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Historical Observations: The Treatment of Greek-Americans as Seen by Barton Hall, 1921

December 2, 2023

This article continues the discussion begun in Issue 1362 of The National Herald about Barton Hall’s report to Washington on August 10, 1921. The focus here will be the problems encountered by U.S. citizens of Greek origin and Hall’s observation of the dominant figures in Greek politics.

His report discusses the cases of two naturalized Americans of Greek origin, Chalos and Cavas, who were arrested and imprisoned by Greek authorities. The former had been arrested because his brother “was a military delinquent.” According to Hall, “[Chalos] was obliged to walk on an ‘artificial foot’ until exhausted and was then imprisoned for two days at Thebes without water, until his brother presented himself for military service.” The latter was incarcerated for thirty-five days in Mitylene, “although his class in Greece was not serving.” It seems that Chalos was severely wounded during World War I and required an artificial foot.

These two cases raised the issue of the rights of U.S. citizens of Greek origin visiting their homeland in 1921. Greeks who became U.S. citizens without the permission of the Greek Government had violated Law 120 of January 1914. A section of Law 120 stated regarding naturalization in a foreign country that, “for this there is required beforehand Government permission accorded through the Ministry of the Interior, which considers the circumstances of the case laid before it, but permission is never granted if the applicant is liable to or has not duly performed his military obligations.” Individuals had to provide proof of their American citizenship to Greek authorities. U.S. citizens of Greek origin had their passports confiscated by Greek authorities and the U.S. legation in Athens did everything in its powers to have these documents returned to its original passport holder.

The Greeks who had served in the U.S. army during World War I whose classes belonged to 1916 and 1921 of the Greek army would be exempted from military service. Hall remarked that despite “the assurances given by the Greek Government, the arrest, imprisonment and maltreatment of naturalized Americans continues.” There are State Department official dispatches and newspaper accounts in the New York Times and Boston Globe where it is clear that the assurances of the Greek government could not be trusted. Moreover, there are newspaper stories suggesting that U.S. citizens had been drafted into the Greek army to fight in Asia Minor and were not allowed to return to the U.S. by Greek officials. Obviously, such action by the Greek authorities could not have helped Greek-American relations at a time when Greece was diplomatically isolated from the Entente (Britain, France and Italy).

Hall noted that King Constantine and prime and war ministers Dimitrios Gounaris and Nikolaos Theotokis were the three dominant personalities in Greek politics. Gounaris still retained the premier’s position and enjoyed the support in the National Assembly, whereas “Theotokis with his thoroughly offensive Potsdam training manages to keep to the fore and it is hinted is biding his time to seize the reins of power.” The reference to “offensive Potsdam training” describes Theotokis’ position as Greek ambassador in Berlin and his pro-German sympathies.

Constantine had temporarily handed power over “to his Ministers and political friends.” Moreover, “whilst in Smyrna the King was almost a political prisoner until he moved to accommodations closer to the scene of battle.” Never once did Constantine venture “among the soldiers of his army.” Constantine’s action shows an individual who did not share in the daily privations and failed to understand the struggles of his soldiers in Asia Minor. This might be attributable to the fact that many more soldiers harbored Venizelist sympathies as opposed to those being royalists.

Hall had a kind word, however, to say regarding “the Crown Prince [who] has done a little better, having made several visits of inspection in a Ford.” On the other hand, Prince Andrew also received a negative assessment. The Prince “was put in charge of a division told to march North from Afion Karahissar and [ordered to] cut off the Turkish troops to the south of Kutahia.” The distance between these two places was small, but Andrew didn’t arrive in time, thus allowing the Turks to escape. He was made a General in the Greek army, however his promotion must be seen as ‘jobs for the boys’, being a member of the Royal Family.

Other individuals mentioned were Aristidis Sterghiades, and Giorgios Baltazzis. The former was very prominent as the High Commissioner in Smyrna, whereas the latter as the Foreign Minister was considered “a mere figurehead and impatient.” Hall doesn’t explain why Baltazzis was “impatient,” however. There could be two reasons for Baltazzis impatience: first, he wanted victory and the occupation of Ankara by the Greek army; and secondly he wished to show that Greece was worthy of allied support in Asia Minor.

In conclusion, Hall was not an admirer of the Royalist government or of King Constantine. He was also displeased in the manner U.S. citizens of Greek origin were being treated by Greek authorities regarding their military service under Law 120 of January 1914 when they should have been exempted.

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