CONVINCING EVIDENCE Facts—Not Propaganda—About Nationalist Side
By The Editor
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET THE TRUTH that there was scarcely a wall that remained ABOUT SPAIN? standing.
1 confess that I sometimes despair. It has become more and more difficult to distinguish between truth and propaganda, and even the isolated accounts of first, second or third-hand witnesses of this or that event cannot encompass not merely the story and conduct of the war but the reasons for it and the real motives of those who are waging it.
A man must be almost without a conscience if he does not at times have scruples as to whether he has taken the right side. If his business is to provide news and views for thousands of' others his scruples can become very serious. It is evident that many Catholics are deeply worricd in conscience by the attitude of the Catholic Press in this country. A Catholic editor's mailbag is enough to prove the fact.
Among the many questions in debate, the central one comes to this: Are the Nationalists really and truly conscious of a Christian as well as a national need to overcome their enemies by force? Are they sure that there is no other way possible to defeat revolutionary leaders who are determined to stick at nothing in order to destroy the religion, tradition and civilisation of Spain on behalf of an internationally organised cause of avowed godless materialism? Given YES for an answer then I cannot understand how any honest Catholic can pretend to any sort of impartiality in the face of the conflict, though he always can and should exercise charity in regard to his judgment of the guilt of individuals.
Is the Cause Betrayed?
Is it a caricature of the truth? And. if it is not, have the Nationalist forces by their behaviour betrayed the high cause which would certainly seem, for example, to have animated the deeply Catholic Navarrese when they flocked • round the standards of General Mola in the early days of the conflict? Has the participation of Germany and Italy soiled the cause?
Such were the questions at work in my mind when I talked this week with Miss Herbert, who is in charge of the Spanish end of the work of the Bishops' Relief Fund.
I said above that it is almost impossible to answer these questions without having some scruples as to whether one's practical attitude may not after all have been wrong. But I can honestly say that 1 have come away from my talk with Miss Herbert with the conviction stronger than ever that, within the necessary limits of human fallibility, the attitude taken up by the Catholic Press is essentially right and the attitude of the Catholic minority which asks for impartiality is essentially mistaken.
100 Per Cent. Honest Opinion How can I prove this to the satisfaction of those many readers of the Catholic Herald who, despite their disagreement with its Spanish policy, still read it because they sense in it some real desire to get at the truth?
wish, first of all, they could personally talk to Miss Herbert. She has been working in Spain, without interval, since October.
She has been in the thick of it. meeting every sort of Nationalist in her daily work of attending to her hospital and reliefwork.
She is in no sense a propagandist. When, for example. I asked. whether she could send us news, she refused on the grounds that her work kept her far too busy, and that you cannot do two things properly at once. In other words, her impressions are first hand, not only in the literal sense, but because they are unreflective and spontan eous. Not only this, but Miss Herbert might be described, if she will pardon me the liberty, as an ordinary English girl whose Character and Will are expressed in her work and not in her words.
Laughs at Our Doubts She has come to love and understand the Nationalist Spaniards and her loyalty is expressed in months of hard and dangerous work, but she can laugh at their foibles and see the point of those of us who are in doubts about their credentials.
In a word, I can only describe her as a thoroughly honest and credible witness of ordinary commonsense as the English understand the term. Even our talk was not an interview: it was much more on my side a gathering of impressions as the conversation led from one point to another.
Inevitably, though perhaps tiresomely, we began about Guernica. As luck would have it, she had had to drive there ham Vitoria, her headquarters, on business four days after the alleged massacre.
"I simply cannot tell you," she said, " whether the ruins were due to incendiar ism or destruction by bombs. I don't know how to tell the difference. All I know is that everything was black and " My natural impression would have been that such wholesale devastation could not have been accomplished solely by aircraft. hut that the town was also mined and dynamited and burned with petrol. I did not see anything that looked like shell holes, but, of course, I was not looking for them."
I asked her whether she had heard any first-hand accounts of what had taken place.
