Rocks and Islands

The West Indies and Cyprus

The wheel of fortune turned slowly in the case of Rome but, as Gibbon said, its awful revolution took the city and the Empire from the height of greatness and buried them “in a common grave.”1 By contrast, Britain survived but its Empire, though not obliterated utterly, disappeared with astonishing speed. Between 1945 and 1965 the number of people under British colonial rule shrank from seven hundred million to five million. Within a generation some twenty-six countries, comprising the vast bulk of the British Empire, became independent. A number of factors, already mentioned, helped to precipitate this collapse: loss of prestige in Asia accompanied by post-war military weakness, emergent nationalism in the colonies, global opposition to imperialism and its retreat on nearly all fronts, fiascos such as Suez and scandals such as Hola, Britain’s recurrent economic crises and its move towards Europe, the democratic preference for welfare at home rather than ascendancy abroad. Whatever the causes, though, many patriotic Britons deplored the swift removal of such huge swathes of red from the map. They lamented it as a grievous national humiliation. They denounced it as a foul slur on the virility of their race. They damned it as an inglorious betrayal of Albion’s manifest destiny. Ministers and officials did their utmost to brand the croakers as anachronistic and reactionary. Those who complained that “we are ‘selling the Empire,’ abdicating our responsibilities, indulging in a policy of ‘scuttle,’” said ex-head of the Colonial Office Sir John Macpherson in 1960, were “mostly elderly gentlemen with bristling white moustaches sitting in comfortable armchairs in clubs.”2

It was a shrewd crack since the moustache was vanishing as fast as the Empire. True, it had ceased to be compulsory in the army as early as 1916, when King’s Regulations had permitted shaving the upper lip. Allegedly that change took place to accommodate the Prince of Wales, who was ill equipped with the “manly growth.”3 But according to his secretary, General Sir Nevil Macready made the order because he intensely disliked his own moustache, “a bristly affair resembling the small brushes with which kitchen maids and others clean saucepans.” Be this as it may, the moustache was plainly outmoded by the 1950s. It had become a joke thanks to Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx. It had become an international symbol of “villainy”4 thanks to Hitler’s toothbrush and “the huge laughing cockroaches”5 under Stalin’s nose. In Britain it was seen primarily as the badge of Colonel Blimp, the mark of the Poona mentality. The plot of a P. G. Wodehouse novel written in 1954, for example, turned on the “delicate wisp of vegetation” cultivated by Bertie Wooster to give himself an air of diablerie but stigmatised by Jeeves, infallible arbiter of fashion, as a “dark stain like mulligatawny soup.”6 More seriously, Sir John Macpherson reiterated the established defence of the “evolution of Empire into Commonwealth.”7 Britain was merely completing, at a somewhat quickened pace, the deliberate process of trusteeship whereby its colonies progressed from tutelage to liberty. If Macpherson rightly depicted Greater Britain as a self-liquidating entity, he put an exceedingly favourable gloss on what has been called “the stampede…from empire.”8 During his time as its leading mandarin in the late 1950s, the Colonial Office had privately expressed dismay at the imminent prospect of becoming a department of “rocks and islands.”9

The United Kingdom seemed destined to retain a scattering of some two hundred minuscule dependent territories. At home and abroad hostile observers regarded these as the fragments of a discredited world order, the nebulae of an exploded system. They were, particularly in American eyes, the sea-girt tokens of four centuries of acquisitiveness. Franklin D. Roosevelt had chided Churchill about this in 1944, saying that the Prime Minister would have to adjust himself to the new period that had opened in the planet’s history. Meanwhile, the President warned his Secretary of State, the “British would take land anywhere in the world even if it were only a rock or a sand bar.”10 Some Britons did value strategically situated and otherwise attractive remnants of imperial sway. After all, the atomic particles of former glory could become the granular foundations of future might. Soon after his “wind of change” speech Harold Macmillan decided that “we only need our ‘Gibraltars.’”11 A chain of strongholds, linked by air and ocean, was the modern way to sustain Britain’s influence around the globe. They would be easy to defend. They would be cheap to administer. They would involve few complications with the native inhabitants. Ideally, indeed, they would contain no native inhabitants. Referring to the forced removal of the people of Diego Garcia, an atoll (soon leased to the United States) in the Chagos archipelago, the head of the Foreign Office wrote in 1966: “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls.” A senior official commented, “Unfortunately, along with the Birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius etc.”12 Such islands, deserted or not, would afford power without responsibility, the prerogative of the imperialist throughout the ages.

In providing this boon, they resembled the string of Caribbean bases which Britain had granted to the United States in 1940 in exchange for fifty old destroyers. The arrangement was a wartime expedient by which Churchill hoped to tighten transatlantic bonds, not a Rooseveltian ploy to supersede Britain in the eastern approaches to the Panama Canal and the American mainland. However, it was another step towards U.S. hegemony in this region and elsewhere. It was an acknowledgement that Britain had a diminishing need for a strategic stake in what had increasingly become an American sphere of interest. Furthermore, the deal, which was reached without any local consultation, reflected Britain’s long-standing disregard for poor, costly and superfluous islands. When sugar was still king the West Indies had been among “the richest jewels in the crown of Great Britain.”13 Once sugar had been dethroned, they became, in Joseph Chamberlain’s phrase, the “Empire’s darkest slum.”14

The story of the British West Indies during the Victorian era was one of stagnation punctuated by misfortune. After the abolition of slavery in 1833 the old plantation system fell into decay. In lieu of free labour, the owners got free trade. First they suffered the destruction of protective tariffs, then they had to bear competition from foreign slave-grown sugar and from sugar beet. Between 1805 and 1850 sugar prices fell by 75 per cent. Some proprietors kept solvent. On Barbados, virtually monopolised by great estates and “as thickly populated as an anthill,”15 former slaves had little alternative to becoming wage labourers. But in most places, Jamaica especially, a “stupendous” decline took place, with scenes of “wreck and ruin, destitution and negligence.”16 Kingston appeared derelict, steeped in “neglect and apathy.” Anthony Trollope likened it to a city of the dead. In the countryside roads and bridges had fallen into a chronic state of disrepair. Cane fields had reverted to bush. The jungle choked mansions and sugar factories as remorselessly as the parasitic fig strangled the enormous silk cotton tree—a phenomenon known as “The Scotchman hugging the Creole.” Fauna seemed as monstrous as flora to those plagued by gallinippers and marabuntas. Visitors to the Caribbean dilated on “mosquitoes as big as turkey-cocks,”17 “fire-flies as large as cockchafers” and butterflies “the size of English bats.”18 Nature’s malignity was apparently confirmed by disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, epidemics and hurricanes.

Between 1848 and 1910 the number of plantations in Jamaica shrank from 513 to 77, many being sold for less than the price of their sugar boilers. They were broken up into smallholdings and worked by ex-slaves, now peasants. A similar situation prevailed in St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Tobago and elsewhere. The white population waned while American influence waxed. During the 1860s Barbados was said to be full of Yankee clocks, Yankee buggies and Yankee dollars—preferred to a chaotic coinage that included escudos, pistoles and doubloons. The black population, while developing a distinctive Creole culture, remained poor and heavily taxed. Britain did virtually nothing for it in the way of investment or amelioration. During his 1859 Caribbean tour Trollope said that the British should “without a stain on our patriotism…take off our hats and bid farewell to the West Indies.”19 Nearly thirty years later J. A. Froude wrote that “a silent revolution”20 had taken place whereby his countrymen had loosened their hold on the region. England, he said, would soon be no more than a name in the Antilles.

