The Statue of a Benefactor
After WWI at the Versailles peace conference, in 1919, an irregular line of nations, north to south from Finland to Albania, with Britain controlling Greece and Turkey, was designated a "cordon sanitaire" to divide Europe into two parts; the capitalist West and the communist Russia.
On February 23, 1945, Joseph Goebbels, gave a speech in which he denounced the Yalta agreements that acknowledged Russia's right to military security along its western frontier. At Yalta, the Allies had agreed that the "cordon sanitaire", created at Versailles was to be denazified, demilitarized, and dissolved. Astounded that the Allies had agreed to regroup the Nazi satellite countries, Goebbels declared that an "iron curtain" had descended over the area. "Behind this curtain ," Goebbels warned, there "would begin a mass slaughter of peoples, probably with acclamation from the Jewish press in New York."
On May 1, 1945, only 67 days after the delivery of the above speech, Goebbels had his six children poisoned with a lethal injection by an SS doctor and then himself and his wife Magda shot by an SS orderly. It is reasonable to assume that Goebbels: one knew that the end of the Reich was a few days away and two that he had already decided to kill his family and himself. Therefore, it is also logical to ask: why the hell he gave a speech on geopolitics with both feet in his grave? Anyway, it seems that the Goebbels speech was not in vain, the paranoia about the New York Jews notwithstanding.
About one year after the Goebbels speech, on March 5, 1946, in Fulton, Missouri, with President Truman sitting behind him, Winston Churchill spoke to the peoples of the world saying: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an 'iron curtain' has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.... and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."
Unfortunately for the British, only one year after the "historical" Churchill speech at Fulton, Britain on February 21, 1947 had to admit that it was broke and that it was incapable of defending its extensive international interests. On that day, the First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, H.M. Sichel, telephoned Loy Henderson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and African Affairs, with a "rather important" message from the British Foreign Office. The message: "Britain could not afford the 500 million dollars it would take immediately to defend Greece and Turkey against Communism. The United States could either fill the vacuum or let it go. The future of the Miiddle East was at stake." Some say that that very day was the end of "Pax Britannica" and the beginning of the "American Century".
The Doctrine -------------------
On March 12, 1947, only 22 days later (that was fast!), "President Truman, addressing a joint session of Congress, informed America's legislators of the Greek government's request for assistance from the United States and asked that $300 million be approved for aid to Greece and $100 million for Turkey, which "also deserves our attention." Declaring that "the foreign policy and the national security of this country (the US) are involved," he appealed for a speedy approval of the amounts requested for each country." (Source: Yannis P. Roubatis, "Tangled Webs", Pella, N.Y., 1987, page 32). Congress approved the bill, and President Truman signed it. That was the birth of the Truman Doctrine. The rest is history (not so well known outside Greece).
A glance at the history of the US "attention" towards Greece is instructive. Take the case of John E. Peurifoy, the US ambassador to Greece during the first stages of the application of the Truman Doctrine. Known as "smiling Jack", Peurifoy was a tough South Carolinian pleased with his image as the man with a "big stick." In November 1953 Peurifoy was transferred to Guatemala from Greece. Peurifoy's aggressive activities in Greece were known to have helped destroy the "communist danger." When Peurifoy brought Diaz, the head of the Guatemalan government, a "long list" of Communists to be shot "within 24 hours," Diaz refused. He was replaced the next day by Colonel Elfego Monzon, a "real anti-Communist." (Source: Blanche Wiesen Cook, 'The Declassified Eisenhower,"Doubleday, N.Y., 1981, page 286). Peurifoy's contempt for lesser humans than himself (especially for those belonging to the non-American variety) made him famous in Greece. To this day, almost a half century later, Peurifoy's behavior is mentioned in the Greek press, to emphasize the servility of the Greek elites towards their American masters. (Note; Peurifoy's days in Greece and Guatemala could be a very interesting theme for a doctoral thesis..)
"After he left office, Truman complained that many countries,especially France, showed resentment rather than appreciation of U.S. military and economic assistance given them during his administration. He did not include Greece in that category, however and was touched deeply when in 1962 the King and Queen of the Hellenes sent him personalized holiday greetings. Truman wrote them a thank you, but, realizing afterward that it was a bit too folksy for royalty, opted instead to send a formal reply. He filed away this one: January 3, 1963 Your Majesties, You will never know how very much I appreciated your wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. When a retired farmer is remembered by the King and Queen of great historical Greece, it certainly makes him think as if he made a contribution. Your card wiill be framed and hung in my Library office to show that people do not forget. Mrs. Truman joins me in best wishes to you for the New Year. Sincerely yours," (Source: Monte M. Poen, "Strictly Personal and Confidential,"Little, Brown, 1982, page 42)
A few comments on Truman's letter: Did the "retired farmer" really frame the card? Is it to be found in the Truman Library? It was the "great historical Greece" that offered Peurifoy the chance to discover his ability to compile "long lists" of people to be shot; thousands of them in Greece. Truman was glad that the Greek royalty did "not forget" the "contribution" of their benefactor, but they were not the only ones that did not forget their benefactor.
The Statue --------------
The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) did not forget the benefactor. The AHEPA was founded in 1922 in the US by a group of Greek American businessmen as a fraternal association with Masonic influences. The AHEPANs, as they are known in Greece, to express their gratitude to Truman financed the creation of a statue. The statue, about 1.3 times life-size, cast in bronze and showing Truman to gaze reflectively ahead with the lower part of his overcoat raised towards the rear to give the impression of resolute movement, was put up in one of the most important thoroughfares of Athens, during the Karamanlis era (late 50s to early 60s). Not without some bickering among the US and Greek elites about the aesthetic qualities of the statue. The Greek people had a radically different attitude toward the statue and expressed it emphatically.
The Truman statue has been blown or toppled by the Greeks so many times that by now no one pays any attention if it is toppled once more. The latest toppling happend a couple of months ago during an anti-imperialist demonstration. A member of the Youth of the Greek Communist Party ended up with a 4 month prison term for "destroying private property." Whose private property? Anyway, it seems that some foundry in the Athens area has established a "cottage industry" of reparing or recasting the Truman statue.
After the 1986 toppling of the statue, the "socialist" mayor of Athens decided not to restore it, but then came Evert, the (next) rightist mayor, who decided to restore it. The most impressive (and tragic) case of the attacks against the statue is that of the medical student who during the Colonels' dictatorship (late '60s to early '70s) blew up the statute three (!) times. When asked by his (US trained) torturers, after he was arrested, why did he insist on the same target he answered that it was the most easily accessible one. During the third attempt a young policeman was killed, while tinkering, out of curiocity, with the package that contained the explosives. I was told that the student, later, as an MD, for years donated part of his salary to the policeman's parents.
Finally, it seems that more trouble lies ahead for the Truman statue. It was reported in the Greek press that a long time before the placing of the statute, while the thoroughfare adjacent to it was constructed, the ruins of a 400 B.C. temple dedicated to Hercules, protector of the shipwrecked people, the persecuted and the foreigners, had been uncovered during the excavation works. So, it seems that after the last toppling a discussion could start about scraping the statue and keeping the temple. My opinion is that the statue should stay (as a symbol of US benevolence). There are more than enough temples in Athens, even if Hercules was a protector of the weak. Besides, the Greeks long ago have switched to a new divine protector, introduced to them by St. Paul himself, as he was standing on a rock about 1800 yards from where the Truman statue stands. After all, one divine protector is enough, not to mention the mortal ones of the Truman ilke.