The Blundering in Greece
By T. Lothrop Stoddard
[The Century Magazine, March 1917]
It long since became a truism that in the present war the Balkan Peninsula has been the graveyard of Allied diplomatic and military reputations. From the hour when the Goeben and the Breslau dropped anchor in the Golden Horn down to the latest disasters on the Rumanian plains, the Entente powers have marched with uncanny regularity from disaster to disaster. Yet nowhere has this Balkan fatality wrought a more pathetic tragedy than in Greece. The result of Entente ineptitude has here been the temporary ruin of one of the most promising of European races, with no commensurate gain to the Allies themselves. How this came to pass will appear from the melancholy story.
When the Great War broke out in the summer of 1914, the Allies, so far as Greece was concerned, held all the cards. For two of the Entente powers, France and England, the Greek people felt an almost filial veneration. Prime sponsors at the Greek birth and indulgent watchers over the rather trying crises of Hellenic adolescence, England and France had ever posed as Greece's best friends, and this traditional Philhellenism the Greeks requited by a warm affection for the great powers of the West. Lord Byron was one of Greece's national heroes, while French culture and French ideals were vital factors in Greek intellectual and social life. Toward Russia, it is true, Greek feeling was by no means so cordial, and this for many excellent reasons. Nevertheless, this coolness toward Russia was of slight moment beside Hellenic sympathy for the Western powers.
But Anglo-French sympathies were not the only bonds which drew Hellas toward the Allies. The whole Balkan political situation as it then stood tended to range Greece on the Entente side. The upshot of the recent Balkan wars had been an alliance between Greece, Serbia, and Rumania against beaten Bulgaria to avert a Bulgarian war of revenge. Indeed, this general agreement was supplemented by a special Greco-Serbian insurance treaty mutually guaranteeing their Macedonian possessions against Bulgarian attack. But all this patently tended to draw Greece into the Entente camp. For Serbia was already fighting the Entente's battles, while Rumania's strong French sympathies and intense hatred of Austria-Hungary foreshadowed her ultimate adhesion to the Entente cause.
Even this was not all. If Greek sympathies were predominantly on the Allied side, Greek antipathies wrought no less powerfully to the same end. For Germany, it is true, Greece had no ill feeling. Germany had never shown herself hostile to Greece. On the contrary, only, the year before, the German kaiser had proved a valuable friend in the Balkan peace negotiations at Bucharest. Again, for a generation or more German ideas and methods had been steadily permeating Greece. Much German capital had been invested in the country, many Greek officers had sought their military education at Berlin, while in Hellenic university circles German intellectualism was fast breaking down the former cultural monopoly of France.
However, this growing sympathy for the chief Teutonic power was far outweighed by burning antipathies toward Germany's actual or potential partners. For Austria-Hungary there was felt both aversion and fear. From the days of Metternich down, Austria had shown Hellas scant good-will, and for many decades the goal of Austria's Balkan ambitions was obviously Salonica, the apple of the Greek people's eye. With regard to Germany's probable Balkan allies, Turkey and Bulgaria, things were even worse. To the Greeks, heirs of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox "elect," as they consider themselves, the Turk was not merely the hated conqueror of the Hellenic home-land, but also the infidel usurper of Constantinople and Asia Minor, both claimed by the Greeks as integral parts of their "Great Idea," a revived Byzantine Empire destined to win back the whole near East to Hellenism. "As for the Bulgarians, the ferocious exterminations of 1913 were only the modern echo of medieval wars such as had given one Byzantine basileus his proud title of "Bulgar-Slayer" nearly a thousand years before.
For all these reasons it is not surprising that the outbreak of the European War evoked a wave of pro-Ally feeling throughout Greece. From the first day of hostilities it became evident that the hearts of the overwhelming majority of the Greek people were with the Allies, and this feeling was patently shared by the Greek premier, Eleutherios Venizelos, a statesman whose recent triumphs had profoundly endeared him to his fellow-citizens.