Actually, far from relinquishing its Caribbean possessions, Britain managed to combine indifference with interference. Even those enjoying representative institutions had been made crown colonies by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. They were subjected to dictation from Whitehall in order to safeguard them from white oligarchies, “little groups of local Pooh-Bahs.”21 The exception was Barbados. It retained an elected assembly, dating from 1639, which met in a chamber illuminated by Gothic stained-glass windows portraying British sovereigns (including Cromwell) and their coats of arms, and presided over by a periwigged Speaker enthroned under a heraldic Lion and Unicorn. Whatever the form of government, though, whites continued to dominate the West Indies. The Governor usually sided with his own kind—in British Guiana it was said that once he attended the smart Georgetown Club he had “sold out to the local gentry.”22 So racial discrimination caused frequent tremors of unrest and occasional explosions of violence. Sometimes an enlightened Governor could effect improvement. Public life in St. Lucia, for example, had traditionally been “a medley of farce, scandal and tragedy.”23 Its 35,000 people, nearly all black, spoke a French patois, conformed to Quebec law and endured the corvée. In 1869 William Des Voeux became Governor and used his autocratic powers—“extremely dangerous”24 in the wrong hands—to make his rule popular. Among other things, he impeached the Chief Justice for corruption, debt and drunkenness—having convicted a man of burglary the Chief Justice “addressed him as though his offence had been rape.”25 Des Voeux abolished forced labour. He set up the first central factory for processing sugar in the West Indies. He even conducted a successful campaign against the deadly fer-de-lance, first by paying sixpence for each snake killed (1,200 in seven months) and then by introducing mongooses.

Modest advances also took place elsewhere, notably in health and education. But disease, squalor and malnutrition were still rife. A majority of West Indians remained illiterate and as late as the 1930s Caribbean primary schooling was the most backward in the Empire. Territories, each one an intricate and contrasting racial and social mosaic, struggled to survive in different ways. Some encouraged emigration, the Panama Canal providing abundant employment. Others promoted tourism, the Bahamas offering Americans, as Winston Churchill said, “soft breezes and hard liquor.”26 Bootlegging and drug-smuggling were a common recourse. Most countries cultivated alternative crops such as coffee, cotton, rice, tobacco, indigo and coconuts. Jamaica grew bananas and bred beef cattle. St. Vincent produced arrowroot, Grenada nutmeg and Montserrat limes. The Cayman Islands harvested sponges, turtles and conch shells. Before the traffic was stopped in 1917, Trinidad and British Guiana had recruited almost 400,000 indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent to work the sugar plantations, adding to ethnic tensions. These territories also exploited mineral resources such as oil, asphalt and bauxite. During the 1890s they trapped, stuffed and exported tens of thousands of hummingbirds to the hatters and dressmakers of Europe. Such expedients scarcely relieved the plight of the West Indies, which the Royal Commission of 1897 described as “usually deplorable and sometimes desperate.” Joseph Chamberlain wanted Britain to provide grants so that its dependencies did not “fall into anarchy and ruin.”27

Even in decline, sugar sustained the Caribbean. Prices rose during the Great War and despite later falls the industry employed 175,000 West Indians by the end of the 1920s, approaching a tenth of the population. They were ruthlessly exploited. Trade unions were prohibited, pay was exiguous and slavery cast a long shadow. Most white employers believed that “coloured workers are animals or worse than animals”28 and treated them accordingly. Some planters cut down breadfruit trees “to try to force work out of the lazy nigger.”29 It is true that a small black middle class was emerging, lighter shades of skin often conferring social advantage—in the mating game most people longed, as they said, to add a bit of cream to their coffee. However, the British made few concessions to democracy. The Caribbean basin remained a backwater. Its territories were even cut off from one another. There were no direct links from British Honduras to Antigua, Grenada or Tobago; or between islands within sight of each other, such as St. Vincent and St. Lucia. Letters sent from Jamaica to Barbados had to go via Halifax, New York or London. Senior local officials were granted leave passages home instead of to the region. Most Britons “thought the West Indies had to do with India”30 and only became interested in them because of Learie Constantine’s prowess at cricket. When the Great Depression caused widespread unemployment and acute hardship, no constitutional channels existed to give vent to popular anger. So, as the price of sugar reached an all-time low of £5 a ton and wages in some islands fell to 1s 3d a day, a level hardly above that of the 1830s, the Caribbean was shaken by a series of more or less bloody disturbances. In 1933 jobless workers protested in Trinidad. The following year riots convulsed British Honduras. St. Kitts, where absentee whites owned most of the land, erupted in 1935. Subsequently Trinidad became the scene of further carnage. Strikes paralysed the Jamaica docks and the coaling station at St. Lucia. Trouble occurred in British Guiana, Barbados, St. Vincent and elsewhere. The common man, said a future Prime Minister of Jamaica, Norman Manley, would no longer endure inhuman conditions and was prepared “to raise hell in his own way to call attention to his wrong.”31

West Indian nationalism was born out of this civil strife. There had been signs of its gestation earlier, especially during the Great War, when the West Indies Regiment had become a source of Caribbean pride. Advances towards self-rule had followed, notably in Jamaica, British Guiana and Trinidad. But it was the long economic crisis that spawned trade unions, cooperative societies, reform leagues and other bodies, which often developed into political parties. Nationalist leaders also emerged, such as Robert Bradshaw in St. Kitts and Albert Gomes in Trinidad. Many were influenced by socialism. Cheddi Jagan espoused Marxist ideas in Guiana. And even the conservative Grantley Adams sang “The Red Flag,” waved the Hammer and Sickle, and prosecuted a “social revolution”32 that ended white dominance and imperial rule in Barbados. Others, such as Norman Manley, a brilliant lawyer, and the influential historian Eric Williams, were an intellectual match for the brightest colonial officials. At Oxford Williams had humbled a white classmate, who expressed surprise that a Trinidadian could speak English, by excelling in classics and explaining: “You see, we speak Latin in Trinidad.”33 Some leaders, though, were crooked, erratic and power-hungry. Vere Bird of Antigua was involved in small-scale financial scandals. So was the rumbustious, lubricious and superstitious Eric Gairy, leader of Grenada’s Labour Party, who was fined for obscenity and disenfranchised for conducting a steel band through a rival’s meeting. William Bramble, founder of the Montserrat Trades and Labour Union, was guilty of corruption, “megalomania and inefficiency.”34

No future West Indian Prime Minister was more volatile or flamboyant than Alexander Bustamante, often hailed as the “Uncrowned King” of Jamaica. A pistol-packing condottiere, he shrouded his origins in mystery but claimed, “I come from the gutter of poverty.”35 A bold figure who combined guile with charm, he was likened to a Jamaican folk hero, the crafty spider-man Anansi. A raucous demagogue, “Busta” specialised in earthy wit and vitriolic invective, boasting that his followers “‘would vote for a dog’ if he so directed.”36 In fact, he was less radical than his rival and brother-in-law, Norman Manley. But Bustamante championed “the middle course with a positively incendiary violence.”37 He became “the Messiah of the unenfranchised, the unemployed, the underemployed and the underpaid.” And he united them by promising “a better life, here and now, in a country of which they formed a majority, but from whose society they had hitherto been actively excluded.”38 The British themselves recognised that present troubles had been caused by past neglect and a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Moyne, a plutocratic paternalist, recommended more subsidies to improve social conditions. But by 1939 prominent West Indians with mass support were seeking to dismantle the colonial order itself.

During and after the war Britain tried to fulfil its obligations and to meet the nationalist challenge by means of welfare and development grants. The payments were also an acknowledgement of the West Indies’ new strategic and economic value as well as their moral support. Specks on the map proudly rallied behind the British Empire, one telegram to London reading: “Don’t worry; Barbados is with you.”39 Furthermore, the Colonial Office approved broad extensions of the franchise, starting with Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. From 1943, however, it maintained that the development of self-governing institutions, within the framework of the British Empire, “should be linked up with the question of West Indian federation.”40 The idea of a “closer union” between Britain’s Caribbean possessions had been long mooted and occasionally essayed.41 Many radical West Indians advocated federation as an alternative to disintegration. They saw it as a means of acquiring independence and dominion status en bloc, something that individual units were too small and too weak to accomplish on their own. But others rejected such proposals. Bustamante, so inconstant that he would vote against the motions of his own ministry, said that in order to keep the colonies in bondage Britain planned to create a “federation of paupers.”42 Actually, as other West Indian leaders charged, Britain’s purpose was to strengthen the Caribbean economy and to streamline the administration. It wanted to shed a financial liability and to form a body that was easier to manage in the short term and capable eventually of standing on its own feet. As a Colonial Office civil servant later wrote, the United Kingdom’s “fundamental aim in the area since 1945 has been political disengagement.”43

