Image and Reality
THE Spanish Civil War was as a mirror into which men gazed and had cast back at them not a picture of reality but the image of the hopes and fears of their generation. For many it became the supreme moral issue of their time. British opinion was greatly influenced not so much by Britain's interests, as discussed in the previous chapter, as by the events in Spain, including foreign intervention. These alone were sufficient to have aroused strong emotions: the extravagant claims and distortion of fact, emanating from both sides, helped to inflame them.
Thousands upon thousands of men and women in Britain equated themselves with those in Spain who bore the same label or occupied, either nominally or in reality, a similar position in society. Thus the trade unionist in South Wales, the retired officer in Cheltenham, the small shop-keeper in Edinburgh, the minor civil servant in Bayswater, and the scientist in a research establishment identified themselves, from afar, with their opposite numbers in Spain without realising that in many instances the equation was totally unreal.
For example, the English Liberals inherit a tradition which is deep-rooted in our history, which, while possessing a Protestant and Puritan pedigree, is fiercely tolerant of other political and religious faiths, and which is not only conservative in temper but favours constitutional monarchy. Spanish Liberalism, like Continental Liberalism in general, is anti-monarchical, anti-clerical, and, by the standards of British Liberalism, almost revolutionary in character. Conversely, the outlook of British Catholics, in a country which had only passed its Catholic Emancipation Act a little over a century before ( 1829) and in which Catholics were a minority, was markedly different, matters of dogma apart, from the outlook of Spanish Catholics, of similar social status, belonging to a Church which had exercised a dominant political power for centuries, and which enjoyed vast privileges, destroyed or mitigated four or more centuries ago in England.