In the “Person of the Century” hoopla, Globe & Mail columnist Rick Salutin wrote that Churchill “helped launch the Cold War by sending British troops to Greece to crush the anti-Nazi resistance.” Dear oh dear…
In April 1941, the Allies were forced to withdraw from Greece. That autumn, a communist-dominated resistance organisation called the National Liberation Front (EAM) was formed. In April 1942, EAM formed the Peoples Liberation Army (ELAS), which began recruiting guerrillas. Another group under Zervas (EDES), originally republican, was strongly anti-Communist. No group had contact with the Greek government in exile in London.
In autumn 1942, the first British Military Mission was parachuted into Greece to aid die guerrillas. On 4 July 1943, the King of Greece broadcast that a general election would be held soon after liberation, and that the exiled Greek Government would resign in order that a broadly based administration could be formed. But opinion in Greece favored more immediate action.
When Italy surrendered in September 1943, ELAS was able to acquire most of the Italian equipment, and quickly gained military supremacy. Churchill, worried about a communist coup, wrote General Ismay: “Should the Germans evacuate Greece, we must certainly be able to send five thousand British troops with armoured cars and Bren gun carriers into Athens….Their duty would be to give support at the centre to the restored lawful Greek Government….Once a stable government is set up, we should take our departure.”
In February 1944, the British mission established an uneasy truce between ELAS and EDES. With Soviet armies on the Romanian border, EAM decided to act. They challenged the Tsouderos government, which resigned, and the leader of the Greek Social Democratic Party, Papandreou, took office on April 26th. Some agreement was made with EAM to support a coalition government.
In August 1944 the British made ready to send troops to secure Athens for the government to be set up. In early September, the Germans began to withdraw. British troops moved in during early October as the Germans pulled out. On November 15th, Athens was declared a military area, and British General Scobie was given authority to order all ELAS troops to leave it.
EAM revolted and, on December 3rd, communist supporters collided with police and civil war began. ELAS quickly gained control of the city, except for its very centre, where Scobie’s troops began to counter-attack.
In the British House of Commons, j Sir Richard Acland, the leader and sole MP of the Commonwealth Party, called [ for a vote of confidence in the Government. On December 8th, Churchill spoke against the Acland amendment in the House (extracts follow):
“Who are the friends of democracy, and also how is the word “democracy” to be interpreted? My idea of it is that the plain, humble, common man, just the ordinary man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time, and puts his cross on the ballot-paper showl ing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foundation of democracy. And it is essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear, and without any form of intimidation or victimisation. He marks his ballotpaper in strict secrecy, and then elected representatives meet and together decide what government, or even, in times of stress, what form of government, they wish to have for their country. If that is democracy I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it….
“One must have some respect for democracy and not use the word too lightly. The last thing which resembles democracy is mob law, with bands of gangsters, armed with deadly weapons, forcing their way into great cities, seizing the police stations and key points of government, endeavouring to introduce a totalitarian regime with an iron hand, and clamouring, as they can nowadays if they get power [interruption] to shoot everyone who is politically inconvenient as part of a purge of those who are said to have collaborated with the Germans during the occupation….
“Democracy is not based on violence or terrorism, but on reason, on fair play, on freedom, on respecting the rights of other people. Democracy is no harlot to be picked up in the street by a man with a tommy-gun. I trust the people, the mass of the people, in almost any country, but I like to make sure that it is the people and not a gang of bandits who think that by violence they can overturn constituted authority, in some cases ancient Parliaments, Governments, and States….
“We march along an onerous and painful path. Poor old England! (Perhaps I ought to say “Poor old Britain!”) We have to assume the burden of the most thankless tasks, and in undertaking them to be scoffed at, criticised, and opposed from every quarter; but at least we know where we are making for, know the end of the road, know what is our objective….If I am blamed for this action I will gladly accept my dismissal at the hands of the House….I shall call upon the House as a matter of confidence in His Majesty’s Government, and of confidence in the spirit with which we have marched from one peril to another till victory is in sight, to reject such pretensions with the scorn that they deserve….”
Thirty members opposed the Government, nearly 300 members voted confidence. “Here again,” wrote Churchill, “was a moment in which the House of Commons showed its enduring strength and authority.” (The Second World War, Volume 6, Triumph and Tragedy, British Intervention in Greece.)
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