Negotiations between Britain and the West Indies and among the Caribbean territories themselves over the proposed union lasted for more than a decade. This “shilly-shallying and hemming and hawing,” as Eric Williams called it, might have suggested to the Colonial Office that the Federation would speedily fall to pieces. But Whitehall persevered. It was intent on producing another of the “tidy packages that would be acceptable to Westminster or in the United Nations.”44 Britain’s two mainland Caribbean territories, distant British Honduras (later Belize) and British Guiana (later Guyana), which hoped to prosper as a South American state, refused to be part of the parcel. But in 1958 ten islands (Jamaica, St. Kitts, Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad), some with attendant islets, merged to form the West Indies Federation. It was the futile exhalation of a dying Empire. From the start, the Federation frustrated what West Indians regarded as its main purpose—to give them independence. This was partly because Britain retained control of foreign affairs and its Governor-General, Lord Hailes, a former Tory Chief Whip, possessed wide discretionary powers—he could both disallow bills and dissolve parliament. And it was partly because local autonomy proved stronger than federal authority. Islands retained their own currency and tariff barriers. The two giants, Jamaica and Trinidad, which achieved internal self-government in 1959 and together contained 83 per cent of the land, 77 per cent of the population and 75 per cent of the wealth, refused submission to Grantley Adams, the Federal Prime Minister. He carried little weight and could not even raise taxes, but he seemed to favour the Lilliputians at the expense of the Brobdingnagians. Personal rivalries, constitutional disputes, religious differences and insular prejudices further weakened his position. Eventually Bustamante coined a slogan for separation: “Jamaica must lead—or secede.”

A divorce on grounds of incompatibility seemed inevitable. But the Colonial Office struggled to save the marriage. It tried “to ensure that as many as possible of the federated territories remain in some way grouped with either Jamaica or Trinidad who alone have the resources and sophistication of governmental apparatus to ‘carry’ pensioner territories as satellites.”45 However, Britain could count on little goodwill, particularly from Jamaica and Trinidad. Nationalist leaders such as Eric Williams bitterly repudiated colonialism in all its forms. “Massa Day Done,” he declared, adding that “the West Indian Massa constituted the most backward ruling class in history.”46 Black pride sashayed along Kingston’s tawdry Paradise Street. Racial segregation came under attack in Bridgetown, where bars, restaurants and dance halls kept out Negroes by masquerading as clubs. Among Port of Spain’s squalid barrack dwellings calypso singers hailed the revolution:

Well, the way how things shaping up,

All this nigger business going to stop.

And soon in the West Indies

It will be, “Please, Mr Nigger, please.”47

As Britain proposed to join the European Common Market and to limit Commonwealth immigration, West Indians understandably assumed that it had selfish motives for trying to perpetuate what Bustamante called “the farcical Federation.” In 1961, therefore, Jamaica held a referendum, amid rumours that a Federal ship loaded with chains had arrived to reimpose slavery, and voted to quit. Vain attempts were made to keep the mutilated body alive. But in 1962 the Federation was formally liquidated. Eric Williams explained the political arithmetic: “One from ten left nothing, not nine.”48 Jamaica and Trinidad at once became sovereign states, as did Barbados four years later. The smaller islands, which the Colonial Office itself considered “museum pieces,”49 could barely survive on their own. They were made internally self-governing “Associated States” until they could be set adrift, to become imperial flotsam in the doldrums.

British Guiana posed a more awkward problem, not only to the United Kingdom but to the United States. The “Colossus of the North” had long treated the Caribbean as its backyard, an underdeveloped zone subject to economic penetration, political intervention and military coercion. The much-decorated Major-General Smedley D. Butler gave a vivid indication of American policy, whether carried out with a big stick or as a good neighbour. He boasted between the wars,

I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank to collect revenue. I helped pacify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies.50

However, now that Fidel Castro had succeeded, at the height of the Cold War, in bringing Communism so close to home, Americans were even more anxious to impose their will on the region. In 1962 Dean Rusk, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, told the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Home, that “the United States were really terrified of another Cuba on their continent.”51 After sustained vacillation, Kennedy’s government decided that the Premier of British Guiana, the American-educated dentist Cheddi Jagan, was a serious menace. He was not an anti-colonialist radical like Thomas Jefferson, as an English minister suggested, but a Red dictator “cast from the same mould as Premier Fidel Castro.”52

Rusk told Home that “it is not possible for us to put up with an independent British Guiana under Jagan,” who “should not accede to power again.” Observing that the United States was pursuing the very same policies for which it attacked Britain in the United Nations, Macmillan deplored Rusk’s “cynicism,” which he found particularly surprising in one who was “not an Irishman, nor a politician, nor a millionaire.” Replying to Rusk, Home descanted on America’s historic role in being “the first crusader and the prime mover in urging colonial emancipation.” It was not possible, he said, to stop British Guiana from gaining its freedom. Britain could hardly introduce direct rule here while refusing to intervene in Rhodesia, nor could it prevent Jagan from being elected without subverting democracy. This was clap-trap. After more high-level discussions, during which the British claimed that Guiana was now primarily an American responsibility, London yielded to Washington. The Colonial Office delayed independence and imposed a new electoral system designed to produce what Kennedy called “a good result.”53 Meanwhile, the CIA helped to undermine Jagan by fomenting “riots, arson and strikes (including the longest general strike in history—ten weeks).”54 In the election of 1964 Jagan was defeated by a coalition which led Guiana to independence and set up a repressive regime. Not until the Cold War was over did the White House permit him to return to office.

The evolution of the West Indies illustrates the way in which the United States not only superseded the British Empire but, as many contemporaries observed, took on the mantle of Rome. “America’s decision to adopt Rome’s role has been deliberate,” said Arnold Toynbee. In an influential series of lectures delivered during 1960, he drew ancient and modern parallels, large and small. The United States, like Rome, was “leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests.” Similarly the “American Empire” established bases on alien territory but handed some of them back in the West Indies, a “gracious gesture” comparable to Rome’s evacuation of three Macedonian fortresses known as the “fetters of Greece.”55 Toynbee was rightly criticised for drawing facile analogies between diverse civilisations and for giving an over-schematic account of their rise and fall—one American scholar said that his twelve-volume Study of History contained “anything but history.”56 But Toynbee did recognise the uniqueness of America’s unacknowledged empire. He remarked, for instance, that it was the first ever to pay, through voluntary aid, for its dominant position—a technique Adlai Stevenson described as shackling allies with “golden chains.”57Toynbee also noted that, at a time of Soviet expansionism, the United States abhorred the void caused by the implosion of the British Empire. This was especially true with regard to the West Indies. Although painfully ambivalent about colonialism, Washington had valued the stability afforded by the British presence in the Caribbean after 1945. Successive American governments welcomed the Federation and deplored its fission into precarious miniature states—Grenada became independent in 1974, Dominica in 1978, St. Lucia and St. Vincent in 1979, Antigua in 1981 and St. Kitts in 1983. Washington feared that the British “might pull out of the area altogether leaving a dangerous vacuum behind them.”58

Like John F. Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan regarded “the great American archipelago”59 of banana republics and client countries as his chief area of concern. In particular he feared that one Caribbean domino after another might fall victim to the unholy alliance between Castro and the Kremlin. Some Americans regarded this as a primitive superstition. “There is a kind of voodoo about American foreign policy,” wrote Senator William Fulbright. “Certain drums have to be beaten regularly to ward off evil spirits.”60 But Reagan stuck to his drums. He was especially keen to exorcise Communism from Grenada, a sovereign state with just over 100,000 inhabitants, after its 1979 revolution. This had been masterminded by a fiery lawyer, Maurice Bishop, founder of the radical New Jewel Movement. He offended America by his independence as much as his socialism, declaring, “We are not in anybody’s back-yard, and we are definitely not for sale.”61 So when a vicious Leninist faction murdered Bishop and his lieutenants in October 1983 Reagan unleashed Operation Urgent Fury. This was the invasion of the island by a naval armada together with five thousand paratroopers, dozens of helicopter gunships and an arsenal of sophisticated equipment and heavy weaponry. The Americans soon crushed the lightly armed opposition, though the campaign was marred by the usual accompaniments of colonial (and other) conquest. During a news blackout official spokesmen stated that the offensive was carried out with surgical precision, yet American forces killed thirty mental patients during a mistaken attack on a lunatic asylum. Reagan asserted that Grenada housed a huge Soviet-Cuban war machine ready to export terror and destroy democracy, but few modern munitions were found. Although conducted, and initially welcomed, in the name of liberty, the invasion became an occupation.

