THE historian, seeking to unravel the relationship between the Spanish Civil War and British Opinion, is forcibly reminded of the futility of accepting surface impressions and interpretations. Understanding depends on the tracing out of the underlying forces, motives, and conflicts.
For those who believe in political democracy, the period under review contains lessons of permanent value.
The first lesson is the degree to which ideological prejudice can destroy the sense of reality. Facts which do not fit preconceived ideas or ultimate objectives are ignored or denied. Moreover, the myths of a period are carried over into the political life and even the historical writings of the following generation. Today, the Right is anxious to forget the degree of sympathy which many of its members felt for the régimes of Hitler and Mussolini. The Left, still faced with internal dissension and strife, glosses over the differences of the past and seeks to create an image of having been solidly pro-Republican during the Spanish Civil War.
The second lesson is that the events under review illuminate, as vividly as any other in our time, the contrast between dictatorship and liberal democracy. If the former enjoys the advantages of speed of decision and subsequent action, it carries within it the danger that a blunder can end in catastrophe. The latter, whilst enjoying the priceless possession of appeal to public opinion, even if that opinion cannot always make itself felt to the point of enforcing changes in policy, suffers from the handicap that a national cleavage can lead to political impotence.
In the years 1936-9 in Britain, the practice of liberal democracy was on the retreat. The National Government, especially after Chamberlain became Prime Minister, was in an unassailable position and, by and large, could ignore the protests of the Labour and Liberal Parties. Within the Conservative Party so great was the strength of the pro-Chamberlain faction that those like Churchill and Eden, who foresaw the danger, could be treated with scant respect. The fact that they and their fellow- thinkers were vindicated by subsequent events is not a complete