Page 3, 12th May 1961

12th May 1961
Page 3

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Locations: Madrid, Paris


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By Sir Arnold LUNN

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, by Hugh Thomas (Eyre & Spattiswoode, 42s.).

NOBODY who was in Spain during the Civil War could fail to be interested by Mr. Hugh Thomas's attempt to provide a comprehensive and thoroughly documented history of that war. Mr. Thomas has read not only every book on the war of any real value but also many of the pamphlets. As evidence of the thoroughness of his reading I might mention that a pamphlet I wrote for the Catholic Truth Society is listed in the bibliography.

I do not know how far this book will interest those who are too young to remember the Civil War. but it will certainly interest all those whose sympathies were engaged on behalf either of the Nationalists or of the Republicans.


MR. HUGH THOMAS is too young to remember the Civil War, but as a left wing writer and a former Labour candidate for Parliament he shares the violent prejudices of his Party against General Franco.

My quarrel with Mr. Thomas does not derive from his obvious bias but from his rash claim to be unbiased.

In the preface he describes himself by implication as "a dispassionate observer", and allows his publishers to advertise the book as an "objective" study of the war. It would be difficult for anybody who was actually involved in the war to be unbiased.

I remember

T CERTAINLY do not pretend 1 to have been. I remember an afternoon in the cemetery of Huesca which had just been liberated. The chapel of Our Lady had been turned into a bar, and obscene drawings were on the walls. I do not pretend to have been a "dispassionate" observer of these and similar horrors, but then I saw them, and Mr. Thomas has only read about these things. He records some of the atrocities in Republican Spain, the evidence for which cannot he denied, but he has no imaginative realisation of what these things meant to Spanish Catholics.

A horror

NOBODY with any understanding of the situation in Spain at the beginning of the war could possibly write, as does Mr. Thomas, that General Franco on July 17, 1936. had started on the first stage of a journey which would lead him to power in Spain but which he would certainly not have begun had he known how long it would last." It would be just as perceptive to write ''Churchill would certainly not have refused a compromise peace in 1940 had he known how long the World War would last."

To a Spanish Catholic in 1936 the prospect of Communists in control of Spain was no less a horror than the possibility of Hitler in control of England to Englishmen in 1940

He admits

MR. THOMAS is aware that it is necessary to concede that revolting atrocities were committed by the Republicans, and he therefore feels under an obligation to prove that there was nothing to choose in this matter between Republicans and Nationalists.

He admits that many stories of alleged Nationalist atrocities were "invented for propaganda purposes," and adds. "Arthur Koestler, then working with the propaganda department of the Comintern in Paris, later described how such distortions were deliberately written into his hook, The Spanish Testament. by his superior. the Czech impresario of propaganda, Otto Katz."

Blind eye

BUT this does not prevent him quoting in support of his charges against the Nationalists from Communist and pro-Communist sources. or from attaching weight to allegations of atrocities prepared by "the respectable council of lawyers in Madrid." If his knowledge of Commtinism were not solely derived from books. Mr. Thomas would realise that those lawyers would be forced to provide the kind of report which their red masters demanded.

Other allegations are based on "private information" supplied by witnesses whom he does not name.


THE most striking example, perhaps. of Mr. Thomas's uncritical readiness to believe the worst of the Nationalists in general and Franco in particular is the unpardonable insinuation that General Franco may have been responsible for the death of General Mola who was serving under his command.

"Inevitably". writes Mr. Thomas, "a question mark surrounds the manner of Mola's death. Was there. perhaps, a time bomb in the aeroplane? Certainly there were many who might have desired the death of Mole. Franco among them . . . Faupel described Franco as 'undoubtedly relieved by the death of, Mola'."

No historian with any claim to be regarded as "objective" would adopt the base device of insinuating horrible charges, in this case not only murder but treachery, without supporting the charge with something which could charitably be construed as evidence.

So selective

MR. THOMAS is highly selective in his use of the sources on which he claims to have "relied heavily", among them Alison Peers' "The Spanish Tragedy" and Madariaga's "Spain".

He ignores Peers' noble tribute to the Church in Spain, of which Mr. Thomas has nothing good to say, and also ignores Madariaga's statement that it is an open question whether the Civil War began with General Franco's rising or with the internecine struggle between the two wings of the Popular Front, the genuine democrats and the extremists who were aiming at a dictatorship of the left.

When Mr. Thomas's prejudices are not involved he is often extremely informative, as, fur instance, in his criticism of accepted statements of the total casualties in the Civil War, and of the extent of foreign aid to both sides. I do not wish to belittle either the interest or the value of this hook. but an objective history of the Civil War has yet to be written.

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