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  • The United States and the Making of Modern Greece: History and Power, 1950–1974
  • Jonathan M. House
The United States and the Making of Modern Greece: History and Power, 1950–1974. By James E. Miller. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8078-3247-9. Endnotes. Index. Bibliography. Pp. xviii, 301. $45.00.

Conspiracy theorists generally credit the United States government and its intelligence services with enormous and usually malevolent interference in the domestic affairs of foreign nations. In some instances, such as Guatemala, Iran, and Chile, there has been some truth to this allegation. In other cases, however, Washington was ineffectual at and indeed reluctant to attempt such interference.

Diplomatic historian James Miller has given us a case study of this latter type, the frustrating interaction between the United States, Greece, and Cyprus during the Cold War. Miller repeatedly describes instances in which Greek politicians and the general public expected Washington to intervene, criticized the absence of such intervention, and yet blamed the Americans for the result. The author credits this confusion to Greece’s history of Turkish occupation, a history that not only taught Greeks to anticipate foreign involvement but led them to feel powerless and therefore to blame foreigners for any failure that occurred.

On occasion, the Central Intelligence Agency did act, as in its 1958–59 psychological operations that strengthened first the political right and then the center to reduce the influence of communist-controlled unions. More frequently, however, Washington wisely recognized the difficulty of such operations, and instead tried to work with whatever government happened to be in power. This willingness to work with often right-wing regimes culminated in the widespread misconception, encouraged by opposition leader Andreas Papandreou, that the United States was the primary backer of the military junta that controlled Athens from 1967 to 1974. In fact, as Miller concludes, the Greeks themselves “drove their political system over an embankment; the Americans did nothing to help get it out of the ditch” (p. 207). As a result, the Nixon administration got the worst possible outcome, a military government that refused to cooperate with Washington, outraged leftists throughout the West, and simultaneously demoralized its own defense forces by political purges.

Cyprus provided the contrapuntal plot line to the decline of Greek domestic politics. Although George Grivas led a brilliant terrorist campaign that forced Britain to grant independence to the island, that independence was accompanied by the 1959 London-Zurich agreements, a complicated constitution to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority from their Greek neighbors. Unfortunately, as Miller recounts, too many Greek and Cypriot politicians saw “enosis”—the political union of Cyprus with [End Page 1383] mainland Greece—as both a national mission and a chance to score political points. Archbishop Makarios III, the president of Cyprus, outmaneuvered Washington, London, and Athens to keep control for fifteen years of violence and vain negotiations. Finally, the frustrated junta in Athens overthrew Makarios, a coup that led to Turkish military intervention and the partition of Cyprus. The author contends that, in this as in other issues, the politicians in Washington often failed to heed the advice of State Department and CIA officials, yet Secretary of State Henry Kissinger blamed the 1974 meltdown on those professionals who had opposed his policies.

Military historians will undoubtedly wish for more details on the military aspects of these events, and especially on the decline of the Greek armed forces under the junta. The absence of such details, however, does not detract from Miller’s skillful explanation of exceedingly complex political, diplomatic, and strategic issues. This study throws a clear, strong light on the confusing and confused American policies in the eastern Mediterranean, and merits serious study by anyone interested in the national security history of the Cold War.

Jonathan M. House
U.S. Army Command & General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas