May 19th, 2010

Chris Keeley

RVK Lit Society

Literary Society of Washington

Meeting of January 9, 2010

“Essay” by Robert V. Keeley

“Overtaken By Events”

I start with four apologies. Number one is that this is a music stand and I’m not going to sing. Number two is there’s no way I’m going to talk through this presentation tonight. Number three is I don’t have an essay. And number four is I’m keeping you from your dinner. It’s already eight o’clock. And I’m going to make this as brief as I can. Here are excerpts from my new book that I was going to read to you—you’re not going to have to listen to those.
But the reason I don’t have an essay is that unlike this evening I‘ve noticed that whenever the President asks for people who’ve had literary triumphs recently or just published a book very few hands go up. Some did tonight. I’m actually publishing a book. I thought maybe I would tell you something about that. How it came to be published and a little bit about what it’s about, and then let you have your dinner. So it will be very brief I hope. I would like to read you some passages of it. The book will be available at some point. In the spring. This relates to Greece in the period ’66 to ’70, when a military dictatorship took over that has been tragic for that country.
My wife Louise and I were in the Foreign Service for 34 years. Our third post abroad after Jordan and Mali was Greece. I had had long-standing connections with Greece. I’d been asking to be assigned there for a long time. We were thrilled to get there. It was not a very good experience. A military dictatorship took over and ruined that country for seven years, especially Cyprus. Cyprus is still one of our major foreign policy problems that we’re trying to work out.
The reason this book came to be written was that I was very unhappy with the policies we were following there. I was a mid-career officer, a First Secretary-Political Officer working in the Political Section and my major job was Cyprus but I couldn’t resist getting involved in reporting on domestic politics, which was the major problem of that period. And I took a lot of notes and wrote a lot of memos to my bosses, the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission and the Political Counselor, and I kept copies of those, and after four years when I left there I had a sabbatical at Princeton University at the Woodrow Wilson School. One of the requirements was that I take a course from Richard Ullman on the foreign policy of the United States since World War II. I had to chair a seminar, and write a paper about the sort of bureaucratic interactions that create foreign policy, between an
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embassy and Washington. And I used the Greek example and my differences with the policies. And I wrote a 25 to 30 page paper. The seminar members, mostly graduate students, had to read it, and Professor Ullman said that’s a very interesting story, you should turn it into a book. I took him more seriously than I should and did turn it into a book.
My next assignment was as Deputy Chief of Mission in Uganda. The first year I wasn’t terribly busy so I took a lot of time out so I finished a draft of this book on a typewriter. And then put it on a shelf because at that stage to think of even publishing it would not have been career enhancing but rather career terminating.
It sat on the shelf for many years. The one thing I did with it--later I was Ambassador to Greece from ’85 to ’89 and when the career officers who succeeded me came to me for advice and I’d give them the book to read. And I’d tell them don’t tell anybody you’ve read this book. And they were very appreciative.
But on the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Athens, which was on April 21, 1967, that is 2007, I got a call from Athens, from the newspaper Ta Nea (which in Greek means The News, a center-left newspaper). They were printing a book about the coup and the consequences, and they knew something about my reputation and they asked me for a statement. So I took the book off the shelf and I began looking at it, and I mentioned it to my wife, and she said: “By the way, what are you planning to do with that book? Are you planning to publish it posthumously?” And I said, “No. I don’t think you can do that.”
Anyway, I looked into it, and I discovered something very interesting. Of the officials, government officials serving in Athens and in Washington who had been dealing with this problem in Greece, only five of them were still alive, one of them was me, and one had since died, so there were only three people still alive who could sue me for libel and I’m not sure they’re going to succeed.
So I enlisted some help. First of all there was Margery Thompson who runs publications for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, which is a sort of adjunct to the Foreign Service Institute. They have accepted it, and they found a publisher, which is the Pennsylvania State University Press, and it’s coming out in the spring after a lot of effort. I also found a Greek publisher because actually the Greeks were much more interested in this because they are still convinced that we installed these Colonels who took over in Greece and I have proof that we didn’t. Which is important historically. I have very strong proof.
Anyway, the best thing that happened to me is that a friend of my brother’s, Professor John Iatrides, a retired professor at Southern Connecticut University, the

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dean of academics on Greek-American relations since World War II, and he has done a Prologue (which is a Greek word) about the scene leading up to 1966 when I arrived at the Embassy. He details the political and economic situations, which were terribly complicated. And the American and Greek publishers have accepted this Prologue and it’s been translated into Greek. Both books should be out in the next three to four months.
Now, the problem that arose was what title are we going to give this book? My original title was “The Choruses of Aeschylus.” And I’m going to tell you why. The dedication of the original text of this book, I mean the book I wrote in Princeton and Uganda, was to the memory of George Seferis, the first Greek winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 1971, the same year I was writing this book. I described him as “Greek, poet, diplomat, linguist, critic, democrat, gentleman, teacher, interlocutor, friend.” My brother has been the major translator into English of his poetry. Seferis made a statement after he spent an academic term here in the States, during which he kept being asked by Greek students, “Why don’t you speak out, you’re a Nobel Prize winner, why don’t you criticize this government that’s been imposed on us?” When he got back to Greece his wife pressured him, I pressured him, a lot of people did. I actually helped him disseminate the statement that I’m about to read to you. It was broadcast around the world in Greek, English, French, German, and it had a tremendous impact in Athens. It was issued on March 28, 1969, which is sort of the end part of my book.
Here’s what George Seferis said:
“… It is almost two years since a regime was imposed upon us utterly contrary to the ideals for which our world – and so magnificently our people – fought in the last World War. It is a state of enforced torpor in which all the intellectual values that we have succeeded, with toil and effort, in keeping alive are being submerged in a swamp, in stagnant waters. I can well imagine that for some people these losses do not matter. Unfortunately this is not the only danger that threatens.
“We have all learnt, we all know, that in dictatorial regimes the beginning may seem easy; yet tragedy waits at the end, inescapably. It is this tragic ending that consciously or unconsciously torments us, as in the ancient choruses of Aeschylus.
“The longer the abnormal situation lasts, the greater the evil….”
My title, of the original book, was “The Choruses of Aeschylus.” When I got to the Greek publisher, Patakis, which is probably the best publisher in Greece, they said “We can’t deal with that title. Nobody in Greece wants to read about the classical Greek tragedy. That title makes it sound like that’s the subject.” So I said
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OK, what title do you suggest? “Well, something better. Something shorter and more pertinent. You keep using this phrase ‘Overtaken By Events.’ OBE. Sounds
like a State Department bureaucratic term.” I said yes, yes, that’s the theme of the book. Something happens in your country, unexpected, and the embassy reports it to Washington, and it gets discussed in different agencies, and they futs around with it and about two weeks later they come up with some instructions about what the embassy is supposed to do, and the ambassador reads it, and he says “OBE. Overtaken By Events.” That makes these instructions ridiculous. So that phrase could be put at the end of every chapter.
I consulted my Greek professor friend, John Iatrides, and he said this word “overtaken” (in Greek “kseperasmeni”) doesn’t make any sense because the verb is used about a footrace, say a marathon where one runner overtakes another and takes the lead, and that’s not what you’re talking about, is it? I said, yes, it’s just the opposite, new events make useless the instructions about what you’re supposed to do. They don’t make any sense whatever.
So we dropped that idea, and I asked Professor Iatrides if he could come up with a better title, and he said he had already done so. He asked me if I was “computer literate.” I said sort of, I spend a lot of time on the computer. He said you have to have key words in your title, so that when people Google these words
your book pops up and they buy the book. I said, John that’s wonderful. Does that really work? Of course, he said, how do you think people sell books?
I said OK, what’s your title? And this is the title of the book that’s going to be published. “American Diplomacy and the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece, 1966-69; An Insider’s View.” I said that sounds like a sub-title. He said that’s the title. I said, “What’s the sub-title?” He said, “Prologue by John Iatrides.” That will surely sell a lot of books in Greece, I said, but I don’t know about here.
Well, at that point I got a little bit worried, so I contacted the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, and they found a publisher, the Pennsylvania State University Press. We had earlier tried the press of my university, Princeton, and they wouldn’t even look at the book. If I can be a little bit vulgar for a moment, I called my brother and asked him why did they reject my book? That press has published about twelve of my brother’s books, mostly of modern Greek poetry in translation, and novels, lots of things. He said they think they’ve gone commercial. They’ve published a professor of philosophy’s book and it’s selling thousands and thousands of copies. I asked him what book is that, and he said it’s by the philosophy professor and it’s called “Bullshit.” So I said to Mike, Look I

