501.BC Greece/2–2147: Telegram

The United States Representative on the Commission of Investigation (Ethridge) to the Secretary of State

top secret

253. Ethridge No. 18. From Ethridge for Secretary and Austin. British Foreign Office spokesman quoted by Gallman in London’s [Page 38] telegram 1130, Feb 19 disagrees on Greek internal situation not only with me but also with other commissioners with whom I have talked including Windle, and with British, Greek and American military people who gave me the information. British Colonel Metcalfe who drafted despatch of Feb 14 quoted [by] Ambassador MacVeagh in his telegram 252 of Feb 21 repeated last night that he and Miller, Assistant American Military Attaché here, regard military situation as extremely bad. Windle blows hot and cold but he has said to me three or four times that situation is “sticky” and “extremely bad”. Metcalfe said to me late last night that Windle has been slow in appraising situation. I have not talked to Ambassador Norton but would refer to MacVeagh’s telegram and strongly believe Dept would be subscribing to egregious mistake if it should view situation here as anything but serious. I am not an alarmist. On the contrary I think situation can be pulled out if taken in time, but it certainly cannot be saved by a complacent policy that allows it to go too far before we do all we can about it.

British Foreign Office interpretation of how bands are growing and extending their control does not jibe with our information or that of British and Greek military officials. My information is that both Greek and British army morale is low—British if for no other reason than that half their troops have been withdrawn1 in face of deteriorating situation and withdrawal of other half already projected. Information that Communist membership is growing came to me from Greek Govt sources. (See also Ambassador MacVeagh’s despatch 3579 of Jan 28.2)

It is notable that British Foreign Office official admits ultimate possibility of Greece falling into Communist hands but implies that this can come only if “financial-economic situation is allowed to deteriorate”. I know of no way of separating economics and politics. Reduced to simplicity the situation here is that a desperate economic crisis and bitter internal strife are being exploited to the full politically. If Dept will keep in mind that Soviets never wanted border investigation, that they have resorted to every trick to focus on Greek internal affairs and to stall work of commission to gain time for themselves, complacency of British Foreign Office may be put in proper perspective which may be true that help to guerrillas from outside has decreased since commission was appointed, but decrease is only temporary and can be attributed either to Soviets knowing we have good deal of information about what they have been doing, or to naive idea they can delude us until investigation over. But if they have decreased [Page 39] physical help they have stepped up political pressure. There is no better way of saying it than that Soviets and satellites have thrown book at Greek Govt. They have undertaken to use commission as propaganda carnival. We have defeated them to some extent in this, but effort will be renewed at Salonika.

I take it that one function of commission which Soviets also realize and are trying to defeat, is to decrease or stop physical help to Greek bandits from outside. Certainly I have in mind proposals which if accepted will at least disclose Soviet hand to world as well as to other commissioners who came here with the innocence of ignorance of Balkans but are fast losing it.

Realization they must move quickly has intensified Russian political pressure. It seems to me our policy should be directed toward giving commission time enough to see what can be done, and Greek Govt help enough to have new elections in at least relatively normal atmosphere. Dept is fully aware that in all Soviet states minorities have seized power by exactly same methods they are trying here. We are in better position here because among other reasons, Russians have no troops in uniform inside Greece and because Greeks have some tradition of democracy.

I again urge consideration by Dept of extent to which our own security and future of UN are bound up in situation here. In my own thinking, and in talks with commissioners who have given me their confidence, I have tried to canvass situation with these things in mind:

If Greece goes through our default, have we released force stopped in Azerbaijan and Turkey?
If that force is released, where does it stop? At France? Italy? The Middle East and North Africa? Or does success make it go beyond that to China and the Far East?
Is hope of peace really in UN?

My own answer to last question is that UN is our best hope at moment, but a hope that will be greatly impaired if its first intervention is not effective. If Dept feels Greece is vital to our policy, then nothing should be left undone. If we let it go, I think we must realize that there also goes the hope of many other nations, including the small ones who gratefully look on US at the moment as a colossus.

I do not know Russia’s timetable as to Greece. But regardless of British Foreign Office I do know that she is on the march here, and that time presses if we are to do anything about it.3

  1. Telegram 153, February 4, 5 p. m., from Athens, reported that the British Embassy had that day publicly announced that a reduction of 50% in the number of British troops in Greece would take place shortly (841.2368/2–447).
  2. Not printed.
  3. In telegram 252, February 21, noon, from Athens, Ambassador MacVeagh, in commenting on telegram 1130, February 19, from London (p. 26), recommended that the views of the British Foreign Office should not weigh heavily with the Department and urgently advised that it would be unsafe to defer “any possible action” to bolster the Greek state when elements required to bring about its sudden collapse were present in such high degree (501.BC Greece/2–2147).