Primary Documents - King Constantine's Letter to Neutrals, 14 January 1917

King Constantine I Reproduced below is Greek King Constantine's letter to neutral governments - specifically the U.S.A. - decrying the Entente Powers' attitude towards Greece.  In his letter Constantine denied that either he or his country were pro-German, protesting that in fact until latter times Greece was decidedly pro-Entente.

In reality Constantine was indeed pro-German and found himself in increasing conflict with Eleutherios Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister whom the King dismissed for his overtly pro-Entente stance.  Venizelos' reaction was to establish a provisional government in Thessalonica with the backing of the Entente Powers, prompting Constantine to label him a traitor.

Ultimately Venizelos - and the Entente Powers - won out.  The King was obliged to abdicate in June 1917 and Venizelos returned to office, bringing Greece into the war against the Central Powers.

King Constantine's Statement to Neutrals, 14 January 1917

All we ask is fair play.  But it seems almost hopeless to try to get the truth out of Greece to the rest of the world under present circumstances.  We have been sorely tried these last two years and we don't pretend to have always been angels under the constant irritation of the ever increasing allied control of every little thing in our own private life - letters, telegrams, police, everything.

Why, do you know that my sister-in-law, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was only permitted to receive a telegram of Christmas greetings from her mother in England by courtesy of the British Legation here?

Moreover, by taking an active hand in our own internal politics, England and France especially have succeeded in alienating an admiration, a sympathy, and a devotion toward them on the part of the Greek people that, at the beginning of the war, was virtually a unanimous tradition.

I am a soldier myself and I know nothing about politics, but it seems to me that when you start with almost the whole of a country passionately in your favour and end with it almost unanimously against you, you haven't succeeded very well.

And I quite understand how those responsible for such a result seek to excuse themselves by exaggerating the difficulties they have had to contend with in Greece - by talking about Greek treachery and the immense sinister organization of German propaganda that has foiled them at every turn, and so on.

The only trouble with that is that they make us pay for the errors of their policy.  The people of Greece are paying for them now in suffering and death from exposure and hunger, while France and England starve us out because they have made the mistake of assuming that their man, Venizelos, could deliver the Greek Army and the Greek people to the Entente Powers whenever they wanted to use Greece for their advantage, regardless of the interests of Greece as an independent nation.

There are just two things about our desperate struggle to save ourselves from destruction that I am going to try to make clear to the people of America.  The rest will have to come out some day - all the blockades and censorships in the world cannot keep the truth down forever.  Understand, I am not presuming to sit in judgment on the Entente Powers.  I appreciate that they have got other things to think about besides Greece.  What I say is meant to help them do justice to themselves and to us, a small nation.

The first point is this: We have two problems on our hands here in Greece - an internal one and an external one.  The Entente Powers have made the fundamental mistake of considering them both as one.  They said to themselves "Venizelos is the strongest man in Greece and he is heart and soul with us.  He can deliver the Greeks whenever he wants to.  Let us back Venizelos, therefore, and when we need the Greek Army he will turn it over to us."

Well, they were wrong.  Venizelos was perhaps the strongest man in Greece, as they thought.  But the moment he tried to turn over the Greek Army to the Entente, as if we were a lot of mercenaries, he became the weakest man in Greece and the most despised.

For in Greece no man delivers the Greeks.  They decide their own destinies as a free people, and not England, France and Russia together can change them, neither by force of arms nor by starvation.  And they have tried both.  As for Venizelos himself - you had a man once in your country, a very great man, who had even been Vice-President of the United States, who planned to split the country in two and set himself up as a ruler in the part he separated from the rest.

I refer to Aaron Burr.  But he only plotted to do a thing which he never accomplished.  Venizelos, with the assistance of the allied powers- a nd he never could have done it without them -has succeeded for the time being in the same kind of a seditious enterprise.  You called Aaron Burr a traitor.  Well, that's what the Greek people call Venizelos.

The impression has been spread broadcast that Venizelos stands in Greece for liberalism and his opponents for absolutism and militarism.  It is just the other way around.  Venizelos stands for whatever suits his own personal book.

His idea of government is an absolute dictatorship - a sort of Mexican government, I take it.  When he was Premier he broke every man who dared to disagree with him in his own party.  He never sought to express the will of the people; he imposed his will on the people.

The Greek people will not stand that.  They demand a constitutional Government in which there is room for two parties - Liberals and Conservatives - each with a definite program, as in the United States or England or any other civilized country, not a personal Government, where the only party division is into Venizelists and anti-Venizelists.

The other thing I wanted to say is about the effect of the so-called German propaganda in Greece.  The Entente Powers seem to have adopted the attitude that everybody who is not willing to fight on their side must be a pro-German.

Nothing could be falser in respect of Greece.  The present resentment against the Allies in Greece - and there is a good deal of it, especially since the blockade - is due to the Allies themselves and not to any German propaganda.  The proof of it is that when the so-called German propaganda was at its height there was little or no hostility in Greece toward the Allies.

It has only been since the diplomatic representatives of all the Central Empires and everybody else whom the Anglo-French secret police indicated as inimical to the Entente have been expelled from Greece, and any German propaganda rendered virtually impossible, that there has grown up any popular feeling against the Entente.

Part of this is due to the Entente's identification of its greater cause with the personal ambitions of Venizelos, but a great deal has also been due to the very unfortunate handling of the allied control in Greece.  When you write a personal letter of no possible international significance to a friend or relative here in Athens, and post it in Athens, and it is held a week, opened, and half its contents blacked out, it makes you rather cross - not because it is unspeakable tyranny in a free country at peace with all the world, but because it is so silly.

For, after all, if you want to plot with a man living in the same town you don't write him a letter.  You put on your hat and go to see him.  Half the people in Greece have been continually exasperated by just this sort of unintelligent control, which has irritated the Greek people beyond telling.

The fact of the matter is that there is even now less pro-German feeling in Greece than in the United States, Holland, or any of the Scandinavian countries.  And there is far less anti-Entente propaganda in Greece even now than there is anti-Hellenic propaganda in England, France and Russia.

The whole feeling of the Greek people toward the Entente Powers today is one of sorrow and disillusionment.  They had heard so much of this "war for the defence of little nations" that it had been a very great shock to them to be treated, as they feel, very badly, even cruelly, for no reason and to nobody's profit.  And more than anything else, after all the Greek Government and Greek people have done to help the Entente Powers since the very outbreak of the war, they deeply resent being called pro-German because they have not been willing to see their own country destroyed as Serbia and Rumania have been.

I have done everything I could to dissipate the mistrust of the Powers, I have given every possible assurance and guarantee.  Many of the military measures that have been demanded I myself suggested with a view to tranquillizing the Allies, and myself voluntarily offered to execute.

My army, which any soldier knows could never conceivably have constituted a danger to the allied forces in Macedonia, has been virtually put in jail in the Peloponnesus.  My people have been disarmed, and are today powerless, even against revolution, and they know from bitter experience that revolution is a possibility so long as the Entente Powers continue to finance the openly declared revolutionary party of Venizelos.

There isn't enough food left in Greece to last a fortnight.  Not the Belgians themselves under German rule have been rendered more helpless than are we in Greece today.

Isn't it, therefore, time calmly to look at conditions in Greece as they are, to give over a policy dictated by panic, and to display a little of that high quality of faith which alone is the foundation of friendship?

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A 'whizzbang' was a high-velocity, low-trajectory shell that made a shrill approach noise and then a sharp explosive report.

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