The opening months of the European cataclysm had little direct effect on Greece. Despite Turkey's adhesion to the Teutonic side in November, 1914, the Balkan Peninsula was relatively untroubled. Serbia showed herself well able to repel all Austrian attacks, and since Bulgaria remained quiescent, Greece could view the situation with reasonable equanimity.
It was with the Anglo-French. Naval bombardment of the Dardanelles at the end of February, 1915, that the woes of Greece began. It was this same event which also first clearly revealed Allied incompetence regarding the near East. Had the great Allied armada struck at the very beginning of the war it might have succeeded, since the Turkish defenses were at that time in by no means the best of shape. But six months' intensive work by skilled German engineers wrought a complete transformation, and in February the forcing of the strait by a mere fleet action had become impossible. Still, there was just a chance if the fleet was backed by a land army. Yet no such army was at hand, and no preparations had even been made for its sending.
As soon as the full strength of the Dardanelles became apparent, the Allies turned to Greece. She was to furnish the army which the Entente powers had failed to provide. The Allied diplomats found Premier Venizelos in a thoroughly receptive mood, but their hopes were quickly dashed by the opposition of the Greek general staff. On March 4, King Constantine called a royal council, where the matter was thoroughly threshed out; yet despite all the prestige and eloquence of Venizelos, the majority of Greece's soldiers and statesmen declared the sending of a Greek expedition to the Dardanelles a practical impossibility. The king accepted this majority finding, and so informed the Entente powers. His reply ran substantially as follows:
We are willing to join you on principle, but the circumstances make it impossible. Our general staff has long ago worked out this problem. Here are its plans. Look at them. You will see that the strait cannot be taken except by the immediate despatch of a great army. And such an army we cannot give. We have just come out of two wars. We are much exhausted. We need virtually every soldier to guard against an implacable Bulgaria ready to strike us down at the first sign of weakness. We must protect our lives and homes first of all.
This Greek refusal reveals clearly the basic factor in the Hellenic attitude toward the present war. Greece has often been pictured as a nation spurred by boundless ambitions and insatiate land-hunger, and this is largely true. But in the present clashing of the Titans these promptings are sharply restrained by the adverse influence of a deadly, sickening fear. Her recent experiences in the Balkan wars taught her that in that seething caldron of elemental passions the penalty of defeat might be nothing short of national death. To live, tiny Greece must walk warily, with due thought for the morrow.
And how frightful was her dilemma in those March days of 1915! The Allies were, indeed, prodigal of promises. They beckoned to the Aegean shores of Asia Minor, where a dense Greek population a million strong cried aloud for reunion with the Hellenic home-land. But to the north lay the dark cloud of Bulgaria, backed by the incalculable forces of a patently reviving Ottoman Empire. And behind these, again, rose the Teutonic powers. King Constantine and his generals were professional soldiers. Trained in the Berlin military schools, they knew the terrible efficiency of the German war-machine. They did not believe that marvelous mechanism could be shattered. In their opinion the war would end in some sort of draw. By quick and competent action, it is true, the Allies might crush Turkey before Germany could blast through Serbia to her aid; but was such Allied action to be expected? The Dardanelles fiasco had profoundly shaken Hellenic confidence in Entente understanding of the near-Eastern problem. Should Greece now throw in her lot with the Allies and then be left unsupported at the crucial hour, her doom was sealed. They dared not take the risk. They must remain neutral and wait.
