. This is what it’s function was for more than a century when Britannia ruled the waves. On top of this Greek settlements were very exposed to the guns of British battleships due to the geography of the country.
The Tory/Unionist press was more forthright in its threats to the Greeks to do England’s bidding – or else!
The diaries of the famous Liberal journalist C.P.Scott reveal the differences of opinion within the British State over how Greek neutrality should be dealt with. The Unionists were for conducting the War thoroughly and they for no nonsense military intervention. Lord Carson wanted an attack on Vienna mounted from Salonika. The Prime Minister Asquith was for intervention in Greece if a popular movement existed that Britain could point to in order to justify intervention. Lloyd George was of the opinion that Venizelos needed British might to be applied in the general region in order that a popular movement against the King could be cultivated and to swing the Greek people behind him.
Sir Edward Grey was paralysed by his reliance on the Tsar and his Steamroller. The French were pushing for direct military action to coerce Greece but Grey was mindful “that to encourage a revolutionary movement against the King of Greece would be much resented by the Emperor of Russia and might in consequence have unfavourable influence on Franco-British relations with Russia.” (September 1, 1916, Trevelyan, p.289)
In an interview with Gilbert Murray in January 1918 Grey also conceded that he had hesitated over the deposing of King Constantine because he feared Greece could not be defended after such an event (p.302).
Britain generally took the position that Greece was made by England and so it was under a moral obligation through a debt to its creator to do England’s bidding.
England had had a long history of interference in the affairs of the Greeks and regarded this interference as a matter of routine. Arguing for further interference during 1916 Ronald Montague Burrows, Professor of Greek and Principal of King’s College, London, noted:
“As we created Greece at Navarino, so we recreated it in 1863, and the letter of the original guarantee must be construed in the spirit of the Treaty of 1863, and of the interference in the internal affairs of Greece which that Treaty crystallized.” (The New Europe, 19th October, 1916.)
Professor Burrows was adviser on Greek affairs to the British Cabinet and simultaneously to Venizelos during 1915. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this entry for him:
“He… was principal of King’s College, London, from 1913 to 1920, the period when he devoted much time to modern Greek affairs. His plan for bringing Greece into World War I was adopted by the British Cabinet in 1915. A confidant and adviser to the Greek statesman Eleuthérios Venizélos, he was chosen to be the Greek provisional government’s semi-official representative in London (1916)”.
Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire until the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s. Britain, with Lord Byron to the fore, had intervened in this war on the Greek’s behalf in the decisive naval engagement, destroying the Turkish fleet at Navarino, and making a Greek victory possible. A French army completed the process.
In 1832 the Greeks had wanted a Liberal Republican State but they had been straight jacketed by a monarchy complete with foreign King by the guarantors who, at that time, not long after the French Revolution, did not want to promote liberal democracies in Europe. So the Greek King, to a great extent, was the representative of the three great Powers of Europe, because his position was derived from their power over Greece, and they were always inclined to believe he should be their man (or not be king at all).
Burrows pointed out the fact that the Greek King Otho had been forced into accepting a Constitution by Britain and when he had refused to abide by it he had been deposed in 1862. In 1863 England put Prince William of Denmark (father of King Constantine) on the throne of Greece and defined the political status of the Greek State as “a monarchical, independent and constitutional state” in a Treaty with Denmark.
At the time of the Crimean War, Greece, under King Otho, was in favour of going to war with Turkey on the side of Russia. But France and England, who were in alliance with Turkey against Russia, would not allow it. King Otho was told that strict neutrality was the only policy consonant with the interests of Greece. The Allies landed troops at Athens to compel obedience to their will. The Greek sovereign was put on notice for daring to adopt an independent Greek policy.
The Royal Navy operated periodic “Pacific Blockades” against the Greeks to rein in their irredentist passions when over-enthusiasm threatened to disturb Britain’s relations with the Ottoman Empire. Greece was seen as the creature of England in the region and it is no wonder that a Greek State has found it so difficult to consolidate itself with such regular interference over more than a century (1830-1945).
