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Car Troubles: Caught in the Crosshairs of a Greek pro-democracy Protest

From 1970 to 1974, Charles Stuart Kennedy served as Consul General in Athens. While there, his wife Ellen, who wanted a quiet night out, was inadvertently caught in a political protest against the Regime of the Colonels, a series of right-wing military juntas that ruled Greece following the 1967 Greek coup d’état; the dictatorship ended in July 1974. Charles Stuart Kennedy recalls the event in an oral history conducted by Victor Wolf in 1986. Stu has been the Director of the Oral History Program at ADST since its inception in 1985.

 

KENNEDY:  I have to tell a little story. My wife has always been interested in French, and French culture, and the Comedie Francaise [the French national theater] was coming to Piraeus, the port city of Athens. She said she would love to see that. And I said, “That’s fine dear, maybe you can find somebody to go with you.” So she went with a couple in the consular section who spoke fluent French, and were also great Francophiles.

She parked the car outside a hotel in Piraeus near the auditorium. It had a license plate on it, it was a Chevy, which identified it as an American embassy car, a diplomatic plate. After the performance when my wife got in the car she put the key in the engine and turned it on when a bomb went off. It was a little bomb, but it was not a little-little bomb. It had been placed on top of a tire of the rear wheel, so when the bomb went off it was in an enclosed place and it blew open the wheel well, and spewed parts into the trunk. The woman who was with Ellen happened to be on the side of the car and got a little nick on her ankle….

My wife wasn’t injured. It was outside a hotel, and they called the police. My wife called me and immediately said, “Oh, darling something happened, but I want to tell you I’m all right, there was a bomb in the car.”

Well, my normal instinct as a good male was, ‘Okay, my wife’s talking and I wanted to find out what the hell happened to the car.’ But my brother’s wife had been hit by a trolley car one time, and he made the mistake of asking about the car before he asked about her. And I had learned from this experience, so I said, “Are you all right, darling?” “Oh, yes, I’m fine.” And then, “How about the car?” Anyway, the car was all right except for the hole in it….

The police came and they were looking around, and the police said, “We think it’s all right now. You can drive the car.” To show her it was all right they tried to turn on the engine. Well, they weren’t used to an American car, and they tried and tried, and made everybody stand back, and finally my wife said, “Let me do it.” So all the police stood around while she turned the key on, and it started.

The police eventually found the person who had put the bomb in the car; it was a pediatrician who had gone to Harvard Medical School. In true — from my biased point of view — Greek fashion, to protest, he didn’t pick on the Greeks allied to the colonels, he picked on the Americans. I found the Greeks difficult because they tend to blame everything on another person.

Q: Did they blame all this on Harvard? 

KENNEDY: Well, the Greek pediatrician, Harvard trained…he set the bomb off in an American car. The pediatrician, by the way, treated American children. This was his odd way of protesting.

Q: What was his motive? 

KENNEDY: Raise general hell, and show the Americans the Greeks didn’t like what we were doing in Greece in support of the colonels, I think.

Q: Do you think he intended to kill anyone? 

KENNEDY: No, I don’t think so. But it was dangerous, it could have hurt somebody if they’d been in the wrong place, or it had fallen off, something could have happened.

Anyway, they found him and put him in jail and some Americans came to see me, and were protesting the putting in jail of this man. They had no idea why he was put in jail. So I explained to them he was not an American citizen, these were some people from Harvard, or from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I explained the situation and they were going on about how awful it was. And I said, “I have a personal interest in this. The son of a bitch put a bomb in my car when my wife was using it.” But they still went on at great length paying no attention to what I said; they were talking about appeals, and somehow or another at some point I said, “You’ve got to remember that Greek justice is basically Balkan justice, and it’s a little different than it is in the United States.”

There was an article that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor a week or two later, saying the U.S. consul defends regime. And “He said Greek justice is Balkan justice.” Well, they didn’t give a damn what else had been said, but concentrated on the fact I had linked Greece to the Balkans. It was in the headlines. “We’re not Balkans,” was in all the Greek papers. In a way they were able to get out the story against the colonels through my words. I spent a couple of bad days while the Greeks were fulminating over this particular phrase.