14 NOVEMBER 1958, Page 5

The Inevitable War

THE decision to issue arms to British civilians in Cyprus can be justified as a necessary pre- caution, or condemned as window-dressing; but wise or foolish,, it signals the final collapse of the whole past tradition of British rule in the island. Even in the height of the anti-EOKA campaign under Lord Harding, it was still possible for a Briton here to see no barrier between himself and the islanders : to continue to live among them— admittedly at some risk to himself—and work among them, regarding the military struggle as something outside the concern of ordinary people, unless they were mixed up in it by chance, or forced into it by threats. The arming of Britons reflects the destruction of this relationship. From now on no Greek Cypriot is to be trusted. Britain is self-confessedly the occupying power; her citizens, the garrison.

Sad though it is, this division had become in- evitable. Indeed it is long overdue. Week in, week out in the last few months the Spectator has been Urging that, war having become inevitable, the Island should he put on a war footing : that is to say, all families should be evacuated, and all civilians brought within the military framework for their protection. As no reason has been given for the failure to take this precaution, the assump- tion can only be that the Government felt it Would lose face by taking it. Ministers have been trying to keep face for so long that they have become incurably stiff-necked; they cannot see that the decision to issue arms to civilians is an even more damaging confession of weakness— being valueless except .as a morale booster. If EOKA operated like the Mau Mau, with night attacks on houses, there might be some point; but it is going to be small consolation to an English worker that he is carrying a revolver, when he has been shot at long range in the back, Clearly little constructive can now be attempted in Cyprus until EOKA is crushed. The crushing can only be temporary; nothing can now save the island from recurring violence so long as British forces remain. But with so many troops there it is hard to believe that EOKA can continue its present operations indefinitely; and in spite of the recent murders, there are signs that its campaign of violence is running down—indeed, the turn of the attack towards the murder of unarmed civilians is itself a symptom. Possibly the only reason why the campaign has lasted as long is it has is that the retaliatory violence, notably the breakdown of Forces' discipline after the murder of Mrs. Cutliffe, presented terror with fresh recruits. If the EOKA campaign collapses, the tempta- tion will be—as always—to let sleeping dogs lie; to shuffle together some kind of adrffinistrative machinery and talk about having a period of quiet, to let bitterness die, and old wounds heal, before establishing a new order. To think in these terms would be a fatal mistake. Some wounds take centuries to heal, and this is going to be one of them. A period of tranquillity—exhaustion would be the better term—may come; but if nothing is done it will be followed remorselessly by further terror.

A new order should be established immediately. It will have to accept a large amount of communal autonomy; the Turkish Cypriots have moved fast with their separatist plans, for their own hospitals, associations, and even a rival `Ledra Palace' hotel; and foolish though it was to have encouraged them in the first place, the trend cannot now be reversed. On the other hand, the Greeks cannot, and will not accept partition; above the autono- mous organisations some kind of a constitutional body must be established, necessarily with a Greek majority, limited though its function may. be.