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can change my title to “Chickenshit” or “Horseshit.” I’ve got a lot of that in my book. No, he said, that only works once.
Anyway, I’ve given you the actual title, and the book is going to come out in some months. I have had a little bit of concern about two things. One of them is libel. There are only three people mentioned who are still alive, and I think two of them are not still in a reading condition. So they might sue me, and that could be a problem, but I also worried about not having sought clearance from the State Department. I consulted the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and they said even though I had a lot of stuff about the CIA in the book, if I asked for clearance from State they would send it to the CIA and about two years later they’ll come back with all sorts of emendations, so I said I don’t want to do that. So I went to see my oldest friend, Plato Cacheris, a very well-known criminal defense attorney in Washington. His clients have included Fawn Hall and Monica Lewinsky, John Mitchell, Aldrich the spy, Hansen the spy. Plato’s a very old friend of mine. So I said to him, Do I have a problem? The things I’m writing about are forty years old. I don’t think most people remember what went on forty years ago. That’s my problem in trying to sell the book. And Plato said, If they try to suppress your book, I mean the authorities, we’ll sell thousands and thousands more books. Yeah, I know, said I, but if we get into trouble and you’re my lawyer and we walk into court arm in arm, the jury’s going to take one look and decide this guy must be guilty as hell, he’s got the best criminal defense attorney in Washington. Plato says, That is not the way it works. We do a plea agreement. I said, A plea agreement! You mean I go to prison for several months? Well, what are months? You want to be famous? I said, No, no, and I don’t want you as my lawyer.
So that’s where we stand. It’s 8:15, and you have a choice of having dinner, which I strongly advise, or I can read you a couple of extracts from this book.
(Audience: Read! Read! Read!) I can’t believe that. I’ve got to find some very short ones. I’ll read you a short piece, No two short pieces, no three. These are titled “Kollias,” “Nixon,” and “Talbot.” We’ll start with “Talbot.”










Chris Keeley

a visit by Nixon

A VISIT BY NIXON

 

Our first VIP visitor after the coup was Richard Nixon. I was assigned as his escort or control officer, most probably because no one else cared for the job. Although he was then already gearing himself up for the 1968 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination (by traveling around the world and getting his name in the papers), he had been all but counted out of politics for the past five years and no one gave him much of a chance to make a comeback. His visit to Athens had originally been scheduled for a date that fell immediately after the coup, and on learning of the coup Nixon had telegraphed the ambassador offering to postpone his arrival if Talbot thought it best, or to come ahead if Talbot thought he could contribute something helpful in the new situation. Talbot suggested postponement and when Nixon arrived in Athens in mid-June (accompanied by Pat Buchanan, his press agent and later his speech writer) Talbot had departed for Washington on consultation to be followed by home leave. Nixon and Buchanan stayed at the Residence in the ambassador's absence.

      For about two and a half days I stayed at Nixon's elbow, trying to make things run smoothly. I was not at his elbow the whole time, obviously; among other things he had lunch at Tatoi alone with Constantine and Anne-Marie. Nixon was a remarkably easy visitor to handle, except for one facet: Buchanan apparently had no authority to make the least decision by himself, but had to check out everything with the boss, even permission to pay for a cable of greetings to a convention of Young Republicans meeting in some place like Topeka, the cable costing all of $3, if I recall correctly. Nixon impressed me as a person who made all the decisions affecting his life by himself, the big ones as well as the minutiae. I wondered if, were he ever elected president, he would be capable of delegating any authority.

      Anschuetz was the Chargé in Talbot's absence and he decided to host a reception for Nixon where he could meet some of the key figures in the new regime as well as some prominent political figures from the pre-coup days, all gathered together in his garden. The guests naturally split into two hostile groups, having nothing to do with each other, not even exchanging greetings. There was some anger at Anschuetz for having placed them all in an uncomfortable situation, but only a man of Anschuetz's personality could have pulled it off. It was the first, last and only occasion under American auspices at which members of the regime and a significant number of the leading ex-politicians appeared together; ever afterward opponents of the regime would telephone the embassy’s protocol office when receiving an official American invitation to make sure that no members of the “junta” would be present before they would agree to attend.