King Constantine was portrayed in British propaganda as a pro-German for doing the opposite to King Otho and declaring his country neutral.
As Andre Siegfried observed:
“When circumstances alter, the British have the gift of adapting themselves very quickly to new conditions without dwelling upon what is past. Old principles, old ideas, old memories do not influence them. It is, however, very disconcerting to those of their associates who cannot change their attitude with the same facility.” (L’Angleterre d’aujourd’hui, p.19)
The difference between 1855 and 1915 was that at the former time the English and French compelled the Greeks to neutrality whilst in the latter they were attempting to compel the country to make war. But in both cases Greece was taken to have no independent existence, or an independent existence only when it suited.
Professor Burrows, who like many others regarded the Greek State as a creation of England, urged the Government he advised to keep up the tradition of interference, which, he argued, had apparently been given formal status by international Treaty. The Liberal Daily News concurred with this view declaring in its Leader of June 23rd 1916 that because England had freed the Greeks at Navarino, drafted their Constitution, and become the country’s guarantor, it was “warranted in taking any measures for the protection of their ward.”
Burrows was not an advocate of Grey’s ultimatum to Greece. He was in favour of the British Government putting its money where its mouth was, recalling the Ambassador, and declaring open support for Venizelos. This course, if Grey had been prepared to openly take it, would have logically resulted in a Venizelist coup d’etat and probably Greek civil war. But Grey, with enough Gladstonian sensibilities within him to paralyse his mind, did not feel predisposed to risking it.
Professor Burrows believed that England should have simply invaded Greece under Article VIII of the Protocol of 1830 that suggested: “No troops belonging to one of the contracting Powers shall be allowed to enter the new Greek State without the Consent of the two other Courts who signed the Treaty.” Since England, France and Russia had been the contracting Powers of Greek independence they had the right to overrule that independence indefinitely, according to the Professor.
This was casuistry called in to mask the exigencies of policy. The dethronement of the monarch was advocated not because it was lawful but because it was required as a war interest by England.
Venizélos protested in a telegram to London at how his question to the British had been turned into an invitation to invade – but he did so with a winking eye. And he proceeded to then announce to the Greek Parliament, with the knowledge that Entente forces were on their way, his belief that Greece should fight Turkey, Germany and Austro-Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, under the terms of the 1913 Treaty.
Venizelos’s statement in Parliament was entirely contrary to the Greek Constitution, which laid down that declarations of war and conclusions of peace were solely Royal prerogatives.
In Britain it was pretended that it was King Constantine, the so-called “agent of the Kaiser,” who had acted unconstitutionally in dismissing the Venizelos Government. Venizelos went along with that fiction, even though he knew better, and it is in numerous British accounts of the affair. But Article Thirty One of the Greek Constitution, that was given to Greece by Britain and France, stated: “The King appoints and dismisses his Ministers.” Article Ninety Nine stated that “No foreign army may be admitted to the Greek service without a special law, nor may it sojourn in or pass through the state.” And yet Venizelos had connived at this without any law permitting it.
It was also part of the Greek system that the King’s consent was a requirement for an amending of the Constitution and the King had the final say on external affairs. This was probably a stipulation of the creators of Greece so that only one individual needed to be influenced/pressured in the “birth place of democracy”. But now “democracy” of a compliant form was being encouraged to sweep away the Constitution that was hindering the new British interest.
A new Government was formed after the resignation of Venizelos and this pledged to continue to uphold Greek neutrality – despite the presence of Allied troops on its territory.
As Casement wrote “A Pacific Blockade” the Great War England had declared on Germany and Ottoman Turkey was going badly. In the late autumn of 1915 there was stalemate on the Western Front, the Royal Navy was making little headway in the War, Serbia was falling and neutrals were resisting enlistment, or even going over to the enemy. Worst of all the Gallipoli invasion was seen to have failed and this was a mighty blow to British prestige – the main thing that was seen as keeping the lesser peoples it ruled in check.
