From The Times Literary Supplement, March 2, 1973, p.227.


Christos Theodoulou:
Greece and the Entente, August 1,
1914-September 25, 1916

379pp.Thessaloniki: Institute of Balkan Studies.


What the Greeks call the Dikhasmos (or “Division”) was an important episode in the history of other countries besides their own.  It was caused by the First World War, but it was in turn the cause of dramatic repercussions, which went on long after the war and far outside Greece.  So far as Greece was concerned, it began with an honest and reasonable difference of opinion between two strong and able men: King Constantine I and his Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos.  Venizelos was convinced that the Allies would win the war, and was determined to bring Greece in on their side.  Constantine was inclined to the Central Powers but thought the outcome doubtful: and recognizing the strength of Britain and France in the Mediterranean, he preferred to remain neutral.  Both men had respectable arguments to support them, and neither could foresee the ultimate consequences of their disagreement for themselves, their country and Europe.

Directly and indirectly, the consequences were immense.  They included the fiasco of the Dardanelles campaign and the fall from office of Winston Churchill: the formation of two rival Greek governments and the expulsion of King Constantine: the even more disastrous campaign in Asia Minor after the end of the war, the destruction of Smyrna.  The eviction of some two million refugees from their homes, the Chanak incident and the downfall of Lloyd George in   1922.  There are few major episodes in European history between the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 on which the Dikhasmos has not at least some bearing.  Christos Theodoulou confines his scholarly study to two years from August, 1914 to September, 1916; but that is only one chapter, although a self-contained one, in a story which had earlier origins and much later consequences.  The conflict originated in the Balkan Wars, when Venizelos was already Prime Minister and Constantine was Crown Prince and Commander-in-Chief.  As for the consequences, they are still germinating today. 

At the heart of Mr. Theodoulou’s study is the Dardanelles campaign.  Every student of British history knows that this was the brain-child of Winston Churchill.  He first called for a plan of campaign aimed at landings on the Gallipoli peninsula at the beginning of September, 1914.  But this was not in fact the first appearance of the idea.  Churchill had adopted it from the Commander of the British Naval Mission in Turkey, who had pointed to the practicability of the operation a week earlier; and the idea had originated in the minds of the Greek General Staff some month earlier still.  Mr. Theodoulou shows, from documents in the Greek Foreign Ministry, which have not previously been published, that the German government feared just such an attack by the Greeks on its protégés, the Turks, before the end of July, 1914-in other words, before the First World War had broken out.  King Constantine was reproached by his brother-in-law, Wilhelm II of Germany, with contemplating such an attack, and he vigorously denied any such intention; but the plans undoubtedly existed.

Mr. Theodoulou makes very clear the reasons why Constantine was not prepared to risk a war at that date.  He had close links with the Kaiser, both by marriage and in gratitude for Germany’s support in obtaining Kavalla for Greece instead of surrendering the Aegean port to Bulgaria; and he knew that the Kaiser would resent an attack on Turkey.  He also feared that, by committing Greek forces against Turkey, he would expose his own county to attack by Bulgaria; and he had the formidable support of his Acting Chief of the General Staff, the future dictator Metaxas, in arguing that such a war would be militarily disastrous.   To Venizelos, a romantic nationalist rather than a calculating politician, none of these things mattered in comparison with the vital importance of ranging Greece with the western powers. He was prepared even to sacrifice Kavalla to the Bulgarians, to agree to the internationalization of Constantinople, and to enter the war on the Allies’ side without conditions and without bargaining over compensation.

Venizelos showed a shrewd understanding of Western, particularly British, psychology in these matters.   But the infinite complexity of the circumstances frustrated his schemes and led him into more and more devious and dishonest courses.  The tangle of intra-Balkan and inter-Allied relationships was inextricable.  It involved the mutualiy irreconcilable claims of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia in Macedonia and Northern Epirus, and those of Greece and Turkey in the Aegean islands; the ambitions of Italy and Russia as well as France and Britain in the Levant; and the counter-ambitions of their enemies, Germany and Austria.  Mr. Theodoulou lucidly disentangles all the threads on the Allied side, with copious extracts from Greek, British and French official archives, including many previously unpublished documents.  He deliberately disregards relations between Greece and the Central Powers, as his title indicates, because he regards these as requiring a separate monograph to themselves.  Nevertheless there are sufficient passing references to that aspect of the story to avoid any suggestions of incompleteness or risk of misunderstanding.

He follows the story only up to the moment in 1916 when Venizelos made the Dikhasmos final by deciding to rebel against his King and to set up a separate government in Salonika. Short though the story is in time, it can already be seen taking the form of a Greek tragedy in a double sense: a tragedy for Greece, a fateful concatenation of events for Europe. If Constantine and Venizelos had been able to agree on joining the Western alliance, and if the Allies had accepted Venizelos’s offer of the Greek fleet and Greek troops against the Dardanelles, and if all this had been carried out with due speed instead of miscarrying over many months, then incalculable consequences could have followed: Gallipoli and Constantinople would probably fallen, Turkey would have been eliminated from the war, the war would probably have been decisively shortened and the Russian Revolution averted. It was a moment for bold adventurers like Venizelos and Churchill not for cautious calculators like Constantine, Metaxas and Grey.

Once the moment had passed, Venizelos steadily deteriorated, as Mr. Theodoulou very fairly makes plain. His imaginative gestures turned into dishonourable intrigues behind the back of the King, in which he tried to involve the British behind the backs of the French. From the beginning of 1915 it becomes impossible to admire the conduct of anyone in the story. Mr. Theodoulou is conspicuously impartial as between his fellow-countrymen. Royalist historians will find more to approve in his account than Venizelist historians-and to make that distinction between historians is to show how enduring has been the poison of the Dikhasmos. It can be said, however, that Mr. Theodoulou does not overstate the case against Venizelos as revealed in the documents. He is equally unprejudiced in his treatment of Allied policy. The best that can be said for the British government is that it behaved better than the French government. But when all is said, it remains true that the Greeks dug their own graves. 

Mr. Theodoulou’s monograph is a useful addition to the History of the First World War. His use of the documents is painstakingly thorough and almost too pedantically accurate. In his anxiety to overlook no scrap of evidence in the slightest degree relevant, he can occasionally be uncritical. For example, only a devotee of the conspiracy theory of history would give credence to the myth that on the outbreak of war the British Admiralty deliberately allowed the two German warships, Goeben and Breslau, to escape through the Mediterranean to Constantinople.  But Mr. Theodoulou more than makes up for such momentary lapses by his scholarly impartiality.  No one would guess, indeed, from his references to the circumstances in which the offer of Cyprus to Greece was made and withdrawn, that he is a Cypriot himself.      

From The Times Literary Supplement, March 2, 1973, p.227.  



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