A puppet regime was established. Suspected Communists were imprisoned and tortured. The United States made a sustained effort to expand and exploit Grenada’s economy in the interests of capitalism, a process described as “dollar-colonialism or coca-colanisation.”62 Thus copious aid was given to private enterprise while public services were curtailed and free trade unions suffered emasculation. It is understandable that, after early protests in Congress about “gunboat diplomacy” and introducing “democracy at the point of a bayonet,”63 Americans should have rejoiced at Reagan’s easy Caribbean triumph. The global outcry was also predictable, though the Soviet Union’s denunciations lost some of their force because its television service initially assumed that Grenada was a province in southern Spain.

Quite surprising, though, was Britain’s feeble acceptance of the coup. Margaret Thatcher, Reagan’s personal friend and ideological soulmate, heard of it only hours in advance and telephoned him on the “hot line” to protest. “You have invaded the Queen’s territory and you didn’t even say a word to me.”64 But the President, determined to assert himself in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity in Lebanon that had killed 241 American Marines, politely brushed aside her objections. She fumed privately and later showed her annoyance—before becoming reconciled to Reagan’s action. Yet at the time her government did not publicly condemn the assault on a Commonwealth state. Nor did it support the United Nations resolution stating that the attack was a flagrant violation of international law and demanding American withdrawal. The Labour opposition made hay. Denis Healey said that Reagan’s aggression in the West Indies represented “an unpardonable humiliation of an ally” and that it was “time that the Prime Minister got off her knees” to the United States.65 The Iron Lady’s uncharacteristic attitude was a tacit acknowledgement of Britain’s auxiliary status, which became still more humiliatingly evident during the Premiership of Tony Blair. British compliance reflected America’s increasing confidence as well as dominance. A colossus had arisen which eclipsed the power of Greater Britain and matched the pretensions of Rome. As a leading Caribbean historian suggests, Gibbon would have interpreted Reagan’s invasion of Grenada as “what takes place between the empire and the barbarian provinces.”66

Cyprus also fell victim to successive empires. Among those who occupied it were Egyptians, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians, Assyrians and Persians. The island, which mined copper (kupros) for the Pharaoh Akhenaton and sent ships to the siege of Troy, fell under the sway of Xerxes and Alexander the Great. It became an important crossroads between East and West. A source of corn, wine, oil and salt, it was also an entrepôt for gold, silver, ivory, silk, scarabs and other precious goods. The name of Cyprus, said Gibbon, “excites the ideas of elegance and pleasure.”67 It also excited contention. Rome made it a province, given to Cleopatra by Mark Antony as a token of love but taken back by Augustus. Evangelised by St. Paul, it was assailed by Jewish rebels who destroyed the rich city of Salamis. During the seven-hundred-year rule of the Byzantine Emperors, Saracens attacked and over-ran the island. In 1191 it was seized by the English Crusaders of Richard the Lion Heart, who sold it to the Knights Templars. Franks, Genoese and Venetians, whose massive stone ramparts still dominate Nicosia and Famagusta, kept the Cross (albeit Latin) in the ascendant. But the Crescent waxed again in the sixteenth century, when the Turks won sovereignty and turned Gothic cathedrals into mosques. Despite squeezing sweat and blood from their subjects, the Muslim sultans tolerated Orthodox Christianity and Hellenic culture. So while Cyprus, with its stunted olive groves and its scorched plains, belonged geographically to Asia Minor, it retained a spiritual attachment to distant Greece. The highest peak in the island’s pine-cloaked Troodos Mountains was called Olympus. Most Cypriots spoke the language of Homer and revered the civilisation of Plato. After the Greek war of independence in 1821, they insisted that their forebears had been Greeks before Socrates.

In an island riven by millennia of imperial conflict, the gulf widened between those in skullcaps who identified with the Acropolis and those in turbans who paid obeisance to the Sublime Porte. This was the situation when the Ottoman Empire ceded control of Cyprus to the British Empire in 1878. The island was a gratuity acquired by Disraeli for supporting Sultan Abdul Hamid “the Damned” against Tsar Alexander II, whose forces had come so close to Constantinople that they could see the minarets of Hagia Sophia and the silhouettes of British ironclads on the Golden Horn. The Premier made much of his prize, diadem of the wine-dark sea and “rosy realm of Venus.”68 From the Congress of Berlin he also brought home “peace with honour”—a phrase Neville Chamberlain rashly repeated sixty years later, from the same window in Downing Street, on his return from Munich. Disraeli’s compatriots greeted him, an ailing figure in a long white overcoat, with pomp and joy. Prominent among the manifestations was a triumphal arch topped by a “Union Jack entwined with bay leaves as a sign of bloodless victory.” Now Earl of Beaconsfield, Disraeli was hailed “Duke of Cyprus.”69 Writing to Queen Victoria, he described the island as the key to Asia.

The image better fitted Suez, which opened the way to India and the Orient. When Britain secured the Canal by conquering Egypt in 1882, Cyprus became a spare key at best and at worst a rusty padlock to a Mediterranean dead end. Possessing Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria, the British did not even bother to deepen the silt-clogged harbour at Famagusta, which fatally precluded its naval use in 1956. The glow of “imperial optimism”70 stirred up by Disraeli soon faded, therefore, and Cyprus was widely seen as “the whitest of white elephants.”71 Its new masters adopted the old principle of salutary neglect. They inaugurated a Legislative Council, but it was so impotent that one Cypriot deputy called it “the pumpkin.”72 They permitted Hellenic education because it was partly funded by Greece. They granted religious freedom but did not recognise the temporal power of the Church. Its autocephalic character and theocratic pretensions stemmed from Zeno, the first Emperor to reign alone in the East after the extinction of the Roman Empire in the West, who had endowed the Archbishop of Cyprus with the shadow of his omnipotence. According to Gibbon, Zeno was at his “least contemptible”73 in ecclesiastical matters. And he authorised the island’s priestly ruler, or Ethnarch, to wield a sceptre (instead of a pastoral staff), to don the purple and to sign his name in imperial vermilion. The British dismissed all this as hocus-pocus. But they did acknowledge the devotion most Cypriots felt for the Greek “Motherland.” As early as 1907 Winston Churchill said that, while Muslim rights must be respected, it was only natural for Orthodox Cypriots to cherish the ideal of union (enosis) with Greece “earnestly, devoutly and feverishly.”74 The Great War almost triggered that consummation. Britain formally annexed the island when Turkey sided with the Central Powers, but in 1915 Asquith’s government offered it to Greece as an inducement to join the Allies. The offer was rejected and not renewed. But it seemed to legitimise the goal of enosis. It also raised hopes that the British would act in the spirit of Byron and live up to their Greek-Cypriot sobriquet, phileleftheri—freedom lovers.

As part of the peace settlement, Turkey recognised Britain’s sovereignty over the island. In 1925 Cyprus, which was civilised (patriots liked to say) when the British were still “jumping from tree to tree,”75 became a crown colony. The following year, as if to soften the blow, it received a Governor who was a philhellene to the last sleek strand of his red-gold moustache. He was Sir Ronald Storrs, late of Cairo and Jerusalem. Suave and sophisticated, he could produce a classical tag for all occasions—the Governor was said to wear his learning lightly but ostentatiously. However, Storrs and his wife were taken aback by the primitive conditions on Cyprus, which lacked even a telephone system. Arriving at their official residence in Nicosia, Lady Storrs approached a long, low, barn-like building and commented: “Anyhow, the stables are good.”76 She was looking at Government House itself. The prefabricated wooden hutment, originally destined by the War Office for the Commander-in-Chief in Ceylon (who promptly found himself a stone palace), had been diverted to Cyprus, carried from Larnaca in pieces on the backs of camels and fitted together by the Royal Engineers like a child’s box of bricks. Whitehall’s promise of a more appropriate, permanent dwelling proved “as unrealisable as a further appearance of Aphrodite from the adjacent sea.”77 So, after nearly half a century, the floors of Government House were rotten, its roof leaked and its white plank walls let in the winter cold. Despite these inadequacies, Storrs concluded wanly, the edifice was “not without charm.”78 That he was able to impose himself on the local population despite such domestic disadvantages, the new Governor attributed to unexpected powers of hypnotism.