Lord Esher, a spider at the heart of the web of State that had planned and directed the Great War, was aware that the Germans could now link up with the Turks to break the encirclement organised by England against Berlin. He confided to his journal:
“If the Germans get to Constantinople, that is the moment when they will be at the apogee of their power. The Kaiser will select it very probably to make ostensibly reasonable peace proposals through the United States President. Wilson will be confronted in December with an awkward question, raised by the humanitarians and supported by the Germans, as to the propriety of supplying the Allies with materials which enable them to carry on the war. The political situation may tempt Wilson to put forward peace proposals, and possibly to support them. If they offer to create a new Poland, to give compensations to Russia, to give Alsace and Lorraine to France, and Trieste to Italy, restoring Belgium with the exception of Antwerp, taking the Congo instead of the German Colonies, and suggesting a treaty containing international arrangements for what they call the Freedom of the Seas, peace, and an unpleasant one for us, will be in sight. Certainly such proposals would divide public opinion, both in England and France.” (15.10.15)
This is the authentic Great War Britain was fighting and the one that Casement understood, behind all the moral platitudes of the propagandists.The World War had not been planned, declared and waged by Britain to ensure peace and stability in Europe and its hinterlands. It was being fought to assert world supremacy. And a draw was tantamount to a defeat in any bid for the highest stakes.
Lord Esher and most of his senior military contacts were opposed to the Salonika expedition as a useless and belated diversion of the British War effort. They believed that the Germans had to be ground down in a great war of attrition that, though it might cost dear, was essential to a thorough defeat of the enemy. Lord Kitchener, who was close to Esher, threatened to resign over it. Esher contended that if the Liberals wanted to embark on adventures all over the map they should be raising the armies necessary for such operations through Conscription of the population.
Lloyd George had warned for months that Serbia was likely to fall if it was not supported by its Allies. The Western Fronters had ridiculed his suggestion that the Germans/Austrians might break through when they were penned down by the war of attrition in France. But Lloyd George was proved right by the end of 1915 as Serbia collapsed. The Guardian of the Gates was gone and Lloyd George got his expedition to Salonika to reseal them.
By the end of 1915 a British (with Irish contingent) and French army composed of 13 divisions and 350,000 men had landed at Salonika, in spite of Greek neutrality – even though a similar German violation of Belgian neutrality had supposedly brought Britain to declare a Great War on Germany for the same violation of international law. It was claimed that the Allied armies in Salonika were there to fight for the Serbs. But by this time the Serbian front was collapsing. So it made little sense to move forces to the area, where they would be effectively bottled up. But there they stayed.
Churchill talks openly about the real purpose of the Salonika expedition in his World Crisis, where he states:
“As a military measure to aid Serbia directly, the landing at this juncture of allied forces at Salonika was absurd. The hostile armies concentrating on the eastern and northern frontiers of Serbia were certain to overwhelm and overrun that country before any effective aid, other than Greek aid, could possibly arrive. As a political move to encourage and determine the action of Greece, the despatch of allied troops to Salonika was justified.” (p. 585)
The Salonika operation which was bolstered by the evacuation of the British 10th Division from Gallipoli was really about putting pressure on neutral Greece and Rumania. And the British Prime Minister, Asquith, with this threat of force in mind, warned the Greeks and Rumanians of the consequences of their continued neutrality and failure to be irredentists:
“A united Rumania, a united Greece, is possible if these nations can rise to the height of their opportunity. If Greece or Rumania consider Greece Irredenta, or Transylvania, not worth fighting for they will never receive them in the end, for a government and nation which will not risk its life for its enslaved brethren is a government and nation unfit by such cowardice to be given the privilege of ruling over them, even if liberated by other hands.” (Freeman’s Journal, 15 November 1915)
Irredentism is seen universally as a bad thing these days. But it was a positive virtue for Britain in waging its War. To fail to be an aggressive racial nationalist, wanting to conquer all the territory a nation claimed, was tantamount to cowardice. Except within Britain’s Empire, that is, where national self-determination was prone to be treated, as Casement found out, as Treason.