So reasoned King Constantine, the general staff, and most of the Greek statesmen. Venizelos thought otherwise. In his eyes the triumph of the Western powers was for Greece a matter of life and death. Even should the Teutonic powers win on land, England and France would remain masters of the sea. And for Greece, virtually an island, drawing her very life from commerce and trade, the favor of the sea powers must at all costs be retained. Greece must also on no account witness the triumph of her hereditary enemies, the Bulgar and the Turk. For both these reasons Greece must therefore throw herself unreservedly into the arms of the sea powers, trusting to their gratitude to reward her devotion, and chancing temporary risks. Thus reasoned Venizelos and his supporters. But they were a minority, and when their voices did not prevail, Venizelos resigned. The situation was rendered still more tragic by the manner in which Greece's refusal was interpreted by the Entente powers. Both England and France had hitherto considered Greece as absolutely devoted to their cause, a sort of liquid asset to be drawn upon whenever required. The unexpected sequel was a blow to their calculations. Instead, however, of recognizing the natural consequences of their own shortcomings, they gave free rein to their angry disappointment and imputed Greece's decision to sinister motives. In their eyes fear of death became pro-Germanism, and to London and Paris King Constantine soon appeared the kaiser lackey, dragged at his wife's apron-strings. The mental strabismus which could see in this big, self-willed, bluff-spoken soldier, for years past on exceedingly bad marital terms with his Hohenzollern queen, an uxorious puppet docile to curtain-lectures "made in Germany," is one of the roaring farces of the time. Unfortunately, war dulls the sense of humor, and this absurd misconception regarding King Constantine was to cost his subjects dear.
Meanwhile the Allies were doing everything possible to justify Greek doubts of their capacity to solve the Eastern question. After two months' delay a mixed Anglo-French army made a land assault upon the Dardanelles. But the Turks had used their time well. The attack was delivered in exceedingly blundering fashion, and despite the splendid heroism of the Allied troops, it soon became evident that the Dardanelles were impregnable. This was just what the Greek general staff had prophesied at the beginning of March. It had also pointed out the proper path—an attack on Constantinople through Bulgaria. To this end, therefore, Entente diplomacy now turned, and of course Greece was asked to join the undertaking. The new premier, M. Gounaris, expressed willingness on principle, but asked for certain definite guaranties. Greece, asserted M. Gounaris, could not join the Allies before either Bulgaria had been won over or the Allies had furnished several hundred thousand men for the crushing of Bulgaria and Turkey combined. M. Gounaris also required a definite guaranty for the integrity of Greek territory in Europe and a clear delimitation of the sphere which Greece was to receive in Asia Minor.
The Allied powers had, it will be remembered, held out this reward ever since their first demand for Greek assistance in March. Their promises were couched in exceedingly alluring language, but exact specifications were lacking. And Greece did not like this, for there were two other pressing claimants for western Asia Minor territory, Russia and Italy. The Russian Government's recent revelations have informed us that it was about this time that England and France made their definite arrangements with Russia regarding Constantinople and Russia's projected Asia Minor sphere. This was also just the period when the Entente negotiations with Italy were approaching their conclusion. Now, neither Russia nor Italy was on cordial terms with Greece. With Italy especially Hellenic relations were distinctly bad and showed every prospect of becoming worse. It is therefore not to be wondered at that the Hellenic Government should hesitate to bleed Greece white in Entente service, with the danger of finding itself after the war with mere general promises of compensation, which might be whittled down to the vanishing-point between an expansive Russian sphere in northern Asia Minor and an equally expansive Italian sphere to the south. The Greek Government's apprehensions were certainly not allayed by their inability to obtain any definite satisfaction on this point.
In June, 1915, came the parliamentary elections. The result showed clearly the line-up of Greek public opinion at the time. The lines of cleavage ran sharply according to geographical situation and economic interest. The islands and port towns, which were prospering greatly by the war, yet whose prosperity was of course entirely at the mercy of the sea powers, voted for Venizelos. The peasantry everywhere showed itself averse to fighting, and voted for continued neutrality. Macedonia in particular, exposed as it was to the full brunt of all possible foreign complications, went almost solid for peace. It is true that Venizelos did not run on an out-and-out war platform, since he admitted that conditions had changed since March, and asserted that, if returned to power, he would be guided by circumstances. Still, his sympathies were known, and since the Venizelists won by a slight majority, it was evident that the Greek people were at the moment rather in favor of intrusting their destinies to Venizelist hands.
