Winston Churchill and the Civil War: a “Spanish ulcer” that had to be cauterized | Culture

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The historian Enrique Moradiellos, on November 18 at the Royal Academy of History.
The historian Enrique Moradiellos, on November 18 at the Royal Academy of History.

“Blood, effort, sweat and tears.” The famous phrase that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) pronounced in the Parliament of his country in May 1940 to harangue his compatriots in the war against Hitler, was not new in his mouth. He had already written it in February 1939, nuanced, without the “effort”, to describe the horror of another conflict: the Spanish Civil War. The monitoring and concern of the English statesman for the evolution of the fratricidal conflict in Spain have been the axis, this Sunday, of Enrique Moradiellos’ admission speech at the Royal Academy of History. “Churchill believed that what he called the ‘Spanish ulcer’ had to be cauterized as soon as possible because if the European powers, especially France, came to help the Republic, another Sarajevo would be provoked, it would happen as in 1914 with the First World War”, Moradiellos, professor of Contemporary History at the University of Extremadura and specialist in Hispano-British relations in the 20th century, who has developed in works such as The perfidy of Albion. The British government and the Spanish civil war (1996) the Franco in front of Churchill. Spain and Great Britain in World War II (2005). He is also the author of Don Juan Negrín. A biography (2006) and Frank. Anatomy of a dictator (2018). In 2017 he was awarded the National History Award for Minimal history of the Spanish Civil War.

To put together your speech, titled Quo Vadis, [¿Adónde vas?], Hispania? Winston Churchill and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Moradiellos (Oviedo, 60 years old) has dived, among other files, in the private of the one who ruled the United Kingdom between 1940 and 1945 and from 1951 to 1955, papers kept at Churchill College, in Cambridge. “There are the letters in which he was not repressed as when you write as a public office, they are the ones that, for example, he sent to his wife when she was traveling,” he adds. Of his dozens of missives on the Spanish issue, along with his six speeches and 10 newspaper articles in the three years of the war, Moradiellos highlights that Churchill was convinced that the Civil War “had the potential to destabilize the continent,” especially because of be a border with Portugal, a traditional ally of England and who would have to be helped if it was affected, and with France, which could be threatened by three fronts, Germany, Italy and Spain. For all these reasons, he was a firm supporter of neutrality and non-intervention.

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This is made explicit in another private letter, from the end of July 1936, which he sent to the socialist Léon Blum, French prime minister when the Civil War broke out. In it he assures him that “if he sends planes and others” to the Republic, as Germany and Italy are doing with Franco, in England “they would move away from France” because it would mean siding with the Soviet side. “Churchill thought that if Paris entered the conflict, that spark would not stay there and a very dangerous escalation would begin.”

Churchill, during an intervention in London.
Churchill, during an intervention in London.PA Images (PA Images via Getty Images)

When the Spanish conflict began, Churchill was not even in the government of his party, the Conservative, due to discrepancies with his co-religionists. “He was a veteran politician, who was considered amortized, an aristocrat of the Victorian era, imperialist, with a way of speaking that was shocking, somewhat old-fashioned; ideologically he was a conservative-democrat, liberal and probably agnostic ”, Moradiellos describes him. “However, he is influential in his party and in the electorate through his speeches and press articles. He was a dominator of the spoken and written word and aware of the importance of the media ”. He published a fortnightly column in the conservative evening The Evening Standard, a newspaper with a circulation of around one million copies a day. In one of his first articles, Staying out of Spain, abhors the “butcheries of the violent Reds” and “the equally bloody reprisals” of the rebel generals, although in September 1936, in a letter to his wife from Paris, he made his position clear: “I am glad that the Spanish nationalists are making progress. […] Better for everyone’s safety if the Communists are crushed. “

“Churchill believes that, unless there is a strong army, in a democracy as weak as the Spanish one, the power will end up being seized by the Communists, as had happened in Russia,” explains the historian. Two months later, in Parliament, he blamed Russia and “its propaganda and intrigues” for the “Spanish horror.”

The Republic, in the hands of “fierce sects”

However, Moradiellos indicates that his position varies with the arrival of the socialist Juan Negrín in May 1937. This, together with the growing German threat in Europe, makes him advocate for an international mediation that ends the massacre. In April he had published the article Can the great powers bring peace to Spain? In it he insists that the Republican side was controlled by “fierce sects of communists, socialists and anarchists.” This prompted the Spanish ambassador in London, Pablo de Azcárate, to invite him to visit the country to see if this was true, a gesture that Churchill rejected. In a speech in the House of Commons in July, he argues: “It is not true that there was a constitutional parliamentary government in Spain that was the victim of an unjustified rebellion by the extreme right.”

The defeat of the Republic seems inevitable, so in April 1938, in another article, he advised Madrid to seek “the best terms” for a surrender, and foresees for the post-war “a long period of harsh repression and painful poverty.” In a letter dated February 23, 1939, he appealed for forgiveness and asked that a conflict that has caused “blood, sweat and tears” not be prolonged any longer. In addition, he resorts to a cliché when comparing Spain with “a bullring that had used fascist and communist ideologies.”

Better for everyone’s safety if the Communists are crushed “

Winston Churchill

The relationship with the new head of the Spanish state will be lukewarm. On April 20, 1940, weeks before being appointed prime minister, Churchill warned Franco that if Spain entered “the wild game of a world upheaval, it would be deprived of the much-needed recovery.” Unless there were a quick Hitler victory, “Spain would condemn itself to being a savage desert populated by roaring and outdated tyrants, instead of enjoying a position with a clear advantage.” “Churchill was convinced that giving Franco a choice between accessing credit to feed a starving country or suffering the consequences of another war would keep him in his place,” concludes Moradiellos. Another era of blood, sweat and tears had begun in Europe in which Churchill would be one of the architects of the Allied victory against Nazism.

Open the Academy to public debate

Enrique Moradiellos’ speech as a member of the Royal Academy of History was answered by Juan Pablo Fusi, one of the three historians, along with Carmen Sanz Ayán and Luis Antonio Ribot, who had presented their candidacy. Already a member of an institution with three centuries of history – it began as a meeting of scholars in Madrid in 1735 – Moradiellos would like his presence there to serve “to reinforce its international dimension and promote its openness to public debate.” It includes “being in the media, even if it is to talk about sensitive issues, such as the graves of the Civil War, but you have to do it, yes, always giving thoughtful opinions.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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