Despite the threats from Britain to Greek neutrality, the King stood firm. In January 1916 Constantine re-emphasized his policy of “benevolent neutrality” toward Britain and he requested the Allies to leave Greek territory – since with Serbia knocked out of the war they had no purpose in being there. He restrained his Army from defending Greek territory from the Allied occupation forces – perhaps sensibly – and simply requested the invaders to leave. All the time the Allies wished for a “provocation” from the Greeks, i.e a defence of their sovereign territory, to justify a full-blooded thrust toward Athens.
On January 21st 1916 the Liberal Daily News, which employed the German violation of Belgian neutrality to encourage its pacifist readership to become warmongers had this to say about the Allied violations of Greek neutrality:
“It is evident that the business-like measures the Allies are taking for their protection on land and sea have inspired the King with lively resentment. That is not altogether astonishing. The conditions under which the Allies are encamped, and will soon be fighting, on neutral soil are an anomaly without parallel in modern warfare, and they involve inevitably an attitude equally anomalous towards the neutrality of Greece. Apart from the occupation of the Salonika zone, her railways have been cut, her bridges blown up, certain of her islands borrowed, and Consuls accredited to her put under arrest. Such facts cannot and need not be disguised. They call for no defence from the Allies, for Greece has no one to thank for them but herself.”
That said all that was necessary to say of the moral collapse of English Liberalism as its principles were whittled away in the Great War effort.
By this time the Allies had occupied Lemnos, Imbros, Macedonia, Corfu, Salonika and the Chalkis peninsula of Greek territory and the Royal Navy lay off the coasts of the Greek mainland in force harassing Greek ships.
On 21st June 1916 the Allies issued an ultimatum to Greece. The Allied Governments stated that they were not demanding an end to Greek neutrality but put forward demands that would ensure the Greeks went along with the Allies’ project. It was demanded of the Greek Government that they immediately and totally demobilize their army, replace the present Cabinet by a new Coalition Ministry to the satisfaction of the Allies, dissolve the legislative Chamber and hold fresh elections and replace the senior police in Athens with those acceptable to Britain and France. It was also made clear that if the Greeks did not oblige Athens would be flattened by the Royal Navy and the King and his family dealt with in the same way as Louis XVI.
This ultimatum was backed up by a demonstration of force in Allied occupied Greece. The French General Sarrail, in command of forces at Salonika, had recommended that the Allies “strike at the head, attack frankly and squarely the one enemy – the King.” Britain concurred, and on St. Constantine’s Day, when Salonika was honouring the King with a Te Deum, Martial Law was proclaimed by the Allies on territory that was not theirs. Allied detachments with machine guns occupied strategic points, the Macedonian gendarmerie and police were expelled, and the press was placed under an Allied censor.
On 6th June a Royal navy blockade of the Greek coasts was established and on the 16th, to back up the ultimatum, a squadron was ordered to be ready to bombard Athens, while a brigade was embarked at Salonica for the same destination. Before the guns opened fire, it was planned that hydro-planes would drop bombs on the Royal Palace; then troops would land, occupy the town, and proceed to arrest, among others, the Royal family that the English and French had put on the Greek throne.
In the Battle of Athens of December 1916 a force of 4000 French and British troops were landed in Athens after the King had protested the positioning of 10 battalions of Allied Artillery on neutral Greek territory. When Greek soldiers and the citizens of Athens drove them off, with over a hundred fatalities to the French and British, a state of official war was only just avoided. The British regarded the effective Greek defence and defeat of the coup de main as a provocation.
To save the capital from the guns of the Royal Navy King Constantine complied with the four demands of the Allies, and a new Ministry with Ententists included was appointed to carry on the administration of the country until the election of a new Chamber. The chief of police was replaced to the Allied satisfaction and the Army began to be demobilised. The demobilisation of the Greek Army had an immediate effect as irregular bands of Bulgarians invaded Cavalla. Instead of the Allies resisting this activity the King was condemned for being unwilling to defend his country with his demobilized army, with the suggestion that the Allied Army could do this for him.
