Thirty years after 21 April 1967, assessment of responsibility for the military coup in Athens has taken a giant stride out of politically motivated polemic and into the realm of historical analysis. Alexis Papachelas’s The Rape of Greek Democracy: The American Factor, 1947–1967is a splendidly researched, soundly reasoned, and tightly written investigation of the roots of the crisis in Greece’s hybrid “crown democracy,” of the plot that led to its overthrow, and of American involvement in what Margaret Papandreou aptly called the “Nightmare in Athens.”
In writing his history of Greece in the 1960s, Papachelas’s primary sources are the records created by extremely interested foreign observers: the diplomats of the United States Foreign Service. Since few Greek primary sources are available (outside of the voluminous record of the colonels’ trial), the author has supplemented his American archival treasure trove with a judicious use of the press and also of interviews with many of the participants, including some of the coup makers and their acolytes.
The author’s choice of American diplomats’ dispatches is not without its dangers, even in a book that deals with the “American Factor” in Greek politics, but it takes advantage of the one undoubted virtue of the U. S. Foreign Service: its carefully honed reporting skills. Those skills were particularly acute in the Greek case because the State Department’s Office of Greek-Turkish and Iranian Affairs (GTI) was a sort of state within State, manned by diplomats who spent [End Page 162]decades shuttling between assignments in the Aegean and Washington and frequently developed exceptional language skills and cultural-political insights.
American documentation on the overthrow of Greek democracy and the U. S. role in that tragedy has been growing for years. Within weeks of the coup, a copy of the policy-making 303 Committee’s February 1967 discussion of a possible secret operation in Greece was leaked to the Washington Post. The following year, Elizabeth Drew, who had access to the same document, was able to piece together an accurate appraisal of events in Athens based on discussions with U. S. officials. The desire of embarrassed philhellenes within the State Department and CIA to talk about the coup and its origins (and to justify their role in the disaster) reached its height in the mid-1970s when the CIA’s ex-station chief, Jack Maury, went public. Maury had already joined a plethora of officials who talked to the Washington Post’s Laurence Stern. Stern’s The Wrong Horse: The Politics of Intervention and the Failure of American Diplomacy(New York: Times Books, 1977) is a goldmine of information on both the 1967 coup and the subsequent 1974 Cyprus disaster, although the analysis is marred by the author’s too evident biases. The Association for Diplomatic Studies’ oral history program, run by another Athens veteran, Stu Kennedy, has interviewed most of the living American participants in the events of 1965–1974. The papers of the State Department’s Greece analyst Charilaos Lagoudakis have been available at Boston University for some years.
In addition to these sources, Papachelas’s work profited from the landmark 1991 legislation and the 1995 executive order that the Clinton administration laboriously extracted in the teeth of determined bureaucratic opposition. The CIA, steadfastly refusing to cooperate with the intent of either Congress or the White House, has succeeded in holding up the publication of the Foreign Relationsvolume on Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, 1964–1968, for five years. However, this rear-guard action is largely irrelevant since it has not impeded the opening of State Department archives.
The picture that emerges from Papachelas’s reconstruction is one of a rapidly declining American ability to control Greek affairs. With the end of Marshall Plan assistance in 1952–1953 and the subsequent decline in military aid, the U. S. simply had fewer tools available to influence Greek behavior. Moreover, thoughtful American officials realized that the United States needed to develop a more normal and mature relationship with Greece. Henry Labouisse, President Kennedy’s ambassadorial appointee (1962–1965), engaged in a...