In fact Storrs sought to woo, not to mesmerise, the people of Cyprus. He mingled freely with them and tried to induce his compatriots to do the same, though the mixed tea parties at Government House were as stiff and awkward as adolescent dances. He appointed Cypriots to official posts, particularly when he found that British civil servants were “misfits and incompetents.” This was because Cyprus could only afford to pay officials relatively low salaries (between £500 and £1,500 annually) and the Colonial Office tended to treat the island as “a ‘sanatorium’ for tropical invalids.”79 Thinking the inhabitants “most damnably wronged”80 by a mean and indifferent Britain, Storrs tried to alleviate their grinding poverty—the average income was ten pounds a year. He promoted agriculture and public works. He improved roads, schools and health—malaria was eventually eradicated. He and his wife took an interest in social problems, the condition of the blind, the treatment of lepers. Yet Storrs was soon “hated.” In spite of (or because of) his charm, wit and brilliance, he conveyed an air of insincerity. Cypriots of every hue despised his unctuous gesture of wearing, on appropriate occasions, a sprig of Muslim green in his buttonhole or a blue and white tie, the colours of Greece. The Governor’s pronouncements were arrogant and his quips were patronising.

When the Depression struck he opposed cuts in official pay and enforced tax increases. Predictably, economic grievance sparked off political resistance. Taxation without proper representation prompted Cypriots to damn alien rule as “the worst of evils.” They aspired to win national liberation through enosis, essential even if the island “were swimming in seas of gold.” In an open letter to Storrs, Bishop Nicodemos of Kition wrote: “You are proud that Liberty and Right reign in England, but you wish that tyranny and injustice should continue to reign in Cyprus.” The Bishop and others resigned from the Legislative Council, which provoked turmoil. In the late evening of 21 October 1931 several thousand demonstrators marched on Government House. Armed with banners, torches, sticks and stones they surged forward, the priests tucking up their long skirts. Shouting “Enosis” and singing the Greek national anthem, the crowd occupied a circular terrace around the front door. The Governor sent a message saying that he would see one or two ringleaders if the rest withdrew “to a respectful distance.”81 Instead they broke windows, overwhelmed the police and set fire to the house. Shafts of flame pierced the darkness and the wooden structure was quickly reduced to ashes.

Although this and other disturbances were soon quelled, colonial rule in Cyprus was never the same again. For, as usual, the British over-reacted. They treated a spontaneous combustion, in which no more than six people (all Cypriots) died, as a premeditated revolution. At home the Dominions Secretary waxed apocalyptic. Cypriots had joined the international “enemies of the British Empire,” he said, and if Britain “goes down the world will go down too.”82 So troops garrisoned the island, the Royal Navy showed the flag and RAF Vickers Victorias patrolled the sky. In Nicosia the Governor waxed autocratic. He told the King that “any wavering at this juncture would be hopeless and that the thing was to strike and strike hard.”83 Storrs suspended the constitution and abolished the Legislative Council and municipal councils, appointing his own local headmen (mukhtars). He deported Bishop Nicodemos, said to be the Cypriot Gandhi, and other prominent “agitators.” He prohibited the carrying of arms and the holding of assemblies. He restricted the flying of Greek flags and the ringing of church bells. Storrs imposed a collective fine of nearly £35,000 and personally claimed about twice the true value of his incinerated pictures, books, stamps, jade, Greek sculptures, Bokkara embroideries and other objets d’art. Their loss put him in mind of the destruction of “the Alexandrine Library, the sacks of Byzantium and Rome, and such setbacks to civilisation’s progress.”84

After the disorder there were several thousand arrests, trials and convictions. According to many inhabitants, the island itself became a penitentiary. By the time Storrs left in 1932, professing himself heartily sick of the place and the people, they could only beat against the bars. The regime suppressed all opposition, banning the Communist Party and shackling the Church. Most Cypriots, anyway, were preoccupied with surviving the Depression. “Together with the illiberal measures put in force and the imposed silence, lasting more than eight years,” wrote a nationalist, “drought and unemployment ravage the island.”85 Rulers and ruled were temporarily reconciled during the Second World War, when a quixotic Churchill came to the aid of Greece. But local hostilities resumed in the wake of global peace. As Britain’s grip on Palestine and Egypt slackened, Cyprus was once more deemed strategically vital. So although Attlee’s government initiated reforms, it refused demands for “Enosis and only Enosis.” This clarion call was also a warning that Greek-Cypriots should shun the British—senior figures who collaborated were called “Sir Traitors.”86 To assert imperial authority, Sir Andrew Wright was made Governor in 1949. Once Storrs’s lieutenant, he was described as “a fine Victorian type now almost extinct in the British Colonial Service.” Wright “looked upon Cypriots somewhat as children who needed a firm hand [and]…an occasional spanking.”87

Almost at once they seemed to invite chastisement. In 1950 the Church held a plebiscite in which some 215,108 Greek-Cypriots, 96 per cent of the adult Greek-Cypriot population, voted for enosis—many of them genuflecting to the document enshrining it as though to an icon. Announcing that the issue of sovereignty was closed, Wright asked for extra powers to lock up subversives. Inside and outside Whitehall doubters wondered whether Britain had any right, purely for its own military convenience, to maintain colonial rule over “a civilised and educated population.”88 But the Colonial Office was clear that the Governor already had enough powers. He could not be allowed “to embark on a policy of repression in the hope that no-one will notice.”89 So Wright could only strike at sedition where it appeared. He tried to erase its most obvious manifestations, the graffiti which blossomed on every available surface. A typical slogan read: “Greeks, liberty is won with blood—Enosis.90 Less visible but more sinister was the new alliance hatched between ethnarchy and terror.

In 1950 Makarios III was elected Archbishop of Cyprus. The son of a goatherd, he had been an ardent believer in enosis since serving as a novice in Kykko monastery. On the monks’ kitchen wall he had even scrawled the legend “Long Live Union,” later describing it as “my first political statement.”91 Having studied in Greece and America, Makarios rose swiftly in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Now, aged thirty-seven, he aimed to use his position as Ethnarch to rid Cyprus of the alien yoke. “I shall not let my eyes close in sleep,” he declared on assuming the throne of St. Barnabas, “until the golden wings of the sun arise to announce the longed-for day of national liberation.”92 An impressive figure with black beard, stove-pipe hat and long robes, Makarios preached the gospel of enosis with evangelical fervour. His sermons, political and religious, were a blend of music and poetry, the mellow voice intoning the cadences like free verse. Yet Makarios, veiled in cigarette smoke inside his dilapidated palace, was deliberately Delphic. He was outspoken but equivocal, dynamic but enigmatic, inspiring but devious. He managed to transmit benevolence through slightly hooded eyes, to smile yet to remain impassive. This “pious-looking replica of Jesus Christ” was, in the opinion of a close American observer, “just the craftiest of Greeks.”93

By contrast Colonel George Grivas was an unvarnished fanatic, direct, brutal and ruthless. An old-fashioned disciplinarian with a bristling moustache, he had been committed from his schooldays in Nicosia to “the crusade for a greater Greece.”94 During the war he had founded a pro-royalist resistance movement on the mainland, though it devoted more time to killing Communists than to fighting Germans. Afterwards he decided, in the spirit of the IRA and Irgun, that the British could only be removed by force. The colonel met the Ethnarch and they agreed on the aim of enosis, taking a sacred oath to accomplish it. But they disagreed over methods. Makarios hoped to restrict violence to sabotage whereas Grivas, with the connivance of the Greek government, prepared for a vicious guerrilla war. Whatever the tactics, Cypriots knew by 1954 that an insurrection was imminent. The Ethnarch remained ambiguous about bloodshed. But he announced that “we shall accept assistance even from unclean hands.”95