In response to the Greek acquiescence to their demands the Allies lifted the Royal Navy blockade but restricted the importing of foodstuffs into Athens – thereby keeping the people on short rations, with the understanding that they were existing in any amount of freedom only under Allied sufferance.
The General Election, which the Entente demanded through the guns of their battleships, was due to be held in September 1916 and this time the issue was clear. It would have given the Greek people an open choice between neutrality and War, under the threat levelled at them from the Royal Navy’s guns.
Perhaps it would have been like the Treaty election of 1922 in Ireland, with the Greeks bowing to the threat of force. But we will never know.
Rather than contest the election Venizelos stole out of Athens, accompanied by approximately one hundred of his supporters, in September 1916, with the help of the French Secret Service and he went to his homeland in Crete. He then took the head of a rival Greek Provisional government established by the Allies at Salonika. The Allied objective was to create a new government that would lead Greece into the War on the side of the Allies. The British and French supported the new government substantially with arms and money and its military forces.
On November 23, Venizelos’s new Government, established by the Allied armies in Thessalonica declared war against Bulgaria and Germany in order to legitimize itself.
On November 19th 1916 the British announced a new full blockade of Greece and demanded the withdrawal of Greek troops from Salonika, the handing over of road and rail networks in the area and supply bases in Greek territorial waters. The Royal Navy blockade of Greece was designed to force Greece into the War, or else bring about a regime change in Greece that saw Venizelos in charge at Athens, so that he would bring the Greeks into the War.
On 9 December 1916, two days before he left the Foreign Office, Sir Edward Grey agreed to “the decision to coerce the Greek Government”. He told General Robertson: “Diplomacy in war is futile, without military success to back it.”
Grey’s biographer concedes:
“French policy… of coercing the Greek Royalist party, eventually carried the day. British policy, for which Kitchener, Grey and the Cabinet were all responsible, had not shown clarity or strength. We had never effectively resisted the French purpose, or proposed a real alternative, yet we hampered and delayed it, and… prevented a firm hand in the Near East. The desire not to interfere with the internal affairs of Greece and not to violate her neutrality was a respectable motive, but was it a time and place to be respectable, and was our respectability saved in the end? These are difficult questions.” (G.M. Trevelyan, p.290)
The dilemmas of fighting a Great War with a good conscience!
Sir Edward Grey idea hoped to encourage the Greek people into rebellion against their King by intimidating and starving them. But the blockade failed in its objective of getting the Greeks to abandon King Constantine and force regime change to the Allied liking.
So, in May 1917 the British and French decided on a three stage programme to ensure Greek entry into the War. It was agreed that the semblance of freedom of action should be left to the Greeks so that the Allies would not be seen to be involved in a direct military coup against King Constantine. The Allies instead decided to seize the wheat crop of Thessaly, upon which the entire Greek population depended for bread; to seize the Corinth Isthmus, cutting off the Greek Army from the capital and deliver an ultimatum to Constantine demanding the immediate entry of Greece into the War. And it was decided that direct force would then be applied to the situation in Athens if Constantine refused to comply.
The Allied military occupation of Thessaly and Corinth, coupled with a Royal Navy threat to bombard Athens, finally had the desired effect and it forced Constantine to quit. The presence of the British Army at Salonika, the starvation blockade by the Royal Navy and the seizure of the harvest by Allied troops had the result of a widespread famine in the neutral nation that finally forced the surrender of Constantine.
The King decided to save his people by sacrificing his throne on 11th June 1917. There were scenes of turmoil in Athens as large crowds tried to prevent the King’s departure but Constantine was left with no alternative and he urged his people to remain calm and resolute in the face of the invasion forces.
