The Greek civil war was, in many respects, the first episode in the Cold War; the first of many civil wars in the lessdeveloped world between Communist movements and Westernbacked governments. It was thus the first "test case" for the U.S. struggle against Communist guerilla movements in the Third World.
The civil war actually began in the Greek countryside nearly two years before World War II itself ended, as rival resistance movements clashed. At the beginning, the supporting power on the Western side was Britain, not the United States indeed, the U.S. held itself sharply and critically aloof from British policy in the early phases of the conflict (Iatrides, 1980: 659). The Soviets, for their part, seem never to have taken an active part.
But by 1947, Greece would become the centerpiece of the Truman Doctrine, proclaimed as such in Truman's "allout speech" of March 12, 1947 (Yergin, 1977: 280ff). By the time the civil war ended, eighty thousand Greeks were dead, and about a tenth of the population had been forced to leave their homes at one time or another (Johnson, 1983:434). The general American public has largely forgotten about the U.S. intervention in Greece. (During the Vietnam years, however, New Left activists looked back bitterly at the Greek intervention experience as the direct precursor of Vietnam; see Gitlin, 1967).
The civil war in Greece differed from Vietnam at least one fundamental respect, however: the Communist side lost. It lost, in brief, because the Greek Communist Party remained throughout this period a rigidly Stalinist party that never successfully tapped nationalist roots. It failed to command the broad support of the Greek people. It alienated a key ally, Tito, by siding with the Soviets after the TitoStalin split, although the Soviets were providing no real support, and Yugoslavia was both a source of supply and a military safe haven. It failed to make the tran...