      Anschuetz hosted a small stag dinner –– about ten guests –– for Nixon after the reception. Talk at the table was entirely dominated by Anschuetz's friend Spyros Markezinis, the Progressive Party leader, who held the floor with a two-hour non-stop monologue that exhausted everyone, Nixon included. The following day I escorted Nixon to the Acropolis, where he joined Art Linkletter, who was filming some material for his TV show, Houseparty. They were longtime friends, and Nixon earned the benefit of exposure to Linkletter's millions of viewers.

      Nixon also called on several of the regime's leaders. The most memorable meeting was with Brigadier Stylianos Pattakos, the Interior Minister and tank corps commander who had played such a key role in the coup. Pattakos had built himself a reputation as a somewhat genial, somewhat sinister clown who constantly put his foot in his mouth but who also had the endearing quality of candor. He was the Spiro Agnew of Greece. For this occasion he used an interpreter, which kept down the number of his gaffes. Nixon had doubtless met a great many peculiar political personalities in his travels about the world, but the alternately bluff and ingratiating Pattakos evidently startled the sophisticated ex-vice president.

      As an example of the dialogue that often caused Nixon to give me an unbelieving sidelong glance (he wondered afterward if the interpreting had been accurate and I assured him it had been) I will cite an exchange on the subject of press freedom. Noting that some two monhs had passed since the coup and while it was apparent that complete tranquility and public order reigned in the streets, Nixon wondered if the new regime could not lift some of the restrictions on the press, which at that time was strictly controlled to the extent that editors had to check out their page make-up, placement of photographs, size of headlines, and so forth with the government censor.

      “Censorship was not my choice,” said Pattakos to his visitor. “It was the freely taken decision of the press people themselves.”

      “How was that?” Nixon asked. “That is not what I have been led to believe.”

      “You have doubtless been lied to, Mr. Nixon. I will tell you exactly how it came about. Just last week I called together all the journalists, editors, reporters, publishers, everyone, in my capacity as Minister of the Interior, and I said, Gentlemen, the entire matter is up to you. You alone shall decide whether we shall have censorship or not. Now I offer you the choice. Either we have no censorship at all and anyone who steps out of line goes straight to the detention camp on the island of Yiaros, or we have censorship and the censor decides what gets published and everyone stays out of trouble. Mr. Nixon, they voted for censorship, I assure you.”

      I could not keep from chuckling at this, for Pattakos himself was chuckling, but Nixon, when he heard the translation, did not see the joke. I had to explain to him that the junta had incarcerated thousands of alleged leftists, Communists and others, on the already notorious Aegean prison island of Yiaros. In the car after the interview Nixon commented to me, “That man doesn't pull any punches, does he?”

            Prior to his departure from Athens Nixon held a press conference at the airport. I warned him that there would be representatives of the junta there posing as journalists who would try to get him to say something favorable about the regime that they could exploit in the local press to show American support for the government. Highly experienced at this sort of thing, Nixon handled himself expertly and stressed several times the need for an early return to constitutional norms and civil liberties, as well as democratic elections. But at one point he let fall the remark that it appeared to him that “something had to be done” in April 1967, meaning that the political situation in Greece had been so troubled that some extraordinary action was inevitable, and of course this resulted in streamer headlines the next day in the pro-government press together with high praise for Nixon's declaration “in support of the April 21 revolution
Chris Keeley

the coup

THE COUP OF 21 APRIL 1967

 

My first knowledge of the coup came from my son Chris, who burst into the bathroom where I was taking a shower and informed me that I wouldn't have to go to work that Friday morning, because the schools were closed, the buses weren't running, and the Kifissia Boulevard was filled with tanks moving toward Athens. “Oh my God!” said I, and hurried to get ready to go to work.

      The story of the April 21 coup in Greece has been told in many places and does not bear repeating here except for a few vignettes that may illuminate U.S. policy problems at the time. I drove to work in my old Volkswagen Beetle and had no trouble negotiating the various roadblocks and diversions until I reached the main intersection of the Kifissia and Alexandras Boulevards in Ambelokipi, a few blocks north of the American chancery. There, soldiers under command of a captain had blocked all the streets with tanks and armored personnel carriers, and no one was permitted to pass, with very few exceptions. The few exceptions were officers in uniform. And as I stood there arguing with the captain––on my own behalf and for a few diplomatic colleagues similarly blocked––I was more than a little dismayed and annoyed to observe a number of our service attachés and senior military mission officers passing through the roadblock in their chauffeured limousines and receiving smart salutes from the Greek soldiers, which they naturally returned. No civilians were getting through, not even full-fledged ambassadors of NATO countries. It struck me as curious at the time that those in charge of a military coup appeared to have no fear of foreign military officers, but for some reason they did not want civilian diplomats to reach their chanceries. The attachés did not offer to pick us up in their cars, so we waited and argued.