The Allies treaded carefully due to events in Russia. They would not allow a Republic. But they would not have Constantine’s eldest son, Prince George, as replacement for his father either. So Prince Alexander, the young second son of Constantine, whom they believed to be more malleable, was given the throne. Venizelos entered Athens with the French Army and Greece formally joined the War on the Allied side.
The invasion of neutral Greece, the overthrow of its government and the occupation of its territory by Britain and France involved, according to the English biographer of Venizelos, “deciding to invoke their obligations as ‘protecting powers’ who had promised to guarantee a constitutional form of government for Greece at the time the Kingdom was created.” (H.Gibbon, Venizelos, p.299)
Venizelos had committed Treason against his King, setting up a rival government in Macedonia in collaboration with foreign powers who were violating the nation’s territory. So care had to be taken to end the civil war that was developing in Greece and smooth over the antagonisms that had developed as a result of Allied actions. The Blockade was lifted, vessels that had been seized were returned to the Greek merchants and the war that was declared by Venizelos in Macedonia was transferred with him to Athens and taken on by the Greek State.
That was only the start of the Greek tragedy.
Casement was proved more prophetic than he ever lived to see when he said that “the countrymen of Byron to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future.”
The political and military assault launched by Britain on neutral Greece led to the subsequent Greek tragedy in Anatolia because the puppet government under Venizélos, installed in Athens through Allied bayonets, was subsequently enlisted as a catspaw to bring the Turks to heal after the Armistice at Mudros. The Greeks were presented with the town of Smyrna in May 1919 and, encouraged by Prime Minister Lloyd George, advanced across Anatolia toward where a Turkish democracy had re-established itself, at Ankara, after it had been suppressed in Istanbul by British occupation.
The Greek expansion into Asia Minor was a joint venture of Lloyd George, Venezelos and the mysterious Sir Basil Zaharoff, the “man from God know’s where”. Zaharoff, the millionaire chief agent of the British arm’s manufacturing firm Vickers had developed a financial and political relationship of mutual benefit with Lloyd George. Zaharoff had funded the Greek expansionary wars of previous decades and rose to prominence in England in supplying Lloyd George with cheap shells that helped undermine Lord Kitchener and made the Liberal’s career in the Minister of Munitions – as well as a tidy profit. When he became Prime Minister Lloyd George made Zaharoff chief munitions agent for the Allies. Zaharoff nursed the desire to put the Greeks back into Constantinople and in control of Anatolia.
Britain was using the Greeks and their desire for a new Byzantium in Anatolia to get the Turkish national forces that had appeared to resist subjugation to submit to the punitive Treaty of Sèvres, and the destruction of not only the Ottoman State but Turkey itself.
Lloyd George was a fierce anti-Turk who believed in the crushing of the Ottomans as a greater imperative than even the crushing of Germany. After its Great War Britain was virtually bankrupt and the Prime Minister had made the promise to demobilise the army immediately in order to win a snap election he called just after the Armistices. So he employed the Greeks as an Imperial catspaw. At the Sevres Peace Conference in August 1920 the Greeks obtained great slices of territory in Turkish Anatolia that Britain had previously promised to Italy to lure it into the War. The Greek Army was thereafter employed by Britain to do the imposing of the Treaty of Sèvres which British dictated to the Ottoman Sultan with an occupation force in Istanbul and Royal Navy guns pointed at the city. Venizelos and his government were charged to do the work that British Imperial forces were unable to undertake.
In October 1920 the British imposed puppet, King Alexander, inopporortunely died from the bite of a monkey. Venizelos returned to Athens from the head of his victorious army in Anatolia. The conquering hero of the new Byzantium decided to call an election to legitimise his rule, which had, after all, come about through an act of Treason and collaboration with foreign powers. The Greek people, however, had not forgotten. Venizelos lost his seat and the election and through a plebiscite the people invited King Constantine to return and resume his reign.
The King, surveying the Greek military position in Anatolia, which seemed to be excellent, decided to continue the military adventure begun by Venizelos. He had the choice of retreating back to the coast and defending the Greek colonies from a Turkish advance or throwing everything at the Turks to finish them off and secure a settlement from the victory. Victory would presumably mean that the British were off his back. So Constantine ordered the Greek advance toward Ankara at a cracking pace, where the Turks had regrouped for a final stand.