Venizelos assumed office in August; but before his return to the premiership Greece had been thrown into a tumult by a new move of the Allies; Entente diplomacy had long been seeking to win over Bulgaria. Both Greece and Serbia had warned the Entente of their belief in Bulgarian trickery, and subsequent events were to prove pretty conclusively that Czar Ferdinand was even thus early pledged to the Teutons. But the wily "Balkan fox" played the game with consummate skill and fooled the Allies to the top of their bent. The climax came when, on August 3, the Entente powers informed the Greek Government that they had offered Bulgaria a large part of Serbian Macedonia and the eastern portion of Greek Macedonia in return for Bulgaria's adhesion to the Allied cause! This astounding communication fell like a bombshell among the unhappy Greeks, All of them, without distinction of party, maintained that the integrity of both the Greek and Serbian frontiers in Macedonia was an absolute necessity if Salonica was to be safeguarded against the Bulgarian peril. It was for this alone that the 1913 insurance treaty with Serbia had been made. Yet here were the Allies, without so much as a "By your leave," offering Bulgaria the very things which Greece considered vital to her existence, territories of which, so far as Greek Macedonia was concerned, they had not the slightest right to dispose! The effect on Greece can be imagined. The worst suspicions of the Neutralists were confirmed, and cries of rage arose from every side. It is from this moment that we can trace the appearance of a genuinely anti-Ally and pro-German party —a party carefully fostered by an exceedingly clever German propaganda, established in Greece since the beginning of the war, but hitherto laboring with little success.
In order to appreciate the reasons for the Entente's conduct we must note the attitudes of both the Allied governments and Allied public opinion. The Entente leaders are practical men, conducting a life-and-death struggle, and it is a truism that "judicial niceties" always sag beneath the strain of war. It was therefore inevitable that "the rights of small nations" would bulk larger on public manifestos than in privy-council chambers. Also, since Venizelos and his followers were forever declaring that Greece must at all costs keep the Allies' favor, Allied statesmen might well imagine that, whatever they might do to her, Greece would submit without giving serious trouble. At the same time they might have hesitated to go to extremes but for the radical shift of public opinion in France and England regarding Greece. In both those countries Philhellenism was rapidly giving place to mingled anger and contempt. For refusing to requite past services Greece was held a coward, a recreant, almost a traitor. Indeed, the interesting theory was propounded that Greece was not really a sovereign state at all, but an Anglo-French protectorate, and as such legally bound to conform her foreign policy to the good-will and pleasure of the Allies. In fine, Western public opinion washed its hands of the Hellenes and prepared to acquiesce in whatever strong-arm methods its statesmen might employ.
When Venizelos entered the premiership in August a crisis was patently at hand. The great Teutonic drive into Russia had put the Muscovites temporarily out of the running, and the Central powers were evidently resolved to use this golden opportunity to blast Serbia to dust and open the vital highroad to Turkey and the East. In face of this colossal peril, what was Greece to do? If Venizelos had his way, Hellas would fight. Though momentarily staggered by the Allied note of August 3, Venizelos nevertheless remained true to his convictions, and insisted that, come what might, Greece must stand with the sea powers and must run every risk rather than sit idly by while Serbia was crushed in the Teuton-Bulgar vise. The crisis broke at the beginning of October, when Serbia called upon Greece to aid her in her hour of peril. Venizelos had already mobilized the Greek army, had permitted the landing of Anglo-French troops at Salonica, with only a paper protest against this violation of Greek neutrality, and now asked the king to begin military operations. The Neutralists inveighed furiously against this policy, and a wild debate raged in the Greek chamber. But Venizelos kept his party fences, and was upheld by a majority of the deputies.
Then the king interfered. As in March, he had consulted a council of Greek generals and statesmen, and the majority verdict was against war. The general staff was convinced that Serbia was doomed; that before the impact of the great German war-machine which had just smashed through Galicia and the heart of Poland, aided as it now was by the Bulgarian side-stroke, Serbia must quickly go down. The Allies had virtually no troops in Serbia, and no available army in sight. For Greece to enter the war in these circumstances would mean simply sharing Serbia's fate, and such a catastrophe King Constantine refused to allow. Venizelos thereupon again resigned, the Venizelist Chamber was soon afterward dissolved, and a Neutralist cabinet took charge of the country.