Despite the ominous signs, though, few Britons perceived that Cyprus was on the brink of revolt. This was partly because they distanced themselves from the local community. The Governor was a remote being. During the hot weather he moved to his Troodos mountain retreat, a rambling grey stone building which had been constructed in 1880 under the supervision of Arthur Rimbaud and resembled “a Scottish shooting-lodge.”96 Otherwise he was insulated in the new Government House, an imposing affair designed to echo local French Gothic and Greek Orthodox architecture. It had a cupola, a portico, a tower and a circular staircase. It had sandstone gargoyles and limestone fireplaces. It had wrought-iron balustrades and timbered galleries, with imperial wood such as Burmese teak, Canadian maple and Columbia pine supplementing local eucalyptus, juniper, carob, casuarina and cypress. It had curtains hand-embroidered with heraldic devices and a stone-carved coat of arms. In private Governors lived quite modestly—their heavy furniture was “arranged as though it were being stored” and their bedroom contained “two ugly standard Public Works beds and awful little bedside tables which stand very high and have place for potty.”97 Soon they would become prisoners in their own house, surrounded by guards, searchlights and barbed wire.

British officials were almost equally inaccessible. They had improved since the days recalled by one visitor: “I shall never forget the horror of the English club, and the knobbly knees of middle-aged civil servants in shorts and their ghastly talk about the natives.” But they remained a caste apart. Few of them spoke modern Greek. Fewer still met Cypriots, “except in the course of their duties.”98 British civilian expatriates, many from imperial outposts that had achieved independence, also kept to themselves. Their existence was one of “blameless monotony” conducted in an atmosphere of “suffocating inertia.” They dwelt in hideous villas reminiscent of Wimbledon or, when they became very old, in the Dome Hotel—“it was as if every forgotten pension between Folkestone and Scarborough had sent a representative to attend a world conference on longevity.” They sailed and played games. They drove to church in Morris Minors. They drank at the Yacht Club. On Sunday afternoons they listened to a military band playing selections from Oklahoma at the English Club, where pride of place was given to Annigoni’s portrait of the Queen. They “suffered agonies of apprehension at the thought of not being invited to Government House” on the sovereign’s birthday.

The novelist Lawrence Durrell, author of these sneers, was understandably sour about his compatriots’ way of calling the islanders a “‘bunch of Cyps’—as one might say ‘Chimps.’” Attitudes had not changed since 1878, he said, when a British observer had described Cypriots as

an indolent, careless and mimetic people, but without a spark of Turkish fire, without a touch of Grecian taste…they live on in a limpid state, like creatures of the lower types, clinging to life for life’s own sake; voluptuaries of the sun and sea; holding on by simple animal tenacity through tempests which have wrecked the nobler races of mankind.

Durrell, himself a practising voluptuary, was a late addition to that band of romantic exiles inspired by the Mediterranean passion. From the age of Byron to the time of Norman Douglas, many had been writers. And they were drawn southwards by the classical culture, or by the cheap or simple life, or by the opportunities for sensual pleasure—some Britons were said to have left home under a cloud no bigger than a boy’s hand. Few of these literary émigrés were more pretentious than Lawrence Durrell. Yet while despising his Philistine compatriots, Durrell shared some of their opinions. He patronised “babu” Cypriots, cherished unspoilt peasants and basked in the illusion that they all loved England. Nothing, he thought, could induce them to fight. On the issue of enosisthe Foreign Office “will set a time-limit after a brisk haggle and we’ll all subside into sun-bemused tranquillity.”99 This was also the official view. As the cliché had it, Cypriots made very good waiters. Their “tribal temperament,” according to a member of the Colonial Office Information Department, was compounded of “niceness, lethargy or plain lack of guts.”100

Thus the British had every confidence that they could retain Cyprus as their stronghold in the Near East. Anthony Eden brusquely told the Greek Prime Minister, Field-Marshal Papagos, that the question of the island’s sovereignty was closed. Papagos, as vain and prickly as Eden himself, expostulated afterwards: “He told me never—not even we shall see!” 101 On 28 July 1954 a Colonial Office minister, Henry Hopkinson, confirmed that the government was thinking in terms of the Greek kalends. He informed the House of Commons that some colonial territories could “never” expect to be fully independent. Among them, he implied, was Cyprus, which might hope for self-government under British aegis but not for self-determination leading to fusion with Greece. The word “never” infuriated the Labour opposition. Aneurin Bevan urged Tories to accept that “peoples could only be governed by consent.” Britain was “starting trouble in Cyprus on the same day that had seen scuttle in Egypt,” said Richard Crossman. “People were learning that British imperialism gave them nothing until they were in a position to take it by force.” Others predicted that Hopkinson’s statement “would inflame the spirit of nationalism in Cyprus.”102 Protests did occur and the indecisive new Governor, Sir Robert Armitage, cracked down on them in the spirit of his predecessor.

His Whitehall masters worried less about disquiet in Nicosia than disquiet in the United Nations, where Greece lodged an appeal that Cyprus should be allowed to decide its own fate. Eisenhower was unsympathetic to Britain because Eden had taken a dim view of his neo-imperialist coup in Guatemala, rightly described as “one of the most sordid and inane ‘security’ operations in American history.”103 To win the backing of the President and his Secretary of State required rare diplomatic sleight of hand. Eden proved willing to compromise over Guatemala and he also managed to transform Cyprus from a colonial into an international problem. A British defeat here, he maintained, would be a victory for Communism in the Cold War. His case was simple. Enosis would precipitate a conflict between Greece and Turkey, two old enemies that were, bizarrely, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Turkey occupied an important strategic position on the flank of Soviet Russia and its role as a western ally would be undermined if it became embroiled in a struggle to protect the Muslims of Cyprus.

As it happened, Istanbul was lukewarm over the matter and perfidious Albion, for its own local purposes, had to encourage a more heated response. Similarly, ministers such as Harold Macmillan urged agents in Cyprus “to stir up the Turks in order to neutralise the Greek agitation.”104 The British increased their reliance on that impoverished fifth of the population. They recruited most policemen from this source. They built up the Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, and fostered loyalty to the status quo. All this polarised the two communities. Of course, there was a deep-seated hostility between them and their relationship was punctuated by bouts of violence. Yet since 1878 they had generally lived together in peace. So here, in short, was a classic British exercise in divide and rule. It was comparable to that carried out on a larger scale in India and ran the same risks of civil war and partition.

At the end of 1954, as the United Nations postponed discussion of Cyprus, there were riots in Athens and Nicosia. Anticipating Macmillan’s metaphor, Makarios declared: “The wind of freedom is blowing everywhere, tearing down the colonial regimes.”105Grivas collected arms and men. The capture of one consignment of weapons did not deter him any more than it alerted Armitage, for whom the whole problem of enosis resembled “the velvety blackness of a nightmare.”106 On April Fool’s Day 1955 the revolt began. Bombs exploded at government buildings, which were unguarded, in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca. Little damage was done here or elsewhere, though the transmitters of the Cyprus Broadcasting Service were demolished. But Grivas, who adopted the nom de guerre Dighenis, the Greek god of legend, had signalled the advent of EOKA, the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters. In due course it prompted the formation of TMT, the Turkish Defence Force. Far from being neutral arbiters, the “British consciously permitted TMT to operate as a counter-foil to EOKA.”107

