Magazine article The Spectator

We Should Have Intervened in Spain

Magazine article The Spectator

We Should Have Intervened in Spain

Article excerpt


The papers have been full of the Suez story.

Both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have zeroed in on Eden's adventure of 50 years ago to try to draw parallels with Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is another anniversary that so far has gone all but unnoticed. It also has lessons for contemporary history.

Seventy years ago this month (July) a British pilot took off from Croydon airport.

On his Dragon Rapide aeroplane were a Spanish newspaper man, an MI6 officer and two pretty young women for cover. They flew via France and Portugal to the Canary Islands.

There they picked up a no-nonsense conservative general called Franco. The plane took him back to his soldiers at the Spanish Foreign Legion base in Morocco. From there Franco, who had won the plaudits of the Spanish and European Right by his brutal suppression of a strike by starving miners in the Asturias in 1934, launched the invasion of Spain to overthrow the centre-left government that had just been elected.

Three times in the last century, big power foreign governments connived in the transport back from exile of their enemies' enemy. The Germans did it with Lenin to weaken the Russian army on Germany's eastern front. The French did it with Khomeini to get rid of the Shiite preacher from Paris, to spite the Anglo-Saxons with their profitable support for the Shah, and to earn brownie points with the Muslim world.

We did it with Franco because the supreme fear of the Baldwin-Chamberlain era was the arrival of a leftist European government.

Churchill, Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Baldwin formed a united front in the early 1930s in admiration of dictators like Mussolini whose bombast was pitiable but who posed no threat to Britain. Franco looked like a safe bet to keep Spain free from socialism, and if Britain offered him a lift back to his troops then surely Gibraltar and all our other Mediterranean interests would be safe.

That is why Churchill wrote vigorously in the late summer of 1936 in favour of Franco. 'I am thankful the Spanish nationalists are making progress, ' he told London Evening Standard readers, and the Foreign Office was quick to thank Churchill for this support. Yet as with Lenin and Khomeini, the consequences of bringing Franco into play far outlasted the immediate tactical advantage as it appeared to the short-termists in London in 1936.

The civil war that began in Spain was not so much a general rehearsal for the wider European civil war that took off in 1939, as a direct advertisement to the Berlin-Moscow-Rome triangle of terror that all the democracies were good for was 'jawjaw' and when confronted with something harder would back away. …

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