The Allies made the most desperate efforts to remedy this disaster. England went so far as to offer Cyprus if Greece would enter the war, but all was to no avail. As the Greek general staff had foreseen, Serbia was crumbling fast, and the weak Anglo-French reinforcements rushed through Salonica into Serbia at the eleventh hour were rapidly being driven back upon the Greek frontier. At this juncture Constantine made a last desperate effort to preserve Greek Macedonia from the horrors of war. He urged upon the Allies a complete evacuation of the Balkans, pointing out the uselessness of further resistance now that Serbia was lost, and offering to protect their peaceable withdrawal from Teutonic pursuit. In this effort he came within an ace of success. England was quite ready to cut her losses and retire from the Balkans. Lord Kitchener appears to have been of this mind, while the most eminent British military critics inveighed against throwing, good, money after bad, and urged complete concentration against the German lines in the West. But France resolutely opposed the abandonment of Salonica, Russia was equally intractable, and England gave way. Salonica was retained as the base for a future Allied Balkan campaign.
But this spelt woe unspeakable to Greece. For any such major operation, not merely Salonica and the Vardar valley, but all northern Greece from Kavala on the east to the distant Adriatic seaboard on the west, would be required. This implied that Greece's fairest provinces might be ground to dust beneath the shock of huge armies battling in all the savage fury of Balkan war. Against that fearful prospect the Greek Government struggled desperately, while the Entente powers wrought no less grimly to bend Hellas to their imperious will. This is the key to the long series of Allied aggressions and Greek procrastinations which fill the next half-year.
The first Allied move was to gain, complete mastery of their Salonican base. The Greek army was still fully mobilized, and a considerable portion of it was massed at Salonica. The retirement of these troops was now demanded by the Allies, who forced compliance by declaring a "commercial blockade" of Greece. This hit Greece in her tenderest spot. A sterile, mountainous country living largely by commerce and trade, Greece does not raise enough food to feed her people. Coming thus without warning, this mid-winter blockade caught her with neither bread nor coal. Accordingly, she soon capitulated, and the Allies clinched their victory by seizing control of the civil authority at Salonica as well. On December 30, 1915, the foreign colonies of all the Central powers at Salonica, including their consular representatives, were seized and expelled, while in the succeeding weeks all Greeks known to be opposed to the Allies were rounded up, imprisoned, or shot. By February, 1916, the Entente hold on Salonica was complete.
While these events, were taking place, Allied encroachments on the Greek islands were occurring both to east and west. It is true that as far back as the spring of 1915 the Allies had occupied certain Greek islands off the Turkish coast as bases for the operations against the Dardanelles; but now the Allied fleets began treating both the entire Aegean archipelago and Greek waters generally as their own territory. Corfu, in the Adriatic, was likewise seized, and used as a Serb refugee training camp. This seizure appears to have aroused special bitterness in Greece, since the island's perpetual neutrality had been formally guaranteed by all the great European powers.
Meanwhile, as the Allied army at Salonica grew stronger, it proceeded to enlarge its sphere of occupation. In Western Macedonia all went according to schedule, the Greek garrisons retiring under protest; but to the eastward things did not run so smoothly. Eastern Macedonia, that long tongue of Greek territory lying between the Bulgarian mountains and the Sea, was solidly held by heavy Greek forces, which refused to budge. The Allies thereupon tried a local "commercial blockade," evidenced by acts such as the blowing up of the great Demir Hissar bridge, the sole railroad connection with eastern Macedonia. Virtually cut off from supplies as it now was, the condition of the army in eastern Macedonia soon became pitiable, many Greek soldiers actually dying of hunger. Nevertheless, the Greek army obeyed orders and doggedly stuck to its guns.