Grivas’s campaign stuttered into life. His fighters were ill armed and ill disciplined, so he concentrated on seizing weapons from police stations. EOKA’s initial amateurishness was matched only by that of the police themselves, a force that had changed little since British rule began. Not only was it ill paid and ill trained, it possessed minimal equipment—no radios, no torches and almost no transport. Overwhelmed by hit-and-run raids and stone-throwing protests in which schoolchildren played the role of young Spartans, the constabulary was quickly reinforced with Turkish auxiliaries and British soldiers. Grivas knew that he could not overthrow the colonial regime, but he aimed to pin down an army, to inflame patriotic sentiment and to win the propaganda war. Eden, who had just succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister, involuntarily assisted with the last part of this strategy by rejecting any solution that smacked of appeasement. So when the Colonial Secretary visited Cyprus, where he was greeted with bombs, he could not discuss the question of self-determination. Equally fruitless was the conference held between Britain, Greece and Turkey in August 1955. Its purpose was to give all three countries a stake in Cyprus through a partnership known as a tridominium—one official called it a “Pan-demonium.”108 Greece predictably repudiated the scheme and the Turkish government connived at destructive anti-Greek riots in Istanbul—not condemned by Britain because advantageous to its position in Cyprus. Then Nicosia erupted. Angry demonstrations took place in Metaxas Square, usually the scene of neon-lit evening promenades, where a Greek-Cypriot mob burned down the British Institute. Sporadic violence spread through the island, confirming Eden’s decision to replace Armitage with a tough, unimaginative field-marshal, Sir John Harding. His arrival, said Grivas, signified that “the mailed fist would rule in Cyprus.”109

Certainly Grivas had every reason to hope that the new Governor would provide the coercion that EOKA aimed to provoke. But Harding first tried to negotiate with Makarios. The Field-Marshal had little room to manoeuvre and the Archbishop changed his ground with beatific composure. Professing himself an unworldly priest, Makarios incensed Harding, who claimed to be a simple soldier. As their talks petered out, EOKA stepped up its bombings and shootings. Clashes occurred in many places and preparations were made for a general strike. Harding was determined that Cyprus should not go the way of Ireland or Palestine. On 25 November 1955 he declared a state of emergency. This gave him a further arsenal to use against terrorists: arrest without warrant, detention without trial, life imprisonment for sabotage and the death penalty for carrying arms. Other weapons included censorship, deportation, flogging, curfews, collective fines and the banning of assemblies and strikes. Harding reorganised and augmented his forces. By 1956 he had mustered twelve thousand troops and two thousand police to deal with a thousand EOKA fighters. He demanded vigorous action.

His men patrolled, set up road blocks, invaded monasteries, gathered intelligence and eradicated graffiti, sometimes substituting their own—“GREEKS ARE SNEAKS” and “PLATO IS A POTATO.” They locked recalcitrant pupils out of schools, where blue pencils as well as blue and white flags were prohibited. They also carried out rough and often brutal searches. Soldiers would surround a village and use bayonets and rifle butts to force males into hastily erected barbed-wire cages. While their houses were ransacked or vandalised or looted, the “bloody wogs” (as Tommies called them) had to stand in the hot sun for hours with their hands in the air. After being questioned, they were scrutinised by hooded informers, known to the security forces as “chained toads.”110 Those identified as members of EOKA were taken away in lorries. While trying to crush Grivas, though, Harding continued to court Makarios. He made concessions, recognising that Hopkinson’s “never” meant “sometime.” And at the end of February 1956 the Colonial Secretary again visited Nicosia to meet the Archbishop, whom he found elegant and amiable. Lennox-Boyd was particularly fascinated by his hands, which were “quite beautiful” and “spotlessly clean.”111 The Colonial Secretary wished to give the Archbishop “a little sugar-coating.”112 But he was restrained by Eden, who still regarded Cyprus as a test of his political virility. No agreement was reached and as he left the room Lennox-Boyd said to Makarios, “God save your people.”113

It proved a timely supplication. Within days Harding exiled Makarios to the Seychelles. Damned by the British as a latter-day Rasputin, the Archbishop was hailed by the Greeks as a modern Sebastian, one who had the inestimable advantage of not being dead. Within months the nasty little colonial conflict reached its climax—the year 1956 witnessed 2,500 acts of violence resulting in 210 deaths. The struggle was embittered by the hanging of the first convicted terrorists, followed by Grivas’s execution of two captured British NCOs. But homicide was ubiquitous—it was even “respectable,”114 according to Harold Macmillan, who said that while the British amended the Decalogue to sanction adultery, the Cypriots did so to permit murder. Grivas exterminated Greek “traitors” without mercy. Communal strife exploded: when EOKA killed a Muslim policeman in May 1956, Grivas recorded, “Turkish hordes poured into the Greek quarter of Nicosia, raiding, burning, looting, murdering and behaving more like wild beasts than human beings.” By now Harding had twenty thousand troops, who conducted sweeps through the Troodos and Kyrenia mountains. Assisted by helicopters and tracker dogs, they scored victories against the guerrillas, who were bombarded with messages from loudspeaker aircraft announcing, “The game is up.”115

Harding also benefited from better intelligence, some of it obtained through torture. This was standard practice during the interrogation of suspects, who were beaten on the stomach with flat boards, hit in the testicles, half-suffocated with wet cloths and otherwise abused. At least six men died under questioning and others were shot “while trying to escape.”116 Yet some officers privately justified torture as a way of “defeating terrorism and saving human lives.” Furthermore, it was “tolerated and covered up by higher authority.” So too were instances of brutality in the gaols and internment camps which held many hundreds of Cypriots. Despite elaborate official denials, though, there was sufficient evidence to sustain serious accusations against the British imperialists. Fortunately for them, the Greeks just mounted a “smear campaign.” For example, they said that Kyrenia Castle was “a second Dachau” staffed by “a new Gestapo” under the supreme command of “Butcher Harding.” The British easily refuted such allegations, which were as absurd as their own propagandist claim that the notoriously puritanical EOKA prostituted twelve-year-old girls. Indeed, Harding might well have been astonished at his own moderation. But his measures were “too strong for the weak and too weak for the strong.”117 In other words, they antagonised the Greek population without eradicating EOKA. Counter-terrorism was counter-productive. It crystallised popular support for Grivas. Now, declared the Mayor of Nicosia, “We are all EOKA!”118

Later Grivas said that Greeks should erect a statue of Harding since he had done more than anyone to keep alive the spirit of Hellenic resistance in Cyprus. Yet the truth was that the Field-Marshal came close to defeating the colonel. Grivas had to declare a cease-fire in August 1956 and, while spurning Harding’s crass appeal to surrender, he only regained the initiative as a result of the Suez crisis. But after “Black November,” which saw the worst bloodshed of the conflict, British forces once more got the upper hand. In March 1957 Grivas announced a truce. This brought his sustained campaign to an end, though outbursts of violence continued for another twenty-one months. Indeed, Grivas became, if anything, more pugnacious. He contemplated a pogrom against the entire Turkish community but was restrained by Makarios, who thought “we should throw a grenade or two among them from a roof-top, so they will be taught a lesson and will not dare to congregate in mobs in future.”119 Grivas also wanted to put arsenic in selected aqueducts and he tried to obtain typhus germs for use against the British—subordinates refused to obey him because such tactics would “ruin the liberation struggle.”120 On the other hand, meanwhile, Cyprus’s annual prison report noted: “The scaffold, which is rather antiquated, should be modernised.”121

Harding’s tragedy was that he could never transmute military repression into political reconciliation. After the humiliating withdrawal from Suez, the Tory government had to stand firm in Cyprus, especially as the security forces seemed to be on the point of victory. Similarly, Lord Radcliffe, who was commissioned to design a constitution for Cyprus, had to build into it a measure of British sovereignty. On the other hand Macmillan was anxious to escape from the Cypriot labyrinth, not least because there was so much sniping at British imperialism in the United Nations and the United States. Even more embarrassing were Greek moves to arraign Britain before the European Court in Strasbourg for violations of human rights. Shocked by totalitarian atrocities, the Foreign Office had promoted the European Convention, which came into force in 1953. But it had wrongly assumed that “human rights were for foreigners.” Instead the Convention boomeranged on its champions, causing anger at Government House in Nicosia and anxiety in Whitehall. The Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, was especially perturbed. When European commissioners were about to be sent to investigate the situation in Cyprus, he expressed “dismay and incredulity that the Convention could have got us into this fix, and even more incredulity that it applies to so many colonies.”122

Meanwhile, in April 1957, Macmillan made a pacific gesture. He authorised the release of Makarios from the Seychelles, where he had been living at the Governor’s summer residence, Sans Souci—moved there when Lennox-Boyd found that the Archbishop was to be accommodated in a house called La Bastille. The Colonial Office remained nervous about names. It stopped Makarios from embarking on a vessel called World Harmony (though its replacement, Olympic Thunderer, was not much better) and it worried that a BBC interviewer might address him as “Your Beatitude.”123 The Archbishop was prohibited from returning to Cyprus and had to languish in Athens, staying at the Hotel Grand Bretagne. Harding, who distrusted him more than ever owing to revelations of his involvement with EOKA contained in Grivas’s captured diaries, tried to discredit this turbulent priest with a pamphlet entitled The Church and Terrorism—it was originally called The Flaming Cassock. Clearly the Field-Marshal was not the man to treat with the Archbishop. So, frustrated more by British politicians than by Greek terrorists, he departed. Macmillan chose as his successor a liberal-minded idealist, Sir Hugh Foot. Arriving in Cyprus on 3 December 1957, the new Governor was soon known as “Pussyfoot.”