Eye-witnesses " I have," she answered. "When I was leaving I was asked to give a lift to two Requete boys who had to get back to Vitoria. Our conversation was casual and I was not thinking of pressing them for an
account which I should like to hear. I hadn't the slightest idea of making use of any information. We simply talked about Guernica because we had been there.
"They quite simply described to me how they had been with the Nationalist forces at some distance from the town prior to its being taken and how they had actually seen the explosions of the mines and the spontaneous firing of the town."
T asked whether she believed that an airraid had taken place.
"I should think it quite possible and likely. Such raids were constant as, of course, the towns had soldiers in them, but I myself feel sure that the total destruction was not due to a raid any more than it was at Irun and Eibar. There is no other instance of a town being totally destroyed by aircraft whereas Guernica and lrun present the same sort of appearance. We never denied the bombing of Durango, why should we deny Guernica? The international fuss about it came as the completes( surprise to the Nationalists-1 can't tell you any more."
With this I leave the matter to my readers, repeating only that this was an honest and informed opinion, and miles removed from propaganda.
Intervention Goes On
From that subject the conversation drifted to the non-intervention pact. "I can tell you for absolutely certain," she said, " that its sole effect is to make people go on doing what they did before, only with rather more secrecy and a slight sense of shame. I have seen cases full of Czechoslovakian ammunition that must have come through after the Pact.
"The Reds are obtaining new types of aeroplanes and guns, much of it of American manufacture, which constitutes Li real threat to Franco's future."
said that I had received reliable information to the effect that the French Qovernment was not privy to breaches of the Pact.
" I don't know, but it is common knowledge that one of the Ministers. Pierre Cot, does all he can to help the Reds. The aeroplanes which landed in France and were allowed by him to proceed. against the advice of the English representative, simply landed for fuel on their way from Barcelona to the Northern front. They raided a few towns and actually circled over Vitoria, where I myself saw them, and dropped a few bombs that did no harm."
Earnest Leaders From these concrete matters we moved to the war in general, and I asked her quite simply whether it was her view that the Nationalists had really tried to fight a clean war for high motives and had honest plans for the future.
"I can't doubt it. I know them all. I've lived with them. There isn't the slightest doubt that Franco. Mola, and the other leaders are absolutely in earnest in their efforts to fight the war decently and cleanly. Their orders are constantly to that effect. War is war and it isn't nice, and it may be that at the beginning there were unauthorised reprisals and today instances of things that should not be done. Everybody cannot be controlled, but the intention and the putting of the intention into effect as far as human means allow are there."
Miss Herbert strengthened her remarks by telling me that generals varied in their honesty and sincerity. like other men, but into such details I need not go.
Prisoners Leniently Treated I mentioned the accusation that the Nationalists did not take prisoners of war. " In my experience that is not only untrue, but one feels at times that things are too
easy. Prisoners captured are examined, and if proof is found of their active cornplicity in the revolution, e.g., by being promincnt and active members of the C.N.T., etc., they are tried and. if found guilty, shot. Many are incorporated in the Nationalist side either in the fighting or in helping with public works. A large number are simply freed because there are no available prisons."
" That sounds extraordinary," I remarked. " Freed?"
" Yes, the other day at Vitoria about 800 prisoners were taken, a number of them were shot, hut 600 were simply freed. Those are the actual facts."
We spoke, too, of the strategy of Franco
and the military side of the war. of the foture (all confident), of the need for Italian help (war material, not men). of the cheapness of life (Miss Herbert paid £40 for four months' lodging, food and ordinar), expenses of living, and could change pesetas into sterling) at the rate of about 50 to the f.
Two Sides Compared
When we turned to the Reds about which. of course, her knowledge was not first-hand, she described appalling things she had heard, and stated that it was utterly fantastic to compare the two sides on the score of decency and humanity.
"I know of cases," she said," when we found Red soldiers tied to their machineguns to prevent them from running away."
"If I print that sort of thing," I answered, "I'm afraid many of my readers will put you down as another propagandist and disbelieve all you say."
"Perhaps you're right," she smiled. "Leave it out, but I happen to be pretty sure that it is true, all the same."