Such was the state of affairs when, at the end of May, the Teutonic powers delivered their counter-stroke. On May 28, a German-Bulgar force demanded and received the surrender of Fort Rupel, the, key of eastern Macedonia. Although Greece uttered a formal protest, subsequent events showed that the whole affair was prearranged. The fact was that the Greek Government had been reduced to a state of furious despair by the Allies' continual usurpations, and had good reasons for believing that the Entente powers meditated a general-seizure of all northern Greece as the preliminary to a grand Balkan advance.
Any such advance was, however, now dealt a crushing blow. Salonica's very safety depends upon eastern Macedonia, the key of which was now in Teutonic hands. Henceforth any Allied northward push up the Vardar valley into Serbia was impracticable. The bulk of the Entente forces had to be held at Salonica to guard against a sudden hostile thrust, which, if successful, would cut the Allies' trunk-line and doom them to absolute destruction. The same reason precluded a violent overthrow of the Greek Government. To overrun Greece large Entente forces would be required, yet any depletion of the Salonica army would be the signal for a general Teutonic advance which might drive the Allies into the sea. The Greek Government's clever tactics had thus established a balance of forces between which it might hope to maintain itself.
The Entente powers were further deterred from violent counter-measures by the disquieting attitude of the Greek people. A year or even six months earlier, a Bulgar irruption into passionately treasured Macedonia might have roused the Greek nation to a pitch of fury which would have swept it into the Entente camp regardless of ultimate consequences. But the long series of bitter humiliations inflicted by the Allies had so wrought upon this proud, hypersensitive folk that the Entente cause was fatally damaged in large portions of Greek public opinion. Save in Venizelist circles, the occupation of Fort Rupel awakened only sullen sorrow or bitter satisfaction.
However, the Allies still held one trump-card—Venizelos. The ex-premier had never swerved from his attitude of whole-hearted devotion to the Entente, and continued to call for war against the Central powers. Furthermore, he and his party claimed that King Constantine's dissolution of the Venizelist Chamber in the preceding autumn had been a disguised coup d'etat, and denounced the existing Greek Government as illegal and unconstitutional. This converted what had at first been merely a dispute about foreign policy into a quarrel over fundamental principles, and the Greek nation was rapidly splitting into two irreconcilable factions, Royalists and Venizelists. As in all such cases of internecine strife, both parties were growing fanatical, and ripe for violent measures. This gave the Allies good hopes that they might ultimately see the king and his followers forcibly ousted by a Venizelist government pledged to an Entente alliance and war. During the summer of 1916 the Entente powers did everything possible to undermine the Royalist regime. Another twist of the "commercial-blockade" screw forced Constantine to demobilize his army in part, dismiss many Royalist officials, and consent to the establishment of an Entente foothold in Athens itself.
The crisis came at the end of August with Rumania's entrance into the war. Now if ever was Venizelos's chance to get control of Greece, and Venizelos apparently did his best. All through September a furious political struggle raged at Athens, but in the end, despite the vigorous backing of his Entente friends, Venizelos failed. His confession of failure was his flight from Athens and the institution of a revolutionary movement in Crete. To be sure, many Aegean islands and the Salonica district, of course under Allied control, joined his standard; but the mainland stood unequivocally by the king. The army in particular showed itself Royalist to the core. It is a political axiom that revolutions must win rapidly if at all. Accordingly, the unshakable royalism of continental Greece soon showed that Venizelos's revolution had miscarried. In fact, a bare three weeks after his flight from Athens found Venizelos at Salonica, behind the bayonets of the Allies.
The failure of the Venizelist revolution was a heavy blow to the Entente powers. Their last hope of effective Greek cooperation was gone, while the Greek Royalists were more dangerously embittered than before. And this was not the least of their troubles. The whole Balkan sky was fast growing overcast with lowering clouds. The new Rumanian ally had already shown ominous signs of weakness, while the Bulgars, anticipating an Allied advance from Salonica, had burst savagely in on both flanks, rendering any rapid Entente northward push impossible. The Greek king was openly predicting Rumania's fall, and every war bulletin tended to confirm his popular reputation as a true prophet.