This was because Foot radiated benevolence and advocated a democratic denouement. He asked for a honeymoon period and denounced violence as “the servant of tyranny.”124 He walked down Ledra Street (“Murder Mile”) in Nicosia and toured the island on horseback, shaking hands with all and sundry. He released detainees, lifted restrictions and tried to calm rioting schoolchildren in person. Later, on his own initiative, Foot even sought to arrange a clandestine meeting with Grivas, who ignored the overture of this “cunning and dangerous diplomat.”125 Grivas was right in one respect: Foot could offer nothing new but a show of conciliation. The civilian Governor had less freedom of action than his military predecessor. When Lennox-Boyd learned of his approach to Grivas, which horrified British commanders on the island, he told the Governor not to do it again. The Prime Minister was equally stern. Vulnerable to attack from champions of reaction like Lord Salisbury, who had resigned from the cabinet over the release of Makarios, Macmillan was as keen as Eden to avoid a Middle Eastern Munich. So all Foot could do was to press ahead with a revised partnership scheme, a second tridominium. Yet it could hardly work in the face of Greek opposition and the Governor saw no way out of the maze of conflicting interests. Indeed, he liked to repeat that “anyone who understood the situation in Cyprus had been misinformed.”126 It grew still more tortuous in the spring of 1958. Then terrorist campaigns, spearheaded by a revived EOKA still pursuing the grail of enosis and a TMT now committed to “PARTITION OR DEATH,”127 looked set to spiral into civil war.

As Grivas began boycotting British goods, bombing British targets and killing British servicemen, Foot discreetly and unhappily took the side of the Turks. Yet they were responsible for much of the communal violence. In a bloody effort to purge their enclaves of Greeks, they resorted to riot, arson, pillage and murder. EOKA retaliated in kind. But, as usual, Grivas was fighting on several fronts—not only against Turks but against Britons, Communists, defectors and others. Soon Foot had become responsible, against all his magnanimous instincts, for a campaign of repression worthy of Harding. In July 1958, when the ethnic struggle reached its climax, some thirty thousand troops arrested almost two thousand EOKA suspects in an operation resembling a “lucky dip.”128This doubled the population of the camps. After a lull in August, the security forces reacted ever more severely to EOKA attacks. Soldiers bulldozed houses and blew up buildings such as sports halls and cinemas if they could be connected to terrorism. They bayoneted villagers and set priests’ beards on fire. They made Greek-Cypriot hostages ride in their vehicles to prevent the detonation of roadside bombs. When one British woman was shot and another badly wounded in Famagusta on 3 October, exasperated troops went on the rampage, rounding up a thousand Greek-Cypriots and beating them so ferociously that two died and hundreds were injured. “Black October” 1958, which saw forty-five people killed and brought Cyprus to the top of the political agenda in Britain, was the worst month since “Black November” two years earlier.

Yet a note of new hope crept into the struggle being simultaneously conducted in the diplomatic arena. The Athens government, while making its case once again in the United Nations, prevailed on Grivas to cease fire. And conciliatory signs from Istanbul at Christmas prompted Foot to reprieve two EOKA murderers minutes before they were due to be executed. He then visited the prison to give them the tidings himself, taking his son Paul who wrote an account of this midnight adventure. An Oxford undergraduate at the time, Paul noted the incongruousness of their dinner jackets in the cold, gloomy passages of the prison. He heard the lamentation of male inmates, a grim chorus augmented by the thin wailing of women. “Most of them are operatic sopranos out of a job,” said a fat English warder. Paul penned staccato impressions of the scene:

A sudden light; the two hangmen standing straight and blue, their work for the evening cancelled; a hysterical priest; the two recently condemned killers receiving the news with a quiet doubtful smile, cool and handsome in their simple clothes; the grateful authorities; the inevitable soldiers saluting; a final devastating roar of applause from the “politicals” (news travels fast, apparently, in a prison).

Driving back to Government House in the silence of his father’s bullet-proof Humber, Paul was struck by the idea that “a murderer can be patriotic.”129 For Sir Hugh Foot, the reprieve represented a dramatic change of heart in those concerned with the fate of Cyprus. It indicated a prospect of peace for an island shaken by the colliding tectonic plates of three empires—Byzantine, Ottoman and British—all more or less defunct save in pride and prejudice.

What caused Greece to show the olive branch was its failure to make progress in the United Nations. Constantine Karamanlis’s government feared that Macmillan would press ahead with his plan for a partnership, which would end in partition. To prevent this, Makarios himself was willing to sacrifice enosis on the altar of independence. What caused Turkey to restrain its janissaries was the nationalist revolt in Iraq, which deprived the Baghdad Pact of Baghdad. Turkey was now exposed on its southern as well as its northern flank. So Adnan Menderes’s government sought to strengthen the NATO alliance. It aimed to secure rapprochement with Britain and to achieve détente with Greece by removing the Cypriot apple of discord from their common table. In February 1959, therefore, Karamanlis and Menderes met in Zurich. In secret conclave at the homely Hotel Dolder, they agreed on a constitution which would provide protection for the minority in the new sovereign state of Cyprus. This agreement was ratified in London. Makarios signed with a painful show of reluctance. Grivas, despite “moments of agony,” accepted the fait accompli. He could not now rely on Greek or even Cypriot support and if he battled on alone the result would be “a national split…[in which] WE SHALL LOSE EVERYTHING.”130 The colonel secured an amnesty for most EOKA fighters and left Cyprus in March 1959, still packing his pistol. The British Army was determined to do him no honour. Detailed to supervise his departure was a tall, aristocratic officer who had lost his right arm and therefore could not salute Grivas.

The British Empire ended as haphazardly as it began, with different territories gaining independence in different ways. Some fought for freedom; others combined minimal force with hard bargaining; still others cooperated with colonial authorities to achieve an orderly transfer of power. The diversity was especially apparent in the Mediterranean. Britain retained (and retains) Gibraltar, an anachronism and an anomaly. Malta got self-rule in 1964, but only after the collapse of a scheme for its political union with the United Kingdom—a scheme not so much British (since imperial federation had always been a fantasy) as French or Roman “in its vision of a single respublica and a common citizenship.”131 The case of Cyprus, which became a republic led by President Makarios in August 1960, was strangest of all. Britain had encouraged Turkish aspirations in order to protect its imperial position. From Paphos to Famagusta it had thus sowed dragons’ teeth, reaping a harvest of strife until December 1959. Yet as early as March 1957 Macmillan had concluded that Britain did not “need more than an airfield” on the island. However the Prime Minister was so fearful of the Tory response to his “selling out in Cyprus”132 that he continued to insist on a military victory. At the very least he wanted to have some “symbol of our success.”133 In other words, British forces on the island had been fighting for prestige. Foot had to save face. Ultimately it was Karamanlis and Menderes, not Macmillan, who cut through “the Cyprus tangle.”134 The British were excluded from the Greco-Turkish negotiations in Switzerland. Macmillan was able to acquire sovereign bases ample enough to satisfy national amour propre and to present the London settlement as a triumph. Otherwise, having shaped the island’s past for ill, Britain was denied the chance to shape its future for good. In Cyprus, as elsewhere, conflict would be the legacy of empire.

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