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Truman Doctrine: How America Helped Greece Avoid Falling into Soviet Orbit

Truman Doctrine Greece
Harry S. Truman (middle) with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee (left) and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference (July 17 to August 2, 1945). Public Domain

The 1947 Truman Doctrine was crucial for Greece to be able to avoid falling into the sphere of Soviet influence while the country was ravaged by the Civil War (1946-1949).

With the Truman Doctrine, United States President Harry S. Truman established that the US would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces.

The decision was announced to Congress by the US President on March 12, 1947 with  its primary goal being to contain Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War.

In his speech, Truman emphasized the broader consequences of a failure to protect democracy in Greece and Turkey.

The U.S. Congress responded to the message by promptly appropriating $400 million to support Greece and Turkey, as the latter was pressured by the Soviets to allow base and transit rights through the Turkish Straits.

The Truman Doctrine further developed on July 4, 1948, when the US President pledged to contain the communist uprisings in Greece and Turkey.

Greece after World War II

The liberation of Greece from German occupation on October 12, 1944 was celebrated wildly by the people. However, the country itself was in terrible shape on many other fronts.

Joy was replaced by the new specter of famine, misery, decay, corruption, public health issues and the disintegration of the economy.

Previous to the liberation, the leader of the government-in-exile, liberal Georgios Papandreou, was jailed by the Axis powers in 1942. He then fled to Egypt, where he became the Prime Minister of the exiled government, and later to Italy, in preparation for its return to Greece.

On September 26, 1944 the leadership of the Greek Resistance forces (EAM/ELAS and EDES,) the government in exile and the British Command in the Middle East met in Italy and signed the Caserta Agreement.

Under the Agreement all resistance forces in Greece were placed under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie.

The Greek resistance forces were the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its military body the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which was controlled by the Greek Communist Party (KKE).

The National Republican Greek League (EDES) was the non-communist resistance force against the Nazis.

The fight between the ideologies of the left and right (EAM/ELAS against EDES) had already begun in 1943 with scattered clashes.

The internecine fighting among the Greek people had made foreign mediation necessary. The Truman Doctrine would later prove crucial for post-war Greece in this respect.

The Greek Civil War

In the spring of 1944, the exiled government and resistance forces reached an agreement to form a national unity government that included six EAM-affiliated ministers.

However, on the first of December, 1944, Scobie, along with Papandreou’s government, gave an order to resistance groups to disarm by December 10. This led to a number of members of EAM, many of whom were affiliated with the communist party, to resign from the nascent government before even formally joining it on December 2.

In response, EAM called for a general strike and called for a reorganization of the military wing of the group, ELAS.

On December 3, a pro-EAM rally ended with British forces and Greek gendarmes opening fire against the crowd, killing 28 demonstrators and injuring dozens.

The result was the Dekemvriana insurrection, a precursor to the Civil War, with battles in Athens that lasted 33 days and resulted in the defeat of the EAM. On February 12, 1945 EAM surrendered its guns with the signing of the Treaty of Varkiza.

One year later, the Greek Civil War erupted when former ELAS partisans in hiding organized the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), controlled by the KKE.

By that time, the neighboring communist states of Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were providing logistical support and armaments from the Soviet Union, especially to the forces operating in the north of Greece.

The Greek government forces, the National Army — with the crucial aid of the British army — fought against the partisans, with interim defeats from 1946 to 1948.

However, in February 1947, Britain formally requested for the United States to take over its role in supporting the royalist Greek government.

With financial aid provided by the Truman Doctrine, from 1947 and on — after the British withdrew —  the Greek army forces won the war in 1949.

The efforts of the KKE to bring Greece under the sphere of Soviet influence like its neighboring countries, were exactly what the Truman Doctrine aimed to stop.

In his speech to Congress promoting the Truman Doctrine, the US President stressed:

“I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”

Truman argued that a communist victory in the Greek Civil War would also endanger political stability in Turkey, which would consequently undermine political stability in the Middle East.

The Truman Doctrine After the Civil War

Greece actually emerged from the Civil War in much worse shape than it had at the end of the Nazi Occupation. Restoration was a giant task as the two sides continued to despise each other.

Thousands of leftists were killed, tortured or sent to camps on the barren islands of Gyaros, Makronisos and Leros.

On the winning side, the Truman Doctrine was the beginning of a new era not only in Greek-American relations, but also a turning point in the entire course of post-war life internationally.

Greece further established its place in the West by joining NATO in February 1952.

Nevertheless, political polarization continued in Greece culminating in the July 1965 riots following the resignation of the Georgios Papandreou government and the subsequent appointment of successive prime ministers — unsuccessfully — by King Constantine II.

The political turmoil continued, leading to the military coup d’état of April, 21 1967 and the subsequent rightist regime that lasted seven years.

To this day, Greeks remain polarized as to what consequences a victory of the leftists have meant for the country.

In a 2008 Gallup poll, Greeks were asked “whether it was better that the right wing won the Civil War.” Forty-three percent responded that it was better for Greece that the right wing won, 13 percent responded that it would have been better if the left had won, 20 percent responded “neither” and 24 percent did not respond.


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