But the British-financed 200,000 strong Greek Army was thoroughly beaten, just short of the new Turkish capital, after being skilfully manoeuvred into a position, by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in which the Greek lines were severely stretched. The Conservative backbenchers in the Coalition Government used the event to rein in the Prime Minister’s military support of the Greeks. The Greek State had been bankrupted by the British pressure of the previous years and was totally reliant on England financially for its expansionary adventure in Asia Minor.
The Greek army, after rallying and putting up resistance for a year, went into full retreat and it employed a scorched-earth policy to Turkish villages as it fled. The Greek population, fearful of the consequences of their actions, went with them. The ancient Greek community of Asia Minor that had lived peacefully and prospered under Ottoman rule for centuries now fled on boats from a burning Smyrna, with the remnants of their army.
This was the ultimate British betrayal of the Greeks, who they had encouraged and bullied into the Great War with promises of the fulfilment of irredentist dreams, only to be left in the lurch at the vital moment because the Greek democracy had voted to return their King. England washed its hands of Greece and blamed King Constantine, who had all the time resisted their attempts to cajole the Greeks into the catastrophe.
Churchill justified the British let down of Greece thus:
“It would be absurd to ask the British or French democracy to make sacrifices or efforts for a people whose real spirit was shown by their choice of such a man… For the sake of Venizelos much had to be endured, but for Constantine less than nothing.” (World Crisis – Aftermath, p.388)
It was not Britain who betrayed Greece but apparently the ungrateful Greeks who had betrayed England! The Turks were now the substance to take account of in the region.
It was a death sentence on the Anatolian Greek community which paid the price, like many other peoples that had been similarly implicated in Britain’s Great War.
Greece itself was deluged with a million homeless and penniless refugees who had left everything in Asia Minor. During the next decade and a half no less than nineteen changes of government took place and three changes of regime. The finances of the Greek government collapsed under the double strain of the cost of settlement of the refugees and the world economic crisis resulting from the Great War. Greece became bankrupt and had to suspend the service of her foreign loans. Has it ever recovered?
With regard to affairs in relation to Greece England assigned one of its foremost historians, Arnold Toynbee, to the project of creating an account that, if not absolving England of all responsibility for what happened to Greece, at least deflected the blame onto other parties. The purpose of this was evidently to create an understanding that the whole affair had all the atmosphere of a terrible tragedy that really could never have been imagined before the event. Toynbee’s account portrays the events that led to the Greek catastrophe as having originated in the base characteristics of a foreign people who did not possess the qualities of those who interfered with them – it being a typical failing of inferior breeds that they just do not know when to stop, when the game is up, and when discretion was the better part of valour, as England does.
