From The Times Literary Supplement, March 2, 1973, p.227.
THE POISON OF THE DIKHASMOS
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
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
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
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.
The Times Literary Supplement,
March 2, 1973, p.227.
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