From the facts at present available there seems little to choose, for wantonness and brutality, between the bombing of the battleship Deutschland and the reprisals at Almeria. The unprovoked attack on the German ship, followed by the customary lie in self-defence, will at least help in the terribly hard task of opening the eyes of our countrymen to the brutality and lack of governmental authority on the side of Valencia. But the implications of the episode reach far beyond immediate considerations.
In the first place, Germany is not the first nation to suffer violence from one or other of the contending parties. But she is the first nation to make immediate reprisals, as judge in her own cause.
it is not the first time she has done this. When her merchant ship Palos was seized by the Valencia Government-, she immediately seized two Spanish merchantmen and handed them over to General Franco. Indeed, she might plead, cynically but plausibly, that her method of retaliating instantly by force and then declaring the action closed has proved itself to be a method of settlement both more expeditious and less fraught with danger to the world than proceedings drawn out while feelings run high before some international tribunal whose verdict will as likely as not be disputed in the end.
And it is already clear that she will get away with it again. For the other party immediately concerned is a Government far too weak and too much occupied to make war on Germany, and the nations indirectly concerned arc, with the possible exception of Russia, so intensely reluctant to fight that they will endure almost anything short of a direct attack on their own territory or flag. During the past eighteen months Germany has brought off some very notable coups by trading on this fact.
But it is a method that, quite apart from its moral aspect, cannot succeed always and will precipitate a general European war the first time it fails.
In the present instance the reprisals have been followed by the withdrawal of both Germany and Italy from the Non-Intervention Committee pending the receipt of guarantees from Valencia, and this has thrown into confusion its nicely balanced arrangements for sharing the naval patrol. The report that the Italian and German Navies will continue to patrol the same waters independently as one fleet increases rather than diminishes the dangers of the situation, for any action they may now take in stopping vessels carrying arms or troops to Valencia will look more like an act of war than the act of an international police force.
Nevertheless we think that the French and British governments will find a way, even at some loss of dignity, in preventing an extension of the Spanish War. We most earnestly hope so. The day will doubtless come when the issue in the Spanish civil war will divide all Europe, hut we trust that when it does the tradition of Christendom will have found a champion less aggressive in its policy and less ambiguous in its motives than the Nazi Government.