      The discussion with the captain became quite heated. As one of the few diplomats at the roadblock who spoke Greek, I carried a large part of our side of the argument. I encouraged all the arriving diplomats to descend from their cars and to join the civilian phalanx with which we were confronting the troops. Our principal argument was that we were diplomats and had to get to our embassies, coup or no coup; in fact it was even more important that we get to our offices that morning, so that we could inform our governments of what was going on. This line had no appeal to the captain, who simply kept repeating that he was under orders to let no civilians through. At one point the soldiers pushed us back from the intersection toward the nearest apartment building, and a few colleagues decided they should perhaps go home and wait things out after they observed some bloodstains on the sidewalk nearby. (The coup has always been advertised as “bloodless,” and with the exception of a very few victims it was very nearly so, at least initially. Most successful coups are in fact bloodless, while the unsuccessful ones often are not.)

      One of the civilians stopped at the roadblock was our own CIA station chief, Jack Maury, who returned home after a brief effort to talk his way through. He, too, had noticed that non-Greek officers in uniform were getting through, so he used his head and broke out from an old trunk his Marine Reserve colonel's uniform left over from the war. (Having gained some weight, he split some seams putting it on.) On his second try at the Ambelokipi roadblock, now in uniform, he made it through to the Embassy. I reached the Embassy shortly thereafter, when the captain in charge of the roadblock finally relented and let all the diplomats through in a one-time lifting of the gate. Once inside the ring of tanks and soldiers, we had no difficulty making it the rest of the way to our offices.

      On arriving at the Embassy I discovered that the first American diplomat to learn of the coup had been, strangely enough, the ambassador himself. In the middle of the night, Dionysos Livanos, the nephew of Prime Minister Kanellopoulos’s wife, had awakened Talbot at his residence (two blocks from the chancery building) to tell him that soldiers had taken his uncle away “for his own protection.” But Livanos said he feared it was a military coup because he had seen some tanks in Constitution Square. He added that his aunt was hysterical and had asked if the ambassador would please come along to the P.M.’s apartment in Kolonaki nearby and assure her that everything was going to be all right. (Like many other people, she and Livanos had assumed it was an American-approved coup.) Talbot agreed to do so, but stopped off at the chancery first to send a “flash” telegram to the State Department. The ambassador dictated the text to a code clerk, a cable that contained all the information he thus far had; but in the urgent confusion, the code clerk ran together in one sentence what Talbot had meant to be sent as two. The cable as received in Washington read: “UNDERSTAND PRIME MINISTER HAS JUST BEEN SIEZED BY MILITARY ELEMENTS AND TANKS IN CONSTITUTION SQUARE. TALBOT.”

      The telegram was sent at 3:27 a.m. Athens time and received in Washington at 8:34 p.m. It was immediately distributed to the Executive Secretariat Operations Center (S/S-O) and to the White House, DOD, CIA, USIA, and NSA. The code clerk, as above, had misspelled “SEIZED.” A senior watch officer in the Department’s Operations Center telephoned the Greek Office Director, Daniel Brewster, at home and read him the cable. Brewster was puzzled by the brief text because the picture it presented to him was one of the aged and dignified prime minister being surrounded by a large military force including tanks in the principal square of downtown Athens. He wondered (as he explained many weeks later): What was the prime minister doing in Constitution Square in the middle of the night? Why did they need to use tanks? Is he putting up some resistance? Before heading in to the State Department, Brewster told the watch officer to send a cable to Embassy Athens with the following text: “WHO SENT EMBTEL 4729? WHERE IS AMBASSADOR TALBOT? RUSK”

      It had crossed Brewster's mind that the cable from Athens had perhaps been sent by a drunken code clerk or by a duty officer who thought this would be a funny joke.

      When he arrived back at the chancery, having comforted Mrs. Kanellopoulos and heard from her an account of her husband's arrest, Talbot read Brewster's cable and was highly indignant, for he was not aware of the run-on sentence in his original cable, which he had dictated and which would not be typed up as sent until much later in the day. Talbot shot off an answer to the Department as follows: “I SENT EMBTEL 4729. I AM IN MY EMBASSY. TALBOT”