Britain’s hard lot

On December 5, Churchill telegraphed the British military commander in Athens, General Ronald Scobie: “Do not, however, hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress. . . . [W]e have to hold and dominate Athens. It would be a great thing for you to succeed in this without bloodshed if possible, but also with bloodshed if necessary.” Churchill later admitted that when composing his message to Scobie he had in mind the telegram sent to the British authorities in the 1880s by the chief secretary for Ireland, Arthur James Balfour. The telegram included the words: “Don’t hesitate to shoot.”

“It has fallen to the hard lot of Britain to play a leading part in the Mediterranean. We have great responsibilities and we have made great exertions there,” declared Churchill in the House of Commons on January 18, 1945. “We have one principle about liberated countries, or repentant satellite countries, which we strive for according to the best of our ability and resources. Here is the principle. I will state it in the broadest and most familiar terms: government of the people, by the people and for the people, set up on the basis of free universal suffrage, elections with secrecy of ballot, and no intimidation. That is, and that always has been, the policy of this Government in all countries. It is not only our aim and in our interest; it is our only care. It is to that goal that we try to make our way across all difficulties, obstacles and perils of the long road. Trust the people. Make sure they have a fair chance to decide their destiny without being terrorized from either quarter or regimented. There is our policy for Italy, for Yugoslavia and for Greece. No other interest have we than that. For that we shall strive, and for that alone.”

The prime minister was not being completely honest.

—Serhii Plokhy, Yalta, (London: Penguin, 2010), 267-68

Veterans of the November 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising, November 17, 2017. The wreaths for students killed in 1973 are laid at a monument to students killed during the 1940s resistance.

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