(Click here for Part Two)
Barton Hall, the US Charge d’Affaires in Athens, who replaced Dr Edward Capps wrote an interesting report to the Secretary of State in Washington DC on August 10, 1921. He describes the military situation in Asia Minor, Venizelism, economic and social conditions in Greece, the plight of naturalised Americans of Greek origin and the major Greek political figures. The report paints a picture of uncertainty and disquiet in Greek affairs.
Military situation and Venizelism in Asia Minor
He explains that the Greek military victories at Afion Karahissar, Kutahia and Eski Shehir were considered “ generally unexpected” and partially went along “ in making Constantine’s throne safe.” These military successes would have shored up Constantine’s shaky position, though political events could have changed so rapidly forcing the King to flee Greece. It seems that Hall’s assessment would be validated with the Greek military defeat in September 1922 that resulted in Constantine’s second abdication in 5 years. Constantine left Greece never to return dying in Palermo, Italy on January 11, 1923.
Hall was aware of the Venizelist factor in the Greek Army, which also exposed the sharp divisions existing in Greek society. He declared that: -
“ That there is a big force in the army, Venizelist in sympathy, there is no doubt. It is proved by the large number of wounded lieutenants and captains arriving from the front and known to be Venizelist. Practically all the higher officers of the army have been replaced by Royalists. Furthermore, the Greek private has proved that he can fight. The inference of all this is obvious. Someday this Venizelist force in the army, which at present is thinking only of country must inevitably be reckoned with.”
When the Royalists came into power in November 1920, they had some 1500 Royalist officers either reinstated to their former senior ranks or promoted ahead of Venizelists who had their promotions held up. This caused resentment within the officer ranks of the Greek army. This would be a grievance which the Venizelists would use against their Royalists opponents in October-November 1922. In fact Venizelist Officers -Colonels Stylianos Gonatas and Nicholas Plastiras and Naval Captain Dimitrios Phocas- staged revolution on September 28, 1922 toppling the Royalist Government. They established a Revolutionary Military Committee (RMC) which arrested, tried and sentenced to death the Royalist politicians- Nicholas Stratos, Dimitrios Gounaris, Nicholas Theotokis, Petros Protopapadakis, George Baltazzis and General Giorgios Hadjianestis in November 1922. Prince Andrew escaped the death sentence due to the negotiations of Gerald Talbot, a personal friend of Eleftherios Venizelos, with the RMC who had been dispatched to Athens by Venizelos to intervene in the trial of the 6. He arrived too late to save them but secured the release of Prince Andrew who was banished from Greece.
Hall believed the Greek military establishment to be disorganised. He stated that the soldier’s staple food of bread and olives was sometimes not provided due to inadequate transportation and mechanical breakdown of vehicles meaning that “ the soldier [went] without food.” The Greek officers fared no better. It is interesting the American Military Attach? who visited the Asia Minor front reported that Greek officers had invited him to dinner where it was served “ in a tent black with flies, consisted of an uneatable stew of tripe and some filthy black meat also stewed.”
He continues quoting the US military attach? who described “ the treatment of the wounded [as] heart ending.” The wounded were “ loaded into motor lorries and jolted for hours over rough roads to so called hospitals where there are a few volunteer nurses – the Venizelist volunteers not being allowed to serve.”
It is fascinating to see that Venizelist nursing volunteers were prohibited from serving in the Greek army, which again revealed the sharp divisions in Greek society.
Economic and social life in Greece
He describes that financially that Greece was worse off, industrially she was at a standstill and the shops were empty. He wondered “ how the fig, the olive and raisin crop will be gathered.” He is correct that Greece’s finances were in a parlous situation that could be attributed to the depreciation of the Greek drachma and increase in the cost of living. There are three factors: - firstly, the loss confidence was caused by the defeat of Venizelos; secondly the withdrawal of financial support by the Allied powers; and finally the issue of a large amount of paper money without Parliamentary approval.
The enlistment of all young males in the Greek army meant that the harvest of figs and raisins would fall upon on the women and older citizens. This created labor shortages that pushed wages rates up in the hiring of scarce farm labor. Greece being an agrarian economy largely depended on these crops for its export income. The prices fetched for these crops were dependent on the fortunes of the international economy.
While Hall was critical of the Greek military authorities and government officials for having failed to impose law and order and discipline in Greek society, he apportioned the “ blame …on the character of the people themselves. To the Greek, liberty is what we would call lawlessness.” He regarded the average Greek to be noisy and rowdy and having dinner at 10PM or after. For example a Greek complained to police of a French family living in the same apartment building who woke him up every morning at 7AM. The Frenchman who was a captain in the French Mission was compelled to wake up and go to work every morning. Responding to the charges, the Frenchman declared that he felt no problem in awakening the Greek at 7AM, “ when the Greek kept him awake overnight until two or three in the morning with his dining and singing, the Greek thought he was most unreasonable.”
As Hall may have been justified in commenting that the ordinary Greek was noisy and boisterous, he failed to understand the easygoing Greek lifestyle compared to the faster pace of life in the United States.
Problems for US citizens of Greek origin
Another part of his report discusses the cases of two naturalised Americans of Greek origin Chalos and Cavas who were arrested and imprisoned by Greek authorities. The former was arrested because his brother “ was a military delinquent.” According to Hall, “ [Chalos] was obliged to walk on an artificial foot until exhausted and was then imprisoned for two days at Thebes without water, until his brother presented himself for military service.”
Cavas was incarcerated for 35 days in Mitylene, “ although his class in Greece was not serving.” These two cases raised the issue of the rights of US citizens of Greek origin visiting their homeland in 1921. Greeks who became US citizens without the permission of the Greek Government had in fact violated Law 120 of January 1914. They had to provide proof of their American citizenship to Greek authorities.
The Greeks who served in the US army during the 1914-18 war whose classes belonged to 1916-21of the Greek army would be exempt from military service Hall remarked that “ the assurances given by the Greek Government, the arrest, imprisonment and maltreatment of naturalised Americans continues." Obviously such action by the Greek Government could not have helped Greek-American relations.
He noted that Constantine, Prime and War Ministers’ Gounaris and Thetokis were the three main figures of Greek politics. Gounaris still retained the Premiership and enjoyed the support in the Greek Chamber whereas “ Theotokis with his thoroughly offensive Potsdam training, manages to keep to the fore and it is hinted is biding his time to seize the reigns of power.”
Constantine had temporarily handed power over “ to his Ministers and political friends.” Moreover “ whilst in Smyrna the King was almost a political prisoner until he moved to accommodation closer to the scene of battle.” Never once did Constantine venture “ among the soldiers of his army.” Constantine’s action shows an individual who failed to share in the daily privations and struggles of his soldiers in Asia Minor.
Other individuals mentioned were Sterghiadis and Baltazzis . The former was very prominent in Smyrna as the Greek High Commissioner whereas the latter as the Foreign Minister was considered “ a mere figure head and impatient.” Hall didn’t explain why Baltazzis was “ impatient.” Maybe Baltazzis was interested in becoming Premier.
In conclusion Hall’s report was largely anti-Greek in tone with some of his observations being correct. He was not an admirer of the Royalists. However his description of the average Greek was unhelpful. He showed a lack of understanding of the Greek way of life or failed to comprehend the significance of the Greek military campaign in Asia Minor.
(Click here for Part Two)
Stavros T.Stavridis, Historical Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia (email: email@example.com)