The United States & the Making of Modern Greece: History & Power, 1950-1974

By Klarevas, Louis | Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The United States & the Making of Modern Greece: History & Power, 1950-1974


Klarevas, Louis, Presidential Studies Quarterly


The United States & the Making of Modern Greece: History & Power, 1950-1974. By James Edward Miller. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. 320 pp.

If anyone is well qualified to write about the history of post-World War II Greek-American relations, it is James Miller. A Foreign Service Institute professor who has trained countless American diplomats en route to Greece and editor of the Foreign Relations of the United States series (published by the U.S. Department of State) as it pertains to Greece, Miller is arguably the person best situated to address the exact nature of American involvement in Greek politics during the Hellenic state's tumultuous Cold War years.

Miller's diplomatic history is broken down into five chapters that capture the time period between 1950 and 1967, when Greece was a dysfunctional democracy, and three chapters that capture the time period between 1967 and 1974, when Greece was a dysfunctional dictatorship. As much has been written on the predictatorship era, it is the last three chapters that are Miller's most important contribution to the literature.

In particular, while much has been written on the postwar bilateral relationship, no study written in English has, to date, been able to draw on such a large pool of declassified documents to explain the actual role of the United States during the Greek overthrow of the Cypriot government in 1974 and the subsequent Turkish invasion--both of which many Greeks believe were provoked by the United States.

The largest strength of the book is that it draws on a quarter-century cache of official U.S. documents, supplementing them, where appropriate, with primary source material from British, French, and Greek government archives.

It is, perhaps, because Miller has to whittle down so much information that his attempt to provide a unique and comprehensive review of the run-up to the 1967 coup at times falls a bit flat. In particular, covering the 1950s, the book misses several opportunities to explain key events and dynamics. For example, in 1952, the Greek king and queen actually went to the U.S. Embassy in Athens to lobby the ambassador for an electoral law that would favor the royal palace (p. 39). Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth II going to the U.S. Embassy in London to press her case for a new British electoral law? This is too bizarre a dynamic to be left underattended. Similarly, if, as Miller tells us, the CIA had such a large operational presence in Greece, why wait till a review of events in 1958 to first discuss its activities (p. 73)? (Indeed, throughout the book, there is less discussion of the CIA's involvement in Greece than might be expected.) The massive discounting of the 1955 riots against Greeks in Turkey and the diplomatic problems they created is also a significant oversight from this time period.

As the book progresses into the 1960s, it tackles some of the major events that Greeks have long held were by-products of American patronage, in particular the April 1967 coup that established a seven-year dictatorship in Greece. Miller, however, concludes, "U.S. officials neither encouraged nor supported the coup of April 1967" (p. 135). Still, many Greeks, to this day, blame the United States for the events of the mid-to late-1960s. Miller's assessment seems sound. But by not reviewing the evidence of American opposition to extra-constitutional measures in great depth, Miller might have missed an opportunity to refute, once and for all, Greek conspiracy theories relating to U.S. culpability for the coup. For instance, the book pays scant attention to the White House's rejection of a CIA covert plan to sway the Greek elections in 1965 (pp. 123-24).

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