In these desperate circumstances the Allies' only recourse was force. The Greek Royalists were regarded as irreconcilable foes, and in that surmise the Entente statesmen were now undoubtedly correct. A year ago this had not been true, but the same political evolution which had turned the Venizelist opposition into reckless revolutionists had thrown the Royalists full into the arms of the Germans. The Entente's aim was therefore clear—the crushing of the Royalists and the military occupation of continental Greece. The only trouble was the means. King Constantine still had nearly fifty thousand good troops under arms, and could readily raise this force to over a hundred thousand. Should these troops strike the Allied rear in conjunction with a Teuton-Bulgar drive from the north, the whole left wing of the Salonica army might easily be annihilated and all Greece laid open to the Germans.
Since Greek resistance could not be shattered at a single stroke, it must be sapped piecemeal. The first step to this end was the appearance of an Allied fleet before Piraeus, the port of Athens, bearing an ultimatum for the instant surrender of the Greek navy. This accomplished on October 11, further demands were made, involving the internment of the whole Greek army in the Peloponnesus, the turning over of all central and northern Greece to Allied control, and finally to the surrender of the entire armament of the Greek kingdom. The news of these sweeping demands roused furious outbursts among the Athenian populace, but the Allies merely took advantage of this rioting to occupy Piraeus and send strong marine detachments to Athens itself. In the face of all this Constantine feinted and sparred for time, while to the north the great German war-machine was steadily grinding Rumania into bloody pulp and riveting upon the Balkans a grip of iron not to be broken.
In these circumstances an open breach was inevitable. The clash came at the beginning of December over an Allied ultimatum for the immediate surrender of the entire equipment of the Greek army. This was a demand which the Royalists could not accept. It meant not only handing over Greece to absolute Entente control, but also exposing their own persons to the tender mercies of the fanatical Venizelists. To any one who knows the ruthlessness of Balkan politics, the peril of this latter eventuality will be patent. Precisely what happened during those early December days we do not yet know. Apparently, the Allied ultimatum synchronized with a Venizelist plot to seize the Government. The result was a general explosion. Athenian public opinion had already been heated to the boiling-point by the presence of three thousand Allied marines quartered in the principal buildings of the capital and by the Entente's seizure of the post-offices, telegraphs, and police control. At any rate, on December 2 the Allied garrison was overpowered after sharp fighting by the Royalist troops while the Venizelists were hunted down by furious Royalist mobs. The Allies incontinently retired to Piraeus, and could not conceal, their moral defeat.
So things stood by the middle of December, when the Entente forced on King Constantine a capitulation through the starvation menace of another "commercial blockade."
What the end will be is now a matter of relatively minor, importance. The Teutonic conquest of Rumania has solved the Balkan military problem, since no conceivable Entente counter-stroke can henceforth cut the German highroad to the East. That was the vital point at issue, and it has now been decisively settled.
But the plight of poor Greece remains pitiable to the last degree. However the Balkan struggle may end, Greece has virtually ceased to exist as a self-sustaining nation. Half her territory is in foreign hands, and, what is even worse, her sons are split into irreconcilable factions the fanatical hatreds of which inhibit national solidarity and may yet forfeit the Hellenic race heritage.
And the saddest part of it all is that Greece herself is little to blame. The chief responsibility for the Greek tragedy must unquestionably be laid at the Allies' door. When the war broke out Greece was their devoted friend. They could have had her aid for the asking if they had only shown themselves resolved to impose their solution of the Eastern question. Greece asked only one condition, a thoroughgoing diplomatic guaranty and reasonable military support. But the Allies persisted in regarding the Balkans as a sort of side-show wherein Greece was to take the vital risks. They refused to recognize the stern fact that self-preservation is the first law of nations as of nature; instead, they termed it treason, and answered with recrimination and ruthless coercion, which outraged Hellenic national honor, reduced the Greeks to despair, and finally drove them into the arms of the Teutons. The Allies stubbornly invoked the phantom of a Germanophile Greece; they ended by mating that poor ghost a grim reality.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald