- The Colonels' Coup and the American Embassy
This interesting book discusses the views and actions of the US Embassy in Athens, Greece, during the period just before and after the colonels’ coup of 21 April 1967. The author was a member of the Political Section of the embassy. He had strong views on what the United States (and the embassy) should have done in response to indications that a coup would take place. It is an excellent description of the embassy’s knowledge of the events leading to the coup and of the inner workings of the embassy.
The book began as a seminar presentation in the early 1970s at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. It remained unpublished until 2010. Perhaps its greatest value is the insight into how the embassy and the Department of State handled a matter of intense political significance. If published earlier, many of the players involved probably would have been critical of the descriptions of them and their activities.
The Colonels’ Coup begins with a fifteen-page prologue by John O. Iatrides, professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut University. It is a short but comprehensive discussion of US relations with Greece from World War II to the time of the 1967 coup and puts the developments reported in the book in the perspective of a long time frame. Iatrides deftly shows the depth of the relationship and how it came to appear that the United States played a significant role in internal Greek affairs. The prologue also contains a very well informed discussion of how relations with Greece were handled in the Department of State during the entire postwar period.
Keeley’s first chapter is a discussion of the dramatis personae of the embassy and the [End Page 94] Greek Desk in the Department of State. This chapter is important to the rest of the book because knowledge of the players is important in understanding how US policy was formed. Keeley’s frank descriptions of his colleagues are often critical, but they reflect the kind of give and take that occurs in an embassy during a crisis.
In 1965 – 66 the political situation in Greece was in disarray. The party of the most influential politician, George Papandreou, had won election in 1964 but had been supplanted by a coalition that was unstable. It seemed new elections would occur soon. Conservative elements in the country, including King Constantine II, feared that Papandreou would be victorious and that a left-leaning government would be formed. There were rumors that before elections could occur, a military coup spearheaded by generals — and with the tacit support of the king — would take place.
The US embassy was also seen to be in opposition to Papandreou because of his political views and, according to Keeley, because many of the embassy’s contacts were among conservative politicians, the monarchy, and the military. The influence of the United States in Greek domestic affairs appeared to be significant, stemming from the Marshall Plan era and the associated US opposition to communist influence in the Balkans and from the Truman Doctrine.
It was in this atmosphere that Keeley arrived in Greece on 31 July 1966. He was assigned to report on the ongoing conflict in Cyprus, but his personal interest was the internal politics of Greece itself. He became involved in this issue in early 1967 when the head of the embassy’s Political Section, Kay Bracken, asked him to prepare a draft of the required “Annual US Policy Assessment for Greece.” This was a pro forma document — and already several months late — but it gave Keeley an opportunity to address the issues in which he was most interested.
In his draft, Keeley recommended first, that the United States make clear it supported constitutional processes, and specifically that there would be no effort to impose a “political solution” if the election did not turn out the way the monarchy and establishment wanted; second, that the...