Toynbee wrote the following in 1922 to explain the turn of events:
“A game played with living pieces may be a cruel spectacle, and, half through her own fault, Greece has been the principle victim. The fault is only half hers, for at first she struggled hard not to be drawn into the rivalries between the Power, and the struggle cost her her internal unity. But instead of commonsense and moderation prevailing, as since the armistice they have begun to prevail in the West, they were overborne by the pressure of the Entente Powers and the imperious personality of Mr. Venizelos; and Greece, more than ever divided at home, was pushed into that foreign policy of reckless aggrandisement towards which the blind herd-instinct under the surface of her politics was all the time impelling her. At last, fatally at war within herself and at the same time fatally united for war against a neighbouring nation, she was brought to a point from which she could neither reach internal or external peace, nor retreat without loss or even disaster. The world has sympathised with the personal tragedy of Mr. Venizelos. There is a greater pathos in the national tragedy of his country…
“Mr. Venizelos… grasped at such excessive territorial prizes that he failed to secure the greater prize of peace. Being a statesman of great force and great charm of character, he has been able to give ample effect to his policy, and when it has been mistaken, his country has therefore suffered its consequences to the full…
“Neutrality, during the whole period during which we respected the King’s legitimate claim to insist upon it, was more prudent for Greece, and more dignified, than the purchase of territory by intervention; and it makes for the general betterment of international relations if small states always and everywhere keep as clear as possible of the rivalries between Great Powers. Indeed, King Constantine was not alone in his views. Possibly a majority among the politically educated people in Greece agreed with him…
“Every event… raises controversial issues. Did the elections and by-elections of 1915 prove or not that Mr. Venizelos was supported by a majority of the Greek nation? If he was, had the King a right to dismiss and exclude him from office? Did her treaty with Serbia legally and morally bind Greece to fight when Bulgaria intervened? Had the Allies received a genuine invitation from Mr. Venizelos’s Government to land at Salonika? Which side was morally the aggressor in the fight at Athens on the first of December 1916? Was the will of the Greek nation or the military power of the Entente the real cause of Mr. Venizelos’s triumph over King Constantine between his flight from and return to Athens? These controversies lie behind the horizon of this book; many of them had only an ephemeral interest; others are incapable of settlement.” (The Western Question in Greece And Turkey, pp.63-8)
English historians seem to develop, as a reflex, the ability to write history in the service of their State. That ability includes the skill of adjustment of accounts to justify policy changes in retrospect, so that understanding of the behaviour of British Statesmen is reprogrammed to the retrospective context, and the actual context of decision making is lost in the rubbish bin of history.
The British academic establishment has also put considerable resources into training historians from other countries in this skill so that England’s account of itself penetrates hold-outs of national understanding and is universal.
Arnold Toynbee adjusted from being a vigorous anti-Turk propagandist at Wellington House during the Great War to being a considered apologist for the Turks after it. When the Turks were ear-marked for destruction he vilified them as evil personified and when they re-emerged as a force to be reckoned with, after it was thought they were down and out, he understood them and what they were about. He turned his disdain on the former ally, the Greeks.
But Toynbee could not avoid England’s part in the Greek Tragedy and did concede the following, about the manipulation of the Greek catspaw in the period after the Armistice, whilst couching it in a general criticism of the West:
“… the illusions of the local nationalities have been utilised by the Western diplomatists in order to save something from the wreck of their schemes. The harder they have found it to coax supplies out of their own Parliaments, the more they have turned their attention to other ways and means; and they have found these nations much more ‘suggestible’ than the comparatively well-educated, sophisticated, and politically experienced public of Western Europe – particularly in regard to Eastern affairs… The herd instinct can be relied on, as it cannot be in the West, to override the interest and judgment of the individual; and a kind of ‘Juggernaut’ national personality can be conjured into existence and induced, by offerings attractive to its divinity, to drive over its worshippers’ bodies. On the international chess-board such pieces make excellent pawns, and the Western diplomatists – wrapped up in their tradition and instinctively using every available means to carry on their professional activities – have not neglected them… This pawn playing, however, has not been so odiously cold and disingenuous as an analysis makes it appear. The trap in which the victims have been caught in order to be exploited was not cunningly hidden. They rushed into it with their eyes open because they could not resist the bait. This second phase of Western diplomacy is rather less discreditable to its authors than the secret haggling during the War. There has been less conspiracy about it and more sport, and – most disarming defence – it has been just as stupid. The statesmen miscalculated again. Their fellow countrymen had the means to carry out their policy but not the will; their pawns had the will without the means. They were too weak to perform the role marked out for them, however great the bribe. They could not struggle on to the eighth square and turn into queens. On the contrary, they have displayed an exasperating faculty of making queens out of the opposing pawns.” (pp.61-2)
How far-seeing was Roger Casement when he wrote in 1915:
“Byron came to aid Greece in a war of independence; “the countrymen of Byron” to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future. If Byron could say in his day “’tis Greece but living Greece no more”, his fellow countrymen to-day are assuredly determined, that the strict fulfilment of the poet’s words shall come to pass a century later.”